In case you haven’t noticed, Riverdale is weird.
It’s weird. It’s a weirdo. It doesn’t fit in, except on the internet, where it seems to fit in perfectly. It’s the ultimate teen show in 2017, one that has fully embraced the way the internet embraces TV shows. Nearly every scene is gif-able, every couple shippable, and every line meme-able, and most of the time, it doesn’t matter if nothing makes sense.
And it is often hard to make sense of what’s going on on a larger scale, because the smaller scale is so fine-tuned. For a serialized drama, the show is great at smaller moments, either in terms of scenes that will live forever in various ways online, or scenes that are just plain cool. It often seems like the narrative is written around those moments, to make sure they shine regardless of whether they really fit.
This isn’t a bad thing at all, as long as the show recognizes that this is its strength and leans into it, like it did with last night’s episode, “Tales from the Darkside.”
Instead of telling one big chronological story, we got three smaller stories focusing on three different characters and how they’re dealing with the continued efforts of the Black Hood to get rid of sin in Riverdale. Each story had its own vibe, almost its own horror sub-genre, and while every bit of plot was just as ridiculous as it always is, it really worked in a way full episodes haven’t always worked before. The same things happened, but at that slower pace, we could actually live in those moments. We got to do more than just sit there and watch as the story sped by while we wondered WTF just happened.
Jughead’s (Cole Sprouse) story in particular is one that has been hard to really latch onto this season. He’s all of a sudden deep into world of the Southside Serpents, racing cars, inadvertently encouraging gang members to beat up potential black hood suspects, and being initiated by a series of stomach punches. It should have been serious business, but at the speed the show usually goes, it almost felt silly. There goes Jughead and his gang again, those violent rascals.
It didn’t feel as silly in “Tales from the Darkside,” and neither did Jughead and Archie’s (KJ Apa) little “gothic Americana” trip to Greendale. Instead of just pieces to keep the plot moving, it felt like an actual scary story, complete with a new mysterious villain to mull over in the Riverdale Reaper and real stakes for Jughead.
Betty’s (Lili Reinhart) Nancy Drew Adventures and her team ups with Veronica (Camila Mendes) have always been one of the strongest parts of the show, so it was nice to see a focus on them and their Sheriff Keller worries this week, but the real surprise was Josie (Ashleigh Murray). After many episodes of being in the background, she finally got to strike out on her own and get stalked this week (by the ever-mysterious Cheryl (Madelaine Petsch) and/or a creepy janitor). It was a nice change from the drama of Varchie and Bughead and hopefully a sign of things to come for her and for the show.
Riverdale hasn’t totally nailed the balance of groundedness vs. genre yet, but last night’s episode was the best example of how it can be all the things it wants to be, full of all the insanity it wants to be filled with, without losing us in the process or forcing us to rewind to figure out how we got here. Everything is still bonkers, but as long as the show knows that and gives us a chance to keep up, bonkers is exactly what we need.
Riverdale airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on the CW.