This review contains spoilers.
4.7 The Ice Storm
“Conspiracy theories and a murder mystery to solve? Sounds like a romantic weekend to me.”
Taking its name from Rick Moody’s novel (and its subsequent 1997 film adaptation) The Ice Storm, this Thanksgiving-themed episode of Riverdale was in and of itself a look at complicated family dynamics. There’s a lot of bizarre shit that went down in this episode, and we will get to that in a moment. But first, let’s examine the scenes that provide the heart of this instalment – those involving Archie and Mary remembering Fred.
I mentioned in my review of the season premiere how difficult it is for TV shows to handle the death of a lead actor as gracefully as Riverdale has done. What has been an unexpected surprise though is how the series’ writers continue to honour the humanity of Luke Perry/Fred Andrews as the season progresses. We see Archie and Mary mourning at his graveside as the episode begins, and this sadness is an undercurrent of the entire episode. (Mary’s kitchen breakdown here allows Molly Ringwald a chance to really show off her dramatic acting chops). Fred’s loss hasn’t been addressed then forgotten, it continues to drive the future of the Andrews family, and, by extension, other members of their community.
Admittedly, with the exception of Fred, every main character on the show is in his or her own way, an absolute mess. Fred was their moral compass, and the lessons that he left behind are still providing guidance. Archie, ever rudderless, suddenly has narrative purpose in his absence. His determination to make the El Royale a place that honours his dad is literally realised as this episode ends. Riverdale is a show that loves its flashy endings, most recently with the flash-forwards about Jughead’s approaching death. Tonight though we are given just an image of a smiling Fred Andrews, followed by the series’ logo presented in silence. This is really affecting, thoughtful stuff. Who knew?
Archie has always been the most problematic character on the show, but now he is the most likable he has ever been. As viewers, we want the El Royale to succeed because that is Archie’s way of honouring his father, who was portrayed by a true Hollywood good guy who left us far too soon. We know that eventually our red paladin will triumph over Dodger and his equally hateworthy clan, for Fred means too much to him and the writer’s for Archie to fail here. For this episode at least, there is victory for Archie. It will be short-lived, but it’s there. And he has made his father proud.
At the opposite spectrum in terms of lovable TV dads is Hiram Lodge. His latest scheme to win back Veronica’s heart is to shut down the El Royale’s Thanksgiving party for the less fortunate (a plan that backfires spectacularly but does allow for some great F.P./Hiram tension at La Bonne Nuit). Hiram remains the show’s most frustrating character in that we never remotely believe that he is the criminal mastermind/great father that it wants us to. For seasons now I kept expecting the writers to turn the tables on him, showing us a Hiram who is utterly broken. Yet the emperor still has clothes, and his villainy is neither impressive nor threatening. Did he arrange for Dodger to be beaten? Of course. Does it matter? Not one bit. There’s no changing Hiram, he is on a plot-driven hamster wheel.
If the show were more clever it would use Hiram to make a statement about our times, and how the rich and powerful get away with pretty much anything. But it’s super annoying in real-life and even moreso on a TV show that regularly features flashier subject matter. And with that said, let’s talk about Cheryl and her plotline in this episode.
Here’s the thing about the Blossoms. They are so cartoonish at this point that they make everything else that happens on this demented funhouse of a show seem realistic by comparison. Whether casually mentioning that the family has been known to eat human flesh or plotting to bury a relative’s corpse during an ice storm, nothing is beyond the pale for this clan. I fully expected Cheryl to rip away the tablecloth to reveal the remnants of Uncle Bedford’s cannibalised corpse a la The Rocky Horror Picture Show, but I suppose that two dinners hitting the floor per episode is too much, even for this series.
I am downright shocked that Cheryl and Toni didn’t just go right ahead and feed Aunt Cricket and the hilariously named Cousin Fester their loved one, but I suppose there are some things that even this show can’t come back from.
Over at Stonewall Prep, Betty’s visit to see Jughead goes as expected – with her getting deeply involved with the mysteries at the school. Bret and Donna’s plan to haze Jughead again fails spectacularly thanks to the arrival of Ms. Cooper. All we really know about why Jug’s classmates were there Thanksgiving weekend is to screw with him… and maybe further cover-up Mr. Dupont’s involvement with Chipping’s death.
The school scenes with Jughead have been a drag so far, mainly because they remove him from the main action. Having Betty in there with him mixing it up with the one-note Bret was a welcome reprieve from this storytelling lull. It will remain to be seen, but I hope there’s something larger at play here involving Jug’s (alleged) demise than just him running afoul of a fellow student and learning who really created a popular series of children’s books.
Read Chris’ review of the previous episode, Hereditary, here.
And here’s what’s new on Netflix this month.