On paper, the Archie series is the perfect show for a teen drama, focusing primarily on a love triangle between Archie Andrews/Betty Cooper/Veronica Lodge, and implementing themes of friendship throughout. Riverdale has mostly sidestepped being a typical teen drama since the conclusion of its first season, though “Chapter Seventy-Seven: Climax,” is a wonderful return to form in many ways.
Riverdale is like junk food, you know it’s not good for you but there’s something so funny about it that keeps you coming back. This episode is junk food in the best kind of way and, while it would have been fitting for an end-of-season plot in Season 4, it serves as one killer opening for Season 5 just as well.
The episode starts off with the investigation of the masked killers who killed Mr. Honey at the end of Season 4. Props to Riverdale, who is often so campy those creepy bits don’t quite hit –these masks and videos are actually super creepy. Betty, Jughead, and their half-brother, Charles (what a sentence), are led to David, a video store owner. David’s shop profits off snuff films, aka videos that record homicides. When Betty and Jughead can’t fool David with a fake snuff film, Betty offers up the best thing she can find: an old videotape of her father, known serial killer the Black Hood.
Meanwhile, there’s a plot about Veronica attempting to help Archie get into the Naval Academy. The head of the Academy sets up a boxing match between Archie and the other top candidate for the spot, Katy Keene’s KO Kelly. It’s obvious these scenes were filmed while the CW was trying to push the ill-fated Katy Keene spin-off, which is now canceled. That knowledge makes KO’s subplot and Veronica’s assurance that Katy Keene is totally one of her best friends, almost funny in hindsight.
There’s a really neat sequence where KO Kelly and Archie duke it out, mixed with scenes of Betty and Jughead going through the creepy rave/movie theater of snuff films. It’s just a neat sequence that’s high stakes and has a great soundtrack to back it up.
Cheryl and Toni have their own sideplot about how Cheryl wants to win prom queen with her, though Toni is hesitant to tell her family they’re together. Cheryl believes this is because Toni’s family doesn’t know she’s gay, a problem which Cheryl “solves” by going behind Toni’s back and telling her family herself. In reality, Toni’s family is against her dating a Blossom rather than Toni being bisexual, but it’s a bit disappointing the show doesn’t do much to talk about the massive boundary Cheryl had overstepped. If Toni’s family hadn’t known about her bisexuality, Cheryl would have just outed her girlfriend, robbing her of a big moment (which she asked her not to do anyway) and potentially putting her in physical or emotional danger.
Back to the boxing match, Archie loses to KO Kelly. Throughout Riverdale, Archie seems to skate by and achieve massive feats without being particularly stellar at anything. Fortunately, the show gives Archie a major hurdle by having KO Kelly beat him in the boxing match, a loss that Archie takes quite seriously. In an attempt to cheer him up, Veronica sings a song Archie wrote, dedicating it to him without knowing he actually wrote the song for Betty.
The thing that’s so odd about Riverdale is how it’s an Archie Comics show, but hasn’t at all touched on the Betty/Archie/Veronica triangle that permeates all years of the comics since its first season. There’s something wonderfully soapy and so quintessentially teen drama about the way the love triangle plot has finally come into fruition. When Veronica sings the song, Archie and Betty make eye contact, both knowing who that song is about –and the tension in the room is honestly just palpable.
Season 5’s first episode embraces the camp Riverdale has come to be known for while introducing some juicy plot elements. It’s almost impossible to think that at this point, the Riverdale writers don’t know how much of a meme the “we’re endgame” thing has become –particularly when adults are referring to teens as “endgame.” It’s hilarious, then, when Mary Andrews takes her son’s prom photo by instructing them to say “endgame!” When Betty and Jughead (who I can’t stress enough, share a half-sibling), go to prom, they’re hitting on each other right as Jughead’s dad and Betty’s mom are doing the same thing –it’s weird as hell, but that’s Riverdale. It’s the kind of thing you laugh about only because of its absurdity and how none of these characters have ever seemed to care about this extremely awkward connection.
The prom sequence is, by far the best of the episode –and one of the best in the show’s five-season run. As Veronica tries to tell Archie she’s giving up college for a year to be with him, he blurts out that he wrote the love song for Betty, coming clean about the romantic tension Archie and Betty swore to bury. In many ways, the prom sequence feels like the show is coming full circle –extremely fitting for a graduation season, mind you. Riverdale‘s pilot was about Betty pining for Archie, taking him to a school dance though he was fixated on other matters. In Season 5, as the gang prepares to move on from high school altogether, it’s now Archie who finds himself drawn to Betty who is preoccupied with other matters (and people). Considering Archie is feeling so out of place in his life, it almost becomes poetic that he’s struggling to move on, stuck on the girl he once rejected while the rest of the world around him moves on. In the wake of his rejection from the Naval Academy, he’s pondering his life, thinking about all the what-ifs –and it’s interesting that Betty Cooper is one of those what-ifs.
Also, the fact that this 2021 prom is playing music almost exclusively from the 90s and early 2000s is so funny.
After Cheryl and Toni win prom queens, their celebration is cut short by the unveiling of another snuff video –this time a man in a mask with a sign labeled “David” is being murdered by the Archie-mask-gang. This sequence is actually very creepy and one of the better ones in the show’s history. It almost has a Pretty Little Liars feel to it, with the gang’s troubles being aired on a massive scale and uprooting their peers’ lives.
Afterward, there’s something a little funny about how, only Betty and Jughead really seem to be shaken by the video situation at all. Archie and Veronica discuss their break up, deciding that she’ll go to college and until high school ends, they’ll pretend to be together. Part of this plan involves not breaking up Betty and Jughead by blowing the incident up, as Jughead doesn’t yet know about Archie and Betty. This plot is probably as teen drama-y as Riverdale has ever gotten and in that respect, it’s certainly welcome. To go along with the theme of the show coming full circle, as Hermione comforts her daughter over her breakup, Hiram overhears, hinting at a return of the overprotective Hiram Lodge era rather than the Hiram vs. Veronica era of the last few seasons.
While Archie and Veronica break up, so too do Cheryl and Toni. Toni tells Cheryl that she sided with her family, though she wanted to be with Cheryl for one more night. The scenes of Veronica being comforted by her mother after her breakup are juxtaposed with scenes of Cheryl being comforted by her grandmother for the same reason, creating a neat little thread.
The ending cliffhanger revolves around Betty and Jughead tracking down whoever is making the videos…right as Archie gets his own tape, featuring a reenactment of the Black Hood holding him at gunpoint from Season 2.
All in all, “Chapter Seventy-Seven: Climax,” is a wonderful return to form that both embraces the camp that Riverdale has come to be known for while finally indulging in its teen drama roots.
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