After a week of reprieve, we’re back with more Riverdale.
This week, we’re finally getting the long-promised Hot Parents of Riverdale flashback episode! Unsurprisingly, the HPoR are played by their children for this flashback. Look, Riverdale loves its fan service, OK?
Let’s just dive in, shall we?
Mary: This episode BEGINS in a full blown Satanic Panic mode. Hermione comes to lecture the students and declares that Gryphons & Gargoyles has been banned because it causes people to commit suicide. Veronica smartly says later that banning something only makes people want to play it more. What do we think generally about the enemy of this season being...a roleplaying game? I’ve talked about this at length before, so I’ll let you guys take it away!
Gabriella: My feelings are pretty neutral - I’m not a fan in general of things like literature, games, etc. being blamed for behaviour, but it still is an interesting phenomenon and it *does* happen, just look at Slender Man. But what I also think is that they needed something more aesthetically pleasing*~*~*~*~*~ than an internet legend like Slender Man, and so a table top game was good visually. It’s just a shame they had to pick something that’s already vilified to a certain degree by ‘main stream’ culture.
Kelli: I’m sort of mixed on this. I’m with you, Mary, on thinking it’s unfortunate that Riverdale is vilifying a D&D-like game, and I also find it totally unrealistic that everyone in the entire school would so quickly get on board with playing it unless it’s literally got a supernatural element to it, because a majority of high schoolers in this day and age would not risk openly participating in something previously branded as “nerdy.” Like, in real life, are the kids playing D&D also the ones who are rich and popular and participating in underage drinking and party drugs such as JINGLE JANGLE? Usually not. Just saying.
Maybe it WOULD be more believable if it was like Slender Man, or even a video game, though that would definitely be harder to show on screen.
As usual, I’m for some reason expecting this show to be a realistic portrayal of teenagers when it has never, ever been a realistic portrayal of teenagers, so — on a more positive note, I do think mass hysteria plots are kind of fun, and I can’t say that I find this plot boring the way I did the mob plot from last season or Archie’s prison plot from this season.
Mary: I’ve been patiently waiting on this flashback episode for weeks now, and boy. It was a choice. The show has a bit of a frame narrative, with Alice telling Betty about her wild high school days, when she found out she was pregnant with FP’s baby. All of the HPoR end up in detention, then keep landing in detention. It’s very 1980’s and campy, and the performances and writing were very melodramatic but in a fun way.
There’s something comforting about a familiar scenario--the misfits becoming friends in detention in The Breakfast Club fashion. Did the performances hit home with you or fall flat?
Gabriella: Oh my god, this was *such* a breakfast club rip off, they didn’t even try to hide it and that sort of annoyed me. It’s one thing to pay homage to something (the Psych ‘Twin Peaks’ episode called ‘Dual Spires’ does this BRILLIANTLY) and another to just rip it off. Also, ‘Rebel Yell’ by Billy Idol is one of my favorite songs, and I was mad they used it.
Aside from that, I kind of liked the youngins’ playing their parents, and was particularly pleased with how vicious Alice was to FP in their first group detention scene. That was a sick burn.
Kelli: I actually didn’t mind the fact that they were doing a The Breakfast Club rip-off, because I felt like the show wasn’t trying to position this as anything other than a rip-off. It was very self aware about how obvious the connection was, and because of that I was able to give in and go along for the ride. Plus, it was kind of fun to spot the references.
As far as the performances go, I actually really enjoyed them. I expected Lili Reinhart to do a good job, because I think she’s definitely the most talented member of this cast, but I was pleasantly surprised by how well KJ Apa did with his Luke Perry impression, considering I don’t usually enjoy his performance as Archie. So, maybe it’s not KJ’s fault after all. Maybe Archie just really fucking sucks.
Mary: We find out a lot of juicy details about the HPoR:
Penelope Blossom was an orphan selected to first be raised as a sister, then ultimately a companion to Clifford.
Hermione comes from a poor family (her mother cleans rooms at the same hotel she eventually lives in with Veronica in season 1) but she wants more...like that mobster upstart Hiram Lodge, who her mother strongly disapproves of.
