This Riverdale review contains spoilers.
Riverdale Season 4 Episode 4
“You know, I wish that I could say that tonight’s been particularily insane because it’s Halloween, but no, this is actually fairly typical.”
There’s nothing quite like when Riverdale fully confronts its own inherent ridiculousness. I realize that I sound like a broken 45 of “Sugar, Sugar” at this point, but the fact remains that this show is always at its best when it embraces insanity. And boy does it so tonight! We’ve got the introduction of two new mysteries (who is behind the videotapes and why/whatever the hell is going on with Julian the Possessed Murder Doll), the establishing of Bret and Dodger as this season’s Big Bads, and the revelation that Charles is surveilling Betty. Then there’s the standalone subplot of Veronica taking on a serial killer in Pop’s.
Yeah, it’s a lot, even for this show. The thing is though, Riverdale hasn’t been this great in ages and it 100% has leaning into the absurd to thank.
The best storyline of the night easily goes to Cheryl and Toni. Cheryl doesn’t want to stop hanging with her brother’s dead corpse (this is amazing) so she gaslights Toni into thinking that a doll is possessed by his spirit (this is amazing) and then Nana Rose jumps in and says that the toy actually is the physical embodiment of a third Blossom sibling whom Cheryl absorbed in the womb (this is, of course, amazing). I mean, just take a look at Julian here:
I’m not sure what’s more unsettling, his porcelain face or the sailor’s outfit he is dressed in. All I know is that Vanessa Morgan’s constant “what the fuck” performance in this episode is stunning. The introduction of the Julian plot gives a gothic horror feel to the proceedings for sure, even though it is incredibly silly. It is this sort of watercooler stuff that Riverdale should be doing much more of. A common criticism of this series is how it tends to drag storylines on (yeah, already sick of Dodger here). That said, if it’s season seven and Julian is still hanging around, I’ll be one happy viewer.
Next up on tonight’s awesome index was Veronica’s takedown of Michael Matthews AKA serial killer The Family Man. This was shoehorned in to give Ronnie a break from fighting with her folks in this episode, and man, isn’t it great to see her doing something else? As cheesy as Alice’s news break in on the TV was — is she the only journalist in town? — this sequence was the exact sort of thrill-giver that has made movies like the Scream saga pop culture touchstones. Her takedown of Matthews was equally fun, I just wish there was an over-the-top musical performance to go with it. She can do a number from Chicago before a press conference but nothing after burning a mass murderer alive? Come on.
This brings us to Betty. Lili Reinhart continues to deliver the best acting on the show, even when she is saddled with the show’s darkest storylines. Here she is haunted by classmates and trick-or-treaters dressing up as the Black Hood and the Gargoyle King. Heightening things is a prank caller pretending to be Hal who may or may not be her sister. Anyone else convinced that wasn’t Polly using a voice modulator? But Betty takes all of this in stride, even dealing with Jellybean’s nonsense. As Halloween says, everyone is entitled to one good scare, and JB gave Betty a doozy. What is up with this kid, exactly? But, as always, Betty weathers this storm while another forms on the horizon.
While Betty is eating pizza with her FBI-recruiting/secretly snooping half-brother, Jughead is spending some time in a coffin. He’s been hazed by Bret and his other Stonewall classmates. Or so they say. We know from the fast forwards that there are dark things in his future, a point hammered home by the end of tonight’s episode with the subtlety of an atomic bomb. The Stonewall Four are absolutely real, and Jughead will be the next to go missing. Well, after Moose. Poor Moose. Mr. Chipping is very much in cahoots with Bret and company too, though that reveal will likely come sometime around sweeps if I know this show.
The Reggie/Kevin/Mr. Honey scenes were a placeholder for a larger conflict to come. As were those featuring Archie and Dodger. To the latter, a mighty yawn is revealed, as the last thing I, and indeed, anyone, wants to see is Archie as a vigilante again. Even if he is now doing so under the guise of superheroism. Oh Archie, will the writers ever figure out exactly what to do with you? Idea: Maybe give him bona fide powers, at least it would make hime somewhat interesting instead of the low point of an otherwise superb episode. Happy Halloween everyone! And if you dress up as the Gargoyle King this year please send us pics on Twitter, okay?
– This episode was, obviously, a homage to horror movies. Especially John Carpenter’s original 1978 slasher classic Halloween. From the film’s font being used on the title transitions to the synth-heavy score (complete with jump cues almost limited directly from the movie’s soundtrack) to the serial killer that Veronica meets being named Michael Matthews (who escaped from a mental institution and stole his clothes from an unfortunate victim just like the big screen’s allliterative psychopath) to Betty giving us some Laurie Strode realness, this is an installment that oozes with love for the slasher genre.
