Riverdale S3E11: The Red Dahlia
Alright, so sometimes Riverdale does genre parody, in that sort of sly, if-you-get-it-you-get-it kind of way. And sometimes, it just lifts every cliche from the genre handbook and crams it into one episode and dumps it on your lap. This week’s outing. The Red Dahlia, was the latter. And this time, Riverdale is going balls-to-the-wall with its noir.
This is an almost exhausting exercise in genre over-exertion: Veronica slinking into Jughead’s office in silhouette as the Dame, a grizzled, a crooked lawman brushing off murder, seedy sex clubs, steamy affairs, a drizzling, lazy sax-and-piano soundtrack. It’s played utterly and completely dead straight, to the point where it loops around into parody again – it’s the kind of episode that only Riverdale could possibly do, a show so committed to the bizarre comedy of genre idolization that it makes Quentin Tarantino look like he’s taking the day off. I don’t even really know what to say about the noir worship in this episode: it’s well-made, passionately committed, and I suppose I like it? I think? It’s certainly something, and Riverdale is always better when it’s focused on an end goal, even if that end goal is “remind everyone how much you like the Philip Marlowe stories”.
The mystery around which this utterly weird outing takes place is, of course, the attempted assassination of Hiram Lodge. And this is the part of the episode that works best for me: Jughead playing the noir detective and investigating and interviewing around the town fits perfectly with the genre conceits they’re trying to explore. Veronica (who gets to use the term “mobsplain”, which is honestly too fucking much), as she proved back in The Great Escape, works really well as the sexy, sassy dame, and the handsome world of the Lodges is a beautiful backdrop for this plotline. Betty peering into the history of the murderous Blossom clan has good crossover with this plot, and keeps our favourite teen busy in an episode that almost feels too absurd for her talents – though, my God, I love Penelope Blossom’s misandrist killing spree maybe more than is appropriate. Kelly Ripa is also here, as Hiram’s ex-lover, but honestly she’s lost in the overwhelming avalanche of noir nonsense in this episode, despite putting in a pretty fun turn.
But at the same time, there are other plots going on in this episode that just don’t work with what they’re trying to achieve. Archie is going off the rails, drinking and starting fights at his father’s workplace, and the seriousness of this plot just does not jibe with the tone of the rest of the episode. Jumping from Jughead’s drawling sepia-toned voice-over to KJ Apa doing his best to emote inner turmoil is unfortunately neccessary, since they couldn’t just dump the Archie plot for the episode, but that doesn’t mean I like it.
Honestly, The Red Dahlia is a fucking difficult episode to write about – even to watch – because it’s just so utterly ridiculous. One part of me loves the ridiculousness, and another part of me fears that this genre exercise is papering over the cracks of a season that might be taking a turn into the unsustainable. On its own, The Red Dahlia is an entertaining forty minutes of television, but Riverdale needs to decide whether it wants to take itself seriously or go and have a whole lot of fun prancing around in genre playtime, because this episode is a good example of the fact that it just can’t do both.
And that’s us for the first half of season three. What did you think? Are you confident about how this season is unfolding? Let me know in the comments below, or hit me up on Twitter or Tumblr! If you enjoyed this article, please feel free to check in with my other recapping projects – I’m currently covering the first Harry Potter book. If you want to read some of my fiction, please check out the ALPHA FEMALE erotica series (eighteen-plus, obviously), available on Amazon now. As ever, if you want to see more stuff like this, please consider supporting me on Patreon!