Fred Andrews was an artist and an athlete. I guess he played baseball and the drums? It seems lame.
Sierra and Tom Keller dated back in high school, but had to keep a secret because their parents didn’t approve of an interracial relationship.
Alice is pregnant with FP’s baby, but he won’t acknowledge it.
FP is a ladies man who keeps his Southside address a secret. He’s also sleeping with basically everyone and a jock. Oh, and his dad abuses him, which he vows not to do to his future children.
For me, the revelation that FP wasn’t a leather jacket wearing Serpent back in high school is kind of shocking. It makes sense narratively that roles would be reversed in the past, doesn’t it? Were any of the other bits of info particularly surprising?
Gabriella: Fred was the most boring, sorry not sorry.
I liked FP, but I wanted to know more of why he ended up becoming a serpent when he seemed so adamant that he wasn’t going to follow in his dad’s footsteps. I mean, something must have happened? IS THERE A SPIN OFF IN THE FUTURE? I hope ...not.
It did feel like they were filling plot holes retroactively - like Sierra and Tom, and trying to give Penelope some kind of justification for her evilness. On the one hand, it was fun to watch, on the other hand, I was okay with Penelope just being evil for evil’s sake - not all women need a ‘reason’ or a ‘trauma’ to ‘justify’ behaviour *screams into the abyss*.
Kelli: FP was definitely the most surprising to me, but I liked what they did with him, because in certain ways it echoed Jughead’s progression as well. I think we can assume that the main reasons he fell into the same lifestyle as his father are the cycles of poverty and abuse, and how hard those are to break.
I totally agree about Penelope. Not only was it unnecessary to give her a sympathetic backstory, but it also didn’t really make a lot of sense. There was no indication in the version of Penelope we see here that she would turn into the one we know now, even with all of her trauma. I think she’s just a poorly-written character in general, though. Surprise, surprise. I feel the same way about Hermione; I think the writers have no idea what kind of person they actually want her to be, so in the end she’s a complete enigma, and not in a way that seems intentional.
I liked seeing Alice the most I think - not really because we learned anything new about her, but because it was fun to see the rebel girl side of her that we’ve been hearing about for so long. The pure satisfaction she gets out of causing trouble is really fun to watch, and is also pretty much the opposite of Betty, which gave Lili more material to work with - and she pulled it off spectacularly.
Mary: Penelope, as game master, decides to “take the game off the board” and send mismatched pairs out into the school to find a jewel she’s hidden somewhere. It provides a moment for Hermione to interrogate FP about his relationship with Alice, and for Alice to confide in Fred...and Fred to talk about how much he loves his dad again.
All the HPoR wax poet about how G&G makes them forget about their real world problems. They start dressing up in theater department clothes and roaming the halls in full cosplay. To me...it seems fun? Maybe this is me as someone who plays D&D, but the whole situation seems kind of fun and I would be down. Let’s start a Midnight Club.
Gabriella: I just want to point out, I know G&G is meant to be a riff of D&D but I just keep thinking about my initials. (...GG, duh).
I love the idea of a midnight club, running around in costumes. I definitely did this in college as part of the community theatre I was in, and it was incredible. I wish they’d spent more time showing the good that came of their connection instead of jumping straight into the madness.
Kelli: Okay, hold up - can I just talk for a second about how random and dumb it was that Alice and Fred kissed? Why can’t any of the friendships on this fucking show stay platonic? It would have been a really sweet moment if Fred had just comforted Alice, but instead they had to make out because everyone in this town is incurably horny. Also, this moment wasted time that could have been spent to even SORT OF develop the relationship that occurs between Hermione and Fred, which is barely mentioned despite being such a large plot point during Riverdale’s first season.
And yeah, the moment between FP and Hermione was dumb too, but at least Hermione stopped FP before he kissed her, and FP kisses everyone so the move he made wasn’t surprising. Alice and Fred, though… just why.
