Riverdale is back with more things happening than you can count in the first episode of the new year, “Chapter Twenty-Three: The Blackboard Jungle.” With introductions to mysterious new characters and motivations changing for characters we know, this episode is anything but boring.
I’m going to dig into the Riverdale-ness of this episode in a moment (and I’ll also explain what I mean by “Riverdale-ness”) but first I want to briefly talk about Jughead, his motivations in this episode and how he is still the one deeply grounded character in this show, despite all of the fluff that somehow keeps getting fluffier.
The latter part of that statement is very evident in this episode, particularly in the moment where we find out why exactly Jughead is having such a difficult time transitioning back into Riverdale and accepting the fact that he has to conform to Riverdale High’s standards of dress and socializing. As I’m sure the writers intended, the fact that Jughead struggles with this and not the rest of the Serpents is surprising.
Of course the natural assumption would be that, since Jughead used to attend Riverdale High, he would have an easier time making the transition than his fellow Southside friends who’ve never set foot in the high school. Instead, he’s the one Serpent who isn’t willing to roll over and play along, clearly because his Serpent friends have never had access to the high standard education tools and resources that Riverdale High has, and they don’t want to lose it. But for Jughead, it’s more than simply taking for granted what Riverdale has and Southside didn’t. It’s about family. With Southside High and the Serpents, Jughead has finally found a place where he feels like he belongs, and a family to belong to. This is something he’s never really had, with his sister and mother moving away and his dad being an alcoholic for so long.
The episode doesn’t get to spend much time on this moment, but it’s the most redeeming moment of the entire episode, really revealing another layer to Jughead’s character and his motivations and truly tying in his past experiences in a way that feels understandable and deeply relatable.
Speaking of not spending much time, there was so much going on in this episode. Too much going on in this episode, if I dare venture to even say it. It seemed as though everyone had something going on – Cheryl didn’t want the Southsiders but also wanted to get another check for hush money so that her mom would stop being a “lady of the night” in order to earn money. Archie is approached by a mysterious man who claims to be an FBI agent (but let’s be real, no actual government agent would ask a teenager to do his dirty work for him) but Archie being the naive teenager he is, totally buys it. And at this point, we don’t really know what this guy’s intentions are or who he actually is. The Lodges strike a deal with the Mayor to close down Southside High so that they can buy the land, and Betty tracks down her brother because Polly has cut the family off at the instruction of “the farm” – the weird commune/cult that Polly has joined.
So, as you can see: lots of things. I feel as though that’s becoming this show’s deepest flaw: it’s trying to do too much all at once. It’s fine to have inner turmoil and town drama (aka teen drama because sometimes this stuff is so ridiculous that’s exactly what it is) and it’s also fine to include a huge ensemble cast, because the show is exactly that. However, not everyone needs something that we have to focus on in every single episode.
Riverdale burns through so much story in the span of a single episode that it’s almost disappointing at times. There is some really juicy stuff happening, and we could really manage to be thoroughly entertained with focusing on just that and diving deep into it for an hour. But instead we bounce between ten “juicy” things, and then we don’t really have time to ruminate on anything or let suspense build. And then everything goes from being dramatic to being melodramatic, and that’s entirely the difference between a truly, deeply enticing show and one that’s just a show.
Unfortunately, I currently feel as though Riverdale has started to stray more and more into that “just a show” territory, and I’d really like it to slow down and take its time so that we can once again learn to appreciate it just as much as we did in the first season.
Season 2, Episode 10 (S02E10)
Riverdale airs Thursdays at 9PM on The CW
Tasha is a freelance writer currently based in Los Angeles. Originally from Kansas, when she’s not writing about or watching TV, Tasha is searching for the best BBQ place in LA to fill the KC BBQ hole in her stomach.
Keep up with all of Tasha’s reviews here.
Tasha Cerny | Contributor