Riverdale Episode 1.11 Recap – “To Riverdale and Back Again”

Last Time on Riverdale:

Papa Andrews (Luke Perry) is out of town and Archie (KJ Apa) and Betty (Lili Reinhart) inadvertently throw one heck of an (awkward and embarrassing) birthday slash house party.  Jughead (Cole Sprouse) gets weird and claims squatters rights in our hearts while Veronica (Camila Mendes) slurps up Val’s (Hayley Law) sloppy f*ckboy seconds.  More of Betty’s darkside gets outed during the Worst! Partygame! Ever! and Mama Andrews (Molly Ringwald) shows up to confess how many drugs she had to have gotten high on while pregnant with Archie.

Jughead’s monologue tells us a nostalgic tale of once again things changing and yet somehow staying the same.  It’s homecoming weekend at Riverdale high and the great match up against the Baxter High Ravens is just around the corner.  Betty gets delegated to the dance planning committee which we’re told is super important since alumni will be back in town.  

Has homecoming changed?  We had a pretty large highschool, but I don’t remember things like former students being able to run for homecoming court, parents coming for dates and bringing their friends, or the whole thing being an undercover showcase for Archie’s terrible music.

A lot happens in this solid episode that is backed by frightening levels of equal parts accusation and blind faith.  Meaning the pointer finger based on “a+b=c” logic is just as powerful as the palm held high to stop it.  The amount of denial exists on the same plane as crime paperback logic and the current it lends to this episode is really effective if not uncanny.  

This episode is faceapp.  The concept is good, but the execution is just slightly off.  It gets the job done, but there’s something not quite right, to the point it’s unsettling.  I have no need to complain about anything because it did its job, and yet I’m left feeling… synthetic, much like the inhabitants of this small town.  

Early in the episode, a handsomely shaved FP (Skeet Ulrich, looking fine I might add) is talking to Jughead about the culpability of who killed Jason Blossom.  Jughead quips that for him it’s not really a “whodunnit”, but more an indictment of whether or not Riverdale is a place of good, or of darkness and evil.  FP quickly answers “Both.  Most places are both.”  It’s such a simple yet all encompassing phrase about what makes this town and the show so compelling.  

Now, when talking about quirky, pseudo-supernatural (I’m expecting a werewolf any day, and I will NOT be surprised), murder-driven dramas, there’s not a lot to compare a show like Riverdale to other than Twin Peaks. So this is not to say that Riverdale exists on that level, but simply to compare the genres.  If Twin Peaks had a failing, it was that the story was so centered on “Who Killed Laura Palmer?” and was so intent to make everyone a suspect, that we didn’t get a chance to really enjoy and learn about the town from any other perspective.  

Where shows like Stranger Things and Riverdale seem to course correct is by giving us the vantage point of a group of characters who are intimately effected by the shenanigans and goings on in this town.  So when the mystery of Jason Blossom is solved, we know another and equally compelling mystery is waiting right around the corner.  

I mention this because it shows how this idyllic small town is not an archetypal paragon of the “good ole days” nor is it a hotbed of corruption and evil; it’s both.  And both the young and the old are intimately affected by it, simply by living in it.  At the end of the ep FP is trying to remove Jughead to make a better life for their family.  Archie considers a move to Chicago to be with his mom.  The fact that the only way to avoid the shenanigans of Riverdale is to leave Riverdale is not lost.  And the acknowledgement that there’s something that’s tethering our cast to Riverdale is as refreshing as it is unsettling.

There’s something spiking the maple syrup fueled town and it’s compelling to watch, even if only to analyze as Jughead tries to make right of the craziness of his world.  A world that eats people like him alive.  A world that does things like bless him with unending support like Betty, but also curses him in the same breath when FP is set up to take the fall for Jason Blossom’s murder.  It’s the juxtaposition of these worlds that make this show a standout instead of just a rote CW teen drama.

Mary Andrews (Molly Ringwald) is surprising to me.  I wasn’t sure what to expect, but she seems like an army brat who has had to move a million times.  Always carrying her own sense of self, while also having to constantly fit into new environments.  She knows she and Fred are divorced, but she doesn’t hate him.  She loves her son and knows the importance of appearance, even if it’s fleeting.  The problem seems to be that for Mary, it’s always fleeting, and that’s not the best experience for an impressionable teenage boy.  For Archie, a mother whose appearance is both sporadic and ephemeral, it’s got to be hard to consider a life in Chicago with her as a) possible, and b) beneficial.  And the idea that neither Archie nor Mary seemed to have considered Fred in the idea at all speaks to a kinship between them that’s flighty at best and destructive at most.  It’s a trainwreck in the making.  If only everyone’s attentions weren’t so focused on the locomotives charging down the other tracks.

