Thursday, October 12, 2017

REVIEW: 'Riverdale' - Archie Attempts to Get His Father to a Hospital in 'Chapter Fourteen: A Kiss Before Dying'

The CW's Riverdale - Episode 2.01 "Chapter Fourteen: A Kiss Before Dying"

As Fred's life hangs in the balance following the shooting at Pop's diner, Archie struggles with the emotional aftermath of what he witnessed. As Veronica steps out of her comfort zone to support Archie, she learns that her father has arrived to Riverdale earlier than expected. Jughead and Betty question the gunman's true motives. After running into Cheryl at the hospital, Betty and Kevin are surprised to learn about the fire at Thornhill.

Riverdale was absolutely crazy and ridiculous in its first season. That's what made it such a fun show. Was it the best version of itself? Not by a long shot. Its storytelling was incredibly scattered and problematic. For a show based on the Archie characters, it's a problem when Archie is the worst character. Worst probably isn't the right word. He was just the most pointless character in the entire season. The big murder mystery with Jason was the hook for the first season. It was the storyline that kept everything moving forward. Archie basically had nothing to do with that at all. His friends were always actively distancing him from their investigation. Whenever he did want to be involved, they were surprised by it. That wasn't great. But even more problematic was the show saying that Archie is so absolutely good-intentioned that it makes him naive even when that wasn't the case at all. In fact, Archie's story was all fundamentally about him becoming romantically involved with every women he shared the screen with all while being a bad friend to Betty and Jughead. It was really annoying and alienating. It was the show maintaining its roots while sexing up the characters as well. But the mood it was going for elsewhere in the narrative just didn't line up with what Archie was doing at all. This was hardly the only problem in the first season. But it was a significant one. And now, the second season opens with an episode that is almost entirely about the Andrews family. That was to be expected because of the big cliffhanger ending with Fred getting shot at Pop's diner. But it was a precarious decision as well because Archie hasn't been fascinating as a character for the majority of the run of the show.

That shifts significantly throughout "Chapter Fourteen: A Kiss Before Dying." Archie is now inherently connected to the central mystery of the season. That does wonders in making him seem like a necessary part of the show. He's growing and evolving based on what is happening in this community. The show is titled Riverdale for a reason. It's about this town and the dark things that happen here. It's not just about one character. It just helps when Archie is given something meaningful to do. His father almost dying is a life-changing experience for him. Of course, the show is a little manipulative as well. It's hinting at a piece of missing time regarding Archie and Pop's encounter with the gunman. It seems like they are keeping a secret. Fred was shot and then there's a big mystery as to what happened before the gunman left. At first, it seems like the absence of Fred's wallet is a part of this mystery. Jughead's suspicion that it wasn't a robbery seems to be confirmed thereafter as well. And yet, the big reveal is that Archie didn't have his hero moment in this situation. He believes he should have done whatever it took to protect his father. But instead, he just froze and allowed the gunman to point the weapon at him before being able to make his escape while his eyes were closed. That feels like a letdown and not worth all of the buildup to that moment. It seems like a sensible reaction for Andrew because he's still just a silly and stupid teenager after all. But the narrative's structure was definitely misleading.

And yet, the show does a wonderful job in making this hour feel very intimate and claustrophobic. Everyone comes together at the hospital waiting to hear news about Fred. Archie calls Betty who is then able to inform everyone else. They all rally around Archie at the hospital trying to get a sense of what happened and how to deal with the aftermath of this shocking development. Only a day has passed in between the seasons. Betty is still riding high about her big speech about this community needing to do better in order to avoid another tragedy like Jason's death. It didn't take long for tragedy to strike once more. And now, it is even more personal. Jughead and Betty are there to support Archie. Jughead has his theories about what happened. They are willing to return to Pop's to look for the missing wallet. But even that is a brief escape from what's going on at the hospital. Even when Archie leaves to take a shower and change clothes at home, it's barely an escape at all. It's in those moments where Veronica needs to step up and be an emotionally available girlfriend. She worries that she can't be what Archie needs right now because everything has gotten very serious very quickly. It does seem like a mistake when she walks into the shower with Archie to have sex with him. He's not going to say no to that because he's still a teenager after all. But she ultimately does the right thing in choosing to stay and not allow Archie to be all alone with his dark thoughts right now. That shows that she is capable of being supportive in the way that he needs.

