What do you call an episode-length lampshade of a series’ own tropes?
Thanks to the worldwide pandemic, Riverdale ends its fourth season a few episodes early. And instead of solving the year’s mystery, the final hour questions Riverdale‘s world and its viewers. A pretty bold choice to stop here and not with, say, the musical episode a few weeks back.
At the same time, it is nice to send the show off into a summer hiatus with a decidedly more lighthearted tone. Well, a lighter tone from the standpoint that most of the murder is confined within one of Jughead’s (Cole Sprouse) stories and not in the wide world. But that conceit gave the writing team a chance to explore some of the show’s reality in a new way.
For one, as Betty (Lili Reinhart) mentioned, the story is made up of a lot things the Archie gang has said across the last four years of the show. But perhaps more interesting, the story leads Jughead to recast the gang as the monsters in his tale. One of the show’s major assumptions is that the main four — Betty, Jughead, Archie (KJ Apa) and Veronica (Camila Mendes) — are the heroes of this ongoing saga. But it is fair to ask “what if they’re not?”
Sure, it’s kind of an obvious twist; later paid off as Mr. Honey’s (Kerr Smith) full nature as principal is revealed to the kids. Then again, Riverdale is a high school noir show. Its plots and twists should be fairly obvious to the media-savvy adults in the room. More important than the twist, though, is Jughead’s internal revelation about Mr. Honey in the course of killing him off in fiction while the gang seemingly murders his career in their real life.
But before we get into that, let’s discuss Mr. Honey as a potential suspect. With his authoritarian vibe, his clashes with Cheryl (Madelaine Petsch), and his bizarre belief that Hedwig and the Angry Inch is somehow “controversial,” he always seemed good as the person behind the Voyeur’s camera. Even in this week’s episode, the notion that he cancelled prom at every school he’s ran suggests a deep resentment of his high school years and the popular kids. Our Archie gang is, by default, that group and it would seem his attack on what little they considered normal to be a personal vendetta. It all could’ve been a form of revenge he does in every town against the sort of people who made him feel small when he was a teenager.
Curiously, though, Mr. Honey contains multitudes and did a lot of good at the school; helping low-income kids go to college and bringing the school GPA up considerably. He even wrote Jug a glowing letter of recommendation to the University of Iowa’s writing program. His demeanor even changed when he tried to tell Betty and Jughead that he’s been trying to protect them the whole time.
That, combined with his bungling of the phony Voyeur tape, should remove him from the suspect list. To say nothing of the video Betty and Jughead find in the cabin. But we’re not quite done thinking he may be the Voyeur because so much of what he’s done, if even for the right reasons, is outsized. His apparent murder could still be part of his game.
In the meantime, though, let’s take a look at Jughead’s decision to save Mr. Honey in the story. As he noted to Betty, he was reveling in the pain he was inflicting on Honey in the story. One imagines he also enjoyed seeing his friends suffer within the fiction as well. It’s the very thing Riverdale thrives on — the viewer enjoying the suffering of these kids and the gruesome murders of almost everyone associated with them. It’s the contract a reader or viewer makes with the material. Typically, this is a pretty safe way to work out more macabre thoughts — see Betty’s zeal in thinking about murdering Honey — but it can turn into something else. Whether or not this means the Riverdale writers are ready to pivot the show into another tone remains to be seen. Nevertheless, our own apathy with the show this season suggest some sort of a change should occur.
So let’s ponder what Riverdale might look like after the kids graduate high school across the long summer. Katy Keene, set at least three years later, has already revealed Kevin Keller (Casey Cott) is Riverdale High’s drama teacher. Will the show also jump three years into the future to let the actors play their own ages? It may be the shot in the arm the show needs. It will also allow the characters to go their own ways and reunite when they’re all fully-formed adults.
Or, at least, as fully formed as adults can be on these shows.
Riverdale airs on The CW.
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