Riverdale Throws Jughead The Birthday Bash He Never Wanted
Betty bets wrong that Juggie will enjoy a nice 'lowkey' surprise party, and what results is an overstuffed episode that still manages to satisfy with secrets and sex.
Riverdale is a fun show but not necessarily a good show -- we can all agree on that, right? It's not a bad show, either, but it aspires to watchability more than it aspires to greatness. I am not complaining. We have enough shows that aspire to greatness without giving one single shit about being a good, fun time. Riverdale is here for us. But all that effort to keep us entertained has meant the show has had to keep a lot of balls in the air. There's the Jason Blossom murder mystery, the Polly Cooper pregnancy, whichever Blossoms are supposed to be trustworthy this week, whichever Lodge parent is up to no good, the status of the Betty/Archie/Veronica triangle, the status of the Jughead/Betty romance, the status of Archie and Val, whatever Juggie's dad is up to, whatever Kevin's bf is up to, whatever Juggie's dad is up to with Kevin's bf (and Hiram Lodge, and Jason Blossom's letterman's jacket), whether Betty is secretly harboring a dark and murderous persona, and what Alice Cooper's whole deal is. It's been a wild ride, but it's a lot to keep tabs on, and an episode like this one -- where a house party at Archie's gets all kinds of secrets spilled -- kind of exposes the loose stitching at the seams. Combine all the above secrets with the plot maneuverings necessary to get a house party arc off the ground, and you end up with a very messy episode.
It's best if you just don't question any logistics and go with Jughead's opening-narration theme of chaos and control ("You like? You like?"). Why does Cheryl command control of this rager of a party enough to force unwilling participants to play Truth Or Dare? Why is Veronica just free-versing random plot points to be overheard by interested schemers? Why does Alice Cooper even notice Joaquin enough to ask Betty about him and get suspicious? Shortcuts abound, and it's best you just sit back and enjoy the part where Veronica accuses Cheryl of incest, Archie's teacher-banging secret is finally exorcised, and Jughead engages in fisticuffs.
It's a party, y'all! And like every good party, it's only over when mom comes home. Let's rank the players from whose week was worst to whose was best!
So Riverdale High's all-American in Toxic Masculinity is back, and it turns out that Betty and Veronica's side-eye is justified, no matter how many apologies he issues to the Ethels of the world. He teams up with Cheryl to fuck with our gang, but he doesn't even have the psycho-familial traumatic underpinnings to justify it: he's just being a dick because Betty and Veronica tried to kill him ONE TIME. After sleazily tormenting Betty with the knowledge that he jerks off to her black-wigged alter persona every night, he spills her Dark Betty secret in front of the whole party. And all he gets in return is a couple Jughead Specials (that'd be a knuckle sandwich with extra mustard, mister!) before getting thrown out by FB. Free to go home and spank it to Betty's wig, one supposes. Creep.
- Alice (Betty's Mom)
"There are some things about myself I struggle with," Alice tells Betty, making everyone in the audience think about last week's rock-throwing. I like that the show is really leaning into Alice's baffling incongruities, but it seems inevitable that the specter of actual mental illness is going to end up rearing its head re: the Cooper women, and I'm just not looking forward to a silly show like this suddenly having to be responsible about a topic like that. But for now, I'll savor the delicious teaser that Alice is a secret Southside Snake from way back.
Just when I was thinking Kevin was the most useless homosexual on television (besides Erika Jayne's glam squad), he gives us an episode where he...okay, he still doesn't do anything, but (a) they're really setting up a big betrayal story for him and Joaquin, and (b) he's got a lot of really wonderful small moments. Like the way he theatrically puts a hand to his heart when Betty emerges with Juggie's birthday cake. Or his OMG reactions to the parade of revealed secrets. Still would be nice if he and Joaquin could kiss with their tongues like real people, though.