Mary: The Midnight Club finds another G&G group wandering around the school at night (because that is naturally the next step in playing a roleplaying game). It’s the parents of some B-Team cast members, including Tom Keller and Dilton Doily’s dad. The two groups are invited to an “ascension party” by the Gargoyle King himself. Both game masters (Doily and Penelope) know nothing about the invitations. I think this discovery is supposed to be spoooooky, but it sort of fell flat for me.
There’s also some pop rock type drugs going around at this party and like...really? They’re called Fizzle Rocks and, like Jingle Jangle, they take the form of a regular old candy—pop rocks. Alice says that the Fizzle Rocks release their dark selves. It looks like they’re just being youths and enjoying themselves though.
Gabriella: I just… This whole thing was so confusing for me. Despite the details, the plot doesn’t feel thought out somehow and I’m not quite sure the writers know what they’re doing? I’m not convinced, anyway. It was like they raided a Michaels, went to town, and then tried to create the plot to suit their decorations. It all feels very thin.
Kelli: Can you die of something being too stupid? Because when Hiram pulled out the pop rocks, that almost happened to me. I almost died.
Mary: When principle Featherhead (wow what a name) investigates the Midnight Club, he goes missing. He turns up a while later, dead in a closet, with mysterious, G&G-like runes carved on the inside of the door. All the G&G kids start accusing each other. But who set up the quest (and also, did I miss something? Is there a quest?)?? In order to erase their involvement in the death of Featherhead, the kids vow to destroy all the evidence. Then they just sort of go back to their normal lives and never talk about it again. Then, all the HPoR settle into their future roles and never talk to each other again, or well, until later.
We end the episode with Alice telling Betty that she’s in mortal danger if she plays the game because the game gives you permission to do all sorts of things, including kill people. Um. Okay? That’s just not true.
I gotta be real guys, I feel like this episode personally attacked me! I have strong feelings about roleplaying games (as I keep saying over and over), and this episode boiled my blood a little. What did you all think of the episode in general? Was it good? Weird?
Gabriella: UGH. Okay I have a lot of feelings about this episode because at the *very* end they just throw in this whole ‘Fred found his dad dead’ and he goes through this little guilt thing and, as someone who found their own father dead (sorry to bring down the mood, guys) there is a whooooooole lot there to unpack that none of it needed to be in there in the first place. Especially since none of Fred’s motivations in future seem to stem from this supposedly fundamental death of his father (as opposed to Sierra and Tom’s relationship, or even Fred and Hermione’s affair in S1). It felt, much like Penelope’s plot, shoved in to try and make the characters three dimensional by just giving them trauma. And while that might work in internet RPing, it definitely doesn’t work on a TV show.
Also, just glossing over the pseudo-incest? The fact that Penelope was essentially forced into a marriage? What I liked about the first season was it gave breathing room to these fundamental ‘teenage’ issues (identity, friendship, class, race) but now they’re being heaped on with no chance to really tease them out - it’s just trauma and issues for the sake of it.
Also, at the end, WHAT was with that shaky camera thing.
Kelli: Gabriella, I agree with you about Fred’s trauma being completely unexplored. However, I do think that his future motivations reflect the event somewhat — like his giving up his aspirations of pursuing music, sports, or even urban planning in favor of taking over the family business and keeping his father’s legacy alive instead. I think we see a lot of his regret around those decisions during his mayoral subplot. I don’t think that putting his death in this episode was necessary, though, nor was the writers’ decision to have him find his dad, a choice which seemed solely made for the added dramatic effect. There’s no explanation of what happened to Fred’s mom, either, and why she seems to be completely nonexistent here — much like Archie’s mom was for most of Riverdale’s first season.
That aside, I actually think this was one of the more successful episodes of this season so far, because it focused on ONE PLOT instead of chasing 15 different threads. Sure, the plot it focused on leaves quite a bit to be desired, but at least it felt cohesive and (mostly) coherent.
I don’t even think I noticed the shaky cam at the end, because I was too focused on the fact that JUGHEAD HAS NOW BEEN BRAINWASHED BY THE GAME! I have no idea how they’re going to make this new development work, and I have a feeling it’s going to be executed terribly, but hey — that’s Riverdale for you.