Riverdale S2E12: The Wicked and the Divine
When Riverdale does genre, it does genre hard. And this week, as it turns it’s hand to mobster movies, that pays off big-time.
If you’ve been reading my reviews for this show so far, you know by know that one of the things I liked most about Riverdale is it’s passion for popular culture. This is a show literate in entertainment, fluent in it, and it can’t wait to tell you about it at every single chance it gets, leaning over the table excitedly to yell in your face about how it watched this Dario Argento film last week and how much the cinematography moved them, you know? It’s the way I consume and share popular culture too, so I appreciate it. Especially when they take on a new genre, as they do this week with a foray into the world of mobster films through the medium of Archie and Hiram’s developing relationships.
And it goes hard on all the mobster tropes – the Catholicism, the discreet murder, the tense, layered conversations, the high-stakes poker game, the man dismissively hand-waving away a product as not up to his standards. Just in Riverdale, the Catholicism is Veronica’s confirmation despite the fact she’s in her late teens, the murder is Hiram picking off a character called “Papa Poutine”, the high-stakes poker game is played out in Pop’s Diner, and the product hand-waved away is fucking cheese curds. It’s the show’s typical absurdist take on the genre and I adore it – and when it’s directed by the inimitable Rachel Talalay, who not only helmed my favourite comic book movie of all time in the form of Tank Girl but also leant her hand to some of the best looking Doctor Who episodes in recent memory, doubly so. It’s big, broad, and frequently gorgeous (ugh, Veronica’s confession sequence), and KJ Apa even got a laugh out of me as he nervously chuckled his way out of an encounter with Veronica’s grandmother. Hiram makes for a ridiculous but weirdly watchable maple mobster, and the genre’s very specific tropes work well for a show that trades in them.
(though a side note: Veronica’s pop culture references are getting more and more laboured with every episode. This week, she marches into her father’s office and announces “You’ve invited Archie to your Casino Royale?”, a reference that just doesn’t make a scrap of sense in context. It’s only a matter of time until she bursts into a room, ,slightly out of breath, telling “I, uh, The Cable Guy?”, mark my words)
I still like the idea of Betty using Chic as a way to explore and ultimately understand her dark side, but I feel like that’s less likely to happen now that Cole Sprouse’s tongue is going to be lodged back into her throat for a while. The Man With My Favourite Name in the Galaxy, Hart Denton, is mostly missing from this episode apart from some miscellaneous yelling from Hal in the first act which gives the world’s least stable couple a chance to walk out on each other once more (is that how they keep things fresh? I swear this at least the ninth time Hal has angrily stormed out. Maybe that’s just what he thinks going to work is?), and I think Chic missing out on screentime lets this episode down a little. His connection to the dark underground of Riverdale would have dovetailed well with the Hiram/Archie plot, though the apparent actual fucking murder him and Alice appear to commit at the end of the episode has a hell of a lot of plot potential that I can’t wait to get my teeth into.
Elsewhere, Betty is still sort of floating through life, apparently in touch once more with her dark side but also reconnecting with Jughead in a plot that instantly weights her character down once more. I don’t mind a romance plot, but the two of them getting back together feels like a tired box-tick rather than a natural progression.
Speaking of Jughead, thhe Serpents plot this season could be interesting and has flashes of something with actual depth, but it’s too often feeling like a preachy, half-baked excuse to have Jughead act like a righteous idiot and gruesomely underserve my personal lord and saviour, Skeet Ulrich as FP Jones. I want to like the Serpents story, I really do, with all it’s earnest attempt to take on issues of race and class and corruption, but Cole Sprouse just isn’t the actor to translate those points into something really cogent and compelling. Sometimes, he delivers line as I genuinely forget that I’m not watching the blooper reel.
So, a mobster story that works, and a social justice one that almost does, not to mention Some Shit with the Coopers in between (which is the official title I’m giving that storyline). With the Alice/Chic story coming into focus, I’m excited to see where they take things next, and frankly this Hiram/Archie plot can hang around as long as it continues to indulge this level of earnest, tropey insanity. Three episodes in and this half-season is officially into a groove and, for now, I can roll with it.
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