Riverdale Season 2 Episode 18 – TV Review
It’s no coincidence that Riverdale chose to echo one of the best shots from the Season 1 finale this week, as this episode is confidently the best Riverdale we’ve had since Season 2 began.
Let’s just all agree that as fun as a musical episode can be, we don’t want Riverdale to turn into Glee, okay?
TL;DR High drama occurs on all fronts amidst Carrie: The Musical; Cheryl loses the lead role, but finds her own inner strength; Betty airs her Veronica-related grievances and they find some middle ground; Archie’s eyes are finally opening to Hiram’s villainy; Alice and Hal get back together; and the Black Hood also makes an operatic return to the fore.
Don’t you kind of wish the blood-spattered message had instead read “I’m back, bitches. And I know everything,” though? I mean, can you imagine?
So the stars have aligned, and it’s time for a Riverdale musical episode. Most of the songs are constrained to “on stage” performances, but thankfully we do get a couple of out-of-context numbers. Cheryl, as she demanded, is cast as Carrie White, and rehearsals get underway. Josie sneers from the it-should-have-been-me sidelines, but that gets put to bed quickly enough. But oh no, Kevin, our director, then receives threats from the Black Hood insisting that Cheryl be recast. He tries to ignore it, and Betty and Jughead (who is documenting the play) try to find out who it really is, but then Penelope seals the deal by revoking her parental permission from Cheryl to participate. In response, Cheryl, bolstered by a pep talk from Toni, resolves to threaten to kill Penelope, and lays down her demands for emancipation. While covered in blood and holding a candelabra. As Blossoms do, you know? Meanwhile, Betty, cast as good girl Sue Snell, butts heads with Veronica, who is filling the shoes (but not the big, evil hair, sadly) of villain Chris Hargensen, both in and out of character. Complicating things further is Archie’s casting as Sue’s boyfriend, and given the history of friendship between the three, Betty eventually makes peace with Veronica. Archie, too, is changed by things, and starts to see the truth of Hiram and Hermione’s badness when they intentionally expose the gift of that car they bought him to Fred in an attempt to drive them apart. Archie puts his foot down on Hiram coming after Fred, which is a good first step, and he recommits himself to his actual father. Meanwhile, Alice has been cast as Mrs White (if it wasn’t going to be Penelope, then obviously it needed to be Alice), and the role makes her aware of how she’s driven everyone she cares about away, and she is now terrified of losing Betty, too. Betty helps Alice and Hal get back together, which leaves Skeet out in the cold, sinking my most desired ship. Goddammit. Meanwhile, following Cheryl’s ejection from the lead role of Carrie, Midge is brought on to replace her, and this odd choice is justified in the superb closing sequence of the episode, as Midge’s reveal on-stage is actually her knifed to a wall alongside a threatening message from the Black Hood.
Also Chuck is back for a threadbare redemption arc, but it’s not important.
I mean, is there a Riverdale fan in the world who wouldn’t be into this episode? It’s not perfect, but it is the kind of strange, genre-melding, fantasy world weirdness that made Season 1 so special.
Yes, we’ve circled back to the Black Hood, and I expect that will probably go poorly again.
But for this episode at least, this was indeed a night to remember.
Why I hate this episode:
But I’m serious about Riverdale not getting cocky and doing this kind of thing too often. That duet between Betty and Veronica when they’re apologising to each other gave me legitimate Glee vibes. No, thank you.
The one truly bum note of the episode, literally, was Cheryl’s lack of vocal prowess. It wouldn’t have been a problem if she hadn’t been cast as the lead in a musical. I know all the other cast do their own singing, but would it have been so awful to have gotten someone in for a dub? It only has to be for this episode.
Veronica’s hair wasn’t big enough to be de Palma era Chris Hargensen, nor was her performance wacky enough. It just looked like Veronica with high-waisted pants. She and Betty should have switched hair.
