Riverdale season 3 episode 11 review: The Red Dahlia

Riverdale leans heavily into its noir side in a hugely entertaining outing. Spoilers ahead in our review of The Red Dahlia...

This review contains spoilers.

3.11 The Red Dahlia 

“Forget it Jughead, it’s Riverdale.”

Say what you will about Riverdale, but one thing the show never shies away from is a willingness to experiment with its formula. Just like last season’s musical instalment or the recent flashback episode, The Black Dahlia had the show shaking up the status quo by doing its own take on film noir. Thematically, this is the easily most succesful genre homage to date because it so skillfully adapts itself to Jughead’s hard boiled (and often deeply silly) narration. Thusly, the following monologue which opened up this latest chapter:

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“Riverdale. Once a safe, decent, innocent place had become Noirtown. Like the setting of a Raymond Chandler story – filled with dames to kill for, postmen who like to ring twice, and more mobsters than a Scorsese retrospective at the Bijou.”

Cue Robyn Hitchcock’s Raymond Chandler Evening.

It’s a dark in stormy night in Riverdale, and Jughead is typing away at his ham-fisted opus when Veronica comes in offering to pay him to uncover who shot her father. Why she didn’t just, you know, pay a real private detective is anyone’s guess. As is why episode writers Devon Turner and Will Ewing seem to overlook the fact that Cheryl, not Veronica, is the show’s resident femme fatale. Not that any of these nitpicks matter. The most important thing happening here is that this specific episode has the audacity to do a full-on noir homage… a creative move that threatens to lift the curtain on some of the series’ more egregious genre swipes. As a result, we are treated to a tongue-in-cheek valentine to noir to that is on brand for Riverdale. The fact that it also pushes the plot, which has been severely lagging ahead of late, is as satisfying as watching a private dick solve their case before too many bodies pile up.

Since Jughead and Betty are always investigating something or other anyway, the noir angle of this chapter is hardly a distraction. And if it gets young viewers into Raymond Chandler or Chinatown, all the better.

Investigating who shot Hiram Lodge, the why is pretty obvious, Jug discovers that he was having an affair with Mrs Mulway (a stunt-casted Kelly Ripa – Mark Consuelos’ real-life wife). Mulway was paid by the Lodges to write a report assessing the health and safety risk of Sweetwater River after the production of Fizzle Rocks tainted the body of water and somehow caused the young woman of the town to have seizures. Exactly how this report was used and the science behind how the chemical run-off caused said seizures is as murky as the moral ambiguity of Sam Spade.

Meanwhile, Betty is gunning for Penelope Blossom, convinced that her Auntie is responsible for the death of Claudius and maybe even Clifford himself. She asks a weirdly grief-stricken Cheryl some questions about her dad’s death and is rebuffed. Although later sleuthing with Jughead’s help leads to the discovery of the Riverdale equivalent of Twin Peaks‘ One-Eyed Jacks, The Maple Club. There, Betty confronts Penelope about the deaths and is met with denials. Through her conversations with Hal, she realises that Penelope does love her poisons and a quick payoff to Dr Curdle Jr. reveals that Clifford was in fact dead before his hanging. But Betty is swiftly kicked off her high horse when Penelope reminds her that Clifford killed Jason and as such deserved to die. As for the other murders she committed, Penelope threatens to tell the police about Betty’s handing over Chic to the Black Hood in order to retain our amateur Nancy Drew’s silence. Stalemate!

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As for good old Jughead, he unveils a conspiracy involving the real (and still a bit confusing) motives behind the town’s brief quarantine as well as the shocking truth that Sheriff Minetta is alive and well and having an affair with Hermione… and, oh yeah, they are both plotting to kill Hiram and frame F.P. for the crime. Frantically, Jughead tells F.P. his findings only to come face-to-face with another bombshell, namely that his dad shot Hiram. F.P. was holding a grudge about when Hiram’s actions resulted in Jughead being left for dead on Riot Night, so he got his best-served-cold dish of revenge. Together, they turn the tables on Hermione and manage to solve the problem of dead Tall Boy rotting away in Dilton’s bunker at the same time. The power of family!

With all of this going on, Veronica takes the opportunity to close down her father’s Fizzle Rocks operation by burning all the product and equipment with Reggie. This is dumb for three reasons. First, now Hermione owes a huge deal of money to the mysterious buyer of the drug facility. Two, Hiram will just start up production again. And, three, she knows at this point that the chemicals spawned from Fizzle Rocks screwed up the river and caused seizures, yet her and Reggie just let all that shit get in their lungs anyway. Which leads to the question of how well these geniuses did on their SATs.

Over in Archieville, our ginger hero is still super angsty, punching co-workers and day-drinking like a fiend. Then Josie intervenes and calms him down, and, in the episode’s most meta-moment declares “look Archie, I know we didn’t talk much last year.” But their conversation works, and he decides that yes, he does need to unfuck himself. And what better way of doing that then by killing Hiram once and for all!

Always the best decisions with this kid.

But when it comes time to do the deed, Archie can’t. His Point Break/Hot Fuzz shooting as sexual frustration moment arrives when Minetta busts in to kill Hiram and Archie unloads a bullet into his arm instead. This act done, Archie has suddenly found his mojo and ridiculously forgotten all the awful, venal shit Mr Lodge has done to him. Veronica is proud of her Archiekins. (Sorry Reggie). And Archie and Mr Lodge decide to avoid mutually assured destruction and have a truce.

The episode ends with Hermione paying a visit to Jughead, who, in his defense, has absolutely unravelled her entire scheme. The trouble is, if he tries to do anything about it, she will ruin F.P. And thus we have our third and final lesson about how life is never black or white, just shades of noirish gray.

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As an experiment, ‘Riverdale Noir’ was a tremendous success that illustrates how great the show can be when it shakes up its traditional storytelling methods.

Read Chris’ review of the previous episode, The Stranger, here.