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.
Honey never goes bad. And because it never spoils, it can be used to preserve things indefinitely. There was a myth once of a Greek king whose queen died tragically. To cope with the pain, he entombed her body in honey—thus preserving her forever. It seems like the Blossoms are trying the same—preserving Jason’s memory by suffocating Archie in sweet maple syrup. But the problem with preservation is that that thing you’re trying to keep will still be dead when you uncover it.
In fact, this entire episode centers around preservations of things gone spoilt. Betty struggles to hold together her family, Veronica is trying to reconcile her father as the parent she loves with the monstrous businessman in the shadows. The beginning of the series delved into the dysfunctional mothers of Riverdale, and now we’ve moved onto the fathers. Fred Andrews, Cliff Blossom, Hal Cooper. Speaking of the last one, Hal Cooper is totally a concussed football troll gone to seed.
In the A-plot, Archie is being roped into the Blossom family drama. The members of the Blossom Maple Farm board are descending upon Thorn Hill for the annual first tapping of the maple tree. With the scandal of Jason’s murder, and his role as the heir presumptive of the family business, the board members are trying to edge the Blossoms out of the company. The entire first half of the episode is dredged in layers of sexism as Cliff Blossom tries to coil his meaty, rosacea hands around Archie’s broad, sculpted shoulders. Cliff wants Archie to temper out Cheryl’s irrationalness and erraticism. She is, apparently, not even remotely being considered to run the company. Let’s not forget that Jason was a drug-mule and knocked up his high school girlfriend, and he—as a boy—was still considered more stable than Cheryl. Sexism.
This was the first episode that I got a slightly lower register on the Cersei scale from Cheryl. Yes, her obsession with her brother verges on pornographic, but something was illuminated for me. Jason was the golden child—in the eyes of his parents, the school, in sports. And he was always the biggest champion of Cheryl. She was always tolerated because Jason marketed them as a package deal. Without him by her side, she’s back to being the pariah.
Like Jughead analogizes in his last voiceover, Cheryl is a hurricane about to bear down on Riverdale. But as much as that works for her potential destructiveness, it also serves to elucidate her role as the center of Riverdale. Everyone this episode operates in her orbit. The Blossom family board underestimate her. Archie uses her for her parents’ connection to some top-tier music program. Polly is using her to find out if the Blossom parents had something to do with Jason’s death. Only Jason never asked anything of Cheryl—never wanted her beauty, or her crazy, or her connections. Only Jason wanted just her. And unmoored, without Jason, Cheryl is cracking in the most interior parts of her soul.
In the accompanying B-plots, Veronica tries to balance the karma scales by being especially nice to Ethel Muggs. Ethel’s father, Manfred Muggs, tried to commit suicide because he invested money with Hiram Lodge and lost everything. Subsequently, the Muggs are going to testify against Hiram in court. Something that wasn’t said, but could be possible given Hiram’s far reach from prison, is that Manfred’s “suicide” attempt might have been a little…induced by Hiram’s machinations.
Betty and Alice try to bring Polly back, unaware that Polly is at Thorn Hill as a spy. Their plan is to write a scorched-earth exposé of the Blossoms—how Cliff Blossom is the one who put Hiram in jail, their treatment of Cheryl, the circling vulture movements of the family board. It comes to a halt when Hal, a human erectile dysfunction commercial, cuts Alice off from the Riverdale Register. Alice then throws a brick through the front door of the newspaper office—go Alice—and later, Jughead suggests Alice write for the high school newspaper. Madchen Amick, who plays Alice, is a great actress so her scenes are electric, but I was mostly bored with the Cooper subplot. Sorry babe.
The episode’s cliffhanger is the addition of a new suspect. We learned from Archie’s overhearing that Clifford Blossom put Hiram Lodge in jail, thus “shattering” his family. We’ve seen Hiram’s ability to enact his will from jail, so is it possible that he made his own revenge—shattering the Blossom family with the murder of their most prized possession?
Veronica learns that trying to preserve her family legacy doesn’t always work. Betty realizes that in times of strife, people either come together or fall apart. And dear, dear Cheryl. As she sobs, scrawling over Archie and Polly’s faces in a photograph with a red Sharpie, Polly knocks at the door. Cheryl hastily wipes up her tears and spreads a smile across her full, syrupy-red lips. In a hurricane, the center is often the only part that is not seized by wild winds. But that calm center belies the most dangerous part of the storm. Beware of Cheryl. And beware, Cheryl. As she preserves her rage behind layers of clear gold maple syrup, she could be entombing herself in the process.