All-Star Serial Killer line-ups loiter in our libraries! Wilbur Wilkins stalks the night! Elbows are being thrown! Actual elbows!
It’s chaos out there. But don’t worry. Reggie’s brought pizza and I’ve brought a recap.
THE TOWN WITH TIES
Jughead declares the night of the Town Hall Meeting to be an existential turning point for Riverdale, a change in what the town fundamentally is. Now, to be fair, he’s always saying things like this, he’s an excitable young man, but he’s got a point with this one. The events of this episode see Riverdale changed as it arrives at and consolidates a new unity between its narrative quirks and its content. What’s going on in Riverdale and how stories work in Riverdale come together in a way I’m not sure they have before.
Here are three things I think are true about this show. Firstly that there is, at the heart of it, an emotional truth about adolescence, namely the pace at which it’s experienced. The tiny windows presented to teenagers in which to make choices on which they’re told their whole lives will depend accelerates everything going on in those already melodramatic years of one’s life. Huge choices are demanded of one in a social space set up to minimise one’s ability to make considered choices, and I think Riverdale does a pretty good job of capturing how fast and dangerous and frustrating that can feel.
Secondly, that it’s currently exploring how a community that has lost its illusions, and with them its sense of identity, behaves. Everyone in the Town Hall meeting applauds all of Alice’s arguments, and then everyone applauds all of Fred’s counter-arguments, and then everyone applauds all of Alice’s again, and then all of Fred’s. For as long as those two keep care to keep talking, the crowd will keep switching between their contrary positions. Riverdale doesn’t know how Riverdale is meant to behave so has excused itself from having to behave consistently from moment to moment.
Thirdly, that the writing on this show is erratic. We’ve learned how to watch Riverdale by now and we know what we can and can’t expect in the way of consistency. When we rejoin characters for each week’s episode then we know there’s no reason to assume that they’ll be positioned where we last saw them, neither in terms of their motivations or in terms of their relationships. It might be disappointing seeing Kevin walk in this week and act like last weekend’s character development didn’t happen, but we know that’s in the rules of Riverdale. It might give us whiplash watching the entire football team go from being super-hyped to do some vigilantism, to being very opposed to the whole thing, to being passionately up for it again as soon as they learn that Archie protected one of them from getting into some demonstrably trivial bother, but we know that that’s how Riverdale likes to pop, patch and re-inflate its story-balloons. We know this show is a bit of a mess.
The flashing lightning fuses these three things and illuminates Riverdale as a town in the grip of teenage impulsivity, civic trauma and flailing storylines. As a town in a radical state of flux.
This episode is about Betty and Veronica solving puzzles. Betty’s puzzle is that thing with the code. Veronica’s is more profound. While everyone else is coming to terms with what Riverdale/Riverdale is, she’s on the next level trying to answer the question of how you live a life inside a town/show like that. What can you base your choices on when the people who surround you and the people who write you are a chorus line of jerking knees? What can you hold on to?
“These are fraught times,” she recognises. “No one’s thinking straight,” she further recognises. “We have to hold on to each other,” she concludes.
Her answer is loyalty, the proper application of which has been a theme of this season since its first episode juxtaposed Betty’s resolution to support all of Jughead’s choices with the awful consequences of Jughead’s choices.
Veronica’s not so hasty. She doesn’t arrive at loyalty as her conclusive answer to the Riverdale problem until she’s tested it out from a couple of different approaches and found a way it can work. A way it can be something better than fetching your boyfriend’s gun and designing a fashion line around his attempt at suicide-by-proxy.
Part of what gets her there is a brief scene with her mother that stands out as the most honest we’ve ever seen the two characters have. As Hermione tries to explain that supporting someone cannot mean putting yourself in a position where you cannot criticise them, it’s finally made explicit what Hermione wants. She wants her daughter’s life to be entirely unlike hers.
The Black Hood leaves messages for Betty in envelopes marked ‘BETTY’ but messages for Alice in envelopes marked ‘COOPER.’
There’s potential for confusion here. The killer needs a more consistent system for how he communicates with this household. If, as seems as likely as anything, the Black Hood is Hal, then the way things are going he’ll be unmasked while sloppily delivering a message labelled ‘ME.’
What does it mean to be a South-sider? The North/South divide is more tangible than ever this episode, partly because it’s a story about people actively working to make that happen, and if this is going to be a thing then it’s a thing that probably needs to be thought about carefully.
Most of the time it appears to be a division based on class and economics. Other times it seems to be a division as arbitrary as the Ghoulie/Serpent battle lines being drawn over whether cars or bikes are best. But one way or another, the show’s now very clear that the South-siders are a group over which the North-siders have privilege, and that privilege is an active force in the narrative. It’s very clear because Toni told us. Riverdale knows it wants to associate Toni with that social justice lingo that the kids have nowadays, but doesn’t yet know if it wants her to be for or against.
Is this a Batman story? Jughead raises the question in response to the villainous riddle, and it’s weirdly apposite. Telling stories about what happens to a community’s self-perception in the face of catastrophe was the new function that Scott Snyder put the Riddler to in ‘Zero Year’, and that’s to some extent carried through into Tom King’s recent War of ‘Jokes and Riddles.’ The version of the Riddler that’s been prominent in the comics over the past few years would be very at home in this town right now.
While Hiram Lodge sounds like a more cinematic Batman baddie, gloating over all the delicious “chaos and confusion” his dastardly schemes have provoked among the unsuspecting populace. Even then though, his ultimate goal looks like it’s about driving the town towards gentrifying the South Side so he can cash in on the redevelopment. That would be quite a Scott Snyder-ish Batman story too.
Veronica puts on her cape and makes someone dispose of a gun. Definitely thinks this is a Batman story.
Betty has more reason to think she’s in Buffy, finding herself an unwilling Chosen One whose best option is to rustle up a study group and a pile of library books.
Jughead is very proud of being the first person to call the Black Hood a serial killer, beating all those cowards who were waiting for him to kill more than one person.
Fred isn’t happy about his son’s choices but acts generally more resigned to them than he did towards the music career.
Archie has an alarming remix of his naff video going round his head. I wonder how his music sounds now? Never mind all this autotuned milkshake, let’s have him up on the stage performing this catchy little number about the B-B-B-B-Black Hood.
The Zodiac Killer is returning some Catherine Cooksons.
The Axeman has come to pay his fines.
The Phantom Killer just dropped in to do a bit of photocopying.
That Librarian seems a likely suspect. Judging by where Juggy plucks his selections from, then at least three stacks of Riverdale’s modest public library are given over to books on serial killers. Who’s stocking this place? She is, I reckon. According to her own murderous interests. This same shady character admits to being afraid of the Red Circle and would have known that Betty always used to take out that Nancy Drew book. She’s the Black Hood, I tell you. Who else could have known that?
Hal just sits there quietly through the episode again.
Weatherbee has no evident sense of embarrassment over supporting the Red Circle last week.
Sheriff Keller is very gracious not to give him shit about this.
Dilton gets the ever-mobile devil imagery applied to him this week, toying with a shiny red apple while leading Archie into temptation.
Wilbur Wilkins was a safer bet than Bingo Wilkin.
Reggie speaks for the Bulldog hivemind, brings pizza to the apocalypse. So it is written in the Book of Reg.
Toni is an expert on serial killers because she is from THE DARK SIDE.
Betty’s ponytail flicks against the fourth wall.
Fangs Foggarty appears. Presumably he won’t be Penny Peabody’s boyfriend in this continuity, although actually you never know with Riverdale.
Adam the Alien does not appear.