It's hard to watch teen TV characters get all emo about their parents' divorce. Not because it's not a traumatic ordeal, but because in the heightened atmosphere of TV, so many worse things are happening (murder! Maple syrup intrigue!) that divorce trauma seems very small. Anyway, Archie gets all fucked up about his dad going to meet his mom to finalize the d-i-v-o-r-c-e, and so he gets super-wasted at his party and then ends up doing it with Veronica, which...thanks for terminating the suspense and all. Speaking of which: the secret about him and Miss Grundy has been revealed, and much like the spirits in Poltergeist, now that that storyline is out in the open, it can dissipate and go away. (That's how that movie ended, right?)
- Hot Archie
Back with a vengeance!
— Lili Reinhart (@lilireinhart) April 14, 2017
Though maybe save the "weird half-naked dancing with men in animal masks" for the big Season 2 mystery?
Normally, Jughead's sad-boy emo moodiness is endearing, even cute. Not this week. Juggie's an insufferable mope with his birthday on the horizon. He's one of those aggressive "I hate my birthday" people, and unlike 80% of those people in real life, he's not just saying it so that someone will throw him a party. He's the birthday martyr all episode, and it's not cute. Oh, sorry your girlfriend threw you this perfectly sweet (if deeply dorky) birthday party and kept you from your John Landis double feature. (Seriously, Jug? You spend half the episode defining yourself as a weirdo and it's...John Landis? Cult better.) Somewhere between "I'm not wired to be normal" and "I don't fit in. I don't want to fit in," I declared the episode a total loss for my usual favorite character. ...And then he listened to Betty tell him her Dark Betty story and kissed the nail impressions on her hands, and I was okay again.
So, yes, she was overzealous about giving Juggie a good birthday. Just a "lowkey" surprise party, as if that's ever been allowed to happen on television before. Obviously she and Jughead were going to have this "You're the perfect girl and I'm a loner with dorky hats" argument sooner or later, so it's good that it was sooner and they weathered it. (I'm gonna hold my breath for the next argument, after Betty finds out about Archie and Veronica and ends up caring way too much about it, but that's for another time.) Betty does get in a nice good slap on Chuck after he's creppy, and she doesn't even fall to pieces too badly when her Dark Betty secret was revealed. Still, girl, get you some bactene on those fingernail marks before they get infected.
While technically I don't approve, teaming up with Chuck for "a little destruction" by spilling ALLLLLLL the tea, hunny, at Jughead's birthday party is a perfectly Cheryl maneuver. By which I mean: its motivations are murky, it has no relationship to her behavior in previous episodes, and it involves her strutting into the party like a Willa Ford video come to life. As an "agent of chaos," per Veronica, Cheryl is second to none.
- FB (Jughead's dad)
At some point, I'm going to get into my suspicions about FB's sexuality, which involve him pimping out Joaquin to get info on Kevin's dad and the fact that he's got Jason's letterman's jacket in his Brokeback closet. For now I'll just say that leering at Joaquin and Kevin while they tongue-lessly make out is a drop in that particular bucket. Once again, though, I find myself giving FB reluctant credit, this time for successfully breaking up the Chuck-Jughead fight without getting overly rough with the kid who was beating up his son. More than I'd have given him credit for. I guess you don't keep those veneers perfectly straight if you're not smart enough to avoid unnecessary fisticuffs.
It didn't seem like this was going to be such a good week for Veronica. Not after getting blackmailed by her father to testify on her behalf or else he'll blow the whistle on her mom. Not after re-igniting a cheer war with Cheryl that leads to this display of extra-ness in the school gymnasium:
— Lili Reinhart (@lilireinhart) April 14, 2017
(Also, can we give a momentary shout out to Lili Reinhart for being an A+ social media booster of her own show?)
Anyway, the point is, when V started to get tanked at the party, I expected things to go super worse for her. But she managed to get the upper hand in Cheryl's game of Truth Or Dare by accusing Cheryl of what we've all been thinking: that she was in love with her brother. And then, after getting Cheryl on her heels, she gets Archie on his back. Finally. While I can't imagine this guilt-free tryst will stay guilt-free for too long, I have to give the girl props for going for hers. Get some, Lodge.