Riverdale S2E13: The Tell-Tale Heart

by thethreepennyguignol

Well, they fucking got me.

I honestly cursed aloud when I realized that Riverdale had actually pulled off a twist on my ass – the fed on Archie turned out to be a plant by the Lodges to assure his commitment to them, and I didn’t see it coming, focused as I was by Cheryl’s liquid lipstick game and the fact that Madchen Amick has FINALLY stepped back up into the main cast proper. Anyway, there’s a lot to cover this week, so let’s dive in.

Honestly, one of the biggest issues I’ve had with this back half of the second season has been the attitude of many critics to the show now that the gloss has worn off it’s seductively ridiculous premise. Yes, I get that Riverdale isn’t high art (last week alone proved that) – it barely set out to be. In that acclaimed and much-discussed first season, it set out to tell a tale of murder, juicy high school bullshit, and the darkness inherent in small towns like Riverdale. While they have moved away from one murder and into the broader Cooper Crime Syndicate, they’re still delivering on those promises, for the most part. To be honest, I don’t see where a lot of the disdain for the last few episodes has come from – yes, the Black Hood plot was a false start, but we’re back in familiar, gruesome, campy territory, and I think all the snobs shitting on this show because it isn’t Breaking fucking Bad need to back down and reassess what it was Riverdale promised to deliver on in the first place.

Anyway, rants aside, let’s actually take a look at what’s gotten me so heated about criticism this week. Honestly, any episode that centres in on the Coopers is pretty much going to be a winner for me, doubly so one that once again jabs a finger right into the fleshy part of Betty’s dark side and joogles it around a bit. Here, Betty attempts to come to terms with the viscious fucking murder her mother committed for no good reason, and begins unpeeling around the edges as she does her best to keep her brother close. I’m into this, not least because Lili Reinhart does lightly unhinged with such ease and delightful, sweaty intensity, but because it gives us a chance to poke around in Riverdale’s most incongruent family.

The image of the all-American family, the Coopers were ripe for the unpicking ever since they arrived on the scene of this show. And, with the dead weight of Polly officially dropped, Riverdale is leaning into them full-throttle; Hal is having a fling with Mother Blossom, Alice is murdering people to keep her long-lost son safe, Chic is playing the damaged, shivering victim but is up to no good, and Betty is just trying to keep her shit together and not get stress-vomit on her Peter Pan collars. Throw in the involvement of the Southside Serpents (and most significantly, a rare-spotted instance of my preferred ship, FP and Alice – Falice? FaliceP? Help me out here, guys) as the Cooper women turn to the Jones men to help them cover up their misdeeds, and you’ve got an episode that hits all my buttons. Solid performances from all involved (particularly a much-missed Madchen) lend this destruction of Riverdale’s real first family a sense of weight and manic energy, and all-around I wish the show focused more intently on these four more often.

But I suppose other shit was happening this week; as I mentioned above, this week’s zinger came in the form of Hermione waggling her arched eyebrow at Archie and letting him know that the Lodges have been the ones behind his FBI involvement, and I have to admit I’m digging the way this plot is playing out. With all the ridiculous twists and turns and utter, po-faced commitment of the best soap operas, Hiram Lodge’s maple mafioso routine just works for me, because everyone involved seems to be having a whale of a time – hell, even Veronica makes sense in this plot, scheming and delivering the most pointed barbs imaginable, and I am far from the biggest fan of the oft-wooden Camila Mendes. Even if her performance does involve sprinting, breathless, into a room to yell “Movie reference!” every ten minutes, but hey.

So, yeah, all around, I’m in a defensive mood with one of my favourite shows at the moment. Because what more do people want from it? It’s never going to high-prestige television, but it does deliver compellingly ridiculous stories, some great character work, and some fabulously idiosyncratic visual stylings to boot (this episode, directed by Julie Plec, is a great return to the hyper-false, neon-drenched look of the first season). For me, that’s more than enough. While I love proper serious shows (like American Crime Story, which I’m also recapping this season) as much as anyone else, there’s a place on TV for a show like Riverdale. Something pulpy, fun, but committed, something where pop culture geeks like me can go to unwind at the end of a long binge-watch. And as long as it keeps delivering on that, I’ll keep watching.

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