Riverdale is a lot of things, but it’s not boring. At least, it usually isn’t. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but the nothing-if-not-bonkers show that has in recent weeks blessed us with an unexplained, unasked-for, theoretically diegetic performance of “All That Jazz” and a rocket that a cult leader costumed as Evel Knievel — and played by Chad Michael Murray, how unworthy we are — apparently intended to ride to his fiery salvation has improbably managed to deliver … a pretty tedious hour of television.
Latent serial-killer tendencies in the Cooper family? Blackmail? Vigilantism? Another surprise half-sibling? We have, hard as it may be to believe, seen literally all of this before.
Though Jughead has confirmed that four Stonewallers have indeed gone missing over the years, he’s assured by Donna that Marmaduke is indeed safe and sound at basic training — they’ve been texting! I, for one, am going to need to see a photo of Moose with today’s newspaper. Ideally a shirtless photo. For forensic reasons.
Jughead is pants-peeingly excited to learn that Mr. Chipping is “Franklin P. Paxton,” the author behind his beloved Baxter Brothers mystery-book series, Riverdale’s answer to the Hardy Boys. Or, more accurately, Chipping is the latest Paxton — a long line of writers have used the pseudonym, all of them Stonewall Prep alumni. The OG FPP, a man named Francis J. Dupont, pays a visit to their class and announces they need someone new to take up the mantle.
Dupont, it turns out, was a classmate of Jughead’s grandfather and remembers FP Jones I as a great writer — he asks Jughead to invite his father to the wine-and-cheese reception they’re throwing to celebrate the Baxter Boys series. But FP is absolutely not fucking interested in pretending to have happy memories of his mean, drunk, deadbeat dad for the entertainment of snooty rich people. That strikes me as extremely fair.
In the episode’s second-least exhausting — but make no mistake, not entirely un-exhausting — plot line, Betty attends her first Junior Cub Scout Mommy Wow I’m a Big Kid Now FBI class. Kevin accompanies her, partly because he is a good friend, at least when he isn’t conspiring to forcibly lobotomize her, partly because the blue FBI polos the students are issued are objectively Clarice Starling chic, but mostly because Charles is hot.
Thanks to her brother’s informative Scary Crimes 101 slideshows, which I can only imagine were half-heartedly cribbed from the Mindhunter Wikipedia page, Betty discovers that she is a very specific kind of psychic: She can identify whether someone is a serial killer based only on their photo. That sure seems like a fun, if profoundly upsetting, trick to trot out at parties, but Betty soon finds cause to freak out at every piece of serial-killer knowledge that Charles drops — because she can relate. For one thing, there’s the “serial killer” genes, MAOA and CDH13 (which are, here in the real world, kind of a thing, but also, like, not a thing — though my 23andMe results could have been about 500 percent more exciting if they were), which her mom told her she had, and which a doctor now confirms. Then there’s the enormous red flag that is a childhood history of abusing animals. Betty unearths a repressed memory of how, after her beloved cat Caramel was hit by a car and mortally wounded, Hal insisted she … well, let’s say little Betty euthanized it. With a rock.
And yet when Betty wants to leave the junior FBI program, Charles reveals that he, too, has the serial killer genes — that’s why he joined the Bureau in the first place, to better understand and control himself. Betty responds compassionately, which is to say that she immediately decides Charles must be a serial killer and begins to tail him around town.
Hermione’s trial is about to start, and thanks to Veronica’s ongoing pro-mom, anti-dad collusion with the federal prosecutor, it seems like Mayor Lodge and Molly Ringwald Attorney-at-Law have a pretty solid case, despite Hiram’s best efforts at sabotage.
Here’s the situation, friends. There is a lot of legal information being thrown around and it is very dull, and very dry, and I refuse to allow Riverdale to put me on jury duty when even the State of New York agrees I am ineligible for selection for the next two years. So let’s cut to the chase: The lease of the cabin where Tallboy was shot (God, remember Tallboy?) unexpectedly names Hermione Lodge as the owner, which she insists is not true, but which is nevertheless not a great look, felony-wise. They decide to go nuclear: Though it means she could spend the rest of her life in prison, Hermione changes her plea to guilty. Why? Because Veronica is once again prepared to blackmail the governor — I feel like she drives around with that folder of unspecified “evidence” against him in her glove compartment at all times, just in case — in exchange for a pardon.
Veronica has seemingly pulled it off, when a woman we’ve seen lingering in the back of the courtroom at Hermione’s trial, and who basically appears to be cosplaying as Veronica, strikes up a conversation with her at the Le La Bon Bonne Nuit. She’s a private investigator, hired by Hiram, who has the recordings to prove Veronica has been having some illegal hangs with the federal prosecutor. Terrible news for Hermione, excellent news for Hiram. And by the way, sure, this person happens to be Hiram’s “other daughter” Hermosa, summoned from Miami because he needed someone he could trust. And now Hiram, a free and expediently exonerated man, is not just staying in Riverdale — he’s running for mayor.
It brings me no pleasure to inform you that Archie is, yet again, attempting to fight crime. Not particularly well, to be clear. He manages to stop a purse-snatching, only to be pepper-sprayed through the eyeholes in his balaclava for his trouble. Worse, the Dodger is still getting to the community center’s kids, and Archie tells them they have to choose between stealing hubcaps for his crew and the El Royale.
After hearing that local businesses have lodged bogus criminal complaints about the community center to FP, Archie holds a press conference announcing expanded hours and inviting their neighbors to donate time, sponsor a baseball team, or otherwise participate in the wholesomeness going on therein. The owner of the neighborhood hardware store confides in Archie that he and his peers have been pressured by Dodger — who they’re already paying a protection fee to — to speak out against the El Royale.
And so Archie takes action, the only way he knows how: by putting on his hopefully freshly laundered balaclava, adopting what I think I can accurately describe as a Bane voice, and telling Dodger to leave town, or else to consider this a “declaration of war.”
Jughead is ready to quit Stonewall after Brett is mean to him about being an admissions “charity case,” because Jughead beat him at a party game in which you “kill” people by winking at them, and to which meanness Jughead responds by almost maybe actually killing Brett by beating him in the head with a stapler — I digress — but FP will have none of it. He wants his son to graduate high school, unlike either of the two Forsythe Pendletons before him. And while he’s at it, FP belatedly reveals that Jughead’s treasured set of Baxter Boys books weren’t actually gifts from him; they were really sent by his estranged grandfather.
Back at school, FP studies one of his old Baxter Boys books and finds a page has been torn out. By rubbing a pencil on the impressions left by handwriting on the next page, he uncovers a sweet birthday message from the OG FP, advising him to “never let anyone tell you that you don’t belong” and “trust few.” Cute? Absolutely. Foreboding? Yeah, a little.
Next class, Jughead — who’d now prefer to be addressed as Forsythe III — expresses his intent to win the Baxter Boys competition, for which the kids must write three chapters of the next novel and outline the rest. The theme of the book has been decided: the perfect murder.
Flash-forward to the spring: FP barges into a Riverdale High biology class to arrest Archie, Betty, and Veronica for the “cold-blooded murder” of his son.