This review contains spoilers.
4.10 Varsity Blues
“They don’t play to win, they play to hurt”
And that’s been Stonewall Prep’s game since their introduction on Riverdale. First they judged and abused Jughead because he wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth. Then they tormened him by burying him alive. Plus, the instructors there, especially Mr. Dupont, toy with Jug’s emotions by flip-flopping their behaviour towards him. It’s a pretty toxic learning environment, one that makes South Side High look like the school from Fame.
But as we learn in this latest episode, Stonewall Prep’s entire M.O. is to try to destroy and break anyone who isn’t their own – be it on the football field or in real life. Is there any doubt that Brett was the ringleader of the attack on Monroe? And despite the fact that the evidence presented to us suggests that Betty was responsible for Jughead’s impending death, you just know that Brett is somehow involved. Exactly what is tonight’s flash forward indicating anyway? That she somehow got into Yale as well? Maybe her “darkness” made her jealous of Jug’s success and encouraged her kill him to take his slot? We will know the answers to these questions later rather than sooner. For now though, Stonewall Prep is a school packed with creeps, and despite the success Jug is experiencing now it will all be taken away imminently.
All that said, can we just take a minute and appreciate the fact that this episode was the most traditional look at high school life that Riverdale has ever done? There was no killing, no maple syrup blood feuds, not even a tiny murder doll in sight.
As deeply missed as all of the things were in this instalment, it did work as a proof of concept that the series can survive without all its typically bizarre trappings. (It’s just nowhere near as fun). At least this episode went back to the reliable well of having Archie make absolutely terrible decisions. His Uncle Frank (Ryan Robbins) is a war veteran, implied to be dealing with PTSD but hated by Mary due to his laziness and a general black cloud that follows him. We learn that Fred once took a drunk driving rap for Frank that would have been his third strike and sent him away. But this is typical Fred behaviour isn’t it? The fact that Frank let his brother take the hit says a lot about his character… as does his offering pain pills to help Monroe succeed. Because things worked out okay for Mad Dog in the end, Archie wrongly assumed that the risk was worth it. But will Monroe have a pill habit now? Letting long-lost relatives live with you never works out well on Riverdale, so Archie should experience if not the unexpectedly sage wisdom that “you respect what a man chooses for him.” Why did Mary ever agree to this?
Back over at Stonewall Prep, more bad decisions are being made. The Quill and Skull buy Jughead a new state-of-the-art laptop, no doubt mining his old one for information they can use against him, then they persuade him to tell his deepest secret to them. (Guess Jughead was too busy reading Lovecraft to ever do some research on Kitty Genovese). Like everything involving Jughead and Stonewall Prep, this behavior contradicts everything we know about his personality before his arrival there. Any of the other Quill and Skull members could have made up their trauma, especially since they have a history of lying to him. So why would he so freely offer up his most shameful experience to them. Perhaps Betty learns of this emotional betrayal and that sets her darkness off…
Also in Inconsistencyville, Betty does an uncharacteristically poor journalism job here. Wouldn’t our aspiring Nancy Drew take her exposé on Stonewall Prep to the Riverdale Register, or toss it to the town’s most famous TV reporter/her mother? Sigh. Instead she decides to get even… by challenging the school at a quiz. Sure, why not?
Attention Riverdale writers: As much as I was delighted by the meta remark by Ms. Appleyard (Emily Tennant) that the Vixens were “going to focus on cheers, not singing and dancing to pop songs,” as a faithful viewer I must say that this is ALL I WANT to see the squad do too. After Julian, giving Cheryl a level-headed cheer squad foil seems a bit underwhelming.
Less bonkers but equally uninteresting is Veronica’s mission to defeat her father at his rum game. While Riverdale is a show that often makes me want to drink anyway, I do have to say that maple-infused rum does sound delicious – as is the idea of having Veronica and Cheryl in business together. If anything can finally take down Hiram, it’s this pairing.
Next week: More Stonewall Prep moustache twirling. Probably.
Read Chris’ review of the previous episode, Tangerine, here.