Netflix UK TV review: Riverdale Season 4, Part 1 (spoilers)
Martyn Conterio | On 19, Dec 2019Reading time: 6 mins
Warning: This contains spoilers for the first half of Riverdale Season 4. Not caught up? Read our review of the opening episodes.
Since Archie Andrews (KJ Apa) lost his old man, he’s been acting out. Obsessed with wanting to be like his dad Fred (the late Luke Perry) – a decent guy, a small-town hero, a positive influence on the community – Red has opened up a boxing club turned youth centre and taken to dressing up as a vigilante, getting his superhero on. Less like Batman and more like a weirdo from Watchmen, Archie is determined to clean up Riverdale and he’s been in plenty of scraps and scrapes so far this season, as he works through his pain and anger issues via violent acts of retribution against scumbags such as Dodger (Juan Riedinger).
That series creator Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa has made the loss of cast member Perry an integral part of the on-going narrative is commendable. Most TV shows who’ve lost somebody in real life have a special tribute episode and then the world and story moves on. Here, it’s fuel for the drama, ensuring Perry’s legacy on the show is not quickly forgotten and Archie’s sorrow is relatable.
Every season to date has been hinged on the solving of a key mystery. Who killed Jason Blossom? The identity of the maniacal Black Hood and the freaky Gargoyle King. Why do they keep trying to make the musical episodes happen? Season 4’s big plotline involves the apparent death of Jughead (Cole Sprouse), which has been teased mercilessly since the finale of Season 3 via a series of flash-forwards. The cliffhanger for this mid-season break saw Archiekins, Veronica and Betty having their photos taken by the cops and being booked for murder. What is going on? No doubt there is a gnarly twist coming… maybe it’s a Dallas-style dream? Would they really kill off Jug? No way.
At the start of the season, Jug is attending Hogwarts. Well, Stonewall Prep School, where he’s the trailer park scholarship kid in a world of entitled, trust fund brats. In an amusing and no doubt intentional spiritual parallel to Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (please do a crossover soon), Jug has been pulled from his everyday world into a rarified other. The gothic brick mansion that houses the school gives off hinky vibes from the start, and not just ones screaming ‘class conflict’.
Before you can give a Scooby-Doo “ruh-roh”, Jug’s literature seminar leads him down a weird path and strange initiation ceremonies in the woods. He learns his estranged grandpa was once a fellow student and authored the first acclaimed Baxter Boys novel – a series of Hardy Boys-type works which are coveted by the creepy teacher who runs the writing group. How this one plays out is going to be intriguing and is most likely heavily linked to the who-killed-Jughead tease.
Meanwhile, on the other side of town, Betty (Lili Reinhardt) is attempting to kill (symbolically) Dark Betty and rid herself of what she believes is the latent killer within. These scenes are excellently done, tapping again into the spooky Wes Craven influence which dominated Season 3’s entire run and provides Betty with more nightmarish mental torture to wade through. Reinhardt is a brilliant actor who has made Betty a funny but tragic presence and a real, gripping chemistry has developed between her and Mädchen Amick. The poor girl has really been put through it since she discovered her father, Hal Cooper (Lochlyn Munro), was a serial murderer. Alice Cooper (Amick), Betty’s mother, is such a cuckoo, she’s unlikely to ever offer her daughter anything but trouble. Yet they need each other.
As a portrait of American families and suburbia, Riverdale is surreally dark. And if wondering whether you’re a maniac or not wasn’t enough to send you into therapy until your golden years, Betty’s long-lost brother, the real Chic Cooper (Wyatt Nash), not the fraudster from Season 2 (played by Hart Denton), appears to have ambiguous motivations towards Alice, Betty, his dad FP (Skeet Ulrich) and half-brother Jug. Is he setting his sister up especially for some kind of fall? Above all, Betty is his focus for whatever crooked scheme he’s cooking. It is revealed early in Season 4 that Chic is in a romantic relationship (from behind bars)… with the fake Chic! How this pans out remains to be seen, but the whole scenario screams “Danger, Betty Cooper!”
The pace and mood of Season 4 has felt far less hectic than previously. It’s noticeable, even though multiple plots are occurring and the show is always screamingly melodramatic. One of the best subplots has involved Cheryl Blossom (Madelaine Petsch) being gaslighted by persons unknown (turns out it’s mommie dearest). Living at Thornhill with her beloved TT (Vanessa Morgan), old coot Nana Blossom (Barbara Wallace), Julian the doll and the corpse of her brother, Jason, which she keeps in the family chapel, Cheryl is driven to the brink of madness, living out her own 19th century gothic horror novel.
Again, pointing to generational divides and poisoned families rotting from within, Riverdale’s depiction of family life is bleak and cruel. Veronica Lodge (Camilla Mendes) finds out she’s got an older sister and, to make matters worse, her folks reunite and forgive each other of all their – countless – sins. This sends Veronica into a spiral of further resentments and feeling she’s alone in the world. The relationship between Hiram Lodge (wonderfully played by Mark Conseulos) and his wayward daughter enters primal, Freudian territory, where she’s aghast to learn during a session with a school psychologist, they’re very much alike in temperament and personality. Like Betty and Dark Betty, Veronica longs to rid herself of this genetic fault, but instead she’s transforming it into energy she’ll use to destroy Hiram (and maybe herself).
The world of Riverdale is resoundingly bleak and as a show it’s a lot smarter and deeper than it initially looks. Is this a crossroads season? What with the gang getting ready to leave high school and enter adulthood, will a string of unfortunate events and occurrences conspire to keep them in Riverdale and trapped living a small-town hell? Legal autonomy might be their salvation, though. Home is where the heart is, as the corny expression goes, but Riverdale frequently shatters the notion of home and safety with sledgehammer force. The kids are cut adrift in a scary world and mom and dad cannot be relied upon or trusted.
Riverdale Season 4 is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.