After about a month-long winter break, Riverdale returns this week with “Chapter Twenty-Three: The Blackboard Jungle,” and if you were afraid that the takedown of the supposed Black Hood in December’s winter finale would cause the show to turn down its craziness a few notches, don’t worry at all: Riverdale remains TV’s most wonderfully insane teen drama. Need proof? Within the first ten minutes of tonight’s episode, we discover that Cheryl’s mom is a prostitute, and an FBI agent approaches Archie to help him with an investigation without receiving his father’s permission and before the kid can even walk home from school. And neither of those moments are even the most shocking or surprising scenes from the mid-season premiere, which also features a now non-pregnant Polly telling Betty how wonderful the farm (aka cult) is, Betty’s long-lost brother, Charles (or as he likes to be called, “Chic”) getting stabbed in a motel hallway, and that same long-lost brother creepily standing over Betty’s bed in the hour’s final scene. Yeah, “The Blackboard Jungle” is sometimes a little too crazy, even by Riverdale standards, but it also establishes a lot of compelling conflicts as we head into the back half of Season 2, stories that I’m excited to see explored more in future episodes.
When it comes to long-term, drama-filled storytelling, the two most promising stories featured in “The Blackboard Jungle” are the Lodges scheming with Mayor McCoy to purchase and build upon the land underneath Southside High and many of the main Southside students, friends and fellow Serpents of Jughead’s, being forced to join Riverdale High now that their school has closed down. Hiram and Hermione’s plans aren’t just fascinating because they’re still shaded in some mystery and because they could completely change the town of Riverdale in a dramatic way; no, actually, the most interesting part of this whole storyline is the dramatic implications it holds for Archie and Veronica’s relationship, as the two of them both hide secrets from the other. Archie, believing that he’s protecting both his dad and Veronica, doesn’t divulge that the FBI agent approached him to help take down Hiram and his illegal dealings, and Veronica won’t betray her family’s trust now that they’ve finally let her in and informed her of their bigger plans for the town. Archie does tell Ronnie the truth about his kiss with Betty, though, when she confronts him about his odd behavior, and while Veronica is clearly shaken by the news, she quickly gets over the intimate moment her boyfriend and best friend shared given the life-or-death circumstances of the night it happened. Plus, Archie’s moment of honesty at Pop’s is enough to comfort Veronica so that she doesn’t suspect any deeper deception from him. However, Archie believes, due to Nick St. Clair’s “accident,” that Veronica isn’t being totally forthcoming with him, and he’s right. She didn’t simply tell Cheryl and Kevin about Nick’s actions against her—she also told her father, and while Archie can’t necessarily confirm this, he knows in his heart that it’s true, which means that, on some level, he knows Veronica is lying to him.
Meanwhile, having Jughead and the rest of the Serpents now attend Riverdale High simplifies Riverdale‘s storytelling in a smart, exciting way. During many parts of Season 2’s first half, the series could feel like two separate shows: one about Archie, Veronica, and Betty and then another about Jughead’s side adventures with the Serpents. Having all four main characters at the same school streamlines the show’s storytelling and allows for new, potentially riveting character pairings (for example, look at that brief moment shared between Toni and Veronica in the student lounge) and greater conflict (it’s a lot easier to have the Southsiders and Northsiders fighting against each other when they’re all in classes together). Plus, while some of Jughead’s acts of rebellion in tonight’s episode come off a little silly or cheesy, it’s great to see that his development this season won’t be lost now that he’s returned to his old stomping grounds; in fact, that Jughead brings this new persona with him to an old, familiar place should lead to some dramatically rich character moments that I can’t wait to see the series handle. And you know that undercover Serpents club is going to get busted sooner rather than later; I immediately thought of Dumbledore’s Army from Harry Potter when Jughead gathered them all together (if only the Serpents had their own Room of Requirement).
Really, the only portion of Riverdale‘s winter premiere that doesn’t work well is the Cooper family drama, which feels both over-the-top and rushed. Now that Chic is underneath the Coopers’ roof and (somewhat) kindly interacting with Alice, I’m very interested to see how he’ll change up the family’s dynamic and what Hart Denton will bring to the role. However, the execution of how he gets there, with Betty conveniently walking into the motel just as Chic is fighting the guy in the hallway, and then the Coopers being able to stitch Chic up without taking him to the hospital, is too lazy, sloppy, and, even for a show as heightened as Riverdale, unrealistic for me to accept. Here’s hoping that whatever creepy stuff Chic is up to (and you know he’s creepy after that final scene with Betty) will lead to more dramatically satisfying stories in the future. Betty’s one of the very best characters on Riverdale, and I would hate to see her trapped in a storyline that doesn’t live up to the quality of her character and to the quality of the rest of the show’s stories surrounding her.
- I’d like to think that Archie beating the crap out of Nick St. Clair is representative of all Riverdale viewers wanting to beat the crap out of Nick St. Clair. That guy truly is THE WORST.
- Cheryl presents her mom with the new check that Archie got for them from Nick, hoping that it will come as a relief to her mom—she’ll no longer have to be a “courtesan” or “woman of the night,” as Cheryl calls her. But Penelope Blossom has no intentions of putting her prostitution days behind her. “Oh Cheryl,” she says. “Why would I stop when I’m having such a good time?”
- While I won’t backtrack with any of my issues about the Coopers storyline in this episode, I will say that I love how Polly disowning her family and Chic joining them under their roof has brought out the humanity in Alice Cooper, who can typically be one of Riverdale‘s most cartoonish characters.
- We know that Mayor McCoy is getting a nice re-election fundraising check from the Lodges for her help with whatever they are planning, so the fact that she, the mayor of the town, is in on this scheme means that whatever it is can’t be too illegal, can it? I can’t see Mayor McCoy putting herself in that type of legal risk, even for the money.
What did everyone else think about this week’s episode of Riverdale? How happy are you that the show is back? Comment below and let me know.
[Photo credit: Diyah Pera/The CW]