Okay, Riverdale, we have a problem. Riverdale is missing its identity. I get the distinct feeling it just does not have any idea what kind of show it is. It desperately wants to take from its predecessors Beverly Hills 90210, One Tree Hill, Gossip Girl, etc., but also wants to be different, and what happens is this weird fusion of True Detective meets American Horror Story meets The Sopranos, and this week, Fight Club. Season 1 borrowed heavily from Twin Peaks and it felt more like a grimmer Veronica Mars; the kids were kids but they were engrossed in this murder mystery and transformed into a Ryan Murphy-esque version of the Scooby Gang. It was not as ominous as Twin Peaks, but not as light as Veronica Mars, and it worked so well within the context of 12 episodes.
Season 2’s arrival in the vein of “bigger means better”, more episodes meant more time for out of the ordinary tales. It’s not so much that The Black Hood tale didn’t pan out as well as expected, it was the introduction of the other elements; Hiram Lodge coming to town and Archie becoming a Mobster and Jughead immersing himself in gang culture and participating in a drug-fueled gang war. This is a season that had Alice Cooper enlist the help of her daughter to hide a dead body and turned Veronica and Archie into the most un-rootable characters in existence. Perhaps, bigger is not always better and when you bog the narrative down in excess, the story suffers, the characters suffer, and the audience is left confused.
With television, we always have suspension of belief, even on a procedural show. There are things that happen in entertainment that while life like, are almost always an exaggerated version. So yes, it’s perfectly fine to believe that the stars of our show, even though they are teenagers, are the ones who solve the murder mystery better than the police. Yes, it’s perfectly fine to believe Cheryl burning down her house and suffering no consequences is a thing. Yes, it’s perfectly fine to believe a young girl would get murdered during the school musical. And it’s perfectly fine to believe that a secret being kept by parents is now affecting their children.
What is not perfectly fine to believe is Hiram’s vendetta against Archie. A vendetta that holds no weight whatsoever, that has him planting evidence to convict a 16 year old of murder and sending him to a juvenile detention center that has an underground fight club he’s forced to participate in.
Watching this story unfold in “Chapter Thirty-Eight:As Above, So Below,” it is unsettling to say the least, unnerving, and exceptionally off-putting. Archie is a character that is good. It’s his one redeeming quality; while he always does brash, teenage things, he has a good heart. He’s loving and protective of others and he wants to do the right thing, he just misses the mark some times. And so when he created a vigilante group to protect the town in Season 2, it seemed a bit over the top, but with well intentions. I can understand his motivations even when I don’t understand his choices, but someone please explain to me what the hell Hiram’s motivations, intentions, purpose is/are? Because I’ll be honest, it doesn’t make one lick of sense and this story is suffering immeasurably because of it. Within the context of comic book Archie and Hiram, Archie is always a foil to Mr. Lodge but it’s always in an amusing way and because he thinks Archie is an idiot, not because he’s trying to inflict mental torture on the kid.
Instead of digging in to this prison fight club story, why not allow the Gargoyle King mystery to take front and center, leaving time in the narrative to devote to building and developing the other characters. We could have left Archie’s mob connections in Season 2 and focused on him rejoining the football team, helping Veronica open her club, mending fences with his father, etc. Being the main character doesn’t mean you have to always be entrenched in over the top, outlandish story. The Ghoulie’s and Penny Peabody are another element that should exist off screen, her coming to ask for protection money from Veronica for the club this week was unnecessary.
Sure Jug “runs” the Serpents gang, that’s fine, I guess, but instead of hyping up this rivalry again, instead focus on Toni, Sweet Pea, and Fangs. I like Toni, she’s a fine character, I even enjoy her relationship with Cheryl, but I know virtually nothing about her. I don’t know what kind of person she is, what her motivations are, why she’s in a biker gang, why she likes Cheryl… because guys let me tell you, having Choni share scenes together is not giving them a story.
Cheryl is one of the brightest lights on this show and yet she also is a character that isn’t completely nailed down. One moment she’s back to being the snarky bitch to everyone she was in Season 1 and in the next breathe she’s helping Veronica out. Pick one. This show constantly props the Choni pairing but doesn’t doing anything substantial with them.
Someone else that gets trotted out for publicity but doesn’t actually do a god damn thing is Josie McCoy. It infuriates me beyond belief that this show has seemingly dropped the Pussycats entirely and Josie is “solo” though we see nothing of that being developed. Instead of Penny Peabody and the Ghoulie’s, why not introduce Alexander Cabot, Josie’s manager in the comics and tell us a story about her trying to record an album. It was mentioned last season that Cheryl was funding it, which would be an intriguing and teen-focused story to tell.
Kevin Keller, Reggie Mantle, Moose Mason all intriguing supporting characters that we know virtually nothing about; motivations, wants, likes, dislikes, favorite color, ice cream flavor… something. Show me Moose grieving Midge and leaning on Kevin. Tell me anything about Reggie. Utilize Archie’s time in prison here to develop Veronica/Reggie and prime us for a triangle when Archie gets out. Ya know good old fashioned teen fun.
While all of that is happening, we have the overarching mystery of The Gargoyle King, which I do enjoy and invested in. I like where it’s going in terms of the connection with the parents and who/what is underneath that creepy get-up. No shade, but I wish a more engaging character was centered in this besides Ethel, but it’s fine, she’s just a plot device.
Evelyn Evernever and The Farm cult are also promising story fronts that could lead to some interesting character moments and developments especially once the two mysteries end up coming together, which they totally have to, right? Betty and Jughead’s story this week as both got deeper into the Gryphon’s & Gargoyle’s game as well as The Farm were excellent story points. Even Veronica opening the club was a fun distraction from Archie being beat to a bloody pulp in prison. It’s the Penny, the Hiram, and the Fight Club of it all that really has got to go.
Riverdale needs to take a good, long hard look at itself and determine its identity, because it cannot encapsulate all of these things at the same time and still succeed. The cast is amazing, the writers are great, it’s just the story arcs they chose to focus on bog down the overall picture and make it hard to discern what is really going on. Character motivations get lost in the fray and take away from the opportunity to develop richer character and story.