The poster of Riverdale Season 2, a teen drama on The CW based on the characters from 'Archie Comics.' (Courtesy TV Overmind)

‘Riverdale’ succeeds with stripped-down Chapter 21

Yes, “Riverdale.” This is how an episode of your show should be. After last week’s clunker, “Riverdale” (2017–) was in desperate need of a return to its wacky, nonsensical roots. And thankfully, this week delivered on all fronts. This episode had it all: inappropriate sexual encounters, Cheryl acting insane, teen detective work, the reintroduction of a love triangle and one of the most cringeworthy scenes in the history of television. By the end of the hour, “Chapter 21: House of the Devil” had solidified itself as one of the best episodes of season two, if not the entire series. Archie even got to sing again (albeit briefly).

Right off the bat, we get a Varchie hookup montage. We were not subjected to another shower scene (no one had just been shot, so it must not have felt like the right time for Veronica), but we did get a nice view of them “making it” on the floor in front of a fireplace in the Pembrooke. Ah, to be young and in love. Except wait, when Archie said the “L” word on said floor, Veronica was unable to reciprocate. Oh well, nothing a little distraction can’t fix, right? For them, that distraction proved to be a mass murder investigation and more TV-14 sex. Gotta love The CW.

The pair is investigating the murder of the Riverdale Reaper, who years before killed a family of four. Apparently, the former sheriff obsessed over this case up until his death and spent many nights at the crime scene, the abandoned house on the outskirts of town that just so happens to be the same location that the Black Hood sent Betty a few weeks before. Now the gang is certain that there’s a connection between the Riverdale Reaper and the Black Hood.

Archie and Veronica arrive at the house at night (of course they decide to go to the “devil’s house” after dark, it’s just common sense) and fairly quickly discover an essential part of the case: There were actually three children, not two, in the family, meaning that one of them survived the massacre. Archie and Veronica find out that the surviving child was given a new identity for protection and adopted into another family. From there they piece together that the young boy grew up to be none other than the creepy lurker janitor. Well, that explains his random airtime the past two weeks.

Janitor Svenson explains to Archie and Veronica that he actually had been able to identify the shooter after escaping out the window, and a group of men found the Reaper and killed him. Wow, these kids cracked the entire case in 24 hours, while the former sheriff spent decades trying to figure out what happened. What is wrong with the law enforcement in this town?

Veronica is now convinced that Svenson is the Black Hood, but Archie points out that he doesn’t have the Black Hood’s trademark green eyes. Seems like that’s the end of that, but later, we see Svenson looking at a photo of a group of men, possibly the same men who supposedly took care of the Reaper? So maybe the connection to the Black Hood has something to do with these guys. That or the janitor just wears colored contacts.

In other news, Cheryl is still stalking Josie and is almost definitely in love with her. This love manifests itself by way of an oiled-up massage Cheryl gives Josie in the locker room. Casual.

Notice that Betty has not been involved in any of the teen detective work this week, which we all know is normally her bread and butter. Well, that’s because Jughead’s dad has just gotten out of jail, and so not only does Betty want to be there to support FP, but she also decides to throw him a retirement party after he announces that he is going to leave the Serpents. The only thing Betty loves more than investigating murders is party-planning.

Okay, this party. First of all, Archie tells Veronica it’s totally okay if she doesn’t feel ready to say “I love you,” but when his reverse psychology doesn’t work and Veronica still doesn’t say it back, he gets upset. Not upset enough, however, to stop Archie from performing Veronica’s favorite karaoke song with her on stage: “Mad World” (1982). Veronica, why is this your favorite karaoke song? It’s barely in your register, and oh, it’s also a huge bummer.

Distressed about her situation with Archie, Veronica flees the stage partway through the song, and Archie quickly chases after her. This prompts Betty to take the stage for  what may truly be a watershed moment for the show, at the very least for the character of Betty. There is no coming back from what follows. Earlier in the episode, Betty had decided she wanted to join the Serpents to support Jughead, and Toni Topaz informed her that while the initiation for the boys involved holding a snake and getting punched a lot, the girls had to perform a striptease. What a feminist organization.

So you can guess what happens at the party. Betty takes the stage and picks up where Archie and Veronica left off, singing “Mad World.” (Side note: Betty can sing?) All of a sudden, she’s unbuttoning her shirt. Oh no, Betty, sweetie, where did your skirt go? Next thing you know, she’s wearing only black, lacy lingerie and heading over to the stripper pole. “Mad World” is still playing. She then performs a very uncomfortable, sort of lethargic striptease in front of everyone at the party, including her mother. It is a sight from which human eyes may never recover. Calling it secondhand embarrassment doesn’t even begin to do justice to the feeling of horror that came from watching this performance. The writers of “Riverdale,” along with whoever chose “Mad World” as the perfect stripping song for Betty, are seriously sick.

Finally, it’s over, but for Jughead the problems are just beginning. Not only did he just have to watch his girlfriend strip in front of a room full of strangers, but now he finds out that his dad can’t retire from the Serpents after all. FP informs Jug that he found out about his little drug-delivering deal with Penny Peabody, and even though it breaks his heart that Jughead did the one thing FP told him not to do, FP decides to save his son and re-enter the Serpents, taking Jughead’s place. And to make things worse, FP, who started off the episode as a sober man, took a shot right in front of Jughead as he was surrounded by fellow Serpents. Poor Juggy, accidentally ruining his dad’s life. Although to be fair, FP used to be a pretty awful father (remember, Jughead was basically homeless and living at the drive-in, and then FP was an accessory in Jason Blossom’s murder), so it’s a little unclear why he’s guilt-tripping Jughead so much right now.

This all still makes Jughead feel like his involvement with the Serpents is bringing everyone around him down, so he ends things with Betty, explaining he doesn’t want to ruin her life too. (Hopefully no one got any video of her dance, otherwise her life may be ruined regardless.)

But that’s not all. Veronica and Archie cannot recover from this “I love you” situation, leading Veronica to tearfully leave Archie standing in a parking lot. And so it seems like two relationships got the axe tonight. Kevin is going to lose it when he finds out at school.

The last moments of the episode, however, show Archie gazing out his window at Betty, seeing the girl next door “as if for the very first time.” Cue Taylor Swift’s “You Belong With Me” (2008). (Okay, that didn’t play, but it really would have been perfect. Someone get Archie some paper and a Sharpie.)

What a wild ride this week’s episode was. Wednesday is the winter finale, and hopefully big reveals regarding the Black Hood are on the way. If they keep up the crazy from this week and throw in just a bit of murder, this coming episode might be just enough to get us through the hiatus.

“Riverdale” airs on Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on The CW. Full episodes are available on cwtv.com and Netflix.

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