This Riverdale review contains spoilers.
Riverdale Season 3 Episode 16
“When did our lives go from worrying who’s going to sit next to us on the bus to drug lord mothers?”
If Riverdale is about anything (and really, three seasons in that’s still up for debate), it is a rumination on the loss of innocence. I realize that this is a grandiose thing to declare about a series that features random bear attacks and Pop Rocks-addicted gamers, but you have to look back upon the source material for evidence supporting this theory.
While adored by its readers, Archie Comics never had the pop culture currency of a say Superman or Spider-Man. These were reliable stories about carefree fun and love and the freedom that comes with being young. As such, the Archie Comics were a form of time travel back into an America that never truly existed, one where society’s problems could all be solved with a milkshake split three ways. Safe reading about characters who never, ever changed. Then something unexpected happened to the Archie company about a decade ago: It began reflectling real life…and the complexities that it possesses. From introducing its first LGBT character in the form of Kevin Keller to telling tales of courage and sacrifice (first in the Life with Archie: The Married Life series and most recently in the Archie 1941 title), Archie threatened to implode nearly 80 years of breeziness by letting shards of reality puncture its storytelling.
As a result, Archie Comics began doing some of the best work they’ve ever done, and without these sorts of stories we wouldn’t even be discussing a Riverdale series.
So here we are now, nearing the end of the third season of a show whose mission statement is Archie meets David Lynch, and Jughead poses the above question that is really just a meta statement on the underlying theme of the show in which he is the very narrator of. There reaches a point in all of our lives when childhood leaves and we find ourselves reluctantly or willingly adulting. It’s not a light switch turning off nor a calendar page turning but an accumulation of loss and learning that happens for people at different points. Yet there’s still this longing sometimes, even when we’re in the eye of the teenage storm, where we want things to be easier.
At one point in this latest episode, which sees Riverdale High mounting a production of Heathers: The Musical (based on the 1989 cult favorite starring Winona Ryder and Christian Slater), Archie muses “high school may never end.” It’s a fantastically self-aware line that indicates for the character of Archie Andrews, he is doomed (blessed?) to be in high school forever. This line is taken from a reprise of the musical’s ballad “Seventeen,” a soaring number in which kids grappling with issues like death an alienation just want to be able to stave off adulthood and enjoy their age and the last gasps of childhood. If only for a minute.
Initially, I was hesitant upon hearing the news that Riverdale was doing another musical. After all, how could they possibly follow-up last year’s Carrie-themed episode? (One I still consider the series’ best installment). This concern was misguided however, the music of Heathers is a perfect fit with the alienation currently being felt by Archie, Veronica, Jughead, etc. There’s likely to be some criticism that episode writer Tessa Leigh Williams allowed the show’s lyrics to do the emotional heavy lifting here, but I actually think that having to mash-up the ongoing Riverdale storylines with the showtunes in a way that doesn’t feel forced was a Herculean task…and one that was accomplished seamlessly.
From the Choni showcase of “Candy Store” to the ridiculousness of “Big Fun” straight through to the emotional ensemble finale of the reprise of “Seventeen,” this episode allowed both Westerberg and Riverdale Highs to merge into a strange new being that aimed to make a statement that, yeah, it sucks being a teenager. It’s not Perks of Being a Wallflower-esque profundity, but this is also a show where Jingle Jangle exists and just tonight a character claimed ownership of the color red, so take what you can get.
As much fun as the musical numbers were — and let’s address how great the choreography was here, light years beyond the often static movement of last year’s Carrie performances — this episode provided some much needed plot forwarding. In my review last week, I stated how I hoped that this new musical episode would take a cue from what happened last year and have the production be a launching pad for the events that will lead to the season finale on May 15th. This happened and then some.
The developments. First up, there’s Archie and Josie. Is anyone really invested in this coupling? Even if he and Veronica weren’t “endgame” in the writers’ eyes, we know that Josie’s time in Riverdale is limited if Katy Keene gets a series order. I’m not going to complain too much about the wheel-spinning here though, because at least both KJ Apa and Ashleigh Murray are getting some screentime.
Next comes Veronica, whose parents have finally separated after Hiram learned that Hermione sold his drugs out from under him while he was in the hospital. The Lodges staying together more than strained credibility, and they have both strayed from each other, so breaking them up is a reasonable thing to do…even if it will only be temporary.
