Riverdale S2E20: Shadow of a Doubt

by thethreepennyguignol

How the hell is this season going to end?

Last season, I was pretty confident that I had a solid notion of how Riverdale was going to draw the story to a close; it was a mystery, sure, but the show had given us plenty to work off of. But this time around, as we career wildly towards a climax, I honestly couldn’t tell you where I think this is going to end.

Because this week’s episode, Shadow of a Doubt, is pulling together so many plots and so many stories that it’s hard to keep them straight: from Fred versus Hermione in the mayoral race, to Hiram manipulating a handful of teenage boys to stir up violent trouble in the town, the murder of Midge, to the Southside/Northside class clashes, to Veronica trying to establish her place in her family’s criminal empire, to Archie and his PTSD, to Betty attempting to rumble the Black Hood once and for all…fucking hell, Riverdale has a dozen plots on the go right now and I just can’t see how they’re going to bring them together in any kind of cohesive way.

But, scrapping the big-picture thinking and focusing on this episode specifically, I’m still enjoying the show week to week. Shadow of a Doubt is for sure one of the weaker episodes since the show made it’s return, but that’s purely because the sheer breathless intensity of juggling nine different storylines, three different character arcs, six different genre references and a handful of stylistic nods doesn’t leave a lot of time for the stuff that I like to breathe.

That said, there is some solid work here with regards to a couple of storylines; I was never much of a fan of the class divide in Riverdale (mainly because it usually so heavily featured Cole Sprouse’s eyebrow furrow), but it’s probably the strongest plot in Shadow of a Doubt. After a Serpent is connected with Midge and implicated in her death, the town begins to splinter as old tensions arise once more, culminating in the shooting of afroementioned Serpent after he is released from prison. For one, I was pretty impressed with Cole Sprouse here – God knows why, but yelling seems to suit Jughead better than brooding does, and watching him actually attempt to do something beyond dropping snide remarks from the sidelines was the best he’s been in weeks. The sequence of the shooting was pure Riverdale magic, drawing together a handful of plots and characters in a dead-serious and totally dramatic climax, cutting between sterile overhead shots and close-ups of the confrontation in the crowd. That final image, of the blooming bullet wound of accused Serpent spreading over his stomach, was striking and violent and manages to give what has been a frequently silly plot some much-needed grounding.

Elsewhere, Betty is convinced her Dad is the Black Hood, and sets out with Cheryl to prove it. Betty/Cheryl is a partnership I heavily ship find myself invested in, and the more parallels the show draws between them the bleaker the outlook for both characters becomes: lost or missing siblings, parents potentially caught up in shocking murders, a real commitment to a colour palette. Lili Reinhart is still eating Riverdale alive with this performance, stabs of emotion slicing through the disassociative state that the return of the Black Hood has forced her to hide in, and the confrontation with her father towards the end of the episode feels at once hopeless and as though she’s got him on the ropes. A darkness beats at the heart of the Cooper family, but Betty is the only one who seems to have found a way to corral that darkness into something lawful – even if she’s the one writing those laws, and enacting her own justice as a result.

Archie continues his incongruently excellent run, as the Black Hood threatens Fred once more and he returns to his nightly vigils with a baseball bat in the living room. There’s a killer moment late in the episode, when a shooter attempts to pick off victims at the mayoral debate between Hermione and Fred – Archie runs to his father, and Fred immediately ducks and pulls his son close to him to keep him safe. Archie slumps against him, head in his shoulder, helpless, scared, all over again. It’s an inversion, blocking-wise, of the scene in the first episode of this season where Archie was dragging his mortally wounded father to hospital, and a reminder of how utterly this threat has crushed Archie’s sense of safety and his sense of self in the process.

The Lodges all have a solid outing this week as well, and I’m particularly finding myself warming to this silly but fun Veronica storyline; she’s moving up the ranks of her father’s criminal empire and making waves in his community (side note: my “I can’t believe that I watch and enjoy a show with this kind of shit in it” moment of the week was the reference to the son of Papa Poutine, Small Fry), and her icy-cold social manoeuvring makes a lot of sense in this context and is a hell of a lot more interesting here too. Her Dad is also having a great back half of the season, as he moves into outright villain territory and encourages the high schoolers to revive their vigilante group in order to create chaos in the town once more – I could listen to Mark Conseulos talk all day long, but the fact that he’s actually risen convincingly through the ranks of Riverdale society is a bonus and framing him as a full-blown antagonist is a good position for the show with just a few episodes left in this season. He’s the consummate gentleman bad guy; never gets his hands dirty if he can avoid it, but I can’t wait to see what happens when he has no choice.

While overstuffed, I’m still glad that Riverdale is thundering into it’s final act with as much brazen confidence as this. With divisions springing up all over Riverdale – Hermione versus Fred, Serpents versus Bulldogs, Hiram versus Decency, Betty versus Hal – I can’t see how the show plans to resolve each and every one of them. I might not have a clue as to how this season is going to end up, but maybe that’s for the best. Riverdale has always been a show teetering on the brink of chaos, and perhaps it would be better if they let that take control for the last few episodes of the season. Frankly, I’m fine with Riverdale (the show) tearing Riverdale (the town) apart and making it next season’s problem.

If you enjoyed this post and want to see more stuff like it, please consider supporting me on Patreon! I also started another blog series, Best Episodes Ever, in which Riverdale got a shout out earlier this week, if you’re into more analytical/technical writing about TV.

(header image courtesy of Comicbookclublive)