Netflix UK TV review: Riverdale Season 1, Episode 5
Ivan Radford | On 02, Mar 2017
Warning: This contains spoilers for Episode 5. Not seen Riverdale? Catch up with spoiler-free review of the first three episodes.
Riverdale continues to blossom in its fifth episode – and blossom is the operative word.
Our fifth visit to the world’s weirdest teen soap opera does its darnedest to flesh out Archie in the wake of Miss Grundy’s departure. Within minutes, we’ve had a whole lot of Archie flesh, as he pummels a punching bag in his bedroom – which might not be a euphemism but that doesn’t make it any less steamy.
It turns out he’s doubling down on his football focus, so that he can become captain of the team. Captains, after all, get scholarships. And scholarships? They get you into college to study music.
And so Archie is pitted against Reg by the football coach, who’s determined to make them compete for the captain’s shirt. At the same time, though, Archie is still drawn to his music, as Pussycat Val tells him about a songwriting mentor, called Oscar Castillo (because songwriting mentors have to have cool names), and signs him up for a trial lesson. Oscar’s reaction to Archie’s songs is wonderfully harsh (the word “juvenile” comes up). And when Archie is told to bring in sheet music, rather than words and tabs, Oscar Castillo sneers at the sloppy penmanship.
But you know what? That actually does reflect what Archie’s music is like – in short, hardly worth throwing away a football career over. At the end of the day, it’s just not as interesting as the music by the Pussycats. What is interesting, though, is the chemistry bubbling away between Archie and Val – the show may be determined to push the Zac-Efron-in-high-school-musical angle as the way to develop Archie’s character (now that the sexually abusive teacher card has been thankfully taken off the table), but a possible relationship with one of the Pussycats is far more intriguing. As a bonus, it also takes us away from the Archie-Veronica-Betty love triangle that is always lingering beneath the surface – and one of Riverdale’s biggest strengths so far has been the way it has steered away from the obvious teen drama for other, weirder, more unpredictable and even more intense teen drama.
Archie’s dad (shout out to Luke Perry, everyone’s favourite 90210 heartthrob – check him out in the cute indie flick The Beat Beneath My Feet) has his own intense drama going on, as he follows up his drive-in date wth another play for Hermione Lodge’s affections. Because nothing says “trustworthy romantic partner” like a woman involved in gangs, a financially dubious imprisoned husband and a whole heap of secretive land deals to buy up half the town. So when Hermione finds a box in the diner with a snake in it (Gwyneth Paltrow’s was busy that night), and she calls Fred, rather than the sheriff, he’s only too happy to rush over and save the day. And, in his latest display of How Not to Be a Sensible Parent (after inviting Miss Grundy out for a family dinner), he offers her that job doing his company’s books. We can’t even begin to explain why this is a bad idea. No, wait. We can. We did so a few sentences ago. Plus she knows Fred likes her and may well be manipulating him. (She may not, but this is Riverdale, and it’s often easiest just to presume the worst about everyone.)
Which brings us to Cheryl. Riverdale’s own Regina George is the second best thing about The CW’s series (after Veronica, obvs). Mourning her brother’s death, she spends the opening scene wandering the family estate at night, holding a candle, until she finds Jason’s empty, bloody coffin. If you think that’s weird, wait until she wakes up from her nightmare – because she’s sleeping in Jason’s bed while trying to write a eulogy for his funeral.
It’s hard to know which is more disturbing, the real life or the dream, but both ooze with gorgeous, gothic atmosphere – a macabre display of grief with a wonderfully operatic flair, which puts Cheryl and Jason’s relationship somewhere between Crimson Peak and Game of Thrones. Even the name of their house (Thornhill) deserves its own cobweb-covered black-and-white horror movie.
Mrs. Blossom (Penelope to nobody, as she has no friends) is just as unsettling. Forbidding Cheryl from giving her tribute at the memorial service (like that’s going to happen), she’s as cunning as she is tough. We soon discover that, after Veronica is invited to Cheryl’s for a sleepover the night before Jason’s funeral (seriously, stop us when this gets too strange), and we get to spend the whole night at the world’s most awkwardly sinister family dinner ever. Cheryl and Veronica may be bonding, after Veronica helped at that pep rally, but Cheryl’s mum is more suspicious than anyone about what happened to Jason – and so she invites all the major suspects to the funeral. And then invites them to adjourn to the “winter salon” for a “light supper”, which is no doubt code for something evil and brilliant.
Nonetheless, Penelope still blames Cheryl for Jason’s death, only pausing her tight-lipped disapproval of everyone around her to thank Archie for thoughtfully bringing her the football uniform of Jason at the funeral. The one person worse than Penelope? Her sister, Aunt Rose, who is even more foreboding and shady. That’s literally the case, when she wheels out of the shadows in Jason’s old bedroom to discover Betty and Veronica hunting through his belongings to find out the truth. (After all, with the sheriff’s murder board stolen, someone needs to investigate.)
Betty and Veronica continue their Nancy Drew double-act this episode, and their amateur sleuthing remains highly entertaining, especially because they’re actually giving us answers the show’s central mystery – bit by confident bit. Here, we learn Jason may have been involved in selling drugs, and also that Jason was engaged to Betty’s sister, Polly, after Rose spills the beans, mistaking Betty for Polly. You know, in case her putting on that dark wig and going slightly manic in Episode 3 wasn’t enough of a clue that something was up in the Cooper family.
They soon deduce, along with us, that the person who stolen the sheriff’s case file was actually Betty’s father. Can you say cover-up? That’s looking more and more likely, as her dad reveals that he knew about Polly and Jason’s engagement. And that he holds a huge grudge against the Blossoms. Why? Because – and he says this with a straight face – Cheryl’s great-grandpa murdered his grandpa, because they were in the competitive, cut-throat maple syrup business together. Yes, really.
Camila Mendes’ interactions with Betty, as they uncover all this juicy gossip, are only topped by her interactions with the super-stylish, super-odd Cheryl. Archie may ostensibly be Riverdale’s protagonist, and the show may be trying to beef him up (phwoar), right down to him refusing the captaincy of the football team – his gesture with the shirt impressed the coach – but the real reason to tune into this episode is Cheryl. Oh yes, Riverdale’s trashy neo-noir brother-sister creepiness is really starting to blossom. More please.
Riverdale is available on Netflix UK, as part of £7.49 monthly subscription, with new episodes arriving every Friday.