This Riverdale review contains spoilers.
Riverdale Season 4 Episode 15
“This is not simply a story about a murder in a small town. No. It’s a story about friendship. And conspiracy. And what happens when those two things dovetail into a highly sophisticated cover-up.”
Jughead’s not dead after all. Surprise! We all knew that this moment was coming, but who could have guessed the reveal would be so soon given Riverdale’s penchant for dragging out storylines. This breathlessly paced episode had a lot of mileage to cover, and did so in a satisfying manner.
Despite so many things happening here, it all comes down to Betty and Donna outsmart each other. Betty’s is driven by not only her love for Jughead (who has been assisting her off camera the entire time he was “dead”) but of squaring off against a rival who, while formidable, is really not much of a challenge for the daughter of the Black Hood. In Donna and Brett the series has given us two exceptionally hateable figures — the kind of blue bloods who work as stand ins for the worst America has to offer. (Yes, this show is smart enough to work in clever one-percenter digs). Watching such characters meet their downfall at this specific point in history is going to be spectacular, and offer the audience more than just a little bit of wish fulfillment.
Man, this show can legitimately impress sometimes.
Anyway, it’s a huge risk to pretend to off one of your main characters as you could potentially alienate viewers. This is doubly true with a program like Riverdale. I sound like a broken record at this point, but this series is at its absolute best when it is self-aware. We had a variety of those moments here, from teasing a Betty-Archie pairing to Kevin’s meta comments about the show’s various ships. I mean the ridiculousness of the very word “Bughead” was invoked. Reader, I laughed.
Creatively, this installment cut between footage from Alice’s crime documentary and “actual” events. There’s some subtle commentary to be found here about how truthful true crime docs are, and it’s something I wish this episode pushed a bit further. Both aspects bounced off each other beautifully to heighten the dramatic storytelling. It’s always exciting when you know where a plot is going but have no idea how it will get there. Over its four seasons to date Riverdale doesn’t have the best track record with sticking the landing. It remains to be seen if that will be the case here. So far though, the ride has been so exciting that I don’t think I’ll be displeased if the wheels come off soon.
For most of this episode’s running time, viewers were being manipulated as status quos were seemingly tossed aside. (Betty’s with Archie now! F.P. quits! etc). It made for compelling viewing, which just heightened the power of the reveal that Jughead was still with us. Again, it’s not the shock that a beloved character was gone. This isn’t The Magicians after all. But rather that Jughead returned so soon in an episode that tied things up rather quickly and set the stage for next week’s big confrontation with Brett and Donna.
- In this episode, F.P. quits his job as mayor after Hiram (reasonably) asks him to step down because he is too close to the case. Why would F.P. fly off the handle about this if he already knew that his son was actually still alive? Probably because this move sets the stage for Skeet Ulrich leaving the show at the end of the season. My guess is that F.P. will leave Riverdale to try to find work elsewhere.
- Betty and Archie’s whole discussion at Pop’s was based on the assumption that Cheryl would eavesdrop and do her chaotic Cheryl thing. When this series turns the characters knowledge of each other’s personalities against each other it is glorious.
- The look on Kevin’s face when Veronica reveals that Archie uses the music room for all of his Riverdale High sexual conquests is hilarious.
- “There’s a lot of closeted Barchie stans out there who were waiting for this moment.” Kevin Keller, as always the voice of the audience.
- Cheryl’s only response to Jughead’s death was priceless: “I’m sorry I called Jughead a hobo that one time.”
- While on the topic of this show’s HBIC, let’s also take a second to applaud her low-key disgust at addressing how Toni and Jughead spent a night together.
- The moment that Betty mentioned the notoriously corrupt Dr. Curdle Jr. performed Jughead’s autopsy I suspected the reveal that Jug was still alive was imminent, but I still figured it would be a few more weeks until we saw Cole Sprouse again.
- Pop Tate is just about the best, isn’t he?
- Jughead’s hat is not only fashionable, but it saved his life. And yes, I squealed with delight Betty gave him a replacement.
- “Life’s not an Agatha Christie novel, it’s a lot messier.” It’s a good thing that Jughead isn’t really dead, because that epitaph is shitty.
- Was anyone else watching this episode and say to themselves “oh yeah, Archie has a gym.” What a snoozer of a subplot that is.
- “Take a moment. Prepare for devastation.” There’s no one quite like Cheryl.
- The South Street Serpents have been non-existent on the show this season. Still, Sweet Pea is front and center working as bouncer at Jughead’s funeral — proving that the Serpent bond is always there.
- Yo, that faith-based drama K.J. Apa is in looks terrible. Even by faith-based drama standards.
- It is totally in character with Alice that she would try to exploit her daughter and boyfriend’s tragedy by creating a documentary about it. Even more so that she frames it as a Netflix-style true crime piece.
- I’m not patting myself on the back for calling some of the things that went down in this episode in my previous review, but I am very grateful (and surprised) that the Jughead is still alive reveal happened so quickly.
- Kevin Cummins was credited for this episode but had no lines. Was Tom Keller at Jughead’s funeral? I’ll have to go back and rewatch.
- Betty reading from the Sherlock Holmes story “The Final Problem” is meant to draw a parallel between Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s story and the Jughead/Donna situation. The problem is that while Jug may be a bit of a Sherlock, Donna isn’t so much a Moriarty-esque criminal mastermind as she is an entitled scourge of privilege.
- Vegas. Still missing and presumed forgotten.
- It is casually mentioned that Donna killed Jonathan. What exactly did Hermosa’s investigation reveal about her past? Chances are the information she uncovered is darker than anyone realized. (My left field guess is that she is somehow related to Jughead and has a murderous past).
- I’m assuming that the plot point about someone mailing videotapes to Riverdale residents will be picked back up once the Jugdead stuff is wrapped up.
- The Hermosa/Veronica scenes were largely a distraction in this episode given all the juicy stuff happening elsewhere (see also the Archie gym stuff). That said, I am in love with the idea that perhaps Hermosa’s intentions are good. She gets plane tickets and a fake passport for Veronica — that uses the Monica Posh alias, natch — and does some sleuthing that is apparently the smoking gun Jughead will need to bring down the Stonies. Sure this creates the narrative problem that Sherlock Jones was only able to crack the case with outside help, but let’s just go with it. It is far more interesting for Veronica to have a family member she can actually rely on and confide in then just another Hermione/Hiram situation, so I’m hoping Hermosa fills this void on the series.
- “That weirdo beat me by pulling off the most epic senior prank of all time.” Oh Reggie.
- Next week: The Stonewall prep saga comes to an end. Maybe.