TV reviews

Riverdale 2×04 – Chapter 17: The Town That Dreaded Sundown – Review

If there are one of two things that can be guaranteed in a movie or television show, it’s that when it rains you’re either going to get kissing or fighting, and this week Riverdale delivers a fight, or, to be more accurate, a brawl. It seems like a common thing to put into a review for each episode of this show that every episode is busy, or has a lot happening in it, but this week a *lot* happens.

The episode’s events start off as Betty gets a letter from The Black Hood which tells her that his motivations were inspired by her speech in the season one finale, but then we spend most of it trying to figure out the additional cipher that our masked killer has sent her that may hold the secret to where the next killing will take place.

It gives The Black Hood an element that obviously recalls the Zodiac killer, who gets mentioned several times throughout, including a brilliant teaser where Jughead, via his always wonderful voiceover, compares Riverdale’s serial killer to not only the Zodiac, but also many other famous killers in history, which is made even more funny by the fact that The Black Hood has only managed to actually kill one of his targets.

Initially this all feels like it’s going to be a pretty standard episode; we get Veronica asking Hiram about his conversation during last week’s episode, as well as Fred’s anger over Archie forming The Red Circle, along with the controversy within the town over its formation. By Riverdale standards it threatens to be a quiet hour of television, but the closer it gets to the end credits, the more eventful and brilliantly crazier it gets.

Cheryl is only on the margins of events this week, which is a shame because Madelaine Petsch is always great,  but to make up for it, we do get some brilliant scenes with Madchen Amick who entertainingly makes Alice the character equivalent of a lit match being put near gasoline. She’s either making her voice loud and clear at the town meeting, or snapping Betty’s letter from the clutches of Sheriff Keller without a care in the world. The moment she tells Keller The Black Hood is terrified of her is borderline brilliant.

Which goes for the whole episode. The pace starts slow but builds up brilliantly and before you know it we’ve got a brawl in the rain, thunder constantly playing over the soundtrack and about a million things going on; the way in which the episode cuts back from the town meeting to the brawl between the North and Southsiders is brilliant, not least because it gives Amick and Luke Perry a chance to square of against each other verbally whilst cutting back to the brawl and it use of Zack Snyder-esque slow motion.

Compared to last season’s single murder mystery, it feels like we’re in the middle of a small town epic, given that we’ve got a serial killer, gangs, vigilantes, drugs and just about everything being thrown at the story that the writers can squeeze in.

There are a couple of minor grievances; after last week’s final moments, Kevin is back to talking to Betty a little bit too quickly, whilst there is a concern that the character of Toni is only there to create problems between Betty and Jughead, or possibly start a love triangle which is a cliché I hope Riverdale will avoid, since it’s already got three characters at the heart of one of pop culture’s most famous love triangles running through it, and has actually managed to avoid doing clichéd things with it. It would be disappointing it they applied it somewhere else.

If there is any way to sum up where the show is, and seems to be going this year, it has to be with Archie himself. It’s not enough anymore for the show to simply be a darker take on Archie Comics, now the lead character himself feels more complex. Last year there was a danger that the famed red-headed lead character was the weakest link, what with worried about being a songwriter whilst everyone else got caught up with other, more compelling dramas, not to mention that Betty, Jughead, Veronica and Cheryl were much more interesting characters to watch.

This season there is a definite feeling that there has been attempt to make Archie more interesting. The sight of him doing target practice in the teaser eventually gives way to him actually pulling a gun on Southside Serpents when in their territory, and subsequently hiding it in the school restroom, and it legitimately feel like a naturally dark and more fascinating progression. KJ Apa is great throughout, clearly relishing a chance to play more intense material. Last season it was all about the guitar, this year it’s all about the gun.

As it stands, four episodes in, it’s currently feeling a little like the second season of Veronica Mars, even down to having similar trajectory to that show; a first season centred around the mystery of a single murder, followed by a second season which has upped the ante by throwing in a bigger mystery (in this case a serial killer), along with about a hundred other subplots which threatens to overwhelm but which actually only helps make the show even more entertaining.

There is a danger that it could go off the rails, but if, like the Rob Thomas-created masterpiece, it can stay the course and hold all the pieces together, it could end up being something very special. It’s not subtle, not for one single second, but it is, as always, incredibly entertaining, and besides, you can never go wrong with an epic, rain-soaked brawl.

Riverdale is now airing weekly in the UK on Netflix. Let us know what you think of the season.

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