Netflix UK TV review: Riverdale Season 4, Part 2 (spoilers)
Martyn Conterio | On 11, May 2020
Warning: This contains spoilers for the Riverdale Season 4 finale. Not caught up? Read our spoiler-free review of Part 1.
As with other movie and TV productions worldwide, Riverdale Season 4 was almost immediately affected by the coronavirus pandemic. When filming was closed down back in early March, after persons unknown among the crew tested positive for the virus, several scripted episodes had yet to roll before the camera. That means Season 4 has not concluded as originally envisaged. With the outbreak putting a spanner in the works, material left over will be incorporated into future instalments, forcing a reshaping of the continuing story somewhat. It’s also worth pointing out, cast members Marisol Nichols (Hermione Lodge) and Skeet Ulrich (FP Jones) were due to bow out at the end of Season 4. Will they now make appearances in Season 5? They can’t just suddenly disappear, right? While Marisol Nichols hasn’t had much to do for a while, Ulrich feels very much an integral supporting character in Riverdale, the relationship he shares with son Jug put into even sharper, emotional focus following the untimely death of Luke Perry as Fred Andrews.
The riveting and delightfully convoluted Stonewall Prep/Who killed Jughead? plot strand was concluded towards the latter parts of Season 4, prompting the story to refocus on the set of creepy videotapes turning up on residents’ doorsteps. If you recall, these strange tapes were delivered to the townsfolk in a manner operating as a direct homage to Lynch’s psycho-noir, Lost Highway (1997) and also, by extension, Michael Haneke’s Cache (2005). In several key ways, Riverdale is one giant love letter to David Lynch (especially Twin Peaks). Episode 18, subtitled ‘Lynchian’, featured not only a video store named Blue Velvet Video, but the owner, named David, dressed and spoke in the distinct folksy cadence of the beloved surrealist filmmaker. The Haneke aspect, which could also include 1992’s Benny’s Video as a touchstone, emerged with the return of Ethel (Stranger Things’ Shannon Purser) and the revealing a new Riverdale teen craze: watching snuff films. It certainly wassn’t the type of thing you rented from Blockbuster back in the day, although VHS was always due a retro cool comeback.
With Season 4 forced to conclude prematurely, how could the show wrap things up in a manner still satisfying the viewership? Fortunately, the Mädchen Amick-directed Episode 19, titled Killing Mr. Honey, provided an answer and ensured Riverdale’s fourth run ended on a veritable high and served up a zinger of a cliffhanger, as per tradition.
With the mystery yet to be solved, that makeshift cliffhanger saw Archie and the gang stitched up as killers. While this echoed Season 3’s climax – where Red, Betty and Veronica (Camilla Mendes), partially clothed and covered in blood, had their mugshots taken down at Riverdale police station, leading us think they’d bludgeoned Jug to death – we have to bear in mind this was not the intended closer. One thing is for sure: Archiekins, Jug, Veronica, Betty, Kevin (Casey Cott), Reggie (Charles Melton) and Cheryl (Madelaine Petsch) can forget about going away to college. What kid doesn’t dream of escaping their provincial hometown? Yet the group here are tied to it, like Prometheus to the rock, and punished repeatedly. Home is where the hell is.
Amick’s finale wasn’t just a miraculous rabbit out of a top hat – it counts as one of the show’s best directed episodes to date and offered a tonal unity between light and dark the show has rarely displayed before. Would it be so bold to suggest this episode of Riverdale was perfect? It was funny, tongue-in-cheek ironic, self-reflective and thrilling all at once. Amick turned in a humour-filled, visually inventive 40 minutes, seamlessly weaving together two plot strands into a hyper-real whole and the writing offered poignant commentary on a nation’s insane propensity for violence and retribution.
Jughead (Cole Sprouse) and Betty (Lili Reinhardt) noted how, in their hometown, weird happenings, murder and mayhem is par for the course. Like a whole generation raised in the time of mass shootings, it’s normal to live in fear and in constant peril. There’s something profoundly sad in the acknowledgement of this way of life, this sense of generational fatalism and defeat. Jughead pointed out their social reality has affected him and his besties, but before he could air any further rumination, the mad plot pushed them into bleaker, ever more mystifying territory, proving his theory right; respite from danger in Riverdale is only ever short-lived.
As lockdowns slowly ease around the globe, hopefully it won’t be too long before cast and crew can head back to Vancouver, Canada (where filming occurs) and continue crafting what is a smart, nutso and generally under-appreciated horror melodrama. For the 21st century offspring of Wes Craven, David Lynch and Heathers (1989) keeps pushing the boundaries of taste and decency with every passing season. This is, lest we forget, a series which began with an inappropriate relationship between a schoolteacher and a student. Things haven only gotten wilder from there.
Riverdale Season 4 is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £9.99 monthly subscription.