Riverdale S2E17: The Noose Tightens
Man, back at the very start of this season, I wrote an entire recap that was more or less about how Riverdale’s biggest problem was Archie. And now, here I am sixteen episodes later, having to accept the fact that the show’s biggest strength is now it’s leading man.
But then, that’s a reflection of what a mess this season has been as a whole, for better or for worse. I mean, do you remember the fuckin’ Black Hood arc? That was only a half-dozen or so episodes ago, and it feels like nine seasons since that misstep. Season one of Riverdale was lean and tight in comparison to this one, and season two, as a whole beast has just been this great sprawling quilt of triumphant hits and utterly forgettable misses and odd choices and character turns I didn’t see coming and great direction and…Jesus Christ, I’m tired just thinking about it. I don’t know if I could recommend this season wholeheartedly, as that Black Hood arc was just heinous in retrospect and there has been rather too much CW-romance-story pish for my liking, but when it hits the highs of this week’s outing (picking up from the strength of last week), The Noose Tightens, I’m glad I stuck around because this is just a treat.
Okay, back to my main point – Archie is now my favourite part about Riverdale, and considering that his entire first season characterization was “buff”, that’s just amazing. This week, as Archie attempts to make a name for himself as an intimidating gangster-adjacent after Hiram’s rivals return to town to threaten him, is brilliant in ways it has no right to be. Archie’s story this season has really been about him reclaiming some kind of grounding after witnessing his father being shot at the end of season one – first, that took the form of him posturing with his teammates and it fell flat, but as soon as they started leaning in to the mobster angle it just took flight. If you’d asked me what I thought season two would bring, I’m pretty sure that “Archie becomes a mobster to try and reclaim his sense of pride and masculinity to deal with the trauma of seeing his father almost killed” would have been pretty far down there but it’s the unexpectedness of this plot that makes it work. The balance between the mobsters Archie tries to intimidate laughing in his face after his one-part-scary, one-part-unintentional-comedy-genius speech to scare them and the seasick horror of facing off against a black hooded man threatening the people close to him acknowledges how insane this plot is but also gives it the fair psychological shot that Riverdale has always got so right. The events might be ridiculous, but the effects they have on the people involved is very real.
Speaking of ridiculous, I suppose that we should hop over to the Cheryl plot, as she is sent away to a conversion therapy treatment centre in an attempt to talk her out of her homosexual ways. I’ve always had great things to say about Madeleine Petsch’s bold-ass, po-faced performance as queen bitch of Riverdale, but she actually pulls off the more vulnerable side of the venerable Blossom here with some panache. Once again, it’s a plot that just came crashing in out of left field a few episodes ago, but Riverdale is committed to it and, in that respect, it works. Cheryl’s emotional devastation has been a running theme of this season, probably because Madeleine Petsch is a talent too prodigious to waste, and add to that the episode’s most stylistically bold direction landing in this storyline too, and this is a one-episode wonder to behold. From the opening of Cheryl imagining Moose and Kevin in the old-school black-and-white reeducation video, to her kiss with Toni in the shimmering light of the projector, this plot is pure gay gothic nightmare and that’s really my entire brand so I have to love it.
This episode is packed to the gills, as the final plot rounding out a super-strong trio focuses on the Coopers as they deal with the discovery of the car of the man Alice lamped to death a few episodes ago. Again, the ridiculousness is sky-high, but it’s the impact here that really matters, as Alice finds herself drawn to the Serpents once more (even donning a shiny snakeskin shirt for the episode’s final scene, which she for sure purchased with this occasion in mind) and joins Betty to work with them again after they get her out of a tight spot. Cole Sprouse and Skeet Ulrich, neither one boasting innumerable talent, are much better off in a plot shared with two of the finest actors Riverdale has on it’s roster, and finally getting to see Skeet Ulrich (throwing away gum as soon as Alice enters his house, which means my fantasies about the two of them finally have an opening) and Madchen Amick really share the screen is a total treat – even if it does look like we’re going to be bidding farewell to my favourite ET Hart Denton for a while. He has to go back to his home planet now, you see.
And it looks like next week we’re getting that Carrie musical episode, which I am high-key hyped for, not least because they for sure got the idea to do it in the first place from my high-quality recaps of the Carrie novel. For all it’s blazing batshit insanity, Riverdale seems to have hit a pace where it can dig out the human story at the centre of it’s madness, and that’s to the credit of the show, the writers, and the actors. It might have opened this season with a storyline that rightfully pushed a lot of people away, but Riverdale’s second season, as it draws into it’s final act, looks set to go out on a high.
(header image courtesy of Flickering Myth)