This review contains spoilers.
4.8 In Treatment
“I hurt all the time, and all I want to do is make sure no one else does.”
Let’s say it again for the people in the nosebleed section: The most fun thing about Riverdaleis how ridiculous it is. This is, after all, a show that in its 65 episodes to date has featured everything from bear attacks to an organ-harvesting cult, so it’s more than time for the characters to address the trauma they have been through.
And that’s exactly what this episode, written by series V.I.P. Tessa Leigh Williams, does brilliantly.
These kids have been through a lot, some more than others, to the point that even with suspension of disbelief you have to wonder how they can even function. Enter Mrs. Burble. Portrayed by genre great Gina Torres, Riverdale High’s guidance counsellor/licensed psychologist steps in to help Betty (and Alice), Archie, Cheryl and Jughead deal with the PTSD they’ve suffered since, well, the series began.
“Forget college, sex and the serial killer genes,” remarks to Betty to Alice, “think about what you have done to me, that is what I’m going to be unpacking for the rest of my life.” This candid talk between mother and daughter brings their long-simmering resentment to the surface in a way Riverdale has never attempted before.
Granted, the circumstances they have found themselves in so far have been heightened and absurd, but the emotions delivered here – seriously, we don’t as a culture appreciate how great Lili Reinhart is – are as real as this show gets. (It’s no coincidence that this episode takes its name from the late, great HBO series that offered the most realistic view of therapy ever depicted on TV).
Alice and Betty are both challenged by Mrs. Burble, in a way that tries its best not to take sides. As such, Alice reaches a catharsis: Her controlling behaviour is due to the fact that she doesn’t want to lose Betty the way she did Charles and Polly. She even reveals that Betty is her favourite, a super messed up thing to admit to a child, but one born out of an emotional honesty that is a battlefield this show should tread upon more.
For her part, Betty gains some valuable insight into Alice, although forgiveness won’t be as easy to come by. As the episode ends, Betty recieves an unopened letter than indicates she has gotten accepted to her college of choice. Underneath it is a check for the college money Alice squandered away to The Farm ($3,000). It’s a long overdue gesture, but one that begins the gulf the chasm between mother and daughter.
Archie is a more complicated case. Since his father’s untimely death he has been consumed by wanting to do right by Fred. Opening the community centre is way to achieve this goal, and something that Archie has largely done himself… though the help of certain Lodges didn’t hurt. The point being that Archie is determined to make Riverdale a better place to live, honouring his dad’s memory. But there are forces working against him like Dodger, ones that put his loved ones in harm’s way. So while Mrs. Burble is able to briefly sideline his vigilante tendencies, the fix is short-lived. Archie is too stubborn to take good advice to heart, and soon he is back on the streets trying to make his town safe for all. Pureheart the Powerful indeed.
Burble may have had mixed success in her talk with Archie, but she definitely gets through to Cheryl. She doesn’t believe that the student whose life is “defined by gothic tropes” is crazy (which, um, makes me think she really doesn’t understand how literal Cheryl is being when she mentions regularly talking to her dead brother). Okay, so that aside, what Mrs. Burble says about someone trying to gaslight Cheryl makes sense. More so than Cheryl’s declaration that “I had a triplet, Julian, whom I absorbed in the womb, and has resurfaced as a doll that’s moving around my house causing mischief.”
Who would gaslight Cheryl? Obviously Penelope, who is currently missing but doubtlessly devious wherever she is. (Hopefully Nana Rose won’t be in on this scheme, as she is the one seemingly good relative Cheryl has). Cheryl is now prepared to get to the bottom of the Julian mystery, with Toni by her side as usual. She may be screaming into her HBIC Vixens shirt now, but you can bet that she’ll be back in charge before too long.
Speaking of being back in charge, Veronica has got her mojo back. Mrs. Burble rightfully points out that although Veronica always wants to be free from her father, she never can fully let him go (declaring Hiram to be her “ideal future self” really has some merit). Hiram and Veronica are locked in constant conflict. By defeating Hiram in what he holds most important, business, Veronica can sever her ties from him once and for all. But we’ve been down this road with these characters before, so you’ll forgive any scepticism that Hiram and Veronica won’t be engaged in this “dance of death” until the series ends.
Although Jughead isn’t even a Riverdale High student anymore, Mrs. Burble takes some time to chat with him. This results in a breakthrough in which Jughead realises how much he takes his father for granted. Yeah, Mrs. Burble’s inspirational talk conveniently overlooks the fact that F.P. was handed his sherrif job (a point that the Riverdale writing staff works overtime to retcon in order to make the character seem more noble), but she is right in getting Jug to think about how his obsessions impact his father. The final scene of this episode, as well as Jughead’s apparent death, indicates that his change of heart will be short-lived, but for a minute someone helped Jug get his priorities straight.
So Mrs. Burble is two for two. She seems to have genuinely helped Betty and Veronica, but while her words may have gotten through to Jughead and Archie, they are characters who are defined by their commitment to causes. (No wonder they are such good friends).
Cynically you can look upon this episode and declare that bringing in an outsider who tells the characters exactly what they need to hear in order to advance the plot is a tired trope. This is not an inaccurate criticism. Still, the show’s back was about the break from all the insane things these characters had experienced to date. It was most welcome to see their shared trauma addressed, even in such a quick way. Even in the heightened reality of Riverdale, characters can only endure so much without it seemingly cartoonish, so an installment like like this one was a necessity more than anything. As expected, Gina Torres delived a typically fantastic performance tonight, so with any luck she will recur. It’s not like these kids have any lack of problems for her to contend with.
Read Chris’ review of the previous episode, The Ice Storm, here. And here’s what else is new on Netflix this month.