This review contains spoilers.
3.15 American Dreams
“And so continues our nerdiest mystery yet…”
Riverdale is a series whose theme for the third season seems to be delayed gratification. Viewers have thus far been denied characters receiving any comeuppance for their crimes (hello Hiram!), and plotlines like the Gryphons & Gargoyles saga and the painfully teased Farm cult have been narratively spinning their wheels for weeks. Yet the season finale is on the 15th of May, and after watching this latest episode I can’t help but feel like, finally, things are starting to happen.
As for whether it is too little, too late, well, your mileage may vary. But as someone who is a fan of slow burn Riverdale, this episode – the show and FP’s 50th – feels like the first domino setting in motion a chain reaction that will carry on through to the end of the season.
Let’s look at the evidence, shall we?
Since October’s premiere Archie has been on the run from one thing or another and now, mercifully, he has removed the target from his back placed there by Hiram (and followed through by Riverdale‘s endless supply of G&G junkies). Jughead’s idea to simply change the rules of the game was a simplistic one, and hell if it didn’t do the trick. Seeing how those addicted to the drug-fuelled RPG’s are already a few casting spells shy of a session, manipulating them into following a new play element created by the ‘Gargoyle King,’ actually seems reasonable.
Narratively having Archie deal his would-be slayers over the course of one evening feels like an acknowledgement by the writers that they too realise the marked man stuff might be trying viewers’ patients. Wrapping it up in a bloody bow like this frees up our now free Red Paladin to deal with what’s on the horizon for the coming week’s, namely troubles with Josie, a reconciliation with Veronica, and dealing with whatever the hell The Farm will be up to if they ever show their faces.
Next up comes the demise of Veggie. Reggie and Veronica always felt like a rebound couple who got caught up in the excitement of running La Bonne Nuit. “Would we even be dating if not for the speakeasy?,” Reggie muses towards the end of this episode. Except for her frustrating inconsistency when it comes to her parents, Veronica yearns for her independence. So there was no way that she wanted to become partners with ol Reg. As her abuela so wisely put it, “no one walks on water in my place, except me.”
Veronica’s treatment of Reggie hasn’t been so wonderful over the past couple of weeks, but she also was clear about her intentions, and owes him nothing. Buying his car back from Gladys was a nice consolation prize, and the couple’s parting does set up a fun variation on the source material’s traditional love triangle once Veronica and Archie are reunited, and Reggie is left on the sidelines.
While Veronica and Reggie deal with the fallout of dissolution of whatever they defined themselves as, there’s also trouble in paradise. Or at least Thistlehouse. Cheryl, so used to being the centre of attention, clearly resents that the Pretty Poisons are Toni’s thing. Not that she’d ever admit it. But Toni is unhappy too, she doesn’t feel at home within the Blossom household, so much so that she is paying rent to Nana Rose – although such an arrangement was not requested or is required.
Toni sees the chance to work in the speakeasy with her fellow Poisons as something that is truly hers. After a safecracking-as-foreplay love-making session, Cheryl and Toni voice their frustrations with each other. For her part, Toni handles things with grace and maturity. As for Cheryl? Well, Cheryl is Cheryl, and she summons Kevin (in his only scene tonight) to her house to inform him that she intends to mount a production of Heathers: The Musical to “focus her rage.” How very. And yeah, I fully expect Choni will rise again sooner rather than later. They are both too great to not be together.
Finally, Betty’s issues with Alice/The Farm are backburned because the Jones family is taking ownership of the Cooper homestead. She is rightfully perplexed by the situation, as it would allow her to stay in her own place and get to know Gladys, but, you know, there’s also the whole thing with her dad being an imprisoned serial killer and her mother on a one-way ticket to New Jonestown. So it’s understandable if she’s feeling a bit rudderless these days. Having a heart to heart with Veronica at the Pembrooke, she learns that Gladys is restarting the town’s Fizzle Rocks business, and must tell Jughead immediately. (Although he already has his suspicions about his mother).
Jughead, never one to shy away from a confrontation, immediately puts his mother on the spot and has the truth confirmed. He is greeted with a speech that is equal parts self-serving and actually relatable in this era of the side-hustle. Had Gladys wrapped things up right there and said that she’d stop her life of crime, that would make Jug a bit less sullen for awhile. But where’s the fun in that? So instead Gladys emotionally blackmails her oldest child by informing him that if FP learns the truth “it will break him again, maybe for the last time.” Not playing fair, Gladys.
Torn between breaking his dad’s heart and possibly reigniting his alcoholism, Jughead goes ahead with his speech at FP’s 50th birthday party. He delivers a genuinely moving speech about fatherhood and example setting that marks some of Cole Sprouse’s best acting work on the show to date. But Jug was doing some amateur thespian work of his own too. When Betty asks him what he’s going to do next, Jug responds with a determined “save Jellybean, protect my dad, and run my mom out of town” before asking if she wants in. We know that Betty will, and thus the season’s endgame jumps off.
If last season’s musical episode – which featured the return of the Black Hood – set a precedent, it’s that such an instalment will end with a shocking scene that will carve the way for the remainder of this third year of storytelling. With the characters being moved into position to deal with ending the G&G crisis and finding out what The Farm is doing (as well as coping with their own relationship woes), we should be in for some fun, ridiculous television in the weeks ahead. My money is on our patience being rewarded…