‘Riverdale’ Post-Show Analysis, Season 1 Episode 5: ‘Heart of Darkness’
Welcome to Riverdale, the CW show about Archie Andrews and his pals ‘n’ gals! Archie Comics aficionado Chris Sims and CW teen drama superfan Emma Lawson will be your recappers for our weekly breakdown of what’s hot and happening at Pop’s Chock’lit Shoppe.
This week, we see inside the Blossom family residence, Riverdale buries Jason, Betty goes on a “reconnaissance mission” to Pop’s with a cute boy, and we learn how maple syrup ruins everything. “Heart of Darkness” was written by Ross Maxwell and directed by Jesse Warn.
Emma: I can’t say I’m disappointed by this episode, because the show is still mind-bogglingly awesome, but there were fewer oh my God moments than in the previous four episodes. Instead we delve more into the history of Riverdale, these families, and their often terrible intra- and extrafamilial relationships. What did you think of this week’s episode, Chris?
Chris: I'm with you, Emma. After four solid weeks of Archie and Ms. Grundy getting sweaty in a Volkswagen, Veronica threatening revenge of Biblical proportions, and Betty embracing the hate and achieving her final form, this week actually seemed pretty light on the level of pure shock value that we've come to expect. But the tradeoff to that is that we got character development instead --- especially for Cheryl, who stepped into the spotlight and managed to become a lot less two-dimensional in the process.
Emma: I would be fine with Cheryl continuing to spout perfect line after perfect line with zero character development, but I agree this way is better. Cheryl has an atrocious relationship with her family, and while it seems to have gotten much worse after Jason's death, there are plenty of hints that it's been terrible all along. This is why she and Jason clung to each other so tightly; they were each other's only solace in a family full of hate.
Chris: The trick with Cheryl in the comics is that she's essentially just Veronica, But More. She's more aggressive, more overtly sexual, and her family is meant to be even richer than the Lodges.
Here, though, there's kind of an interesting stumbling block: Since the Veronica that we have here is --- unlike pretty much every other character who's made it on the show --- relatively nicer than her comic book counterpart, that throws Cheryl's characterization off. So rather than just being Extra Veronica, Cheryl ends up being The Entire Show Riverdale, But More. Her walled-off family estate, Thornhill, is like the town in a microcosm, full of horrible secrets, creepy characters, and dead bodies. Like, literally. They have a cemetery in the back yard.
Emma: Of course they do! So when they finally have a memorial for Jason, they have the whole town over to their estate to pay their respects before they bury him in the backyard. Cheryl's forced to hand out jet black envelopes with invitations to all her frenemies on the bleachers. But the Blossoms don't actually want to hear platitudes from the townspeople, they want to gather anyone they consider a suspect in Jason's death in one room, Clue-style. I wish we did have a great "J'accuse!" scene, but alas.
Chris: On the one hand, this episode really doesn't give us the scenes we want, until right at the last minute. There's no big parlor scene, there's no big reveal when Cheryl delivers her eulogy, there's not even really much new that we learn about Cheryl herself --- we've kind of assumed that nobody likes her for the entire show so far.
But on the other hand, everything we see about her life is so far over the top that it's almost like watching Hausu or something. I mean, I know you talked about the envelopes already, but we cannot stress enough that she is giving out invitations to her twin brother's funeral to everyone at school like they're goth Valentines, in what turns out to be an attempt to lure the murderer into Thornhill. It's like Penelope Blossom literally expects someone to let out maniacal laughter and admit to the murder as soon as they confirm that Jason's body is in the casket, and honestly? I'm not sure she's wrong to think that's a strong possibility in this town!
Emma: People were pretty normal at the memorial, though, except for Archie wearing his football jacket (tacky, dude, come on) and Penelope Blossom running her fingers through Archie's hair, saying he looks just like Jason. She gave Cheryl attitude for sleeping in her dead twin's bed, but she doesn't have much of a leg to stand on after that moment.
Chris: The reaction from Kevin, Jughead, and Betty to Mrs. Blossom creepily caressing Archie was the best moment of the episode, and possibly of the entire show so far.
Emma: Kevin is the audience stand-in here, making perfect "What? Gross!" faces when called for. I wouldn't be surprised if Kevin starts talking directly to the camera about how bonkers this town is.
Chris: We're getting a little ahead of ourselves, though. Before the funeral, a new ship has arrived in Port Riverdale, and its name... is Cheronica.
Emma: Nope. You'll have to pry Beronica out of my cold, dead hands, Sims. But Cheryl and Veronica do start getting more friendly. Veronica is the first to broach the topic; she doesn't want their feud to last forever and ruin their high school experience. "Can't we just be friends? Or at least frenemies?"
