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Recap: The Stakes on 'Riverdale' Have Lost All Meaning

By Dustin Rowles | TV | January 17, 2019 |

By Dustin Rowles | TV | January 17, 2019 |


At the end of this week’s episode of Riverdale, Veronica is seen performing in her own nightclub, in a town with a large enough population to sustain two high schools (at one point, anyway) but only large enough for one restaurant (Pop’s), which makes the sustainability of a nightclub tailored specifically to teenagers a dicey proposition. But whatever, the demographics of Riverdale make no sense. It’s a seemingly small town, but there are enough drug addicts in it for Hiram Lodge to build a Fizzle Rock empire and enough residents to sustain its own newspaper. But also, there are only like three cops.

The point is, during Veronica’s performance, she gives a come hither look to Reggie, and after she’s done singing, she and Reggie find themselves making out. In a well-written television series, that kiss is the anchor of an entire episode. That kiss is something that has been led up to for half a dozen episodes, at least. That kiss breaks a million viewers’ hearts because it feels like a betrayal to Archie, but it also satisfies a million other Reggie and Veronica shippers. That kiss, all by itself, could probably provide enough narrative mileage for another two or three episodes, as the participants in this love triangle hem and haw and push and pull the viewers’ heartstrings.

That’s the show that Riverdale could have been because, after five episodes, the CW series had its viewers on a hook. The writers could have done anything — they could have teased the original Betty, Veronica, Archie love triangle for at least four seasons (see, e.g., Felicity) without losing viewer interest, and they could have layered that romance with a series of whodunnits, a la Veronica Mars. It could have been that show set in this 21st century 1950s town plagued with murder mysteries, a hot backstabbing mean girl, a gay best friend with all the best lines, and the occasional musical number.

I would have loved that show. The intended audience for Riverdale would have loved that show. But this show? The show that we’re watching? It is televisual swamp ass. It is the sweat between a pair of hairy butt cheeks. It is terrible, and each and every week, it somehow manages to find a way to become a worse show than it was the week before. The characters — ostensibly the best thing about this show — are being completely wasted, attractive cutouts being used to propel an increasingly preposterous storyline. Meanwhile, the writers are under the misguided impression that the more things that happen, the better an episode is. But it only makes it more painfully boring.

The kiss between Reggie and Veronica elicited nothing, nor did the fact that Archie “dies” at the end of the episode, after a lengthy and painful dream sequence. Archie, who is living in exile out in a cabin, is attacked by a Grizzly bear. While waiting for help to arrive, he falls into a dream stupor, and he has conversations with a number of other dead characters, all of which leads up to Archie “killing himself” in his dream. When help finally arrives, Archie is real-life dead, unless of course in next week’s episode, this “real life” is also a dream.

Archie’s death, of course, won’t stick any more than this fling that Veronica is having with a tertiary character. It means nothing, because as soon as Archie is revived and returns to Riverdale, he and Veronica will reunite, and halfway through that same episode, Veronica will tearfully confess that she kissed Reggie. Archie and Veronica will fight. They may break up. Ten minutes later, they’ll be back together. They’ll probably get engaged. The engagement party will be at Veronica’s nightclub. She’ll sing. Archie will play the guitar. No one will ever go to school again.

But none of it will matter, because, sadly, the bigger picture here is that Veronica’s dad has turned Riverdale into a lawless Deadwood, where rival gangs inflict lethal violence on redshirts and occasionally non-fatally stab a main character, who regroups three scenes later and exacts revenge.

The stakes are meaningless because the characters are hollowed-out abs and bikini hangers. To wit: Over the course of this single episode, a character named Fangs is kicked out of the Serpents for selling Fizzle Rock; invited back in five minutes later; exiled again three scenes later; and finally, given an opportunity to return to the Serpents by pretending to be a member of the rival Gargoyle gang.

Oh, and the Gargoyle King? This big mystery that dominated the entire first half of the season? I guess everyone has just sort of casually conceded that Hiram Lodge is the Gargoyle King, but, like, whaddya gonna do about it? I mean, he used a mental asylum to test out his drugs on a bunch of kids; killed the sheriff; staged deadly prison fights; fixed a mayor’s race; quarantined an entire city; used a private prison to manufacture drugs; and apparently just killed a whole bunch of nuns who he feared would testify against him.

You know what might be a good idea? Instead of having the horny kids fight a turf war between rival high-school gangs, maybe someone could pick up a phone and call a fed? You know who handles serial killers/drug kingpins/corrupt businessman? The good old FBI! I know the FBI is not getting paid right now, but this a pretty open-and-shut case, right? There’s a pile of nun bodies with blue lips owed to a drug manufactured in a private prison run by Hiram Lodge and a lot of teenagers who could provide enough probable cause to get that warrant. While the feds are in town, maybe they can look into that sex cult called The Farm. Maybe Archie and the gang can just sit this one out.

It’s just a thought.

In the meantime, I guess we’ll just wait for Archie to wake up from his death; Veronica to regret kissing Reggie; Kevin to disappear for another three episodes; Cheryl to make a brief appearance and contribute nothing to the storyline, while a 17-year-old with a knit cap runs a two-bit bodyguard service and his girlfriend tries to bring down a sex cult all alone by, oh I dunno: Writing an article in the school newspaper.

Riverdale is really giving Manifest a run for its money as the worst show on television right now.

Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.

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