Some people never leave high school. Their personalities become fixed as if in amber, never moving beyond the person they used to be when they walked down those gleaming hallways, and the furthest they worried about their own future was tomorrow. The parents on Riverdale fiercely hold on to the identities they’ve constructed even if it means destroying themselves in the process. Just look at Alice, who will lie and manipulate in order to uncover Jason’s murderer. The image of perfection she displays is meant to hide her South Side origins and apparently she hasn’t changed since high school from Mary Andrews’ account. That’s what makes the homecoming dance theme, “Blast from the Past,” so potent. The past is always present in Riverdale.
“To Riverdale and Back Again” immediately stands out as one of the best episodes of the show’s freshman season for its deft plot development regarding the central mystery. Even better is that the writers have finally gotten a handle on Archie by blessedly looping him into the hunt to figure out who killed Jason Blossom. Charting Archie’s arc makes it clear the writers are interrogating the identities characters have settled into or are struggling to overcome. For Archie it has become undeniable he’s the kind of guy who can’t operate without a relationship. Wasn’t he just trying to rekindle his poorly developed relationship with Val? Now he probably barely remembers her, considering how he’s throwing himself into trying to convince Veronica they should be together. To her credit, Veronica is hesitant. “We had a moment,” she explains to Archie as his desire becomes overwhelming. She doesn’t have the emotional bandwidth to deal with his romantic overtures and puppy dog eyes. She wants to figure out the truth about her father. Can Hiram be trusted? Or is the prospect of his early release going to upend Veronica and Hermione’s lives? But Archie is nothing if not persistent. Although the setting for when they finally kiss again leaves a lot to be desired: FP’s trailer.
Veronica implores Archie to aid her in snooping through FP’s home in hopes of finding incriminating evidence linking him and Hiram to Jason’s murder. Archie is rightfully reluctant, knowing it means going behind Jughead’s back. He also sees how FP has cleaned up his act as evidence to the contrary. FP has been going to work everyday, quit drinking, shaved, and even displays keen interest in Jughead’s writing. But it’s that last point that worries Archie. Maybe FP’s sudden reversal is all a ruse to get more information about what Jughead knows and throw people off suspecting him. Archie and Veronica search the entire home but nothing linking FP (or Hiram) to the murder can be found. Veronica isn’t satisfied. “Maybe I’m wrong but not finding anything tonight feels like a win,” Archie says. While I’m glad Veronica and Archie have finally become a part of the main mystery, I’m still uneasy with how she’s being written. In many ways Veronica should be more like Cheryl. She should be the high school mean girl, except she uses her bitter one-liners and skills to aid Betty. Veronica is in a grey area and I’m not sure this storyline regarding Hiram is an interesting enough through line. But at least Veronica proves to be a better detective than Polly.
Since her introduction, Polly only has become more and more childlike. It seems all the detective skills and intelligence went to Betty because Polly is out of her depth. She’s creeping around the east wing of the Blossom mansion staring in wide-eyed wonder at Clifford’s extensive wig collection. When Cheryl and Polly find the ring that Jason proposed with, things only get worse for the older Cooper sister. “You are carrying precious cargo but if you think for one second that those babies guarantee your safety you’re in for a rude awakening,” Cheryl warns. Cheryl is right of course. But it only shows Polly’s naïveté that she doesn’t expect trouble is headed her way sooner. Seriously, why is Penelope giving Polly so many strawberry milkshakes to drink? That doesn’t seem like healthy pre-natal care. More importantly, of course those milkshakes are drugged leaving Polly incapable of going to the homecoming dance. Polly needs to get it together or she’s in for a world of hurt. Thankfully, Betty proves herself to be far more sagacious than her sister will ever be at the homecoming dance.
Betty takes a step back from her investigation given her involvement planning the homecoming dance and her relationship with Jughead. But that doesn’t mean she’s lost her instincts. She easily picks up on how Alice is using a dinner inviting FP and Jughead over to get information. “Whatever do you mean, I’m making peach pie for our guests?” Alice says with not even a hint of veracity. Betty only goes along with Alice’s latest manipulation since she knows how excited Jughead is for the dinner. But this isn’t a family dinner it’s an interrogation. It becomes even more tense when Hal shows up per Betty’s invitation. Not a good idea, Betty. Did you see Alice’s look of disgust and annoyance when Hal walks in? “I don’t care what you think of me, Alice. But don’t jerk me around, not in front of my son,” FP says.
Out of all the adults on Riverdale FP has surprisingly become one of the most caring. His growth isn’t lost on Jughead who now considers moving back in with him. But FP’s suggestion they move to Toledo and get their family back together is too much for Jughead especially with Betty in the picture. Once Jughead learns that Veronica and Archie had the gall to go through FP’s home he starts to reconsider the person he’s been morphing into. Maybe Jughead isn’t ready to be the dedicated boyfriend type attending family dinners and accompanying Betty on journalistic investigations. He’s weird remember? That’s the identity he’s attached himself to — the weird, brooding boy from the wrong side of town. As FP says, Riverdale crushes men like him and Jughead. As dour as that pronouncement is FP may actually be right. FP is framed with Sheriff Keller finding the murder weapon in a hidden lockbox. But Archie and Veronica know it wasn’t there when they looked through his home. But FP has a lot stacked against him namely the reputation he’s garnered over the years. No matter how much you grow as a person in Riverdale the past will always haunt you.
— So, did Veronica and Archie sleep together? The show has been purposely opaque on the details of what happened that night. Honestly, I think they probably didn’t go that far.
— Molly Ringwald’s presence as Mary Andrews isn’t as much of an impact on Riverdale as one would expect. Although I’m curious how her asking Archie to consider moving to Chicago with her will affect things going forward.
— It makes no sense that Josie and the Pussycats didn’t play at the homecoming dance. The duet between Archie and Veronica doing a fun cover of “We’re the Kids in America” is definitely cute. But Josie, Val, and especially Melody are mere footnotes at this point. It’s upsetting to see a series make overtures about casting diverse casting and not do much to include minority characters in the main plot.
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