By Chelsea Hensley

Riverdale is so, so close to being a great show, but it trips over itself, most recently in how easily it forgets these people are supposed to be friends. But this week with “In A Lonely Place,” it remembers. That’s no more apparent than in the opening sequence, which drops us into a dream of Jughead’s, which looks identical to early issues of the comics. It’s bright and cheery, everyone decked out in 50’s garb and all smiles (totally unlike the show), and they’re gathered around the dinner table. With every parent in town committed to being The Worst, these kids have to be each others’ families.

Though Jughead fears he’s betrayed Archie by kissing Betty, but Archie’s more concerned with Jughead’s homelessness. As soon as he learns Jughead’s pulling a Harry Potter and sleeping in a cupboard under the stairs, he invites Jughead into his home. And knowing FP doesn’t have a job, Archie gets Fred to give him one.

After weeks of keeping Archie focused on football and music and other things we already know about (or, in the case of Grundy, are just grossed out by), he’s finally doing something else. I don’t know why Riverdale is so averse to giving its leading leading man a compelling story but dropping him into everyone else’s will have to do for now. And this earnest determination to protect his friend is a good look for an Archie.

Also a good look (but one that will come back to bite them) is Fred and Archie colluding to give Jughead a false alibi. It at least gives Archie and Fred a more tangible connection to Jason’s murder investigation, but the road there is bumpy indeed. The newly escaped Polly is the more obvious suspect in Jason’s murder which makes it hard to see why Keller goes after Jughead so hard. All the evidence he lists is, at best, highly stupid, and surely someone in this town knows questioning minors without their parents is a no-no (I’ve been watching lots and lots of The Good Wife). As far as a threat goes, I have difficulty seeing this as one as it seems more engineered to highlight how hopeless a father FP is.

Riverdale’s been a hit or miss (more often a miss) when it comes to these kids and their parents, but it handles Jughead and FP well, imbuing their story with a sense of touching despair. Seriously, it’s all very sad, made even more so by strong performances by Skeet Ulrich and Cole Sprouse. Jughead tiptoes through the episode, cautiously optimistic about his dad’s chances of recovery and the repair of their broken family. But even though FP swallows his pride to accept Fred’s job offer, it’s not a reach to assume things will go downhill. His best intentions can’t compete with his drinking. When he finally gets the message about Jughead’s questioning, his righteous anger is sad — and, in front of Jughead’s new girlfriend, best friend, and best friend’s father — embarrassing rather than encouraging. He loves his son and wants his family back, but he knows he’s not ready yet. And when he promises to be sober in a month or two, he knows as well as Jughead that he won’t be.

Meanwhile, Veronica looks to punish Hermione for her forgery by going full-on spoiled rich girl. The show still flips and flops on Veronica’s characterization at will. She and Polly (who we’re told is some reformed party girl) suffer from the same character missteps: what we’re told of them and what we actually see are in direct contradiction. It’s brief but still jarring to hear Archie say Veronica might be a snob about Jughead’s alcoholic father and homelessness. Even on her worst behavior, Veronica’s never come off as that callous and shallow. Rather Veronica appears more calculating, as her comic-book behaviors of partying all night and wasting money are explained as her conscious means of getting what she wants from her parents.

It’s a nice touch, reminding us that Veronica is definitely very smart, but the story is far from perfect. It’s incomplete in a number of ways, chief among them being the oft-mentioned Hiram. As anxious as Hermione is about telling him the truth about the contract, we neither get to see her confess to forging Veronica’s signature nor learn how Hiram reacted, which makes all this back and forth about him feel even less necessary.

Still, there’s more nuance afforded to Veronica and Hermione (and way more in Jughead and FP) than anything with the Coopers and Blossoms. Terrible for the sake of being terrible, the Coopers insist on Polly giving her baby up for adoption, and the Blossoms are just as eager to strip Polly of her parental rights and raise the baby themselves, horrifying their respective daughters with their commitment to villainy. So Polly’s left in flux and ends up with Hermione and Veronica. Because friends do that for each other.

Stray Observations

  • Did these people not grow up together? FP has no idea who Betty is and every time Alice says anything about Betty’s friends, it’s as if she never met them.
  • Nope, I really don’t care about Fred and FP’s business history.
  • We had to sit through way too much of Betty and Jughead’s stale whatever, but no one said anything Archerie. Okay.
  • So Hermione and Veronica keep saying they are low on money, but Veronica doesn’t bat an eye at wasting their limited funds. This is easily explained by her being at peak teenager this week, but the side eye will be real if no one addresses how the Lodge women plan on accommodating a pregnant and penniless Polly.

Chelsea A. HensleyChelsea A. Hensley is a writer and blogger who recently received a BA in English from the University of Missouri. Besides television, she also loves chocolate chip cookies, puppies, and Dragon Age. In between episodes of her favorite shows, Chelsea’s hard at work on a young adult novel. You can read more of her writing on The Chelsea Review and follow her on Twitter @ChelseaBigBang.

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