When news broke that Riverdale would have a time skip, most people couldn’t believe the show would have Archie go to war or Betty join the FBI. For people who have watched four seasons of Riverdale already, that’s child’s play compared to how outlandish the show can get — but the time skip in particular fares quite well because of how grounded it’s played.
Archie wakes up after a weird football/army dream and is informed he’ll be stationed in Riverdale to work ROTC at his old high school. Of all the core four, Archie once again has the most boring plot, but his is what kickstarts the others into action.
While Archie’s plot is fairly standard, Betty by far has had the most interesting seven years away from Riverdale. While training with the FBI, Betty endured a lot of trauma, particularly when she tried to handle the Trash Bag Killer case. The show gets pretty dark here, ebbing into some Silence of the Lambs territory with Betty’s PTSD dreams — and what seems like an obvious Lambs reference is Betty’s therapist being named ‘Mrs. Starling.’
The show manages to sneak in a good amount of character work for Betty here, revealing that she rushed in to save a girl with no backup, resulting in her own capture at the hands of a serial killer. Her selfless action was entirely in vain as the girl had already been murdered and Betty is haunted by her, staying up late reviewing her files and thinking about how her body was chopped up and bagged.
When the therapist continually asks her if she’s having nightmares, the viewer knows the answer is yes, but Betty lies and tells her she’s fine. From these glimpses into her life, we can glean that Betty is stubbornly independent, to the point of her own detriment, and that she’s selflessly heroic. Riverdale has set up an extremely interesting future for Betty Cooper, rife with character development.
Veronica’s plot revolves around her being restless and unsatisfied with her life. In the past seven years she’s grown up, got married, had a successful Wall Street career, and even almost died. Chad and Veronica’s marriage is shown to be one that started off blissfully, though they now are in tumultuous waters. Both are clearly still reeling from the helicopter crash that almost claimed their lives, leading to some arguments in their household.
The show takes a few steps to namedrop the ill-fated Katy Keene spin-off here, both in reference to Lacy’s and the “Katy” Veronica claims to work with. Chad and Veronica’s marriage seems destined to fail (and probably for the best), so there’s not much to look into there.
The best thing the show does? Include a scene of Hermione Lodge recording some content for The Real Housewives of New York. Riverdale is at its best when it acknowledges how campy and off the walls it is, and seeing Veronica just walk into a recording session for Real Housewives and hearing Hermione’s speech is some of the most fun content the show’s ever had.
Oh yeah, Veronica says its 2021 in her scenes with Chad –so did the first four seasons of Riverdale take place in the past? Despite its extremely timely references?
Toni Topaz’s plot also leaves hope for more involved stories with her in the future. Previously, she often played a background role or supporting character to Cheryl’s plots. One of the upsides of the Choni break-up is how Riverdale seems to be using Toni now, giving her a chance to shine on her own while providing some sweet Choni angst before they inevitably reunite. Toni’s a singer — and I’ll admit it, her vocals are good and the song is also quite good — but she’s also the leader of the Southside Serpents.
Leading the Serpents was always in the cards for Toni and as the most capable member of that group, it’s deserved. She takes Archie on the tour of Riverdale, revealing that the town has gone to hell since the gang left. Oh, she’s also a mother now.
Seeing Archie include Toni in the final shot with all the core four gives hope that she’ll remain a focal point in this season. Vanessa Morgan is one of Riverdale‘s strongest actors and Toni Topaz is easily one of the show’s strongest (and most important) characters, so it’s always a treat to see more of her.
Jughead and Cheryl have the darkest plots by far, both revolving around the characters being put in their own states of misery. Jughead is a struggling author who can’t get over his writer’s block and commit to his second book. He’s also the world’s worst boyfriend and putting his new girlfriend, Jess through hell. The way he treats his girlfriend, it feels almost liberating in a secondhand way to see her dump him.
Cheryl, on the other hand, has assigned herself to live in her own personal hell. Her breaking away to fix the sins of her ancestors was the right move on Riverdale‘s part to progress the character and to her credit, Cheryl seems to have done that job quite well. But now that the dust has settled, she’s decided she’s cursed, living a sheltered life by choice like some kind of martyr act. It’s an interesting move for Cheryl, one that will inevitably lead to more character progression on her part.
All in all, “Purgatorio” is a good episode because of how grounded it is. It’s not about a mystery or some outlandish murder plot just yet, but centers on the characters instead. The show doesn’t do it often, but when Riverdale grounds itself, some of its genuine strongest storytelling appears. While it’s disappointing we haven’t seen the main cast interact with each other yet, it’s clear those interactions will come.
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