2018, Review, Riverdale CW, television

Review of RIVERDALE Ch.23, “The Blackboard Jungle”

What’s with the backpack situation in Riverdale?


Grade: A

Riverdale is back! And all the dominos set up in the former half of the season are getting knocked down in the latter.

With the Black Hood unmasked (theoretically, I don’t believe it) we can move onto the mysteries of Lodge Industries. I personally would love a refresher on what they’ve done, but from what I can glean: Hiram Lodge, during and after being released from prison, has been using the Southside Serpents to depreciate land value in Riverdale and then swooping in to buy the land for development and gentrification. There also seems to be a drug element that wasn’t resolved before the mid-season finale, so I have to assume that that’s emanating from Casa Lodge.

But with the Black Hood nightmare over, the citizens of Riverdale are finding other ways to occupy their time. Utilizing Archie’s sleuthing, the FBI has sent a former Riverdale resident to recruit him into taking Hiram Lodge down. Despite the fact that Archie did nothing to solve the murder of Jason Blossom or the mystery of the Black Hood and that Betty did everything, the FBI is interested in him, mainly for his connection to Veronica and his own father’s involvement in Lodge Industries.

As an aside, the scene between FBI Guy and Archie could play equally as well as the introduction to a multi-episode gay porn arc. Agent Adams (gay) wants a few simple things from Archie: investigate the Nick St. Clair (Sinclair?) accident, and a deeper understanding of Lodge Industries.

Due to some nefarious dealings between Mayor McCoy and the Lodges (damn, they’re really earning their paycheck this season) Southside High has closed and its students are being move to Riverdale High. Normally, in comparison to teen murders and serial killers, normal storylines like school district consolidations would be a total bummer. But I’m just so glad that these kids are in class – I was worried about their college prospects. Now I’m just worried about the disturbing lack of backpacks amongst the Southside students.

And so while Veronica (who knew from her parents that Southside was closing), Archie and Betty are welcoming towards the merger – even as it muddies the water of a Bughead break-up (was it a break-up?) – others are not as enthused. Cheryl Blossom, backed by Reggie (hot) and a coterie of cheerleaders (a swarm of cheerleaders? A gaggle? A culture?), is using dog-whistle language to lament the loss of Riverdale’s above-average GPA. This seems oddly out of character for Cheryl (she’s a bitch, not a racist) so here’s my theory.

First, Cheryl is deeply insecure, and hates any change. Second, she’s also self-conscious of her own family’s changing socioeconomic status.

But at the core is the squaring off between Toni Topaz and Cheryl. Before the season started, the powers-that-be suggested that Cheryl would be getting an unexpected love interest. Basically, that’s code for “queer.” Now that we’ve seen Cheryl’s weird love for Josie, the stage has been set for a same-sex Cheryl romance. I’m here for it – Cheryl’s never read as particularly “straight” to me, and her kissing Archie at the end of season one felt much more like a desire for closeness than sexual tension.

So while Cheryl amps up the anti-Southside sentiment (leading to stricter censorship of Southside regalia, Jughead’s suspension and a burgeoning possibility of romance between Kevin Keller and Southside’s Fogarty – could we be getting two queer romances for the low, low price of $9.99 a month?) Betty’s B-plot involves the Mysteriously Pregnant Polly who is no longer Pregnant. Post-natal Polly has given birth to twins (“Juniper and Dagwood”) without telling the rest of her family. To make it up to her mother (?), Betty decides to locate Alice’s long-lost son.

They discover he’s living two towns over and his name is Charles. Against Hal’s express wishes, Alice and Betty visit him in his hollow-cheeked glory. Charles “Chic” Smith is doing some shady work making people’s “fantasies” come true and is appropriately resentful towards his birth family. After a tense first meeting, Betty goes back to the apartment complex only to find her brother being stabbed by a strange, hulking man. God, what isn’t gay porn in this show?

Inevitable creepiness (including some Chic standing over Betty while she’s sleeping – light fare) ensues, and that’s the that on that. Until next episode (!!!).

Archie uses Cheryl as a red herring in order to get close to Nick. I’m really hating how people keep using Cheryl (and her assault) as means to an end. In an attempt to get her mother to stop hustling (literally being a “courtesan”) Cheryl will do anything to get that money, even reliving painful memories and gifting Archie the blazer of her dead, hot brother.

Under the guise of getting Nick to replicate that hush money, Archie somehow scrounges up the money to fly to New York to intimidate Nick. His goal is to get Nick to admit that the Lodges broke his legs for attempting to rape Veronica.

Side note: there are a lot of layers to this, but let it not be forgotten that the Lodges were fine with Nick when they thought he just attempted to rape Cheryl, but broke his legs when they found out what he had done to their daughter. Rape culture, y’all.

Nick taunts Archie; Archie breaks Nick’s nose; and despite getting the hush money, the trip is painted as rather fruitless. Agent Adams admonishes Archie for getting “sloppy” and Archie does not get Veronica to admit that she told her parents about Nick’s assault on her. And when she turns the tables – sensing that he’s lying to her – Archie uses the fact that Cheryl (technically) blackmailed him into helping her under the threat of releasing the secret of Archie kissing Betty. Given the town they live in (with rapists, drug dealers, and serial killers) and the fact that all parties were single, Veronica has an annoyingly overblown reaction. “You kissed?” she asked, in the same diner where, weeks earlier, Archie’s father had been shot point-blank and left for dead.

In the last, lingering moments of an incredible episode, Archie gives a voice to something that we’ve (me’ve) all been thinking. “In your expert opinion, Agent Adams,” he says, his caveman-hot brows drawn close and his voice gravelly, “do you think we got the right Black Hood? Because I’m not so sure.”

Season 2B (is that what we’re calling it) is off to an epic start. I cannot wait to see what else is in store. I really enjoy that the mystery of the Black Hood lingers, but I’m excited to dig deep into the Lodge drama.

Until next time, think about the fact that no Southside Serpents had backpacks and the only one was a Coachella-appropriate red number from Cheryl that would only fit a popper and some Kleenex.

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