Riverdale S3E18: Jawbreaker

by thethreepennyguignol

There’s a lot of talk in this episode, Jawbreaker, about people needing “to come back to reality”. Which is pretty fucking bold for a show that’s as wildly off the rails as Riverdale right now.

I mean, this episode has a zombie in it. A fucking zombie! Okay, well, no, it’s someone so high off their face on fizzle rocks (I mean, have we just accepted that as a drug name now? Have we? Have we really?) that they’re taking on all the characteristics of a minion of the undead. This season of Riverdale has seen the show become more and more detached from reality, but at least the characters within the show seemed to connect with whatever reality was on display here. Now, though? I’m not so sure.

The zombie plot turns up a few times this episode, and I’m glad that it’s giving Skeet and Son (as I’m now referring to FP and Jughead) some investigating to do. Watching Jughead open the episode by unabashedly analysing a corpse is just a reminder of the sheer level of batshit violence and death these kids have already seen, and objectively kind of hilrarious because of just that. But it’s the way that this plot unfolds in the background that honestly makes it so funny – seeing a zombiefied cheerleader wandering through the halls while the cast is trying to get on with another storyline is so deliciously Riverdale I can hardly take it. No, really, I can hardly take it. This is too much.

Let’s get into the obvious good stuff this episode: Betty and Alice Cooper duking it out for “who in the Cooper family is the most dangerously unhinged?”. Which, you, is saying something given that their husband and father (who gets some more delicious Hannibal-homage prison-cell plotting) is a serial killer. Alice’s disconnection from the real world has been a slow-building beast, but here it’s thrown into sharp focus – she truly believes that her son is still alive, and Betty is determined to bring her back to the real world. A powerful scene between the two of them in the Sex Bunker explores their dense and confused relationship, with Alice trying to leave a traumatic past behind – and, in the process, a past that connects her to her daughters. Betty unravels this through listening to a series of tapes that her mother made with Cult Michael Murray (who needs to speak up a little, but otherwise, no notes), and yes, it’s a blunt-force way to get the exposition across, but it’s still raw watching Betty find out that her mother sees the same darkness in her that she did in her soon-to-be-ex-husband.

But, you know, this scene comes after Betty actually chloroforms her parent and kidnaps her to make her see the light. And fakes the gravestone of her dead brother. And colludes with her murderous father. And threatens to straight-up slaughter the daughter of the leader of the cult. Dark Betty is here in full force, in a scene best underlined in her confrontation with Evelyn – Lili Reinhart does righteous maniac with such delicious ease, and it’s a joy to watch this version of her come to terrifying fruition. After everything she’s had taken from her, the darkness that has been hinted at for years is bursting out as she tries to hang on to her mother, and I can’t wait to see who she ultimately murders as a result.

But of course, it’s more than just Alice and Betty who are slowly coming unstuck. Archie and the Gilded Gloves (the boxing club we’re apparently stuck with) are back in play, and basically form an excuse for the show to do more slow-mo boxing sequences and pan up sweaty torsos of people who are meant to be teenagers. Veronica is there to gaze lustily at some abs, mostly, and strike deals with overpronouncing everything she says (I literally woke up in the night earlier this week having figured out that this was the reason I always find her performance just a little off – e-ve-ry-sin-gle-sy-lla-ble has the enunciation wrung the fuck out of it, and now I’ve heard it I can’t unhear it).

And Toni is out here trying to rescue Cheryl from the cult, where Cheryl is shifting into queen-bee status as she develops her relationship with an imaginary Jason. Madeleine Petsch coming unstuck in all-white and self-actualization and kombucha is obviously fantastic, and Cheryl’s utter emotional nuclear implosion has been coming for a long time now, but it does feel like the show has been dragging this out for too long. Maybe it’s just the breakneck speed at which the show paces its stories, but trying to balance Cheryl as both the comic relief and a serious character in her own right really gets in the way of the latter, no matter how hard Petsch wears the heck out of matte red liquid lipstick.

Riverdale is sliding off the edge of the map. Is that a good thing? For the long run of the show, probably not. But I’m interested to see what audacious, ridiculous levels they’re going to sprint to before they finally tip off into oblivion – and how far they can hold out before they do just that.

In case you missed it, I started recapping Game of Thrones earlier this week! If you liked this article and want to see more stuff like it, please consider supporting me on Patreon.

(header image via CraveYouTV)