Tracks like Veronica’s paranoia about her dad’s inherent lack of innocence making him a monster.   She’s caught in this web of almost needing to know he’s irredeemable.  Because she can’t (read: shouldn’t) love someone who has done such horrible things.  Her love of him can’t be considered justice for the wrongs he has done, so ties must be cut and she and Hermione (Marisol Nichols) have to put Hiram behind them, but how do you put someone you love behind you?  Especially someone who may be getting out of jail soon due to Veronica’s own testimony?

Or other tracks, like the one that further destroys the facade of the Blossom family as Polly (Tiera Skovbye) goes snooping and not only unearths Papa Blossom’s (Barclay Hope) Raquel Welch line of snatched wigs for men (in sticky maple red, of course), but sees the short white-haired man at his most vulnerable. Cheryl (Madelaine Petsch) later tells a fun story of Clifford’s hair running white when he say the ghost of Grandpappy Blossom with his throat slit.  I hope and pray that story comes back around.  There’s a whole side story with Cheryl wanting to co-run for homecoming court with Polly to honor Jason, but Polly’s daily milkshake (which… I’m trying to keep this thing under six pages as it is, but I could write an essay on the amazing WTF-ness of the daily strawberry milkshake) got drugged by Mama Blossom (Nathalie Boltt) and Polly is down for the count.  There’s a whole thing with Nana Blossom’s ring showing up when it should have been with Jason and Cheryl claiming to have destroyed the ring when we all know she didn’t.  And a nice little manipulation from Clifford, all but promising to groom Cheryl to take over the empire.  

I live for rich people behaving badly (and the poor fools that suffer because of it) so I enjoyed every minute with the Blossoms, but that fact that their beats were so good and still not even the best part of the ep, are good indicators for how solid the overall episode was.  

The thing is that many moments share the distinction of lending themselves to the best parts of the episode.  From Mary Cooper’s (Madchen Amick) obvious persistence at questioning FP, or Jughead’s relief and then crushing disappointment at the promise of a normal life, the episode weaves together conflicting narratives of varying degrees of intensity really well.  Even the moments I dreaded or thought were unnecessary were handled adequately.  

When I found out Archie was going to sing at the dance, I paled.  When I heard Veronica would be joining him in “upbeat covers”, I wretched, but when it actually happened?  It was pretty okay!  When Kevin (Casey Cott) showed up out of nowhere with his boyfriend, Joaquin (Rob Raco), I rolled my eyes and wondered ‘really? Why are you… you know what?  Nevermind!’  Then when Kevin ran off to talk to his dad (and later deliver the news about FP’s arrest) and Joaquin slithered into the crowd), it all came together.  Really my only frustrations were those that I felt were intentionally planted by the show.  The incessant finger pointing without any solid proof along with blindly believing someone based on nothing but their word.  And the dissolution of Bughead that’s reasonable and necessary and absolutely heartbreaking all at the same time.

Overall this episode was well paced and a much needed forwarding to the season.  It managed to keep Jason’s murder in the forefront while offering a complimentary mystery in “Who Framed FP?”.  I look forward to the season finale next week

Stray Rounds:

  • Cheryl calling Betty “Nightmare Smurfette” – I don’t know why they’re even still talking after that house party, but if this is the kind of convos they have? I’m here for it.
  • Mary calling Joaquin “that gay greaser serpent” – I don’t know why, her face was so serious and it made me laugh.
  • I’d love to see a flashback ep of the adults in high school, specifically the Mary/Hermione relationship.  And I’d like to know what Mary and Hal had been arguing about.
  • Whatever became of Mary Cooper’s peach pie?
  • Jughead’s hair is glorious.
  • Why is Marky Mark doing lazy ads for DirecTV?  I’m all for phoning it in, but like… what demographic are they trying to reach?
  • “How many wigs does your dad have?”  “One for every mood.”  Oh Cheryl, never change.
  • Also, and this may be controversial, but we got a room full of wigs and talk of “all natural relaxer” in a home inhabited by white people.  That’s all I’m gonna say about that.
  • Jughead is the perfect boyfriend and I would fight Betty for him, but realtalk? I’m a little scared of Betty.  When she stared down her mom all, “Don’t push me tonight, Mom.  Because I will push back.” I was like… okay!  I know Betty is 100lbs soaking wet, but I feel like she could do some damage, I’m just saying.
  • Exactly two people, neither of which actually read these recaps, will understand this, but… #twice.

See you next week!