Warning: This contains spoilers for Episode 10. Not seen Riverdale? Catch up with spoiler-free review of the first three episodes.
In Riverdale, there ain’t no party like a Jughead party. In fact, there ain’t no party at all: because Jughead, in his umpteen years of existence has never really had one. He simply doesn’t do birthday parties, and with his family back-story, you can understand why. (Frankly, given the astonishingly terrible level of parenting across the whole of Riverdale, it’s a wonder any of the kids ever have birthday parties at all.) So, as his birthday comes around once again, guess what girlfriend Betty wants to do?
If you guessed “throw him a surprise birthday party”, you’re smarter than she is.
The result, to say the least, goes horribly wrong: it starts off a disaster, then ends up more like a teen horror film. And we’re not just saying that because Skeet Ulrich turns up. (The last time he was a teen party, things went similarly pear-shaped, albeit with a lot more dead bodies and a few more Ghostface masks.)
The high-school party is an essential part of the horror movie formula, a place where secrets can be revealed, confessions can be made, relationships can be severed and bridges can be built – all before the booze-addled heroes unite to overcome the villain in their midst. And Riverdale hasn’t shied away from its horror influences, whether it’s the Blossoms living in the House of Usher or the overall Twin Peaks vibe. So it’s with some pleasure, and also some disappointment, that the series cannibalises the slasher flick trope for some stylish slicing and dicing – unfortunately, mostly of logic.
Why does Betty decide to throw Jughead the worst party ever? It’s a move fuelled, in no small part, by the resurfacing of Chuck Clayton (slut-shaming douche extraordinaire from Episode 3). You remember him – the one Betty almost drowned in a hot tub while wearing a wig and claiming she was Polly? A bit of event planning is apparently just the ticket for her to reaffirm her good side, as represented by her love for wee Juggy, and ignore her sinister, angry side that reared its head when she went full Dark Betty on Chuck. If this were a prom, Betty would be Carrie.
Veronica, bless her, is so upset about her dad, who is asking her to testify as a character witness for him (under threat of dragging her mother into the legal mess that’s led to his arrest), that she jumps at the chance to get wasted and forget about her worries. Archie, for his part, also has concerns about his mum and dad’s pending divorce, as Fred heads off to visit Mary for the episode, so he’s also keen to down some plastic red cups. Kevin, meanwhile, is up for any occasion that’ll give him a chance to lock lips with Joaquin in steamy, hormone-filled quarters.
Because high school, right?
That’s about as much real explanation we get for each character’s behaviour in this episode of Riverdale, which sees a lot of people do some slightly bizarre things. Veronica, for example, suddenly remembers that she and Cheryl are enemies incarnate and challenges her to a dance-off, which sees the cheerleading squad declare her the totes best dancer and yah-boo-sucks to Miss Blossom. “Never cross a Lodge,” says Ronnie, smugly. Over the course of the season, Veronica and Cheryl have slowly been getting closer, not driving each other further apart, so this sudden animosity feels like a step back.
Later, Veronica starts making out with Archie at Jughead’s party, before they spend the night in the same room (although, visual subtext fans, take note: she wakes up to find him on the mattress next to her bed, fully clothed, so presumably Archie Jr. stayed safely zipped away). Given Betty’s still-evident affection for the ginger idiot, and given Veronica’s knowledge that he’s in the middle of a tiff with Valerie, why would she decide to chase that red-headed rabbit down the hole again? Archie is a self-centred moron, so it makes sense for him, but Riverdale has impressed so much this season by steering away from its anticipated love triangle and turning Veronica into something more than expected. For a sudden reversal into that territory to happen this late in the season is a little bit jarring.
That feels like what’s happening across the board, as Cheryl and Chuck team up for a typically over-the-top plan for revenge: crash Jughead’s party with a keg and the supporting cast from Project X. “Screw it,” Archie smiles, as they swan in through the door uninvited, like someone happily resigning to being little more than a two-dimensional fool. (Even Valerie turns up, for no apparent reason other than have an argument with Archie. Couldn’t she stay at home? Or, better yet, rock up with Josie and the whole Pussycats gang for some musical accompaniment?)