Meanwhile, the show is depicting Fred's fight to survive as him having several dreams about the life he wants to experience alongside Archie. They are very cheesy and ridiculous moments. They don't completely work for me even though I must admit that they are completely fitting the tone of the show. Fred is experiencing Archie's graduation, him taking over the construction business, getting ready to propose to Veronica and then ultimately marrying Veronica. He's imagining this happy life that he can have with his son. And yet, the majority of them are about his son pushing him away. It's a reminder that he died in this tragic encounter. He isn't actually there to experience these events. His life was cut too short to be there for Archie. It continues to highlight how Fred is the best parent on this show. His entire life is about doing whatever is necessary to protect his son. That's the message that defines the dream that gets him to wake up. The previous dreams were about Archie no longer needing Fred around and being perfectly fine if he would just cross over into death. And then at the wedding, Fred takes a bullet that was meant for Archie. It's this grand sacrifice that is able to wake him up. It highlights how Fred is always doing so much for Archie. And now, Archie feels the desire to do the same for his dad. They are able to settle into their house once more by the end of the premiere. But it also comes with the image of Archie sitting by the door ready to fight back if the gunman decides to return to finish the job.

That's a dark twist for Archie that is well-informed by the circumstances he has just experienced. In fact, the show highlights the dark realities waiting for most of the characters as they return to their ordinary lives following this venture at the hospital. Jughead didn't believe the Southside Serpents had anything to do with the hit. He asked some of the guys to look into it for him. When he returns to F.P.'s trailer, he is greeted by the serpents beating up a guy who is completely innocent of this crime. It's just to display that Jughead is a serpent whether he puts on the jacket or not. Betty doesn't want things to change in their relationship. But this has the potential to do just that in so many ways. Meanwhile, Veronica confronted her mother about being capable of doing something like this in the hospital chapel. She's ready to call Hermione out for being the brains behind the whole sinister operation. It's a fascinating story because Veronica is realizing that her parents are imperfect. Of course, the show takes it one step further than that in showing just how controlling and disruptive this family unit can actually be. Hiram makes his debut for the series. He shows up completely in the shadows waiting for his family to be perfectly reunited. He's expecting his daughter to fall in line and Veronica rebels against that. But this is by no means a person Veronica wants to be acting against right now though. And finally, the premiere ends on the biggest twist by revisiting Ms. Grundy. That's a character who didn't work at all last season. The show could never decide if Archie's story with her was genuine or if this was just the depraved inner workers of a pedophile. It clearly answers things in this episode. It was just a twisted pattern for her. But the horror that happens next is even more shocking. The gunman shows up in her new house and kills her. That ensures that Archie will remain the focus of this story for the foreseeable future. It also establishes that things are going to get incredibly dark this season. It's a twist that works here. Hopefully, the show can keep its focus throughout this season and maintain a better version of itself.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Chapter Fourteen: A Kiss Before Dying" was written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and directed by Rob Seidenglanz.
  • It seems absolutely crazy that Archie doesn't at least have a learner's permit in order to know how to drive. That's a moment at the start of the episode that doesn't work at all. He's a ridiculously bad driver. It's a miracle that he is able to get his father to the hospital in the first place without getting into another accident.
  • Seriously, everyone on the show makes their way to the hospital in order to support Archie and Fred. Josie and the Pussycats are sending their love - and some of their nine lives. New Reggie makes his debut and is supportive. Cheryl even kisses Fred's forehead in order to pass along the gift of life that Archie gave her in the finale.
  • Cheryl's mother actually went back into Thornhill after it went up in flames... in order to save a family portrait. That painting must have been very significant. She got severe third degree burns because of it as well. Of course, that allows Cheryl to be in control. It's scary and probably not all that healthy. But it's also incredibly entertaining and fun to see occur.
  • Pop is telling Jughead and Betty his side of the story. He doesn't seem all that helpful because he has completely blacked out most of the experience. He doesn't even recall calling the police or the ambulance. But it's a weird and slightly out of character moment for Jughead to tell Pop that he's getting too dark with all of his talk about the "angel of death."
  • Archie's mom is back in town at the end of the episode as well. Hopefully, the show will be able to justify casting Molly Ringwald this time around after wasting her last season. Of course, she's pretty secondary to the plot here. She's just in the background to ensure that someone is taking care of Fred while Archie is obsessively watching the front door convinced the gunman will return.
  • Mark Consuelos is perfectly menacing as Hiram. Of course, his logic doesn't make much sense at all. He's disappointed that Veronica wasn't home to greet him when he arrived. And yet, his return is a surprise because he has come home early. It just shows how complicated this family dynamic is going to be. He's a very hard-to-please and demanding man. He certainly lives up to all of the expectations.