Riverdale S3E17: The Raid

by thethreepennyguignol

Maybe you woke up, on the first day of this year, and thought “yes, this is going to be my year”. Maybe you worked hard. Maybe you really focused in on yourself, making your life happier, fuller, a warmer place for you to live. Maybe you really believed it was the year of you. 

But you’d be fucking wrong, because it’s the year of Cheryl Blossom, and I’m here to prove it.

This week’s episode, The Raid, picks up where last week’s ridiculous musical nonsense left off – with Edgar Evernever (played by a fabulously campy and slitheringly sinister Chad Michael Murray, who can, quantifiably, Get It), the leader of the cult of The Farm, making moves to guide even more people towards his mysterious group. Of course, Betty is right there in on the case (and let me make it clear that this is only just not the year of Lili Reinhart, who is such an unbelievable delight as the Nancy Drew from hell of my dreams here, bugging Cheryl’s bug broochery and snarling at any members of the Farm unlucky enough to slide into her line of vision), but she needs a mole – and Cheryl is her best shout.

Now, Cheryl has really been a long game for Riverdale, starting out as the Cordelia-Chase-From-Buffy – but now, she’s the Cordelia-Chase-From-Angel – layered, deep, interesting, but still with that deliciously catty overtone and perfectly-lacquered liquid lips. The show kicked off with the loss of her beloved twin brother, and really, she’s had one of the densest and most interesting arcs of Riverdale so far. From coming out, to losing her father, to her feud with the rest of her family, to fighting a fear of loss and abandonment that has driven her whole existence, the show finally seems to have noticed that they’ve got this goldmine of emotional depth sitting untapped.

Madeleine Petsch, as an actress, seems to find the hysterical Cheryl overtones almost too easy – her glorious goofing around in leather basques as Betty’s mole is joyously fun. But when the show digs deeper into Cheryl, that’s where Petsch really shines. This is a rollercoaster of an episode for the character, as she begins to connect with the farm – and even has her lost brother revealed to her once more, though by what means, we’re not yet sure.

Really, the arc for Cheryl has revolved around her embracing her potential for emotional depth, after years of pushing down the things that she really wanted and really cared for to paste over them with hollow nothings that might have looked good on the outside, but meant nothing in reality. This season has seen her allowing herself to pursue what she wants, and that puts her in a state of emotional vulnerability that allows for her exploitation by people who want both good and bad for her. Whoever she is paired with, she makes for a fascinating character to watch, because she is both so distinctly herself and so malleable to the wants and needs of those around her. Petsch is killing it this season, and in the last few episodes especially, and the deep-dive into her trauma and attempts at recovery in a town as toxic as this one is just yet another trick the show has pulled out of the bag when I least expected it.

But oh, there’s so much more to love about this episode, too. Riverdale is packing-out it’s final act of this season with some killer reveals; our first venture into the farm is as unsettling and fascinating as Betty wants us to believe it is, and the apparent use of grief to hook in those most vulnerable makes a lot of sense and grounds it in some much-needed reality. Veronica’s plot – as she tries to con her father into sticking by her mother, resentful of their apparent divorce and fearful of the danger it will put Hermione in now that she is out from under his protection – could have led its own episode on the pure strength of it alone, but the way it’s played here, all underhand, against crisp neutrals and pops of oozing colour, is fantastic stuff.

Jughead’s storyline is where the episode gets its name from, though, as Jughead and the trainee cops/ex-Serpents launch a raid on the drug den that Jughead’s mother Gladys is in charge of. Now, we know Riverdale can do action, but man, this is just some of the best fight choreography and direction we’ve ever seen from them – the apartment block setting is obviously drawn from the titular movie, but this is pure post-John Wick action – fast, punchy, breathless, and pretty fucking thrilling to boot.

The familial stakes between Jughead and Gladys only ramp up the tension – if you’d told me that this season would close out on a drug war between Jughead and his mother, I probably – no, actually, I probably would have believed you, because there’s nothing that Riverdale could do to surprise me anymore. Seriously. I’m half-expecting it to kick in my door and take me on a surprise trip to Carcasonne before next week’s episode. Everything’s on the table here. For some people, that’s going to be irritating – the complete inability of this show to focus in on one thing can grow tiring. But for me, right now, I’ll take it. Tuning in every week and genuinely having no clue what to expect? I can’t think of another show that I can say that for on TV right now. And I’m happy as hell with the turn the end of this season has taken, and can’t wait to see how they bring it to a close.

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(header image via Comic Book)