Riverdale returns with its most unrestrained episode yet: a musical based around Kevin Keller’s (Casey Cott) production of Carrie: The Musical. The theatrics match the overwrought anxieties of the characters as each member of the main Riverdale gang — except for Jughead (Cole Sprouse) — take on their analogues in the Carrie story: Archie (KJ Apa) as the supposed good-hearted boy, Betty (Lili Reinhart) as the good girl next door and Veronica (Camila Mendes) as the bitch queen supreme. It all seems perfect except for one role. Cheryl (Madelaine Petsch) convinced Kevin to cast her as Carrie, which leads to a new tension.
Let’s be honest here, for as much as Cheryl has grown in the last few episodes, she is not the downtrodden Carrie. If Kevin had mounted the production in the fall, she would’ve been a better choice for the bitch queen than Veronica. The only crossover here is Cheryl’s love of fire and the domineering mother. But the person most like Carrie at Riverdale High is Ethel Muggs (Shannon Purser); so much so that Kevin never let her audition for the lead.
The musical, and its various on and off-stage interludes, provide the backdrop for the episode’s theme of reconciliation. Betty and Veronica patch up their frayed friendship. Alice (Madchen Amick) and Hal (Lochlyn Munro) begin to fix their broken marriage. Even Josie (Ashleigh Murray) forgives Cheryl for her Single White Female misstep a few months back. Chuck (Jordan Calloway) finally finds absolution for his past and Archie and Fred (Luke Perry) repair a portion of their bond despite Hiram’s (Mark Consuelos) attempt to drive the wedge further.
Although, his method — revealing that he bought Archie a car — is so intensely high school that one remembers Riverdale is as ridiculous as a Carrie musical. Which, to the show’s credit, is the point. Alice, cast as Carrie’s mother in the production, realizes mid-song that everyone is leaving her. Cheryl convinces Josie (Ashleigh Murray), playing the caring gym teacher in the musical, that they cannot sing their duet unless their issues are squared away. The songs even find their way off the stage as the show borrows a page or two from Glee‘s songbook, staging musical numbers in otherwise normal Riverdale situations and sets. The show always works best when the teenage melodrama works hand-in-hand with the film noir trappings creator Robert Aguirre-Sacasa welded into the program. And here, the melodrama works even better when welded to the trappings of musical theater. The emotions are pitched at the same level.
And no one really exemplifies this better than Cheryl, whose theatrical flair and reference-laden dialogue reflects the character’s true turmoil. But it’s also interesting to note than Cheryl’s real authentic self — revealed only to Toni (Vanessa Morgan) — is not as measured in her speech or orchestrated in her words. Nonetheless, it is difficult for her to share her thoughts without the flair, which makes Penelope’s (Nathalie Boltt) ultimate refusal to let Cheryl participate in the musical all the more distressing.
Granted, she gets the perfect Cheryl-style revenge on dear old mother later in the episode.
The whole hour turns out to be one of the most Riverdale things to ever happen, which perfectly sets the stage — pun intended — for its nightmarish conclusion: Midge (Emilija Baranac) dead and stapled to a piece of the Carrie set with a new message from the Black Hood. As I’ve always maintained, the Black Hood reveal was one of the most weak-sauce things to ever occur on the show. So weak, that it could only be a dodge. And buried within the episode’s final act is a new list of suspects: Sheriff Keller (Martin Cummins), who was wandering the backstage area before the curtain went up; Kevin’s assistant Fangs (Drew Ray Tanner), the last person seen with Midge; Moose (Cody Kearsley), Midge’s boyfriend; and even Ethel, who may have sent Kevin threatening letters about recasting Cheryl. Chic (Hart Denton) was also backstage and therefore my main carry-over from the old suspect list. Maybe he and the Riverdale High janitor were in cahoots all along.
But let’s ponder that suspect list as we watch a preview of next week’s show. The town gathers to mourn Midge, Cheryl issues a warning to Sheriff Keller and the teen detectives are back on the old case. Hopefully, the solution will be better this time.
Riverdale airs Wednesdays on The CW.