Over four seasons, Riverdale has put its young ensemble through a full-on Macy’s Thanksgiving parade of trauma floats and lip-synced grief musical numbers. But this unusual little episode decides, for once, to take all the pain they’ve suffered seriously.
After another round of creepy videotapes appear on the town’s doorsteps — and, more disturbingly, college-admissions decisions begin to roll in — the unfortunately named guidance counselor Mrs. Burble (Gina Torres! I love Gina Torres!) holds extended office hours, offering the Core Four–plus–one some much-needed Holiday Inn Express psychoanalysis. Let’s break them down one at a time:
Betty (and Alice)
Mrs. Cooper — excuse me, Ms. Smith — has taken the liberty not just of opening her daughter’s mail but, upon learning Betty got rejected from Yale, ransacking her bedroom, only to find birth-control pills hidden in a drawer. (This is beside the point, but assuming Betty did reasonably well on the SATs and wrote her Common App essay about her serial-killer father and her cult-dabbling mother, I refuse to believe there is a university on the face of this planet that would not accept her, with the possible exception of the associate’s-degree program at the Evernever Institute for Alternative Bible Studies and Amateur Rocketry.) To Alice, unlike any viewer who has caught at least three consecutive minutes of this television program, her daughter’s sex life comes as a very unwelcome surprise — and must be the cause of her rejection from Yale.
Betty goes to see Mrs. Burble to vent about her controlling mother, when who should crash their appointment but her controlling mother? In Mrs. Burble’s estimation, Alice, whose unexpected puritanical streak might have something to do with having had a baby herself at 16, or perhaps with her older daughter having two babies at 16, is afraid of her little girl growing up. Why doesn’t she go smother Polly with affection instead? Alice is shocked to hear herself say that it’s because she loves Betty the most of all her kids.
Back home, Betty finds a check made out to her from her mother, with a memo identifying it as the first of ten to replace her college fund. “I love you most, too, Mom,” she tells Alice, and I’m annoyed, for approximately the 90th time, at stupid-ass Riverdale for making me cry.
Archie is sent to Mrs. Burble after he falls asleep in physics class. He explains that he hasn’t applied to college because it’s his responsibility to stick around and clean up the town — like Fred would have. But isn’t it already enough that he opened the community center, she asks? His visible cuts and bruises aren’t lost on Mrs. Burble, unlike apparently everyone else in the Riverdale metropolitan area, and soon enough he spills about his nightly superhero drag habit. She characterizes his vigilante behavior as a dangerous addiction. Instead, he should funnel all his pain and rage into the community center, or maybe start an anonymous tip line for local crime.
Archie seemingly takes Burble’s advice to heart. Over Mary’s protests — and out of a desire to protect her — our legally of-age hero moves out of the family home and into the community center. Archie prints up flyers for his “Riverdale hotline” and records an answering-machine message inviting callers to report problems in their neighborhood. He even throws his mask into the trash.
But you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. (Speaking of: Does anybody have eyes on Vegas?) As soon as Archie gets a call from a boy who says that his mother has been the victim of a violent neighbor, he’s out the door with a baseball bat and mask retrieved from the garbage in hand. That’s an innovative way to get pink eye.
Cheryl’s sworn enemy Principal Honey threatens to depose her as leader of the River Vixens over her 26 absences — if she wants to remain captain, Mrs. Burble will have to declare her psychologically fit first.
This episode is a great reminder that, among a competitive field, Cheryl nevertheless reigns as our Trauma MVP. To name just a few of her credentials: her twin brother’s murder, her father’s suicide, her time in conversion therapy, her time with Edgar, her near-death experience in Sweetwater River, and literally eveything that every happened to, or especially because of, her mother. Burble praises her resilience, and in spite of herself, Cheryl opens up, tears streaming down her face. She wants to know: Has she lost her mind? And by the way, before you answer, you should know she’s been having conversations with her brother’s actual dead body, which she believes answers her back. Also, there’s that whole evil-doll–slash–absorbed-triplet situation.
Mrs. Burble, who sure is an open-minded lady, you have to give her that, insists Cheryl is not crazy — there are no ghosts haunting her, only grief and guilt. For Cheryl’s own well-being, she’s going to recommend that Honey bring in an adult cheerleading coach, but the guidance counselor–slash–part-time investigator leaves the Blossom heiress with two intriguing suggestions. First, is it possible that Julian’s supposed possession is really the result of someone gaslighting Cheryl, moving the doll around specifically to torment her? And second, she should have her DNA tested to confirm if she really absorbed a triplet after all.
Indeed, Cheryl’s chimerism-test results will come back negative: No trace of Julian in her genes.
Who do we think is doing the gaslighting? Could it be Toni, in a very upsetting heel turn? Nana Rose, demonstrating impressive spryness? Or has Penelope secretly moved into Thistlehouse’s attic, à la George Bluth Sr.?
Veronica Luna née Lodge is elated to learn of her acceptance to Harvard — but less so when she discovers that her alumnus father sent the dean of admissions rum and who knows what other forms of bribery and/or blackmail? She confides in Mrs. Burble that Hiram’s long arm of corruption has managed to turn her dream school into her “nightmare” — now she’ll never know if she could have made it in on her own. Hiram may have had everyone Veronica loves criminally compromised and/or arrested and/or nearly killed, and yet, Burble notes, she continues to live at home and obey her father.
She invokes Oedipus and Electra (ew, but fair): Hermione and Hiram are mutually “obsessed,” father and daughter each seeing the other as an extension of the self. She should cut ties for good. For good for good this time. Unlike the last time, or the time before that. And so Veronica turns down Harvard, to her father’s rage, and declares her intentions to kill him … via business, and specifically, via producing her own rum. Cheers!
The young man sure to be voted Stonewall Prep’s Most Likely to Be Ritualistically Murdered finds himself on Mrs. Burble’s couch when he returns to Riverdale High in need of a copy of his transcript. It takes only 30 seconds of his ranting about bringing down the Baxter Brothers empire, you know, like a normal person, to inspire Mrs. Burble to speculate that his convenient “persecution complex” might be an excuse to neglect the writing he really should be doing. And what effect must his glorifying obsession with his grandfather be having on his dad, who suffered through FP I’s drunken ranges and fought to transform himself in spite of his upbringing into an upstanding member of society? Jughead heads home to give FP a big old mushy hug. We love to see it.
In the space of several extremely productive hours, Jug also gets around to completing all of his college applications and finally churning out a Baxter Brothers sample, not to mention discovering that every member of the Quill and Skull society except his MIA grandfather and DuPont died in a variety of highly suspicious freak accidents.
Cut to our first flash-forward in a while, in which Brett and Donna identify Betty, Veronica, and Archie in a lineup as “the kids we saw kill Jughead.” Rude!