The most fan-baiting moment in the series to date occurred when Jughead broke into song tonight. Even if the sight of a crooning Cole Sprouse didn’t fucking ignite Twitter, Jug still got some character development in when he decided to torch his childhood trailer in order to prevent his mom’s burgeoning drug empire by going any further. Yes, having him in the final number was a contrivance to get him on stage, but I’ll allow it for the sheer what the fuckery of that last scene. More on that in a paragraph…
Then there’s Cheryl and Toni. Not so much a couple as a sentient meme, these two split apart only for the purpose of creating some faux tension and crafting the weird thwarted threeway between Toni, Sweet Pea, and Peaches N Cream (Bernadette Beck) during the “Dead Girl Walking” number. I’d be way more cynical about the treatment of Choni here if not for the fantastic scene in which Toni asks Cheryl what love was like in her family and gets a devastating, and uncharacteristically subdued, response. With their troubles behind them, they will likely utilize their strength to face whatever comes their way next (i.e. The Farm).
Yes friends, The Farm has finally become a full-blooded thing on this show, albeit it in typically obtuse Riverdale fashion. As our leads complete their reprise of “Seventeen,” the audience doesn’t react until Edgar Evernever (Chad Michael Murray) stands up and begins a strange rythmic applause. Other Farmies, clad in white, stand up and follow his lead. The remainder of the audience, including the Joneses and Lodges, just kind of sit there transfixed.
What does this all mean other than that The Farm is making their move? I have no idea, but next Wednesday can’t come quick enough what the hell they are up to.
– The complete listing of songs performed in this episode are:
“Dead Girl Walking”
“Our Love Is God”
“Fight For Me”
– At the start of this episode, Mayor Lodge is seen protesting Riverdale High’s production of Heathers: The Musical, questioning if “a play about teenage violence and suicide” is a good idea in a town constantly dealing with such issues, especially after Midge’s murder during last year’s show. Conveniently enough, she doesn’t address the show’s raunchy epic “Blue” or the show’s other button-pressing numbers.
– While on the same topic, it was weird how this episode was packed with visual references and musical cues ripped straight from Heathers, yet iconic lines like “fuck me gently with a chainsaw” and “did you have a brain tumor for breakfast?” were toned down. Obviously I understand that profanity and super suggestive lyrics don’t play in network prime-time, but being so familiar with the source material (both the movie and the musical) made watching this episode a bit jarring at times.
– It’s very odd at neither Alice, a Farm devotee or Fred were at the musical. (This episode was filmed before Luke Perry’s untimely passing).
– Apropos of nothing, the name of Archie’s gym is the El Royale Boxing Club, established in 1973.
– Kevin’s poofy hair in this episode. To quote him, “I am obsessed.”
– Okay, so we still don’t know much about the Farm, but if the “Big Fun” party is anything to go by they have no issue with underage drinking or drug use.
– When Evelyn is discussing her sharing circle in which cast members can shoulder each other’s burdens (which is such a culty 1970s type deal), someone can be seen standing at the upper left of the auditorium. I suspect that this a Farm member quietly overseeing everything that is going on.
– When Veronica — who doesn’t play Veronica Sawyer, weird — breaks down while discussing her parents’ split, Betty instinctively goes over to comfort her. That’s some fantastic characterization right there.
– “Just two single straight dudes doing some theater” – Reggie, in the greatest thing he has ever done on this show.
– Whipping hair sound effects are now a thing on this show.
– Unfortunately, Kevin’s guilt over what happened to Midge didn’t really get any kind of resolution, especially since it seemed to be heightened by the mushroom-laced brownie that Evelyn gave him.
– I am no fan of the Hiram Lodge character, so imagine my surprise when I loved his scene in which he discussed the betrayal he felt at the hands of Hermione and Veronica.
– “I was going to talk about the devastating loneliness your character feels at this particular moment, but it seems like you’re already there so take it away.” Subtle shade throwing there Kev.
– F.P., who it’s worth noting always should be no means be in law enforcement, got hit in the face by a Fizzlehead playing G&G in the middle of the street. How can anyone not love this show?
– What do you think the audience’s response to the show (or lack thereof) means? Theorize away in the comments!
– For a bit more background on Heathers: The Musical, click here.