I’m disappointed that the Betty/Veronica feud was so quickly defused, especially after Betty really goes in on her (in front of everyone) just this episode. This will make the student council election subplot much less exciting.
I am genuinely devastated that Alice and Skeet couldn’t get it together. First, he gives her the cold shoulder, and then when he comes to see her at the performance, she’s already gotten back together with Hal. God. Damn.
What was with Fangs and Midge seemingly getting caught in flagrante? Can’t Kevin find a nice, gay boy who goes to his school who isn’t also dating Midge? Sigh.
Oh, and I realised I’m still not over the sex playbook thing not turning out to all be lies. Seeing Ethel and Chuck together in an episode again has reignited the flames of my refusal to have been wrong about that. It was too suspicious! Ethel made it up! I’m not crazy!
But it’s not all bad:
While I don’t believe it for a second, wouldn’t it be cool if Jughead’s supposed discovery of Ethel as the Black Hood (she had cut up magazines in her dressing room, and the threats sent to Kevin were assembled from cut out letters) was true, and she admitted in her season finale Motive Rant that, in addition to serial murder, she also faked the sex playbook? I can dream.
At first, I was going to complain about the seemingly unnecessary addition of a bunch of minor characters to this episode. But after the final sequence reveal, I realised that bringing back characters like Ethel, Chuck, Fangs, Moose, and Chic, and even having other characters like Skeet and Hermione in attendance at the performance, was to create a believable suspect pool for the Black Hood. Midge was seen alive backstage not long before the performance, so whoever killed (?) her must have been somebody we saw at the theatre. I am hooked, honey. And you know how ambivalent I’ve been about the Black Hood, so kudos, Riverdale.
Moose gets the most sore-thumb-y treatment from this approach, as Jughead randomly captures him mad and walking through a backstage hall moments before showtime. I don’t think it’s him, either, but after this episode, I can’t say I’m not curious.
But this episode is much more than its jaw-dropper of an ending. Praise be to the CW gods that we actually got a Riverdale musical episode. And it didn’t take six seasons and a near cancellation like it did for Once Upon a Time. Carrie is a delicious choice, too, as it’s not ubiquitous (like many of Glee’s music choices), and is a weird-factor match for Riverdale. This episode’s mere existence is spectacular.
Despite her vocal issues, Cheryl proves that she is worthwhile in the spotlight. Her petulance and inflated sense of self-importance mixes so surprisingly well with the truly horrific things she’s gone through with her family and at home. It’s a shame she didn’t get to be on stage, but we at least get to see her swanning around with a bucket of blood and threatening to murder her mother if she dares to hurt Nanna Rose. And it was damn good.
Betty and Veronica don’t get much story time outside of their apology scene, but they anchor the best musical number of the episode which juxtaposes Sue and Chris’ approaches to Carrie, and simultaneously provides a not so subtle reflection of Betty and Veronica’s own differences. This is shortly followed by Chris’ villain song, and Betty popping up to really dress Veronica down about how much of a cunt she’s been. I was impressed. And aghast.
Archie rightly gets on Betty’s case about this, but he’s got his own food for thought when Hiram purposely blows up his spot about the car, which Archie had been concealing from Fred so as to not embarrass him. I don’t expect Hiram will take kindly to being told what to do by Archie, but it was heartwarming to see Archie standing up for his dad. When a little tear was brought to Fred’s eye by Archie’s gesture of buying an old car for them to work on together, a little tear came to mine, too.
In the true shock twist of the episode, though, Alice ends up being the most affecting emotional highlight, as she breaks down and begs Betty not to leave her like everyone else she cares about has. Who knew she had it in her?
Her big damn scream at Midge’s body is also pure perfection.
Archie gets shirtless within the first minute of the episode.
The Black Hood’s first warning against Cheryl’s casting is to almost drop a catwalk sandbag on her. Classic.
Oh, and I know it’s sacrilege to suggest Betty should have any hairstyle other than her ponytail, but her enormous 70s hair is everything.