Riverdale Needs To Solve Its Villain Problem

As Riverdale wraps up its fifth season, its wheel-spinning antagonists keep weighing the show down.

Riverdale -- “Chapter Ninety-Five: RIVERDALE: RIP (?)” -- Image Number: RVD519fg_0066r -- Pictured (L-R): Camila Mendes as Veronica Lodge, Cole Sprouse as Jughead Jones, Lili Reinhart as Betty Cooper and KJ Apa as Archie Andrews
Photo: The CW

This Riverdale review contains spoilers.

Riverdale Season 5 Episode 19

“So, Riverdale lives to fight another day…”

With an episode title like “Riverdale R.I.P.,” it would be understandable if you went into this season finale expecting some massive game-changing event to occur that would cause Riverdale to completely reinvent itself.

No such luck.

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For there was no “we have to go back” mindfuck, no exploding Gus Fring, just more of the same wheel-spinning in which characters behaved the way they always do. Friends, it’s really getting exhausting.

Over the course of five seasons to date, the series has proven that it works great on an episodic level but falls apart when analyzed as a whole entity. Indeed, fans coming off of last week’s stellar musical episode came into the finale expecting chaos ranging from Pop’s being decimated to Cheryl being burned at the stake for her religious dabbling. To be fair both of these events occurred, sorta. Pop’s was burnt up, but not badly enough that Jug couldn’t make a hamburger for Tabitha (and the basement level Whyte Wyrm bar apparently had no damage whatsoever). Blame the power of a misleading promo, one that did the actual largely anti-climactic reveals of this episode no favors.

A much bigger reveal was the story of Abigail Blossom, who was murdered by the ancestors of Archie, Betty and Jughead back in 1819 — and whose spirit, conveniently, is reborn in a fashion in each generation’s subsequent Blossom woman. As cool as this is, it’s also a bit of a shrug logistically. How exactly this works as Abigail was apparently childless at the time of her death is a mystery, although it’s safe to assume their were other Blossoms around at the time of her murder? Is this why Nana Blossom is so wacky? But perhaps as always it is best to remember Veronica’s immortal words of “forget it Jughead, it’s Riverdale” and not ponder the contrivances here too much. The larger point being that by the time the credits roll on this episode, Cheryl has revived her ancestor’s curse, invoked Satan and literally caused an ill wind to sweep through Riverdale.

Never mind that the past few weeks have seen Cheryl’s character undergo a transformation from mentally struggling to finding inner peace and wanting to act as a mentor for Britta Beach. Since the story demands it, “crazy” Cheryl is back, and there’s nothing viewers can do but sit back and enjoy the chaos. As frustrating as it may be.

The problem is, we have seen it all before.

Riverdale has an ongoing problem of playing narrative ping pong with its characters. Cheryl and Hiram Lodge suffer the most because of this infuriating creative decision. Due to the over-the-top nature of Cheryl in general, combined with her getting at least one killer bon mot per episode and Madelaine Petsch’s always compelling performance, her character is able to swiftly recover from these jarring transitions.

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The same can’t be said for Mark Consuelos’ Hiram Lodge. Although you can see Consuelos trying his best to breathe some vigor into Hiram, the writers just seem to have no idea how to handle the character. This was most evident in the last half of this season, where Hiram was portrayed as an ineffectual joke (getting called a “little bitch” twice in the process). Suddenly after watching his emasculation for weeks, viewers are again supposed to view him as the ultimate threat, powerful enough to sneak back into a town where everyone is um, gunning for him to blow up Archie.

(Riverdale’s other current big bad is the Trash Bag Killer, a character who popped up in a brief scene to remind you that, oh yeah, he is still a plot point that the series needs to deal with at some point).

These kind of contrivances border on being contemptuous towards the audience. Riverdale can do better. It must do better. The inconsistency of characters is inexcusable, and a much bigger problem than the transparent — and almost certainly temporary — new “ships” on the show that are causing Twitter to implode as you read these very words. But these aren’t issues that can be solved easily.

Cheryl is too lovable of a character for her to permanently go “full dark no stars” and Hiram, well, does anyone really even remotely give a shit about this character anymore? It is a testament to Mark Consuelos’ enduring charisma that the dull void that is Hiram has any life left in him. When we last see the character he is driving away from Riverdale. For the show’s sake, it will hopefully be awhile before he returns. Perhaps by then the series’ will have figured out how to write its antagonists in a way that is both consistent and entertaining.

Riverdale Rundown

  • Ship breakdown: Veronica is now with Reggie, Betty is with Archie, Jughead is with Tabitha, Toni is with Fangs. Plus there’s the rebirth of Falice as Alice and Frank have something brewing.
  • Does anyone believe for a second Archie and Betty are in danger? They weren’t shown in the promo during the credits, but c’mon. Archie’s abs can absorb the power of that bomb.
  • Eric Jackson has left Riverdale. Fare thee well, unimportant secondary character.
  • Am I crazy or was The Lodge Ledger never even mentioned before this episode? I remember Alice working for the Riverdale Register, but that was prior to the seven-year time jump.
  • Can we just take a minute to appreciate Alvin Sanders as Pop Tate? His scene with Erinn Westbrook as Tabitha tonight was my favorite moment in the show. A nice understated moment amidst all the chaos. Welcome back Pop, we dig your retirement look!
  • So where did all the water from the fire department go if it didn’t ruin the Whyte Wyrm?
  • Is Jughead, a man who less than a month ago turned in someone else’s novel as his own, a good choice to be teaching kids about journalistic ethics?
  • In a nice touch, the Ghoulie ingested some Jingle Jangle right before torching Pop’s.
  • Pop’s demise was the most upsetting fire involving a TV diner hangout since Chachi accidentally burned down Arnold’s on Happy Days.
  • Riverdale’s new logo declaring itself to be “The Town with Pop’s” made the heart of this longtime Archie comics reader soar.
  • Twin Peaks was a massive influence on this show’s creation, and now Riverdale has its own Agent Cooper.
  • So who you do think the Trash Bag Killer really is?
  • As for the FBI having a Riverdale Field Office, I totally buy this due to the sheer amount of bad shit that happens there. “God knows there’s enough crime here to last me several lifetimes,” Betty wisely declares.
  • The opening credits being shown over the smoke from the Pop’s fire really had me convinced that the show was doing away with one of its primary locations. Nice fakeout.
  • Given the licensing issues with Netflix, it’s not surprising that Chilling Adventures of Sabrina hasn’t been mentioned on Riverdale. That said, a main character is now a witch who has invoked Satan, so at least throw us a bone and give Greendale a shout out?
  • Someone should tell Fangs that the Serpents have been a joke since, umm, forever.
  • Pearls and Posh is now a front for a secret casino run by Reggie and Veronica. How will this cause friction with their friends who are trying to legitimize the post-Hiram town?
  • Kevin is heading to New York City to pursue his Broadway dreams. How will the show keep him in town?
  • We won’t have to wait long to see the aftermath of Abigail/Cheryl’s vow to “torment and destroy,” as the series returns on November 16th with a five-part story arc (apparently called Rivervale if the promo is to be trusted) that promises Midsommar-esque horror flourishes.
  • What are your thoughts on this season as a whole? My gut feeling is that it was the weakest to date, with the characters of Cheryl, Hiram, Kevin and, as always, Archie suffering some major disservices. However, it also had the Josie and the Pussycats backdoor pilot and the Next to Normal episodes, two of its strongest outings ever. Oh Riverdale, you frustrate me and I love you. We’ll be back here next month when the show returns.