Riverdale reinvents itself as the fifth season properly gets underway.
This RIVERDALE review contains spoilers.
Riverdale Season 5 Episode 4
“To be honest, it doesn’t even feel like Riverdale anymore.”
You can say that again Archie.
Following three episodes originally intended for last year and a seven-year time jump, Riverdale‘s fifth season gets well and truly underway with an installment designed not so much with shaking up the status quo but reinventing it completely. To borrow the name of a Flaming Lips song — you just know NYC writer’s block-stricken Jughead listens to lots of the band’s output — suddenly everything has changed.
In the near decade since he was last home, Archie has been through hell fighting in an unnamed conflict in which he feels responsible for one of his fellow soldiers losing a leg. He has dreams that mix battle imagery with the formally idyllic existence he had in high school. (At least that’s what I think we’re supposed to feel here, even though Archie’s teen years were fraught with bear attacks and attempted murders aplenty but I digress). The point being that Archie sees Riverdale, despite its obvious flaws, as a safe haven. Always one to embrace a cliche though, he quickly learns that you can’t go home again. Riverdale is now just as dangerous as his overseas battle. It wasn’t a nightmare he had, it was a premonition.
Ordered to run Riverdale High School’s ROTC program, Archie comes home is quickly brought up to speed by Toni — pregnant and running the reborn White Wyrm out of the former space of La Bonne Nuit. Lawlessness prevails throughout town, leaving Riverdale largely empty with the exception of those who are too poor or proud to try to restart elsewhere. The city is without hope. Mayhem reigns. Is Archie Batman now? God I hope so.
Responsible for the community’s downfall is, you guessed it, Hiram Lodge. Without the influence of Hermione or Veronica to keep his worst instincts in check, Hiram has become the villain he has always longed to be. (He’s enlisted Reggie to be his right hand man, making that character the closest to his pain-in-the-ass comic book counterpart to date). Some murky dialogue vaguely explains that Hiram’s wrongdoing is connected to his long-gestating SoDale real estate development, but the specifics don’t matter. What does is that Mr. Lodge is in power like never before, and all of Riverdale is suffering as a result.
Meanwhile at Quantico, FBI trainee Betty is also haunted by her recent past. While pursuing the hilariously named Trash Bag Killer, she didn’t wait for backup — becoming the killer’s captive before he escaped in the process. Her loving partner — let’s call him Molder for now, Mad magazine style — is worried that she isn’t dealing with the trauma of her experience, as is her therapist. But soon she too is called back home to deal with what we think is a crisis but is really just a very sweet thing. More on that in a few minutes.
We catch up with New Yorker Veronica, who is married to real estate tycoon Chadwick Gekko (Chris Mason, portraying a character from Katy Keene that Reid Prebenda originated). Apparently she used to be the “she wolf of Wall Street” until she lost her mojo after being involved in a near-fatal helicopter accident with Chad. Since then, she’s been secretly working in an upscale jewelry store that let’s her take advantage of the smart business acumen she frequently demonstrated during her high school years. But when she sells a Glamorege egg that Chadwick gave to her, it’s clear that their relationship is more than just a little fractured.
Also in the Big Apple is Jughead, and he’s just full on skeezy now. With dubious facial hair and a penchant for sleeping with fans, this version of Jughead is easily the most disturbing new version of one of the series’ core four. We learn that his first book, the S.E. Hinton meets Pop Tate’s Chok’lit Shoppe pastiche The Outcasts was a mega success that made him a fleeting media darling. But now Jughead has severe writer’s block…not to mention debt collectors literally pounding at his door and toxic boyfriend tendencies we see him display briefly. Basically he sucks. If anyone can use a priority realignment it’s him. Fortunately, he too gets a call beckoning him home.
Once the gang is back together in Riverdale, for Pop Tate’s retirement party!, awww, we get an update on Cheryl. She has successfully rebuilt Thornhill and rehabilitated the Blossom family name over the past seven years…with a cost. She still feels cursed by her family’s misdeeds and spurns Toni’s attempts to reconcile and instead chooses to live as a recluse. (I mean, for at least the remainder of this episode).
Finally reunited with all of friends, Archie is determined to enlist their help in saving the soul of Riverdale. Not that any of them seem too happy to join this crusade. But the episode doesn’t dwell on their responses as it is too busy establishing a new mystery — a murderous trucker is on the loose. And our heroes are the only one who can stop him. Obviously.
This episode is a very typical one in that it bombards the viewer with new information. True, it doesn’t feel like Riverdale as we know it, but that’s a good thing. After a previous season that was a bit middling, I am more than supportive of this quasi reboot happening here. The series has been renewed for a sixth season, so it’s likely that it will find it’s new rhythm over the course of the upcoming installments and a new normal will settle in. For now though, there’s a lot of possibility here. Riverdale‘s biggest mystery right now? Where it will go next.
• Along with Saving Private Ryan, the nightmare that starts this episode is also a reference to the excellent Archie 1941 miniseries — which explored how World War II impacted Riverdale and its characters.
• Since Archie and Betty are now both experiencing PTSD, will their shared trauma bond them together?
• I absolutely believe that each of these characters would return to Riverdale to bid farewell to Pop Tate, given how important his shop has been in each of their lives.
• Let’s hear it for more screen time for Vanessa Morgan’s Toni Topaz! Choni forever! (That baby bump was real by the way, she gave birth to her first child last week).
• Archie reads Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, in case any of you were worried that the series’ fondness for anachronisms would be lost during the seven year time jump. Also, Archie being able to read is canon!
• Even though Katy Keene is long-cancelled, it’s nice to see that show’s title character (and her employer, Lacy’s) get referenced here.
• As an Archie comics diehard fan, I am incensed that the show has ditched his iconic whoopee hat. Yet I have a feeling by the time this season ends we will witness him throwing it back on in an effort to reclaim the artistic power that his former self possessed.
• Kevin and Fangs are established as still being together, with the former working at Riverdale High. Alice’s current whereabouts are unknown. I hope Vegas has been rehomed.
• In case Betty’s Silence of the Lambs parallels were a tad too understated for your taste, her therapist’s name is Dr. Starling. And if someone doesn’t sing “Goodbye Horses” this season I will be very upset.
• The FBI waited seven years to dismantle the two-person (one of whom wasn’t even a real agent) Riverdale field office? Actually, given government inefficiency, this sounds just about right.
• Veronica and Chadwick’s helicopter accident happened while they were on their way to “Marsha’s Vineyard,” because apparently Riverdale 2.0 now does fake places as well as brands.
• That abandoned doll Archie found in Pickens Park is super creepy.
• Betty’s cat is named Coffee, and given her history as a pet owner, I fear for the feline.
• Towards the end of this episode, new character Tabitha Tate (Erinn Westbrook) bids farewell to drifter Lynette “Squeaky” Fields. Given that Fields’ nickname is a Manson Family reference, could Riverdale have a death cult on its hands?
• Other mysteries raised by this episode: Who is the father of Toni’s baby? How will Veronica feel about La Bonne Nuit becoming a Serpent hangout? How long have Betty and her partner been together? Will Jughead get a razor? Who is the Lonely Highway killer? How did Reggie get involved with working for Hiram? What exactly are Hiram’s SoDale plans? How long until someone punches Chadwick? Where’s Mary Andrews? How long have the Ghoulies been back in Riverdale…and Archie’s house for that matter? If Riverdale is such a cesspool, what exactly does Tom Keller do all day? I suppose we will just have to wait for answers to all of these questions and more. Until next week!