Jughead, meanwhile, is hiding out in his garage. “Now we’re here, in the middle of a Seth Rogen movie,” he quips – the only one still aware of what TV show he was in a week ago. “Why can’t you just be normal?” Betty asks. “I’m not wired to be normal,” replies Jughead, with all the earnest sympathy that Cole Sprouse’s fantastic performance generates. When Ulrich’s FP turns up, completely with comically oversized present, his disdain and discomfort is even more visible.
It’s in these moments that there’s some fantastic character work going on: FP tells his son, after he storms out of the house, that he needs to go back in and support Betty, as her boyfriend. Betty, meanwhile, tells Jughead of the darkness within her, showing him the nail marks left in her palms from when she struggles to control her inner rage. Things are really heating up in Bughead land, and while we fear they may not make it together to Season 2, it remains a joy to watch their bond develop. (Archie, on the other hand, as if to demonstrate the contrasting levels of depth going on in these parallel subplots, mostly spends the episode taking his top off.) The highlight of the episode? The fantastic little showdown between FP and Alice Cooper (the name’s still funny), which sees her speculate that Joaquin’s relationship with Kevin is a spying operation for the Serpents, and also suggests that she and FP had some romantic history back in the days when she was less of a “stick in the mud” – a discovery that instantly makes us want more of that action please.
But there’s little to disguise that all of these decisions made by the characters are less about internal logic and more about pushing the plot forward, because this is the teen party just before the horror movie climax, this is the moment when everything comes to the surface. Rather than have people confess things in individual heart-to-hearts, though, Riverdale subverts the norm by instead just having a massive free-for-all in the kitchen, in which characters simply unearth other people’s dirt for them.
Using the device of a “Secrets and Sins” game conceived by Cheryl and Chuck, the catty cheerleader (who has now stopped attempting to court Archie) wastes no time in telling the room that Veronica and Archie snogged in the closet back in Episode 1. Not withstanding the fact that most of the people at this party were probably at that one too, or would have heard about in corridor gossip since, Veronica hits back by suggesting that Cheryl killed Jason in a fit of incestuous jealousy (finally, the underlying incest vibes get a shout-out).
Then, up pops Riverdale stock character Dilton Doiley from nowhere to mention that Archie and Miss Grundy were making sweet music together back in the opening four episodes – and that they were both down by the lake on the morning Jason’s body was found. And Chuck, not wanting to be left out, recounts his Jacuzzi story. It’s at this point that FP jumps in, after Judgead lamps Chuck in the face, and the irresponsible adult shuts down the shindig. But that’s not before Veronica learns that FP (the Serpent she saw meeting her mum at the drive-in) is Jughead’s dad, and not before FP learns from Joaquin – See? A spy! – that a. he’s sleeping with Kevin, and b. Veronica thinks her dad may have been involved in Jason’s death.
It’s a contrived way to drag all the skeletons out of their respective closets, but it’s a smart move by the show, in terms of recapping the multitude of threads that all play into the over-arching mysteries of Season 1. Mysteries such as what Dark Betty means, why Archie loves taking his shirt off so much, and, oh yeah, who killed Jason Blossom. Compared to that, Veronica deciding to testify in support of her father, which earns her a creepy gift of new pearls from him in the post – How did he know that her previous necklace broke? Now that’s power… – isn’t particularly gripping, but it’s testament to Camila Mendes’ performance that her dilemma about which of her parents to trust still rings true. Even K.J. Apa briefly invests his parental worries with the nearest we’ve come to depth for Archie – the problem, as we’ve noted before, isn’t his performance, but the writing of his character.
It’s promising, then, that Archie’s plotline gets a welcome dose of John Hughes-era substance at the end, as his mother comes home with Fred, surprising everyone – not least because she’s played by none other than Molly Ringwald. The result is an uneven episode of Riverdale, but with an 80s teen queen waiting in the wings and the plot finally readying itself for the final stretch, this party’s not over just yet.
Riverdale is available exclusively on Netflix UK, as part of £7.49 monthly subscription, with new episodes arriving every Friday. Episode 8 will be released on 31st March.
Photos: The CW Network