It’s time again for another episode of Riverdale, or as I like to call it, “Archie is the Worst.” This week on “Archie is the Worst,” our red-headed teenage scamp couldn’t see what was right in front of him as the Blossoms crafted him into the perfect tool to prove that they were not a fading dynasty. This is unlikely to be the last time that “Archie” and “tool” will be used in the same sentence, because it took him about 50 minutes longer than it should have to realize that’s exactly what he was being groomed to be, and now it looks like he will pay the price.
Aside from Archie’s sheep-like capacity to believe everything people say to him at face value, I did find this a compelling return to form for Riverdale. It’s not like the show’s been terrible lately, but it did seem like the drama was testing its characters, and testing the assumptions of this world that’s now been firmly entrenched. Alice Cooper was suddenly vulnerable, Hermione Lodge had to face the truth, and Fred Andrews took a stand so as to no longer be under foot. The kids though, they’re the ones that feel that effect the most.
Kudos go to Camila Mendes to whom much of the heavy acting lifting fell as Veronica was confronted with the very real consequences of her father’s criminality. It seems that the parents of classmate Ethel Muggs were among the victims of Hiram Lodge’s Ponzi scheming and were on the brink of losing their home. When Veronica hears that Ethel’s father tried to take his own life, the anguish Mendes conveys is palpable. How are you supposed to feel when you beloved father drives someone to try and take their own life? What can you possibly do as a kid?
Veronica initially thought that Ethel’s malaise meant that she was the one thinking about doing something unspeakable, and when Veronica learns about her father’s complicity in the misery in the Muggs household, she does the only thing she knows to fix it, which is to give someone pretty things. Veronica’s pearls, although somewhat emblematic of the Archies 50s heyday when such a thing would be more stylish, is here the symbol of Hiram’s guilt; he did something wicked, and then he gave Veronica a nice present. Seeing Veronica yank them off her neck was as much a meta commentary though as it was a character one: you can’t go back again, and Veronica is through defending her father.
But while one Riverdaler saw the writing on the wall, another couldn’t see it no matter how many times he was hit over the head with it. Before digging into a segment I like to call, “Why is Archie so f**king stupid?!” let’s remark on how Riverdale seems to exist in a bizarro world where you tap maple syrup trees in late fall and not early spring. And while we’re pointing out inconsistencies, what kind of people still have their outdoor pool full and ready for a dip as the first snow falls? The Blossoms, that’s who. Having lived in a cold climate all my life, I know of no one that still has their pool ready to go for a pool party after mid-September.
Trifles about climatology and pool maintenance aside, Archie seemed to be the focus of this week’s episode, and the moral of the tale was don’t be a rube. Cheryl invites Archie to be her escort at the annual first tree tapping of the season, a Blossom family tradition that’s been entrusted to her since Jason’s untimely passing. Archie politely (and shrewdly) declined the invitation, until Mrs. Blossom starts making with the bribery. If Archie lends a hand to the Blossoms, showing that the family is stable, and thus dissuading the evil maple syrup empire board of directors from a hostile takeover, then they’ll help Archie get into a prestigious music program.
Despite the warnings of everyone – Jughead, Veronica, Val, his father – Archie allows himself to get dug in deeper with Blossoms. According to Mr. Blossom, he likes the effect that Archie has on Cheryl, that he “tempers her more erratic behaviour.” Translation: Archie, and his salt of the earth attitude courtesy of his working class hero roots makes the Blossoms look less like eccentric weirdos whose son was killed after knocking up a classmate. To make this happen, Archie is plied with new guitars and suits, and though I’ll admit that red tux was pretty boss, Archie was far too oblivious to the Blossom’s intent for my liking. A useful idiot.
And indeed Archie was useful for the Coopers at least. Polly, of course, is based out of Thorn Hill now and though Betty and Alice are concerned, Polly tells Archie that she’s only living with the Blossoms to dig up information about Jason’s death. She thinks the Blossoms are behind it, and who can blame her because Clifford and Penelope are as creepy as $#!%? But while there’s no clue that either of them killed their son, Archie does overhear other crimes the Blossoms may have committed as they discuss how perhaps they should have put Hermione Lodge in prison instead of Hiram.
So Archie’s naivety and general doormat-itis did have its benefits after all, and while I’m clearing beating a ginger here, I don’t mean to, and I don’t want to. Any good teen show depends on its central character’s struggle to maintain his moral compass amid a myriad of temptations, and I did like those scenes where Archie sticks up for Cheryl and lends her some understanding, because despite her general ‘tude, it does seem like her parents go out of their way to dump on Cheryl. That’s the Archie we want to sing about around the campfire! But to see him just shrug off all the blatant hucksterism at the hands of the Blossoms is just too profoundly innocent to be ignored, especially in the end when he tries to pick up with Val again after spending the week as Cheryl’s gigolo (to borrow a phrase from Jughead).
In the end, will it be Cheryl that ends up being suspect number one in the murder of her twin? I mean, there’s got to be a reason why her parents are giving her the cold shoulder aside from the fact that she was the problem child? One would think that even a family as cold as the Blossoms would hold their remaining child close and try to mold her to being the best of both worlds, right? At the close, Cheryl was X-ing out Archie’s face in the picture from the ceremony, and while that was understandable given that Archie rebuffed her advances, why was she then X-ing out Polly’s face? Perhaps Polly has within her something that Cheryl thought herself rid of, any living trace of her brother Jason, and potential heirs to the Blossom empire that aren’t her…