Review, Riverdale CW, television

REVIEW of RIVERDALE Ch.18, “When a Stranger Calls”

Somehow Riverdale did the impossible – they made sex, drugs and murder boring.

Grade: C+

The episode conveyed as if they had taken the A-plots from three separate episodes, edited them down to fit into forty-two minutes and hoped that no one would notice. So many of the scenes lacked context or buildup; they were all just heightened emotion, which, without context, just reads as campy. And it’s a shame because the most compelling (and I’m supposing actual) A-plot, Betty, was lost in the shuffle. And interesting potential plot points, like Alice going off the rails were completely truncated. The separate subplots of this episode – Jughead’s initiation, Veronica sinking into her family business, and Betty grappling with the Black Hood – could not have felt more distant from each other.

I truly feel like I’m missing something while watching this episode. The scenes followed each other sloppily. We barely saw Juggie’s initiation, we just heard about it after. Then suddenly Jughead is halfway through his initiation and Toni is in his trailer trying to warn him.

Out of nowhere, the Lodges are having cash-flow issues and it’s falling on Veronica’s shoulders to secure an investment from the visiting St. Clair’s. I was actually paying attention and have no idea who the St. Clair family is, except that they have the much-needed capital, and in a social climate of sexual predation, it’s weird that the St. Clair son, who is now a “music producer” (?), is flirting with Veronica, who is a sophomore. Weird and gross and weird and creepy.

Betty’s Silence of the Lambs connection to the Black Hood is the most thrilling part of the episode. The way that he toys with her, just her, is super unsettling. If you watch The Good Place, then this will make sense to you – but it seems like Betty’s savior complex is actually her own personal hell. The Black Hood’s purging of the sinners is Riverdale is actually causing exquisite torture for its saintliest. In order to save her family and friends, Betty becomes completely dissolved. She publishes a mug shot of her mother as a teenager – AND a Southside Serpent! – as the Black Hood’s recompense. She breaks up with Juggie and cuts Veronica out of her life.

A salient point that I think the show wanted us to forget about is that the handwriting analysts don’t believe that the letter Betty received and the letter Alice received came from the same person. So it’s possible that Betty’s pen-pal is not the serial killer but someone else entirely, someone whose obsession with Betty is teetering on rabbit-boiling.

The most frustrating part is that these half-formed plotlines are not even that complex. This could easily be an excellent filler episode: Veronica and Jughead getting pulled deeper into the swampy complexities of family drama and expectation, which causes tension in their respective relationships. It’s not groundbreaking, or even the first time such a storyline has been done on this show. But this episode was half-baked at best, which further highlighted everything about Riverdale that annoys me – basically Veronica’s “New York-isms.”

Layering that Pussycats song over the genuine trauma of Betty, the hazing of Jughead, the agony of Archie and the DRUGGING of Cheryl felt fucking disgusting. And in a news world where every day more sexual assaults and allegations are coming to light, the “funky song” mixed with the Pussycats and Veronica beating up Nick felt like they were making light of serious issues. I know that they weren’t, but it was poor fucking timing.

The lazy plotlines and the utter tone deafness would’ve made any episode bad, but it made this episode worse – the incredible acting by Betty and Cheryl were actually poignant and impactful. If we’re not showcasing Madelaine Petsch, then I really don’t know what we’re doing here. Betty has completely unraveled, and the scene at the abandoned house was something out of a Hitchcock movie. When she trades Nick to the Black Hood in exchange for protecting Polly, I realized something: there was Dark Betty and Goody Two-Shoes Betty, but by far the most interesting version of her is Morally Complicated Betty.


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