by Lauren Piester | Wed., Jan. 23, 2019 6:00 PM
We've got a question, and it's one we ask with love: What is Riverdale smoking?
The show has never been not a little bit insane in the best kind of way, but this season takes the cake. It takes the cake so far that you can't see the cake anymore. The cake is gone. A bear has eaten the cake, after it attacked Archie Andrews (KJ Apa) in some Canadian woods.
At some point, this season was about a Dungeons and Dragons-esque game called Gryphons and Gargoyles that was driving teens to commit suicide and causing others to have still-mysterious seizures. Eventually, we learned that the parents had all played G&G back in the day, but had stopped and vowed to never speak of it again after their principal ended up dead. The first half of the season ended with the assumption that Hiram Lodge (Mark Consuelos) was controlling the game as a way of getting Riverdale under his thumb. He got Mayor Hermione (Marisol Nichols) to shut down the school and got the governor to declare a quarantine on the town, and that's where the show left off in 2018.
When Riverdale returned last week, the quarantine and school shut down were a thing of the past. Archie had run off to Canada and had become a park ranger while Veronica and Reggie had grown closer while running her speakeasy and fending off business attacks from her father. And while Jughead was busy running his gang, Betty was dealing with a whole mental hospital full of patients who were living in her house, all while her mother had been fully brainwashed by a mysterious cult.
And during all that, Archie got attacked by a bear and appeared to be dead.
He wasn't dead, and in fact he showed back up in Riverdale in the opening moments of tonight's episode. If he could survive a bear attack, he could survive whatever Hiram could throw at him. But could he survive the SATs?!
It turned out he could not. Archie's return to the basic, bearless, boring life of being a junior in high school didn't go well, because of course he's been through way too much to even think about filling in bubbles with a #2 pencil. He was framed for murder, he went to jail, he had to escape from an underground prisoner fight club, he had to go on the run, he got attacked by a bear, and no, he couldn't sit in silence for two hours answering dumb vocabulary questions. He also couldn't sit and listen to his girlfriend sing him a song at a Welcome Back (From Having to Run Away From My Father Who's Trying to Kill You) party held in her speakeasy.
And do we really think he'll be recovered in time to star in the Heathers musical Riverdale High is doing later this spring? Probably not!
The juxtaposition of the banality of school mixed with murder and mayhem is one of the best parts of Riverdale, but there was just something about it this week that felt more surreal than normal. Archie was just forced out of town by a rich guy trying to kill him, and he only came back because he got attacked by a bear and almost died, and all his friends are giving him crap for ordering a root beer float instead of a strawberry milkshake, and pitying him for not being ready for the big test.
Meanwhile, Betty's mom stole all her money to give it to a cult, and Betty has to go visit her serial killer father in the strangest maximum security prison we've ever seen on TV to get his signature proving he didn't agree to sign her money over to the cult, and Veronica's still got that murderous rich guy dad of hers plus a business to run, and Jughead's employing his gang members to infiltrate the other gang that runs an evil death game. How does anyone have time to care about the SATs, or to bother Archie for his PTSD?
The problem is that we haven't seen these kids go to go school or concern themselves with any sort of class in months, and it's hard to keep up with the stakes on this show when they suddenly switch from "everyone is dying" to "we gotta take a test!" Sure, it's hysterical, especially when you try to explain it to someone else (like your roommate, when they walk into the room and barely recognize the show they stopped watching back in season one), but we've actually lost track of the real threat.
Whenever the Gargoyle King or Hiram (assuming he won't die from the mysterious gunshot wounds he suffered tonight—isn't it wild that's just a parenthetical in this article?) or Serial Killer Hal or Claudius Blossom, who just showed back up again randomly, reveals their real plan, we will definitely not be ready. And that might actually be great, so maybe this is all to say keep it up, Riverdale. Keep us on our toes! Confuse us 'til we don't know what we're trying to figure out anymore! Throw in random school scenes when they feel most out of place, and we'll eventually have such a case of whiplash that the truth will shake us to our core.
Maybe just like, cut Archie a little slack. That boy's been through too much and we can't take it anymore.
Riverdale airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on The CW.