Riverdale S3E19: Fear the Reaper
Everything that matters in Riverdale happens after dark.
I think last season’s stand-out episode, Judgement Night, proved that beyond all doubt, but this entrance into the final act of this season, Fear the Reaper, is a pretty strong contender, too. Though it takes place over the course of more than one evening, all the really juicy stuff happens when the sun goes down (aroooound here).
And man, oh man, is it some juicy stuff this week. The very first article I wrote on Riverdale was a passionate defence of trashy television, of which this show is a shining example. What I love about Riverdale, when it’s doing things right, is the way it can fulfil my lust for garbage soap opera plottery right alongside my urgent need for gorgeously-choreographed all-women knife fights set against a stunning backdrop of Amy Winehouse covers. It’s trash, yes, but it’s trash that took a media studies course or nine before it crapped out entirely.
The pulp of this week’s juice (? I’m trying it out) is, without a doubt, Betty’s spectacularly ridiculous storyline. Her after-dark sneaking around the school to try and rumble the truth behind Evelyn, the mysterious daughter of the cult leader, makes for some primo solo Lili Reinhart action: of the younger cast, she’s the one who can best swing between the outrageous camp of the show and the serious, more grounded stuff that Riverdale demands from her. She can share these ridiculous scenes of sheer bloody gall between her and her father in that Hannibal-lite prison set-up (you see that shot, where his face overlapped the reflection of hers? Foreshadowing, and I’m into it), and also sell the world-shifting devastation of discovering that her father has been killed in a car accident (has he, though? Has he really? I hope not, because Hal is at the top of my Hot Riverdale Dads To-Bang list). When she reveals that Evelyn is in fact her apparent father’s wife, I spluttered so hard on my tea that I inhaled on it and choked, and I honestly thought that I was going to die right there in front of an episode of Riverdale. Can you imagine? I’d never live it down. I’d never die it down.
But that’s just the start of a chaotically entertaining storyline where Betty tries to liberate her niece and nephew from the cult, only to be hounded down by her friends and family pleading with her to join them, once and for all. Only a show like Riverdale could take on this storyline with anything close to a straight face, and frankly, it’s this level of nonsense that I come to the show for. I don’t know how many times I’ve said it, but Riverdale can pull off stuff, for better or for worse, that other shows just can’t (or would never have the bad sense to), and that’s why I find myself crawling back against my better judgement, every time.
Jughead and his parents are forced to play a twisted game of Gargles and Gaelic Language Classes to save Jellybean from a nefarious kidnapper, and, as with almost every invocation of this game in the season so far, it’s used to uncover some fundamental truths about the characters in question. Taking place against the gloomy backdrop of a storm-ravaged Riverdale, it’s spiky and strained and one of the most interest plots that any of the Joneses have had in a long while.
Gina Gershon (who we bid a fond farewell to at the end of this episode) gets the juiciest arc here, sneaking around under thunder and lightning, as her place as Riverdale’s drug queenpin is revealed – oh, and she gets to knife-fight with a one-eyed Penny from earlier in the season. The deconstruction of Riverdale’s last-standing familial unit is actually really well played out, and doesn’t pull the emotional punches, even when the acting (ahem Cole Sprouse) isn’t as great as it could be. Not to mention the fact that this plot crashing into various others over the course of the episode as the family is forced to carry out bizarre tasks as part of the game is just genuinely hilarious.
I suppose I have to mention here as well that Josie is leaving town, which is honestly a storyline I care very little about – and with good reason. Ashleigh Murray (who plays the erstwhile Pussycat) has never fully felt like she fit into the tone of Riverdale, too straight for the silly stuff and too ill-explored for the serious stuff, a problem with both the performance and the ever-patchy writing for her character. I think she’ll do much better in a show that’s not this one, and to be fair, I will miss her lovely crooning over various scenes of hideous violence. Godspeed, Josie, and please mail me everything that was in your wardrobe for this season, thanks!
Finally, we’ve got Archie, who accidentally murdered a man in the boxing ring in the last episode and is on a mission to redeem himself to his family. Most of what I remember about this storyline revolves around Hiram in nothing but a towel in a steam room, but I’m sure there was more to it than that – KJ Apa, who has been fucking hounded by the death since this show began, seems to be teetering Archie on the edge of another full-fledged breakdown (his fortieth this season, by my count), which I’m just fine with. I find his attempts to stick by his own moral code in the face of his increasing involvement with the criminal element of Riverdale pretty interesting, and it’s good to see that the show is at least trying to follow up on the interesting deconstruction of his masculinity that we saw last season. That said, with this being Luke Perry’s apparent final episode of the show, I’m assuming that some plot involving Fred is going to dominate going forward.
Riverdale after dark is always the Riverdale that I like the most. The show can tip a little too far into CW territory by day, but when the darkness falls, so does any pretense that Riverdale is anything other than the steaming pile of deliciously watchable garbage that it is – knife fights, goodbyes, steam rooms, and all. Once again, I’ve got no idea where Riverdale is taking me with all of this, but dammit, if I’m not intrigued to find out.
(header image via Decider)