After last week’s wonderfully weird Riverdale, “Chapter Ten” feels like a throwback to much earlier episodes — not just because a long-unseen character resurfaces, but because we’re retreading some yawn-inducingly familiar ground.
The Lodge family attorney wants Veronica to serve as a character witness for her father, Hiram, but she’s reluctant. Veronica digs through her dad’s old paperwork and finds records of large monthly payments from Blossom Maple Farms to Lodge Industries, which began 75 years ago and only stopped once Hiram was arrested. Hermione dissuades Veronica from poking around, out of fear these documents might make it look like her husband had something to do with Jason Blossom’s murder. (It’s almost as if her husband had something to do with Jason Blossom’s murder.) To make matters all the murkier, the lawyer presents Veronica with a letter from her father warning her that — should she fail to testify — he’ll see to it that Hermione, who may not be as innocent as she seems, is implicated in his wrongdoing, too. That Hiram Lodge is nothing if not a romantic.
Archie does Betty a solid and lets her in on a secret: Tomorrow is Jughead’s birthday. She had no idea! Unlike the Stassi Schroeders of this world, Jughead is not a Birthday Person. As he explains it to Archie, his home life as a child was so reliably upsetting that his birthday felt like a hollow, “arbitrary day” when his family would pretend to be normal. (Yes, but, cake?) Having learned that her boyfriend has never even had a birthday party — he prefers to hole up in the movie theater for a double feature — Betty decides to throw him one as a surprise. Despite Archie’s initial protests, he offers to host. After all, Fred Andrews is out of town to see Archie’s mother and finalize their divorce, to his son’s dismay.
Slut-shaming football star Chuck Clayton’s suspension is over, and he’s back at school. When he and Betty cross paths in the cafeteria, he mocks her, asking if she’s turning into “Dark Betty” again. She responds by, well, turning into Dark Betty — raising her voice and clenching her fists so tightly that her fingernails leave angry red half-moons on her palms.
Veronica is late for River Vixens practice, so Cheryl coldly banishes her to the back of the squad. (Didn’t they just become close friends? Did an aggressive CoverGirl product placement drive them apart?) Veronica is pissed — don’t ever doubt her commitment to Sparkle Motion — and challenges Cheryl to a dance-off, a development that is accepted so casually we have to assume spontaneous dance-offs must happen at Riverdale High a few times a month. The other cheerleaders unanimously declare Veronica the winner. Sashay away, Cheryl.
Cheryl invites Chuck Clayton — who’s bitter that the suspension Betty’s reporting brought about has ruined his college-football dreams — to form a united front against the Betty-Veronica Axis and “team up for a little destruction.” As the saying goes, the enemy of my enemy’s best friend slash canonical romantic rival is my friend.
Archie, having raided his dad’s liquor cabinet, is already solidly buzzed once it’s time to shout “surprise!” at Jughead, who looks like he’d rather set himself on fire than blow out his candles. But the intimate gathering Betty planned devolves into something else entirely when Cheryl and Chuck arrive with kegs and, conservatively, 8,000 teenagers in tow.
Apparently, Cheryl and Chuck’s idea of “payback” is throwing Jughead a legitimately fun party. It seems they even went to the trouble of supplying their own Silly String, plastic leis, and (obligatory) red Solo cups. But the birthday boy is, as is his nature, moping alone in the garage. His sour mood curdles further when his father, FP, invited by Betty, shows up with a present under his arm.
At the party, Kevin invites Joaquin — whom he now introduces as his boyfriend — to make out by the Sweetwater River. It’s truly a testament to teenage horniness that even a washed-up corpse can’t dissuade this boy from his favorite hookup spot. Having witnessed their canoodling, Mr. Jones pulls Joaquin aside for an intel update. FP learns that his fellow Serpent overheard Veronica say that her father may have somehow been connected to Jason’s murder. Meanwhile, Veronica recognizes FP from his shady dealings with her mother at the drive-in.
Jughead, who you may recall is not a Birthday Person, is angry at Betty for throwing him a party in the first place. They’re too different to make a relationship work, he rants — he’s a “damaged loner” and she’s the overachieving “girl next door.” Bette bristles: “I hate that word.” (Which word, exactly? Next? Door? Girl?)
Left to his own drunken devices, Archie accosts Val, hoping for a romantic reunion with his recent ex. She wastes no time in reminding him that she dumped him for being a “hot mess,” a description he is very much embodying in the course of this interaction. She throws her beer at him — if she doesn’t mind transitioning to Chardonnay, the exemplary wrist follow-through she demonstrates could make her a great Real Housewife one day.
Chuck and Cheryl physically bar Jughead from leaving his party because they have a “game” in mind. They call it “Secrets and Sins” and compare it to Truth or Dare, but it strikes me as more of a Festivus-inspired Airing of Grievances. Cheryl informs the assembled partygoers (who are awfully quiet and attentive for a horde of drunk children) that Veronica “defiled” Archie in a closet. Not to be outdone, Veronica accuses Cheryl of killing Jason in a jealous twincest rage.
Dilton Doiley, one of Riverdale’s foremost whos, chooses this moment to suggest that, in Cheryl’s words, Archie was “pulling a Mary Kay Letourneau” with music teacher Miss Grundy. Chuck recounts Betty’s lingerie and black-wig-clad dissociative episode — you know, the time she almost drowned him in a Jacuzzi — for the public record. Jughead slugs him, Chuck throws him into the snack table, and FP marches Chuck out of the house and declares the party over. Mr. Jones, sir, you truly did not feel the need to say anything before now? I genuinely forgot that an adult was present for all of this insanity.
Betty, Jughead, and Jughead’s fresh black eye make up over milkshakes. He apologizes to Betty — he’s not used to people doing nice things for him. Betty confides that something is “very, very wrong” with her, an inner “darkness,” and shows him the scabbed-over marks on her hands. As Betty and Jughead get cozy in a Pop’s booth, so do Veronica and Archie on his couch. They bond over their respective parental woes, because yes, having your long-estranged parents expectedly dissolve their marriage is at least as traumatizing as having your imprisoned kingpin father plot to ruin your mother’s life. Archie admits he drunk-dialed his dad, asking him not to sign the divorce papers, and wonders what his life would be like if he’d left Riverdale with his mom. But then, Veronica observes, the two of them never would have met. He kisses her. She kisses him back. An intense defiling session unfolds. The next morning, Veronica wakes up in Archie’s bed — he’s sleeping (shirtless, of course) on the floor. She kisses him on the cheek as she leaves.
Reassured by the Lodges’ loyal butler Smithers that while her dad may be dubious her mom is “unequivocally good,” Veronica turns up at the lawyer’s office to go on record after all. But she continues to wrestle with her father’s questionable morals — what if he hired Jughead’s dad to do other jobs, too? Like … I don’t know, kill Jason Blossom? She volunteers to help Betty with her investigation.
Rest assured we’ve only explored the very tip of Archie’s iceberg of mommy issues. In the episode’s last moments, Fred arrives back in Riverdale with Archie’s mother — who is, delightfully, portrayed by Molly Ringwald!