Cheryl agrees, but she wants Veronica to come to a sleepover to prove she's truly interested in burying the hatchet. So Veronica ends up at Thornhill the night before the memorial, attending the worst dinner party ever with Cheryl, her parents, who have no idea why Veronica is there, and Cheryl's Nana Rose, who looks like she has no idea why she's there, or where there is.
Chris: Everything about this sleepover is amazing. First, we have Clifford Blossom lecturing Veronica about the importance of maple syrup to Riverdale's economic development over the most awkward family dinner I've seen since Christmas Eve 1998. Then, once Veronica and Cheryl go to bed, we find out that their pajamas are an electric blue satin slip and triple string of pearls for Ronnie, and a lace robe with high heels for Cheryl. Seriously: They are wearing these in bed.
Emma: They are the most glam, and it is the best. Did you doubt Ronnie's dedication to pearls after she wore them to the hot tub, Chris?
The maple syrup lecture did make it more clear to me why the football team’s slut shaming weapon of choice was the “sticky maple.”
Chris: They definitely complete the look. I actually really like all of the accessories --- Cheryl's always wearing a pin or brooch in various shades of black and red, including cherries and spiders, because Riverdale may have been built on maple syrup, but their chief export these days is symbolism. And just in case you thought they were running out, Penelope Blossom's wearing a black robe over a red nightgown early on that is 100% arranged to look like a black widow.
Emma: The costume and set designers on this show deserve all the awards. All of them.
Chris: Especially when it comes to Thornhill. There's a carefully arranged surrealism about the entire sequence that's really showing the David Lynch influence that they've talked about in the past. Like, of course people are all sitting on the same side of the dinner table and wearing full makeup to sleep. Everything about the Blossoms is a carefully arranged tableau.
Emma: Jughead asks Betty at one point in their investigations this episode why Jason would be trying to run away. Why did he hate his parents so much? Every single scene in Thornhill tells you why. Jason and Cheryl can't be people in that carefully arranged tableau that is the Blossoms' life; they themselves are pieces to be perfectly placed. No wonder Jason and Polly Cooper got along. Their families are two versions of the same thing.
Chris: That connection is made even more explicit at the end of the episode, when we find out that the Coopers and the Blossoms hate each other because Cheryl's great-grandfather straight up murdered Betty's great-grandfather over a maple syrup fortune.
Emma: I cannot believe that this whole blood feud is over maple friggin' syrup.
Chris: The sordid history of TV's Riverdale might actually be weirder than the sordid history of Comics Riverdale, where the biggest park in town is named for a civil war general who was actually a time-traveling Jughead.
Emma: Maple syrup just feels so... small town Canada. Like Riverdale is actually in northern Quebec and we're all just ignoring their French Canadian accents.
But it's not really about the maple syrup. It's about money, and murder. Riverdale! That's it, that's the show.
Chris: One other nice Cheronica moment in this episode: Cheryl doesn't just invite Veronica over as a test of her loyalty. She genuinely doesn't want to be alone the night before Jason's funeral, and unlike her other friends, Veronica was the one who came to check on her when she had her breakdown in public a few episodes back.
There's a budding friendship there that's based on Ronnie recognizing her old self in Cheryl, and it leads to a really interesting character dynamic. We've got a version of Betty and Veronica where Veronica is the outgoing one who's trying to make new friends, because Betty is laser focused on solving a mystery.
Emma: Betty's still being a good friend to those she loves, like when she suggests to Archie that maybe his new devotion to football isn't just because he wants to make captain, but may also be a way to avoid his complicated Grundy/music feelings.
Archie's making his way back to his music also gives us this week's other new ship: Varchie? Archalerie? Okay, well, it's decided, Archie and Valerie can't be together.
Chris: I probably should've seen this coming, given that Archie and Valerie had a romance that developed in the comics only a few years ago, but in my defense, the whole "Archie Andrews: Aspiring Musician" plot exists only as a vast and featureless gray fog in my brain.
Emma: They're cute together, but all of their interactions this episode were about helping Archie. Valerie introduces him to Mr. Castillo, a songwriter from New York, now that he's lost his musical mentor in Grundy. When Castillo wants to see Archie's songs written down in musical notation, Valerie comes over to help him. And when Archie's worried about whether he's good enough, Valerie gives him a pep talk.
That's fine, but does Archie know anything about Valerie, apart from her being a Pussycat? And Valerie hasn't even seen Archie shirtless through his bedroom window like Betty and Kevin have, so like, what's she see in him?
Chris: The only thing I remember about this scene was Castillo telling Archie that his songs were "juvenile," and Archie somehow not responding with, "I'm 15, dude. Like, I understand that I look like a super-jacked 25, but..."
