This RIVERDALE review contains spoilers.
Riverdale Season 5 Episode 1
“Clearly our last two weeks of high school are going to be fraught…”
Friends, on this day we find this country starting a new chapter, one that is full of hope and excitement for the future.
I am of course referring to the airing of Riverdale‘s season premiere, a somewhat wheel-spinning, melodramatic affair that feels more like the closing pages of a book than the start of another story.
And that’s because it is precisely that. This episode was a leftover from last year, filmed but not completed production until the pandemic lockdown was over. As such it thrusts us into the start of the endgame of last season’s storylines — namely the fallout of the Betty and Archie kiss, Mr. Lodge’s illness and how he is using vigilantism to cope with it, the mysterious (and suitably anachronistic videotapes) arriving at the doorsteps of Riverdale residents, and the gang prepping for their imminent post-high school lives.
There’s a lot to be told here until the show finishes telling this specific story. Writers Ace Hasan and Greg Murray handle this arguably thankless task with aplomb, squeezing out the necessary exposition needed to push the plot points towards their approaching conclusion while shoehorning in a (now unfortunate) Katy Keene tie-in. To be fair, it’s a solid episode. Just one that, through no fault of its own, doesn’t really work as a season premiere.
That minor gripe aside, there’s a lot to enjoy here. First and foremost are Archie’s struggles. It was wise for the showrunners to make the character realize that he is a bit of a rudderless dolt. Addressing this most obvious of character flaws makes our oft-shirtless protagonist that much more of a likable guy. He’s discovered that while he has some options — running the gym is his best bet — he also needs to clear his head, and getting out of Riverdale would help with that greatly.
Now that the Navy isn’t an option, and he’s questioning his whole life. This results in his destroying his relationship with Veronica by telling her about his illicit kiss with Betty. One, it should be mentioned, that made Betty feel super uncomfortable…although that could’ve just been the terrible song Archie wrote for her.
The deception is enough to blow apart the pair’s “endgame” status…at least until after the upcoming time jump and their old flame is inevitably rekindled. (Even though we know that Veronica will be married to the jerky Chad Gekko, another Katy Keene character climbing aboard the Riverdale express). Much drama will ensue, but in the show’s now, they are done. What’s the over/under until we see Veronica performing “Bittersweet Symphony” at La Bonne Nuit?
Elsewhere, the Choni ship (I am in my forties and just wrote those words!) is threaten by the ghost of the greatest thing to ever happen on Riverdale: The Blossom family’s Maple Syrup Blood Feud. It’s not that Toni’s Nana has an issue with her granddaughter’s sexuality — although she kinda does — but more that Toni is dating a sworn enemy of the Lopez family. As much as I love me some Shakespeareian motifs, these characters regularly deal with serial killers and cult members. So the family drama here isn’t really very compelling, you know?
The most interesting thing happening on Riverdale right now is also its most frustrating, the saga of The Auteur. Betty didn’t tell Jughead about Archie’s shitty song or the kiss because in her mind, it wasn’t that big of a deal. Just a sort of awkward thing that happened in the moment that isn’t worth blowing up her life over. Adult decision making at its finest! Whether or not this choice impacts her relationship with Jughead, and I bet it does, will be revealed soon. Right now though they are doing what they love the most, investigating a mystery. One that really needs to ramp up the excitement and fast.
David seems to be too obvious of a choice to be the identity of the Auteur. It also goes against the show’s habit of making the protagonist someone we already know. Episodes from last season have shown us Charles and Chip plotting together for a yet to be revealed reason. To a lesser degree, Evelyn Evernever is a possibility too. But this episode raises the most intriguing potential suspect yet.
Think about it. She is a cipher of a character, one who would have had access to Jughead’s stories and knows about almost every aspect of his life. Perhaps she is making these videos because she is scared about him going away to school. Maybe they are some sort of bizarre revenge plot cooked up by Jellybean and Gladys Jones against Jughead and FP? By making Jellybean the auteur this creates more drama for the ever-complicated Jughead and gives him a personal tragedy that mirrors what Betty experienced with her father. I truly feel that Jellybean being at David’s film fest/rave by herself (we never see her friends she is supposedly with) is much more than a red herring. Time will tell. But we need to see some clarity on what the motives behind these tapes are, ASAP.
And so Riverdale is back. While we are watching the blending of the programs fourth and fifth seasons unfold due to real-life production concerns, it remains the most welcome of escapes.
• This episode was filmed before production on the series was shut down due to Covid-19. As such, the next few installments will cover the gang’s final weeks at Riverdale High before jumping ahead seven years — which will occur in what was originally intended to be last year’s season finale. And you thought Doctor Who was timey wimey.
• The above explanation also explains why a character from a cancelled CW series — K.O. Kelly from Katy Keene — plays such a crucial role in tonight’s proceedings.
• Speaking of Katy Keene, that show took place during the time period that Riverdale is about to jump ahead to — one in which Hiram Lodge has completely recovered from his mystery disease.
• Did anyone else find Archie’s constant referring to K.O. as bro endearing? And OF COURSE these two characters were given a shirtless workout montage/steam room scene. Besides, what’s an episode of Riverdale without plenty of gratuitous objectification?
• Archie really did himself no favors by neglecting to mention to Veronica how Betty shut him down after his attempt to woo her. Communication is the key to a solid, healthy relationship, fam!
• Ashleigh Murray’s Josie McCoy was a main character on Katy Keene, yet as of this writing it is unclear if she will return to Riverdale or not this season. (And for the record, Archieverse showrunner Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa hasn’t permanently shut the door on some sort of Katy Keene revival either).
• Archie’s scars from his bear attack really come and go, don’t they?
• Kett Turton returns tonight as David, the owner of the Blue Velvet video store. His perfect recreation of David Lynch’s cadence and mannerisms combined with the costume department seemingly raiding the Twin Peaks mastermind’s wardrobe is a perfect illustration of how Riverdale commits to its goofiness 100%.
• I’m not sure, but I think the Black Hood movie being shown in room 317 is a very subtle reference to the Miss Saigon song that also takes place in that location.
• In a nice callback, some of the tickling videos like the ones Kevin and Fangs made are being shown at the film party/rave. (Along with snippets of exploitation/art flicks clearly inspired by the works of Kenneth Anger and Herschell Gordon Lewis).
• “You had me at snuff film.” Here’s hoping Kevin Keller never changes.
• Cheryl is at her most Cheryl tonight, melodramatically spewing lines like “perhaps your camera will capture the sublime tragedy of my life” with an effortlessness that would make Bette Davis proud.
• Putting Fizzle Rocks in the punchbowl, classic Reggie Mantle.
• Further evidence of how this show is, to quote The Tragically Hip, chronologically fucked up, the songs played at the prom were Sixpence None the Richer’s “Kiss Me,” BoDeans’ “Closer to Free” (itself the theme song to another popular teen show, Party of Five), Collective Soul’s “The World I Know,” Mazzy Star’s timeless “Fade Into You,” and Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer.” Would any of these songs actually be played at a prom taking place in whatever year in the 2010’s this series is set in? Your guess is as good as mine.
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