This review contains spoilers.
3.19 Fear The Reaper
“Now do you see why I need to get the hell out of this town?”
Back in the 1990s when he was the enfant terrible of pop culture, Quentin Tarantino directed a fondly remembered episode of ER. This effort gave him the opportunity to bring his sensibilities to television with memorable results. Since then, TV has only become more cinematic. While Tarantino hasn’t done any work for the small screen since a 2005 CSI outing, our era of prestige television has his stylish fingerprints all over it – be it the skillful panache of Russian Doll or, well, the valentine to his work that is tonight’s episode of Riverdale. Yep, you read that right.
And hooboy, this was something.
The episode not only gave us a diner hold-up scored to the late Dick Dale’s “Misirlou” in which Pop Tate pulled out a shotgun in an extended Pulp Fiction homage, it also allowed Gladys Jones and Penny Peabody to have a sai fight soundtracked to Josie’s cover of Amy Winehouse’s “Back in Black.” (Penny now sporting a stylish eye patch in a nod to Daryl Hannah in Kill Bill). These Tarantino-on-a-budget moments are the sort of unrestrained goofiness that I’ve come to expect, nay, demand from Riverdale. They’ve been absent in recent weeks, but back with a vengeance here.
As the episode got underway, it seemed like Archie would be thrust into yet another drawn-out murder case, since Randy Ronson didn’t survive his fight last week. But Archie is not Butch Coolidge (nor is Hiram anything remotely resembling the gangster cool of Marsellus Wallace, but more on that in a minute), so he feels bad and gives the $50,000 he won in the fight to Randy’s family. For her part, Randy’s sister confesses that her sibling’s life was a troubled one and she doesn’t really blame Archie. But our hero – who Elio wants to take to Vegas under the name “The Riverdale Reaper” – thinks its time to hang up his boxing gloves.
Then, in a bit of an obvious yet still fun twist, it is revealed that Hiram has never forgiven Archie for coming to shoot him, and that he, Elio, and an unwitting Veronica are all manipulating him by … getting him to box? Look, it’s not the most clever long-con that Hiram has come up with, but then again, Hiram is a garbage character who pulls off inexplicable schemes like getting his town cut off from the world for all of two weeks. So he’s at least on brand.
There was some screentime spent on having Archie arrested for planting the drugs that killed Randy, but that subplot fell away quietly. Usually I’d moan about contrivances like this, but the last thing I as a viewer want to sit through is another Archie courtroom drama. Besides, there was never any real threat here as Archie’s best friend’s dad is a criminal who is, for reasons that have yet to and will never become apparent, the town’s sheriff. The lesson to be learned from all of this is Archie is once again being used as a puppet by Hiram, and the girl who is his “endgame” is complicit in his manipulations.
Such is the cyclical nature of life in Riverdale.
But someone who has had enough of all of this is Josie. She is serious about her music and can’t even have a heart-to-heart with her dad without the Jones family holding up Pop’s. So after her father finally realises she is talented, he decides to take her on the road with her. And just like that, Riverdale has one less under-utilised character to worry about.
After learning that Jellybean had apparently been kidnapped at the end of last week’s episode, the Jonses confront Kurtz. In turn, he makes them play the coolest game of G&G yet – one that reveals Gladys’ drug-selling secret, has the family rob Pop’s, the aforementioned (and seriously great) sai battle, and some attempted murder before Jughead completes the game. Alas, Jellybean is fine. In fact, she never really knew that she was in any danger at all. She’s just used to Gladys and F.P. never being around, which speaks volumes about their parenting skills.
What exactly was Kurtz’s plan here? He felt slighted by Gladys and hated the Jones family so much that he created this elaborate trap that led only to his own demise? And was it another suicide, or did the latest, unknown Gargoyle King play a hand is his death. Will the Gargoyle King plot ever tie together with The Farm and whatever Hiram is up to? Friends, I just don’t know anymore.
I’ve saved the best for last though, and that is a truly creepy glimpse into The Farm. Betty’s research uncovers the troubling truth that Evelyn has been to several different schools – posing a junior at all of them, and setting up Farm chapters there. Then a real bombshell is dropped. Evelyn is actually 26 … and Edgar’s wife. More than offering up some meta commentary on how teen dramas often employ actors in their 20s to portray youthful characters, this development shows The Farm at its cultiest yet: Edgar wants to adopt Juniper and Dagwood as his own, polygamy is big within the group (vaccinations, not so much), and any lingering doubts about The Farm being anything but a creepfest are washed away.
Lili Reinhart plays the scenes where Toni betrays her beautifully. There’s a moment when it seems like she truly is exhausted with fighting The Farm, and Edgar’s words reminding her that everything she loves is right there. She is ready to join them, their Freaks-esque chanting inflitrating her brain. But then she remembers seeing the babies levitating and comes to her senses. This is a very dangerous place to be. Followed by Farmies, she dashes to her car to the safety of Veronica’s house. (Well, this week anyway). But once there she has another problem to deal with: Hal has apparently been killed in an accident in which prisoners were being transferred to Hiram’s jail.
Poor Betty can’t get a break. And she hasn’t even heard about Jughead robbing Pop’s yet.
Read Chris’ review of the previous episode, Jawbreaker, here.