Riverdale is at its best when it embraces its insane ideas. And few parts of the series are as cooky as its high school noir trappings. This week’s episode leaned into that element hard with extended narration from Jughead (Cole Sprouse), the character declaring himself a Philip Marlowe type detective and a slight tonal shift from Riverdale‘s baseline to play with the look and feel of 1940s detective thrillers. The results lead to one of the show’s best episodes in quite awhile. And that the show can accommodate episodes like this, the triptych format, musicals and its bonkers baseline is quite remarkable.
But let’s get to the meat of the story: clearing the deck of certain story ideas. Hiram Lodge (Mark Consuelos) is definitively the Man in Black; although the theatricality involved still doesn’t quite suit his style. He was running drug operations out of the Blossom maple syrup factory and his precious but unseen prison in SoDale. Claudius Blossom (Barclay Hope) was his candyman and Tall Boy was running the Gargoyles on Hiram’s behalf. And now the latter two are dead.
Claudius’s presence never quite worked out for the series. Consider his absence in Penelope’s (Nathalie Boltt) recollections of her childhood. Also consider that the threat he seemed to present in Season 2 vanished as soon as he became Hiram’s accomplice in the drug trade. His arrival was a fantastic shock, but he just seemed to fizzle out. At least his death elevates Penelope to the upper tier of broken souls and murders in Riverdale. Curiously, the confirmation that she poisoned Claudius and Dilton Doiley’s dead dad Darryl also seemed downplayed. As did the revelation that she definitely poisoned Clifford Blossom (also Hope) before staging his suicide. I suppose its more fuel for Penelope’s increasing menace. At the same time, the justification she gives Betty (Lili Reinhart) for her murders is interesting — she blames the men of Riverdale for all of its sorrows — and hopefully it will lead to further depth for the character. Then again, I’m a sucker for the madness of the Blossom family. See also Nana Rose’s (Barbara Wallace) brief but wonderful cameo. I wonder if she still thinks Betty is Polly?
Oh, also, Claudius’s initial batch of Fizzle Rocks contaminated the Sweetwater River, leading to the seizures last fall, but it is still unclear why only women were effected by the polluted water.
Meanwhile, Jug went into P.I. mode to solve a mystery for Veronica (Camila Mendes): who shot her father. The answer was obvious, Hermione (Marisol Nichols) order the hit, but the route to that solution gave us a ton of clarification about Hiram’s role in the Fizzle Rocks scheme and the surprise (but brief) return of Sheriff Minetta (Henderson Wade). His apparent death never sat right, even if it was timed with Wade taking a new job on Swamp Thing as a similarly corrupt lawman. But the discovery that he and Hermione were engaged in an affair was … well, it was thematically apt. And a bigger revelation than Kelly Ripa’s appearance as Hiram’s apparent mistress. She’s married to Consuelos in real life — hence the meta-joke — but Jughead’s conversation with her suggests the affair was more about convincing state authorities the river was clean (and then polluted) than baser impulses. Then again, murder mysteries and primetime soaps love to mix business and pleasure in this fashion.
Looking at our season three checklist, it actually seems as though most of the mysteries have been solved. There is still the pesky detail regarding the Gargoyle King Alice (Madchen Amick) saw in the high school bathroom when she was a teenager, but it seems like the show was happy to cross its other tees well before the end of the season. And that’s actually satisfying. The Black Hood double act from last year felt like insecure plotting, but this feels more confident because it introduces a new idea: possessing the truth doesn’t mean you can use it. Betty and Jug are both in stalemate while Veronica knows who ordered the hit on Hiram — even if she declined to hear it from Jughead — but finds her world will shatter utterly if she lets it be said aloud.
So let’s ponder those truths while we watch a preview for next week’s show. The Midnight Club reunites to finish the game. Kevin (Casey Cott) is in over his head and Veronica and Reggie’s (Charles Melton) attempt to repay Hermione’s debt leaves them in some hot water.
Riverdale airs Wednesdays on The CW.