Riverdale Season 5 Episode 7 Review – Chapter 83: Fire in the Sky

Riverdale dips its toes into science fiction in an installment that is as absurd as it is wonderful.

KJ Apa as Archie in Riverdale
Photo: Bettina Strauss/The CW

Riverdale meets The X-Files in a bizarre, hilarious outing.

This RIVERDALE review contains spoilers.

Riverdale Season 5 Episode 7

“Something very strange happened in Riverdale last night.”

It’s increasingly difficult to review Riverdale because this remains a show that has transcended criticism.

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To be blunt, it just does not give a single fuck. Not that it has to at this point.

We’re not even ten episodes into the series’ fifth season yet and the sheer volume of things happening right now is whiplash inducing. This latest episode featured, ahem, UFOs, serial killers, art forgery, irresponsible firefighting, ham-fisted commentary on contemporary issues ranging from fiscal crises to veterans suffering from PTSD, and a dance off. I’m sure I missed something just there, but that’s forgivable seeing how Riverdale remains a show that jarringly transitions from one increasingly inexplicable plotline to the next, pausing only when it deems fit to throw in a baffling musical montage.

So as someone whose job it is to parse the subjective quality of the show, installments like the one that just aired make such a task a fool’s errand. I mean seriously, how can you even begin to sum up such an experience other than to sigh, and get started on the confounding work that lies ahead?

This episode made me feel simultaneously concussed and giddy. Was it a great episode? Or a terrible one? With Riverdale who can even tell anymore, and that’s probably the whole point. I’ll tell you this though, it was ridiculously entertaining.

There’s nothing as daringly go-for-broke that the series’ has attempted before as the current Jughead storyline. A failure as a writer, he has resorted to working at Pop’s (is he even teaching at Riverdale High anymore?) and drinking his days away. Oh yeah, he’s also immersed in the sort of psuedo-scientific happenings that are the stuff of a Leonard Nimoy In Search Of… fever dream currently plaguing his community.

Since Riverdale doesn’t believe in understating anything, Jug is investigating Mothmen and UFO’s now. Let that sink in for a moment. Clearly the producers are going for a The X-Files thing here, even if its maple syrup-drenched stank is more of the Baywatch Nights sci-fi variety. But I digress. As with everything in 2021, it’s unclear exactly what the hell is happening here. It is established here through a charming flashback featuring 1970s Pop Tate that the town has a heretofore unrevealed supernatural past. Maybe Tabitha is right, as Jughead’s UFO experience was just a result of his budding alcoholism. But you just know that this is all leading to some big science fiction reveal, and you should know how much this thrills me given what website you are reading these words on.

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The only problem with the Jughead storyline right now is it takes us into “how you gonna keep ’em down on the farm once you’ve they’ve seen Karl Hungus?” territory by immediately making anything else that happens in this episode/on TV this week woefully dull by comparison. The Swedlow Swamp bodies and Betty’s fear of the return of the Trash Bag Killer as well as the Veronica Lodge equivalent of The Big Short featured here are great…and immediately undercut narratively by the fact that there’s a MAPLE DRENCHED MOTHMAN SKELETON chilling in Pop’s backroom. In any other episode I’d be swooning. Here though they are swept away in Jughead’s riptide of science fiction insanity.

As for the other plot developments, the Vixens saga is only interesting in that it sets the stage for the inevitable Choni romantic reunion. Archie’s firefighting crusade is just the latest manifestation of his messiah complex. Again, these things happened in an episode that featured an extended Close Encounters of the Third Kind homage, so yeah, no.

The biggest problem with Riverdale remains its divide and conquer strategy when it comes to its storytelling: Busying characters with their own detached plots that may or may not intertwine fully eventually. Sticking the landing hasn’t really been accomplished gracefully since the first season finale. Which isn’t to say that plate-spinning isn’t a beautiful thing to watch sometimes, especially when said plates are smeared with the maple-soaked skin of decaying Mothmen.

Keep getting stranger and dumber, Riverdale. You magnificent bastard. Let’s get weird.

Riverdale Rundown

Little Archie Comics cover

• In case you think that UFO’s are a bit much, even for this show, let me remind you that the original Archie comics are an absolute hotbed of alien abduction storylines.

• This episode features an appearance by Katy Keene supporting character Bernardo Bixby (Ryan Faucett) as Archie’s firefighting mentor. Although the CW may be done with that specific corner of the Archieverse, it’s a welcome sight to see figures from that show popping up in Riverdale. And indeed on Riverdale.

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• It occurred to me that this series still has yet to feature a cover of Elvis Costello’s “Veronica.” Shocking.

• Jacker Cracks are the lastest in Riverdale‘s long line of glorious fake products.

• As per usual, Cheryl delivers the episode’s best line: “I’ve seen a porcelain doll possessed by my dead brother move faster than you lot.”

• It bears repeating, Veronica is a terrible teacher.

• Nurse Nightingale is in the employ of Riverdale High School. Naturally.

• This show’s licensees need to release Riverdale High School mugs and Pop Tate bobbleheads ASAP.

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• We learn that during Archie’s army service overseas he mistook a wolf for a dog and was subsequently mauled. Classic Archie!

• So what is Mr. Lodge’s “endgame” hinted at here tonight? My bet is that it involves working with the military on whatever testing/Mothman shenanigans they are involved with.

• Only in Riverdale for five minutes and Eric Jackson (Sommer Carbuccia) already has Hiram’s number, summarizing him as “another fat cat trying to line his pockets by gaming the system.”

• Point to ponder: Are the bodies turning up in Swedlow Swamp related to the Trash Bag Killer’s murder spree, or is this merely an anxiety-inducing red herring for Betty?

• Pop’s yearning for “the lights to come back” was weirdly heartbreaking.

• Am I the only one yearning for a Nana Rose/Dr. Curdle Jr. spin-off?

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5 out of 5