This Riverdale review contains spoilers.
Riverdale Season 4 Episode 12
“If you go on the run now, you’ll never stop running.”
Thanks to a sharp script by first-time series Writer/Co-Executive Producer Ariana Jackson that thrusts the various storylines forward while having to pause to introduce the Katy Keene character before her solo show debuts tomorrow, this was the most eventful episode Riverdale has had, well, in ages.
Let’s break down the various developments, shall we?
With Mary off working on a case in Chicago, Uncle Frank is still staying at the Andrews’ house and working for the family construction business. With this being the inconsistent series that it is, we learn that Frank isn’t just a hard-drinking neer-do-well, but is in fact a decorated war hero! (Even earning the Red Badge of Courage, the Riverdale equivalent of a Purple Heart). But unexpected Stephen Crane references are just the tip of the iceberg here as we also discover that Frank spent some post-war time working as a mercenary for a shady paramilitary organization. Rad.
Frank’s old war buddy Ted arrives to tell him that a former mutual friend they served with has died of cancer. Well, not really. Turns out he was murdered by Ted who is helping the shadowy covert group clear up all their lose ends before the feds shut them down. Sure, why not? This twist results in several vicious fights (really, kudos to the fight choreographer) between Ted, Frank and Archie, who, it should be reiterated, knows how to handle himself as he once fought a bear.
This show really can be brilliant at times.
Anyway, this also turns into a parody of The Punisher, subtly referencing one of the best Archie Comics crossover in a way that cleverly avoids any copyright violation claims from Marvel’s lawyers.
This storyline, out-of-nowhere as it is, redeems this season. The joy of Riverdale at its best is the sheer what-the-fuckery it throws at its viewers. This is a prime, inspired example that restores some of the maniacal mojo the show has been missing of late.
But we aren’t finished yet.
Having been suspended by Mr. Honey for the quiz show debacle depicted in last week’s episode, Betty has some free time on her hands. And how better to spend it than by doing some sleuthing with an unxpected partner – her mother.
We’ve never seen Alice and Betty truly getting along and working as equals before, and whoa, is it exhilarating. Take for example this exchange between the pair:
“Brett is afraid of me? Why?”
“Apparently you cracked open his head with a golf club.”
“Oh right, I did do that.”
Since the characters as so often at odds it is easy to forget that both Alice and Betty have great journalistic instincts, ones they follow to the discovery of Brett’s hobby of filming secret sex tapes and, more sinisterly, that seemingly kind-hearted Donna is the mastermind of all the nastiness happening at Stonewall Prep.
While Betty and Alice are sleuthing, Jughead is squaring off against Brett in three competitions that will determine who is the most honorable one among them. (Between this and the search for the trio evil relics on Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, the TV Archieverse is in love with a three-part storytelling device these days).
Then, unexpectedly and most welcome, Jughead finally decides that Stonewall Prep is bullshit. “You are more of a Stonewall man than I’ll ever be,” he sneers at his rival, “then I’ll ever want to be.” A recurring problem this season is exactly why Jug wants to fit in with these blue bloods so much, and now the veil has been lifted. Since each episode is supposedly moving us towards his impending “death,” we needed something to happen that would set in motion his downfall. His decision here to no longer play Stonewall’s games is great — and one that can possibly spell his doom (thanks to Donna’s machinations?)
Choni lovers were treated to some much-needed plotting featuring the couple when Nick St. Clair (played with smarmy gusto by Graham Phillips) unexpectedly turned up at the Maple Club looking for an evening of debauchery. When Cheryl informed Toni about Nick’s assault, Toni hatched an inspired revenge plan. And so the insane tickle video plotline turns out to serve a purpose after all by having Fangs and Kevin film themselves tickling a drugged Nick. Blackmailing Nick with the footage, Toni tells him to steer clear of Riverdale forever. Will he? Yeah, doubtful, but it’s great seeing this jerk get what’s coming to him.
Finally, Veronica visits New York City to see old friend Katy Keene (Lucy Hale) and interview for Barnard College. There she discovers that Katy’s mom is sick, a development that corresponds with Hiram’s own sudden bad health news — he is stricken with an ALS-style neuromuscular disease. Upon learning of this news, Veronica decides to retake the Lodge name and decides to take sympathy on her ruthless father.
More on all of these developments next week. As for now this episode was a much-needed return to form packed with action, humor and more than a few genuine surprises.
– Videotapes continue to be a recurring theme this season, with the ones arriving on the doorsteps of Riverdale residents, those Brett has recorded, and the one Fangs and Kevin shot of Nick getting tickled. What is all this leading to?
– When Toni tells Nick that she will ruin him if he returns to Riverdale, I absolutely believe it.
– Archie is fantastic this episode. He serves a genuine purpose here story wise and gets some incredible (and in character) fight scenes.
– Stonewall Prep’s mysterious teacher referenced on her “confession” video tape is Mr. Kotter, a brilliant joke that viewers outside of this show’s demographic got a huge kick out of.
– What is the connection between Mr. Chipping and the Army?
– F.P. taking own a role as Archie’s father figure melts my heart.
– Still no sign of where Vegas is.
– Trivia: Katy and Veronica met at the latter’s Quinceañera, where the Jonas Brothers performed.
– Cheryl refers to Nick as a “Patrick Bateman type” which is completely accurate and also a sly reference to showrunner Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s work on the American Psycho musical.
– Kevin’s declaration of “What the hell is happening? This school is insane!” is this episode’s funniest moment.