Emma: Castillo's expectations are absurd. He says that the "few hours a day" Archie spends writing music isn't nearly enough. There are only 24 hours in a day, dude, and Archie does in fact have to go to school. Plus teenagers sleep a lot.
Chris: But yeah, nothing about this plot is particularly interesting, and I always feel like I have to qualify that by saying that I actually do like KJ Apa as Archie, and I even appreciate how Archie's classic scatterbrained klutziness is being transferred into the darker (melo)drama of the show. It just doesn't do much compared to, y'know, Jughead and Betty trying to figure out who's going around shooting people in the face.
Emma: Betty's investigation bears a lot of fruit this episode. On her date/"reconnaissance mission" with Trev, who played water polo with Jason, she finds out that Jason started selling his stuff and selling drugs shortly after he started dating Polly. Betty also talks to her dad, who is allowed to be a person when her mom is out of town, and she learns that Polly tried to kill herself after a big fight with Jason. That's why Polly's in a mental health facility, and why the Coopers hate the Blossoms even more.
Chris: Trev, incidentally, is Valerie's little brother, who dated Betty briefly a few years back.
Emma: Their date had less chemistry than Cheronica, unfortunately.
Chris: All of this culminates in Jason's funeral, where Cheryl, after getting dressed in a full black mourning gown complete with a veil, swaps her outfit out for the same white ensemble that she was wearing when she went out to Sweetwater River with Jason --- complete with a new white veil --- and tells everyone a sad story about how Jason insisted they celebrate their birthday together, because no one would come to a party that was just for Cheryl. Ouch.
Emma: Cheryl wasn't supposed to say anything at the service, but nobody can make Cheryl do, or not do, anything, not even her mother. Penelope Blossom quickly adjourns the service after that, giving Betty and Jughead time to creep around in Jason's old room. Jughead immediately starts listing off all the places teenage boys might hide things, but they get interrupted by Rose Blossom, who has been sitting in the dark in her wheelchair in Jason's room this whole time.
Chris: Rose mistakes Betty for Polly --- much like Betty did herself when she was in the throes of her Dark Betty episode, which makes me think that Betty and her sister must bear a pretty striking resemblance to each other --- and reveals that Jason had given Polly an engagement ring. It seems that maybe the reason he was selling everything --- including drugs --- wasn't just to get himself away from the Blossoms, but to get both himself and Polly away from Riverdale.
Emma: Only in this scene did I notice Rose's one crimson curl in the rest of her white hair. Perfect.
Chris: She has the Reverse Jason Blood!
Emma: I need Cheryl to start going grey now that she's basically a widow, starting with that one face-framing strand.
Chris: With more pieces of Polly and Jason's relationship coming to light, Betty and Jughead realize that the only person who could've stolen all of Sheriff Keller's evidence --- the only person who wasn't at the drive-in that night --- was Betty's dad, Hal Cooper. And sure enough, he's got the files, and as Betty reluctantly adds her own parents to the list of suspects, Hal throws all the evidence into the fire.
Emma: Given the apparently generations-long blood feud between the Blossoms and the Coopers, and what happened between Jason and Polly, I can't believe that Sheriff Keller didn't already have the Coopers on his murder board. I mean, Alice Cooper wants Jason Blossom to burn in hell; how is she not a suspect?
Chris: I feel like any mention of someone burning in hell as they're dragging said person's dead body out of the river is probably worth at least a trip downtown for questioning. But yeah, that's our episode, and for as much as we've talked about, it felt like a bit of a slow one. Still, there's a lot of good stuff in here -- Jughead gets some nice moments, and we have a few new candidates for Ship of the Week!
Emma: My ship of the week is still B&V! Although I will give a shout-out to Sweaty Archie and Shirtless Reggie.
Chris: Oh yeah, we didn't talk about Reggie being... surprisingly decent?! He's concerned about Archie maybe hurting his hand, and encourages him to accept Coach Clayton's offer of team captain, even though he clearly wants it for himself. It's really weird to see a world where it's Chuck, not Reggie, who is The Worst.
Emma: Reggie is decent here only because it helps the team, thereby helping Reggie himself. And he ends up being team captain after Archie turns it down, so Reggie wins!
Chris: As I've said before, my ship will always be B&V, but since they barely have any screentime together this week, I'm going to give it to Cheronica. Veronica reaching out to Cheryl and trying to help her act like, you know, a human being is a really interesting dynamic, especially since Veronica very clearly doesn't want to be there, but is doing it because she knows Cheryl needs someone.
Emma: I do love a good enemies-to-lovers story. Okay, Pals, thanks for reading! Let us know what we missed in the comments, and join us next week!