Riverdale S2E18: A Night to Remember

by thethreepennyguignol

When the title card came up at the end of this episode of Riverdale, it was over the sound of my no-holds-barred whooping with delight. Because A Night to Remember is everything I hoped it would be, and so much more.

When I heard that Riverdale were producing a musical episode, I was intrigued. I mean, I’m a die-hard fan of musical theatre (a friend of mine regularly brings up the time I strolled into his flat and announced, without greeting, “did you SEE Neil Patrick Harris at the Tonys this week?”), and it was musical theatre on TV (yes, alright, I’m talking about Glee, get your noses out from in the air) that formed the groundwork for my love for that world. Add to that the fact that Riverdale was taking on the Carrie musical, right at the same time that I’ve been writing my in-depth recaps of the novel it’s based on, and I could have sworn that they had crawled inside my head and just started plotting season three from in there. And when I actually got to the episode this week, and discovered that it’s a semi-found-footage horror with Madeleine Petsch and Madchen Amick in central roles, and this forty minutes is the most masturbatory thing I’ve done all week. And that includes actually masturbating.

This might be my favourite episode of the season – hell, of the show – so far. And it’s not just because it seems created specifically to flick my buttons. No, this is an episode that manages to dig into it’s musical core and find some parallels that make the choice of musical slightly less mad that it initially seemed (for what it’s worth, if I had been the one putting this episode together – and let’s face it, I might as well have been – I would have gone with Spring Awakening), to pepper proceedings with neat little details that show the people behind camera are still paying attention (the matching colours in Fred and Archie’s wardrobe for the first time in a while, as Archie’s blue and gold sports jacket and Fred’s flannel act as an underlining of Archie’s loyalty by the end of the episode, for example), and to generally just have an utter whale of a time pushing this wild second season to an impossibly intense climax.

Considering that I’ve been writing about Carrie as a story for the last six months or so, I was really excited to see how Riverdale fit that very idiosyncratic story around it’s own: full disclosure, I’m not really a fan of the Carrie musical (look, there’s a reason Riverdale had basically the entirety of The World According to Chris in there even though it’s point was made in the first two lines, and that’s because it’s pretty much the only really great song in the ouevre of that show), but I do have some strong feelings about the book, characters, and themes, and it’s fun to see how Riverdale works with them. Betty comes out on top here, as she is cast as Sue Snell; as I’ve written about a fuckload these last few months, Sue is a seriously layered character in that she is just as bad as the other girls who torment Carrie, but wants to put a good face on her high-school career and so plasters an act of generosity with Tommy over the top of it. That “good girl with a dark side” thing is Betty all over, and the choice of character works in layers for her; with Madchen Amick as Margaret White, Riverdale manages to find a double-parallel for her within the Carrie musical, as mother and daughter work out their issues – through song!

Madeleine Petsch is also a joy as Carrie White (later usurped, but we’ll get to that) – I’m such a big fan of Petsch that someone photoshopped her into one of my selfies this week – and she’s in full gothic flow here, confronting her mother covered in blood to demand emancipation and almost getting crushed by a sandbag in the audition process. The back half of this season has been a settling-in for Riverdale and it’s supporting cast, and Cheryl has, once again, come out on top in those stakes.

But honestly, where to begin with everything else I love about this episode? Jughead is assigned the role of videographer of the musical process, and the camera-within-a-camera direction underlines the artificiality of both the show (Carrie) and the show (Riverdale) in a way that’s so unreservedly them (and keeping Cole Sprouse mostly off-stage and behind camera is the right choice, unarguably)? The mystery angle, as the Black Hood resurfaces to blackmail Kevin as director of the play, and, oh yeah, visciously murders Midge in the episode’s denouement? Kevin declaring “there’s nothing more amateur than age-inappropriate casting” and somehow filling my little eternal-member-of-the-high-school-musical-chorus heart with joy? Archie doing push-ups while reading a script? Archie taking being cast as Tommy Ross (The Worst) as a compliment? Archie trying to belt? I love it all, from the autotuned state of the vocals to the Amick/Ulrich action I can’t get enough of. The return of the Black Hood and introduction of a murder-mystery to close out the season is a delightfully dark counterpoint to the bold-ass campness of the rest of the episode, and Riverdale once again gets the balance between the two sublimely right.

Honestly, Riverdale is a huge mess of a show, but sometimes it finds a sweet spot like A Night to Remember and it’s really hard to think of anything else on TV so commitment to sheer, bloody-minded entertainment value. In the past year, this show has utterly seduced me, and after a couple of seasons of tantric teasing television, it’s delivered the orgasm in the form of this beyond-perfect slice of horror-musical madness.

In other news: last week, I announced that my debut novel, RAPE JOKES, is coming out at the end of this year! I couldn’t be more excited to share the news with you. You can read more about it here, and I’m running a Q&A about it soon and would love to hear what questions you have about the book, the writing process, or publishing!

As ever, if you enjoyed this recap and want to see more stuff like it, please consider supporting me on Patreon!

(header image courtesy of Hypable)