It is a testament to the craziness level established by Riverdale that an episode full of singing, both diegetic and not, feels utterly natural. The cast of Kevin’s production of Carrie: The Musical sings “In” through their morning routines (not quite gotta have my bowl, gotta have cereal, but not that far off, either), cheerleading practices, and even an unspecified theater warm-up that is almost certainly Zip Zap Zop. Most of the major characters lend their pipes to the effort, with the notable exception of Jughead, whom Kevin assigns to film a behind-the-scenes documentary.
Cheryl is our Carrie White, Veronica plays mean girl Chris Hargensen, and Chuck Clayton of sticky maple infamy — joining the play in an attempt to rehabilitate his image, but who genuinely does seem reformed — plays her boyfriend, Billy Nolan. Joining her second age-inappropriate extracurricular after the Blue & Gold, Alice Cooper will be Carrie’s abusive mom. Betty is cast as good girl Sue Snell and Archie as her boyfriend Tommy Ross, portrayed in the 2013 movie version by Ansel Elgort. Here is an extremely good idea for my good pals, the creators of Riverdale: Please let season three feature the making of an in-universe movie based on the Black Hood murders, very much along the lines of Stab in Scream 2, and cast Ansel as Archie. And please make my check out to “cash.”
Haters will say it’s photoshopped, but Cheryl demonstrates just how capably she can handle the lead role by belting the hell out of “Carrie” in the requisite pink-satin prom dress (and almost unrecognizable in an un-bold lip!). Her performance is rewarded by both a standing ovation from her castmates and a falling sandbag that nearly crushes her. Kevin finds a threatening letter in his locker, demanding the role of Carrie be recast — from, supposedly, the Black Hood himself. He swears Jughead to secrecy about this “prank,” but Jughead nevertheless immediately tells Betty about this “classic Phantom of the Opera tactic.” She reasonably suspects ensemble member Ethel “Barb” Muggs, who has been openly hostile to Cheryl and insists that she was “born” to play Carrie.
Fred, happy that Archie is getting back into music (that makes one of us) and spending less of his time as a Webelo Mafia scout, volunteers the services of Andrews Construction to build sets. But Archie hasn’t told his dad about the Firebird convertible that Hiram bought for him, so for now, he’s keeping it in the Pembroke parking garage. Rich Dad — eager for the family of his wife’s election opponent to drift farther apart — spills the secret to Poor Dad, who takes the news poorly, dadmasculated.
My biggest complaint about this episode is that Riverdale didn’t just shoot an entire continuous production of Carrie for me to watch, because the glimpses we do get are so enjoyable. “Do Me a Favor” is a standout, and the ‘70s looks — particularly Betty’s Farrah Fawcett hair and Veronica’s bell-bottoms — are all great. Veronica’s casting as a manipulative, spoiled rich girl with a low-key Electra complex is pretty on the nose, as Betty cattily points out. But the two best friends make amends by singing “You Shine” at each other. Cheryl apologizes to Josie — playing the role of Miss Gardner, the gym teacher — for her past creepiness mid-duet of “Unsuspecting Hearts.” It’s true: Show tunes are magical enough to make you forgive someone for gifting you a bloody pig heart.
Before long, Kevin finds another letter in his locker: “Next time the sandbag won’t miss.” He wants to recast the lead role for Cheryl’s safety, but she refuses to bend to “thespian terrorism.” Alas, she has more fearsome enemies to contend with than the Black Hood. Students need parental approval to participate in extracurricular activities, and Penelope Blossom won’t allow it — especially given that this particular musical has a “matricidal revenge fantasy” at its core. And so the part of Carrie goes to … Midge, a person I forgot exists, whom Kevin appointed Cheryl’s understudy after the sandbag incident.
In her unmistakable Horny Serpent Alumna uniform, a snake-print blouse and leather jacket, Alice stops by Pop’s to invite F.P. to see the musical. He’s cold to her; she’s clearly hurt. At rehearsal and in character as Mrs. White, Alice sings about how people inevitably leave her — until she begins using her IRL daughter’s name, and it becomes clear that this is now Alice in character as … Alice. “Don’t leave me, Betty,” she pleads tearfully from the stage. “Don’t leave me like all the others.”
Moved by her mom’s public meltdown, Betty secretly invites her father (booooooo, get off my damn screen, Hal) to make amends. He arrives the morning of opening night bearing bouquets for both his daughter and estranged wife, and then asks Alice if he can come home. She reveals to him that he isn’t Chic’s father (so who is, woman?), but even that doesn’t deter Hal, who says he’d always suspected as much. He still wants to get back together.
Archie is surprised and touched to find his dad hard at work loading in sets, even after their disagreement (and even though a Hermione Lodge campaign ad occupies the entire back page of the Carrie program). With that, Archie returns the Firebird keys to Mr. Lodge, telling him not get between him and Fred. He even sells some of his old music stuff (sell it all, Archie) to buy an extremely beat-up rustmobile for the two of them to restore together.
Cheryl may have lost her dream role, but there’s no reason why she can’t allow life to imitate art. Dressed in her Carrie prom dress and doused in a fitting amount of blood, she confronts her mother, candelabra in hand. The next blood to be spilt will be Penelope’s, Cheryl warns — she demands to be emancipated, and to claim Thistlehouse for herself and Nana Rose alone. Don’t worry, Penelope. Maybe you and Uncle Father Fester can find a place in Sunnyside Trailer Park! Speaking of: F.P. shows up at the theater after all, only to see Alice warmly greeting her trash husband from stage. He leaves before she notices him.
With minutes to go before showtime, a few strange things happen, all of which will become significantly more suspicious in retrospect once the curtain rises: Assistant director Fangs is spotted giving Midge “last-minute notes,” alone in her dressing room. (Hmm.) In Ethel’s dressing room, Jughead finds the trash filled with magazines with random letters cut out, though she insists they’re for her “vision board.” Midge’s boyfriend Moose, heated about something, nearly knocks Jughead over in the hallway. And Chic, a bad omen in the shape of a human boy, is seen wandering around backstage.
Carrie seems to be a smash hit, so congrats on somehow not getting your arts funding slashed, Riverdale school district. But then an onstage wall rises to reveal Midge dead — or at least, having an extremely bad day. She’s been impaled with knives and scissors, pinning her to a wall that bears a message written in her own blood: “I am back from the dead. All those who escaped me before will die.” It’s signed “B.H.”
If Barbara Hershey, Bill Hader, bell hooks, the late Billie Holiday, and Bryce [Dallas] Howard can all conclusively prove they weren’t in Riverdale on opening night, I think we have a pretty solid idea of who we’re dealing with here.