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Riverdale Recap: What Is Your Damage?

Riverdale

BIG FUN
Season 3 Episode 16
Editor’s Rating *****

Riverdale

BIG FUN
Season 3 Episode 16
Editor’s Rating *****
Photo: Dean Buscher/Dean Buscher/THE CW

From the very beginning, Riverdale’s second musical episode does not disappoint: I am happy to report that we only have to wait 26 seconds into the first scene of this episode until someone starts non-diegetically singing.

Kevin answers Mayor Lodge’s complaints about the too-adult content of Heathers (its depictions of teen violence and suicide, of course, being a relatively wholesome — and ultimately optimistic — corrective to literally everything else going on in Riverdale) in the only way he can: by running around the school performing “Beautiful.” Musicalception.

Cheryl is indeed Heather Chandler, and Betty and Veronica are, respectively, Heathers McNamara and Duke, which can get confusing in the moments when Riverdale Veronica sings sliced-and-diced lyrics that originally belonged to the Heathers character actually named Veronica, but I digress. Josie is our Veronica, Sweet Pea is our J.D. (ooh), and Reggie and Archie are, as Ronnie’s more recent ex puts it, “Just two single straight dudes, doing some theater.”

Sadly, Choni have in fact broken up, but Ch and Oni are forced to face each other when Kevin recruits the head of the Pretty Poisons as his choreographer. “Candy Store” serves as an excellently high-camp, high-weird opportunity for the no-longer-girlfriends to express their rage via plaid miniskirts and perilously swung croquet mallets. (By the way, yes, we’re working with Heathers 101: High School Edition here. For example, If you lack the balls / You can go play dolls is sanitized, a little confusingly, to If you lack the juice / Go play duck duck goose.)

Jughead, the only person under 18 within 100 miles not involved in the musical, learns from his dad that their own old trailer has been stolen, following recent pharmacy break-ins in the area. Those two elements sure sound like the baking soda and vinegar needed to create a drug-lab volcano. Sounds like Gladys has been up to more than just making her ill-conceived nightlife debut. (Hmm — an unexpected pivot into cabaret? A complicated relationship with her children and their father? A demonstrated interest in being cool, and not being at all, like, uncool? Interesting.)

Veronica, meanwhile, is devastated to learn that her parents are separating. Hermione somberly explains that Hiram found out she sold his drugs while he was hospitalized. You don’t need me to remind you that getting a divorce is far from the worst thing anyone in this family has done, but how much this development nevertheless disquiets the otherwise unfaltering Veronica is an interesting character choice. (Catholicism: We’ll Sure Do a Number on You™.)

Did I mention that our good, in-no-way-creepy, why-would-you-even-think-that friend Evelyn has been promoted to co-director/unofficial all-cast therapist? Farmer Ev invites the whole gang to a preopening cast party at the Sisters of Quiet Mercy. Come in costume, she insists, which sounds to me like an excellent way to ruin everyone’s wardrobe before the curtain rises even a single time, but then again, Kevin didn’t see fit to make me co-director, for reasons that remain unexplained.

Despite the undeniably creepy environs, “Big Fun” is had by all except Betty, who remains convinced that Heathers is little more than a “recruitment drive” for the Farm. This former convent turned proto–Heaven’s Gate death mansion has it all. Dramatic red uplighting. People who I don’t think we’ve been introduced to sitting in what appears to be a bathtub. Suspicious light-blue Jell-O shots. And most importantly, there is fist-pumping, vaguely rhythmic jumping, and hand-jiving for good measure. I look forward to employing the inevitable GIF of Kevin with a perm singing, “I feel like Bono at Live Aid!” for many years to come. Reggie and Veronica hook up once again, leading Reggie to wonder if they could, in fact, be “endgame.” (Where have I heard that before?) That said, things feel considerably more midgame-y when Reggie learns that Hiram and Hermione’s split may be the real reason that Veronica fled back into his arms.

Evelyn, whom I didn’t have pegged as a real Brooklyn night gangster, offers Kevin “an organic brownie with farm-grown maple mushrooms baked in,” and he promptly thereafter sees a vision of not-quite-dead Midge (who didn’t survive last year’s production of Carrie) stuck to a wall with “ALL YOUR FAULT YOU KILLED ME KEVIN” scrawled beside her. Glad you’re still getting work, babe! At rehearsal the next morning, Fangs reveals that he, too, has seen Midge, in his nightmares. “How beautiful,” says Evelyn, who really has a way with adjectives.

Also, I hereby fulfill my bare-minimum recap requirement of confirming that, yes, Jarchie is still happening.

Cheryl approaches near-pyrokinesis levels of anger when she sees Toni wearing red, her signature color. She demands Toni remove any trace of herself from Riverdale High and transfer elsewhere by Monday morning. (Is this how schools work in Betsy DeVos’s America?) To the tune of “Dead Girl Walking,” Toni recruits both a Pretty Poison and Sweet Pea for seduction purposes with impressive efficiency, leading them onstage. Her willing partners waste no time in disrobing before the empty auditorium — compared to the bunker, this is a downright normal place to have sex — but Toni has a last-second change of heart.

Betty spies on a far less titillating “closed rehearsal” for select cast members in the Gargoyle King’s chamber. There she finds pews and pews of white-clad, blindfolded Farmies singing “Our Love Is God,” which arguably makes as much sense as the apparent theme song of a teenage cult as it did in its original context. Kevin and Fangs kneel before Evelyn, who … marries them? Just has them kiss? I haven’t studied up on the Farm’s ecclesiastical law.

Nancy Drew presents Principal Weatherbee with photographic evidence of this ceremony, but he isn’t bothered in the slightest. In fact, he’s read Edgar’s “fascinating” doctrines himself. This one goes all the way to the top, sheeple.

Jughead discovers that his former childhood home has been Broken Bad, the kitchen strewn with flasks and beakers that have clearly been repurposed for something other than AP Chem titration. This is traumatic, yes, but Jughead’s “druglord mother” has nothing on the actual serial killer responsible for half of Betty’s DNA, so let’s keep things in perspective.

This leads into a lovely rendition of “Seventeen,” which intercuts between Betty comforting Jughead and Toni and Cheryl reconciling. The song — which expresses nostalgia for innocent pastimes like baking brownies and seeing bad movies — makes for a surprisingly poignant and apt self-reflection on Riverdale’s place within the squeaky-clean Archie Comics legacy.

Veronica tries and fails to entreat her dad to come home over brunch, at which he very delicately smashes an egg with an itty-bitty spoon. He knows Hermione tried to have him killed twice, which he suspects Veronica is already aware of. With trust gone, “there is no family anymore.” Cue V rehearsing the very lonely solo number “Lifeboat.”

Backstage on opening night, Ronnie peers into the audience to see both her parents have accepted her invitation to attend together, albeit reluctantly. Cheryl blots her bright-red lips onto Toni’s. Betty and Jughead arrive late and very dirty, having made a quick pit stop to burn down the Jones’s former trailer on the way. Also, no big, but Jug has been suddenly conscripted into the cast, and is expected to learn “Seventeen (Reprise)” and its choreography in approximately 45 seconds. Forget the Black Hood — being forced into a surprise role in a musical is genuinely one of the most terrifying scenarios I can possibly conceive of.

Who should start a slow clap but Evelyn’s dad, the long-unseen Edgar Evernever himself — who, somehow, I don’t know how it’s possible, I forgot until this very moment was going to be played by Chad Michael Murray? The Hot Dad Brigade doesn’t know what it’s in for.

Riverdale Recap: What Is Your Damage?