– True horror fiends also picked up on the faux Black Hood’s questioning Betty if she’s “checked the children” is a tribute to the 1979 mindfuck When a Stranger Calls. And the whole Julian insanity feels ripped from The Boy and the The Conjuring/Annabelle movies. As Betty pointed out in the quote that kicked off this review, all of this craziness is just par for the course with this series.
– After the whole Chic thing and dealing with a certifiable sister and serial killer dad, you think Betty would be a little less trusting about family members. You would be wrong.
– We only see a minute or so of it, but Alice and F.P. are enjoying some post-Farm domestic bliss. Falice shippers rejoice!
– Veronica calls on her New York City-based friend Katy Keene to design the costumes that Archie and Munroe wear to the El Royale’s Halloween party. (More on these in a second). We will be seeing much more of Katy Keene when the spin-off arrives on the CW in early 2020. Expect a Sex and the City/Fame vibe, and the welcome return of Ashleigh Murray as Josie.
– Archie dresses as Pureheart the Powerful, a character who has been his superhero alter ego in the comics since the mid-1960s. All of the gang have their own superhero personas and if this show runs long enough we’ll probably get the opportunity to see them all. Jughead as Captain Hero anyone?
– Meanwhile, Munroe was dressed as The Shield, a character that pre-dates Archie — and Captain America for that matter. The Shield originally made his debut in 1940, and has been sporadically revived throughout the decades, most recently in 2015 for Archie’s Dark Circle line.
– Speaking of The Shield, Moose is seen reading the second issue of Mighty Crusaders that was originally published in 1983 through Archie’s Red Circle Comics imprint. This was the publisher’s equivalent of the Avengers, and is a super fun read if you ever want to experience some non-Marvel and DC comic heroics. And who doesn’t? You may also remember that the Red Circle was the name of one of Archie’s vigilante groups back in the second season of Riverdale.
– “Honestly, I don’t know what I’m doing,” says Archie. Yeah, no shit pal.
– Okay, let’s address the supernatural elephant in the room. Yes it seems like a Chilling Adventures of Sabrina crossover is still frustratingly unlikely on Riverdale, but couldn’t we even get a mention of things going down over in Greendale since tonight’s episode was largely set against the backdrop of a Blood Moon?
– During Kevin and Mr. Honey’s talk, it is mentioned that Kevin wishes to attend NYU’s theater program. Since Katy Keene is set a few years after Riverdale, I fully expect that we will see Kev turn up on that series at some point.
– The mysterious Mr. Honey accurately sums up how Reggie wants to be a prankster and class clown as a way of dealing with his numerous insecurities. This is a theme that comes up time and time again with Reggie in the comics.
– Wait, we’re Toni and Cheryl dressed up as the actual Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy, or the sort of close-but-not-quite knockoffs sold in Halloween stores for copyright reasons?
– Veronica mentions Uber tonight, and it’s so jarring when an actual product name is used in this series.
– Here’s a closer look at the copy of Dracula that betty briefly holds up. Is that cover art by Robert Hack? (The gifted Archie artist best known for his work on Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, and that series’ title sequence).
– Jughead commenting on the anachronistic nature of VHS tapes is rich seeing how the town he lives in has a 1950s diner and isn’t like anywhere else in circa-2019 America.
– Best line of the episode goes to Toni, who tells Cheryl “I know you’re upset that I made you bury your brother’s corpse, but this is so messed up.” Delightful.
– “An FBI program for highschoolers? Is that an actual thing?” I’m pretty sure it isn’t Betty.
– Did anyone else completely keep forgetting Jughead was in the coffin during this episode?
– The flash-forward confirms that, yep, Jughead is dead. Except that this show absolutely doesn’t have the cojones to kill off one of the core four (nor should it). Seeing how Dr. Curdle, Jr. is the attending physician when Betty identifies Jughead’s body, with Mr. Jones by her side, I’m guessing some trickery is afoot here. Remember, the third season finale had Betty, Veronica and Archie all making a pact that no one can know the truth about what really happened to Jughead. My guess is that they paid Curdle to help them with their ruse, and while Jug may look rather dead he is actually alive and kicking…while the pals all plan their next move.
– This seems about as good of a time as any to remind you that the Den of Geek staff has curated a kickass Halloween playlist that you really should be listening to.