It’s hard to say who’s in a lonelier place, as the title of this week’s Riverdale refers to. Poor Forsythe Pendleton “Jughead” Jones III, living under the stairs of the school like a poor man’s Harry Potter, is certainly in a lonely place, struggling to keep his family drama under wraps, and hoping that his father, living hopelessly and nearly always half-drunk in the family trailer, will pull his act together. Betty is also in a lonely place, wanting to desperately to help her sister but caught in the competing demands of two families that hate each other. Hey, someone give these two kids a break.
The overwhelming cuteness of Betthead eased the pain this week as Jughead tried to get his dad back on track, while Betty tried to find Polly and get her parents to allow her sister to come home where she belongs. The good news for Betty was that she got at least halfway there, finding Polly hiding in the attic of the Cooper homestead. Alice uses Polly’s pregnancy to shake up the Blossoms, who are ready to have Polly drawn and quartered for Jason’s murder, pointing to the fact that Polly escaped on the same night that Jason’s car was burned. Betty ridiculously thought that her mom might relent in forcing Polly to give up the baby now that the cat’s out of the bag. Yeah, no.
But there was a reprieve for Polly, and it came from the most unusual place. Cheryl tried to convince Betty that her family would give Polly shelter and a place where she could keep Jason’s baby and raise him or her (I don’t think that the baby’s gender has been revealed). It’s uncharacteristically generous of Cheryl, although enjoyment of Betty’s lack of guile and was probably reward enough, it’s just too bad that mama and papa Blossom aren’t as good as their word. Already Penelope Blossom was pondering ways of taking her grandchild away from its mother, so Cheryl did the only thing she could do, tell Polly to run away. It was a great touch by Madelaine Petsch when Cheryl stopped herself from touch Polly’s tummy before breaking the bad news, it reminds us that while the kids are alright, the parents are anything but.
Having said that though, I find this Hatfields and McCoys diadem between the Coopers and Blossoms stretching credulity. When Betty tells the gang the story, and Veronica asks rhetorically, “What year is this?” I said “Thank you!” out loud. Having Polly shipped off out of sight and out of mind, and letting propagate the rumour that she’s a drug addict who’s not pregnant is of course a homage to Archie‘s chastened heyday in post-war America, but even in a small town, in the 21st century, is a pregnant teen such great shame? MTV built a franchise around the idea! And as long as we’re criticizing things, someone take that ridiculous ginger wig off Barclay Hope‘s head. Do they all have to be redheads to get that there’s a familial connection? Why not acting?
Okay, so the other big story of the week was the long awaited back story of Jughead’s family situation. His father F.P. is a Southside Serpent as a fallback after getting fired by Fred Andrews for mysterious reasons, and F.P. sunk into drunken despair, Jughead’s mom took his sister Jellybean and took off for grandma’s house. So why didn’t she take Jughead with her? It’s never made explicit, but I think Jughead thinks he can save his father, no matter how bad it gets, I think he’s in his father’s corner and believes that if the old man hits rock bottom then he might bounce back. There’s no sign that the scheme is working so Jughead plots a new course with Archie’s help, have Fred give F.P. another chance.
To Riverdale’s credit it never tries to cast to either side of an argument as the “bad guy” trying to outdo the “good guy”, or take advantage of them. I would suspect that even Mr. and Mrs. Blossom, despite their creepy and calculating vibe, aren’t all bad, but in talking about Fred and F.P., they put aside their enmity for a very particular reason. “I want my son to look at me and not see a piece of garbage,” says F.P. I think it’s the most emotional I’ve ever seen Skeet Ulrich, even in the season one finale of Jericho where he had a lot more to work with.
And there’s nothing that can’t be solved at Pop’s so the Joneses and the Andrewses all headed over after F.P.’s first day back at work for burgers and shakes. Friendly remembrances soon gave way to tensions as it came down to who would pay the check. A friendly gesture for some, a matter of personal pride for others, and not like the kind of pride you have in your son for making time running the school paper with Betty Cooper. Later, we get two sides of the same story: for F.P. he got into a little bit of trouble and Fred forced him out of his stake of the construction company they co-owned, and for Fred he parted ways with a troubled partner before his own livelihood and family future drowned with F.P. But Archie points out, quite correctly, that Fred’s move meant leaving Jughead to drown as well.
The message seemed to be received on Fred’s part because when Jughead’s taken into the sheriff’s office for questioning, Fred fakes an alibi for the younger Jones. Sheriff Keller seems to have a weak case, perhaps grasping at straws due to pressure from the Blossoms, but it’s for certain that Jughead’s hiding something. It’s always good legal advice to ask for a lawyer before answering too many questions from a police officer, but it’s hardly the first instinct of most people when being interrogated by the police. So what it Jughead hiding? Is he covering up for his dad with the earlier, incriminating fire, and if he is covering for his dad, then might he be covering for his dad now? The fact that Jason Blossom’s letter man’s jacket now hangs in F.P.’s closet is certainly suspicious.
Unfortunately, that’s where we have to leave things for now. Riverdale is taking a couple of weeks off, and will be back on March 30, but why not make us wait a million years, CW? Still, it gives us time to look at the case anew, maybe binge through the series so far to look for more clues. For example, where did Jason get the drugs he was selling, and the drugs that Betty and Jughead found in his car? Could a certain Southside Serpent have made the deal? It’s possible that F.P. was covering up for the drugs, but then why take the jacket? Is it a souvenir, or is did he take it for some kind of insurance? Perhaps his drunken stupor is a result of knowing something he’d rather not know. In which case, what other suspects are there?
Might one of the Blossom parents have found out about Jason leaving home and abandoning his birthright and took their outrage too far? Might Hal Cooper have snapped and defended his family honour from the legacy spawn that knocked up his daughter and planned to runaway with her? Might Jason have chickened out of that idyllic move upstate forcing Polly to snap and affirm all those rumours of her being crazy? Maybe Fred Andrews is darker than that Father Knows Best routine would belie. That last one seems unlikely, but we’ll have to wait until the end of the month to gather more clues.