If Riverdale wants to become a post-apocalyptic narrative, it should just commit.
The show returned last night from its winter break — Jughead (Cole Sprouse) even makes mention of the five weeks off — to quickly undo its pretty rad cliffhanger. Previously, Hiram Lodge (Mark Consuelos) convinced the governor to quarantine the town after a number of seizures suggested a health crisis. This presumably left Hiram as warlord of the region. But now that we’re back, Jug’s narration tells us the quarantine was lifted shortly thereafter and Riverdale is now a “shell” of its former self. Not that you can tell from the episode.
Nonetheless, there is an attempt to set up a “No Man’s Land” style narrative with Reggie (Charles Melton) running in hooch from Canada, Veronica (Camilla Mendes) accepting she has to sell that liquor to survive and the Serpents running in an increasingly dystopian world. Meanwhile, Cheryl (Madelaine Petsch) and Toni (Vanessa Morgan) are having fun and moonlighting as Catwoman. Tonal whiplash beyond even Riverdale standards to be sure. But inevitable if the show ever wants to go back to high school and back away from its increasingly apocalyptic tone. And though Jughead’s narration in the pilot indicated things will only go downhill, the show seems to want a parachute just in case.
But one thing is certain about the loss of pep: life without Archie (KJ Apa) is still preferable to his beautiful stupidity wrecking Riverdale. As seen in his extended death spiral/dream sequence, he now feels his naivete at the start of the series led him to a shack in the “Canadian hinterlands” and getting mauled by a bear. And by playing a dream version of Gryphons & Gargoyles, he seems to slay all of his dragons — including himself. The key thing here is that he even references his tendency for dumb choices. Nevertheless, beating his innocent self with a bat just seems like another dumb choice.
Meanwhile, the show wants us to embrace Hiram as the Gargoyle King, but the continual absence of Edgar Evernever — highlighted by Alice (Madchen Amick) mentioning Betty (Lili Reinhart) missed meeting him by a few minutes — still suggests he may be the true source of the town’s current ills. But then again, he may be next year’s big bad after he and the Farm ride in to help the town after Hiram’s big push. At least, I’m assuming there is still a big push to come. It can’t all have been just for that boss coat Hiram wears when he shakes down Veronica.
And while the show continues to stuff each episode with mad, crazy ideas, the overall narrative thrust of the series has broken down. The Gargoyle King isn’t as interesting with so many plates spinning — even if the Sisters of Quiet Mercy committed mass suicide in his honor. Which brings us back to the post-apocalyptic feel the show seems to be striving for. If it wants to set up an ultimate duel between Serpent and Gargoyle Kings, it needs to let the rest of the world embrace that anarchy. But that’s a precarious place for a three-year-old show to be, especially if the network expects it to last 10+ years. Like The CW’s superhero shows, Riverdale may be better off telling two or more complete stories a year or fully embracing its stranger genre impulse. For the moment, though, the tension between all those ideas makes the show a little less fun.
But let’s ponder that while we watch a preview of next week’s show. Hiram appears to get got and the suspect list for that will be a large one.
Riverdale airs Wednesdays on The CW.
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