When I noticed the title of this week’s episode, “Faster, Pusscycats! Kill! Kill!,” I knew I was going to love it. The title is inspired by the glorious 1965 Russ Meyer exploitation film about a bunch of broads causing a lot of violence. Much like the film, Riverdale is gloriously fun to watch: absolutely ridiculous, campy mayhem. Just when I think I have this show pegged it surprises me. There are so many revelations that it's impressive how cohesive everything feels. While there’s a lot to love, there’s only one place to start: finally meeting Polly.
Given the heavy Black Swan vibes I’ve been getting from Betty’s storyline I started to expect that Polly wasn’t even real. Could Polly really just be Betty’s alter-ego? An aspect of her splintering mind that she’s buried and her family is taken careful strides to keep that way? The truth doesn’t end up being that dramatic. With Jughead’s help Betty is able to track Polly down at a Catholic home for wayward girls named Sisters of Quiet Mercy. It’s the sort of place with such strict structure it would make anyone unravel if they weren’t doing so already. It’s never called a mental institution but that’s exactly how it comes across. When Betty sees her older sister the reasons why their parents locked her away become apparent: Polly’s pregnant. Polly explains that she and Jason were going to run away together. They had everything planned, including meeting at a car he hid near some maple syrup sign on the other side of the river. That was until Alice discovered this and had Polly institutionalized. Seeing Betty, Polly tumbles into a frenzy about finally escaping the antiseptic hellhole she finds herself trapped in. Polly seems more than just desperate; she’s manic and even a bit unhinged. For a moment it isn’t hard to believe that Hal and Alice are right about her being mentally unstable. To make things even worse, Polly doesn’t know about Jason’s death. When Betty breaks it to her, Polly cracks.
It’s harrowing watching Polly be dragged away against her will once Alice shows up to break apart the sisterly reunion. Does Alice care about her daughters as people or only status symbols meant to reflect her own obsession with perfection? Overcome with doubt Betty asks Hal, “Did you kill Jason Blossom?” Given his animosity toward the family, their feud, and Polly’s pregnancy he does have motive. At first it seems Alice is crying hearing Betty ask her father such a question. But she isn’t crying at all. She’s laughing maniacally. “I wish he killed Jason!” Alice says without an ounce of remorse. This family is in desperate need of therapy. Soon Betty is wondering if her entire family is insane. But Jughead once again is by her side for support.
Jughead and Betty find the car that Polly mentioned, proving she isn’t crazy. The car is pretty much an entire crime scene filled with drugs and some of Jason’s belongings. By the time they alert Sheriff Keller, who goes to check it out, the car has been set on fire. Someone is hellbent on Jason’s murder never being solved. The more important point is that Sheriff Keller and the rest of Riverdale’s police force are terrible at their job. Jughead and Betty are better investigators. If “Faster, Pussycats! Kill! Kill!” focused solely on Betty’s family drama and her surprising kiss with Jughead it would still be wondrous. But the development of Josie and the Pussycats tips it into greatness.
With the school Variety Show, Archie gets a bit to do this week that feels more engaging than his usual music related storylines. Things don’t start off well when he chokes during his audition. But thanks to Veronica, he gets a slot during the show. His stage fright leads him to believe he can’t be do this alone. He needs someone else’s stage presence to pivot off of. “Singing makes you vulnerable in a way that football doesn’t,” Val notes. With Val dedicated to being a Pussycat, Archie gets Veronica to join him on stage as a singing partner. But things could never be that easy.
Josie is oddly cruel and controlling toward Val during practice. Big mistake. Val decides to quit the Pussycats in order to write and sing with Archie full-time. Since Archie has the consideration and critical thinking skills of a toddler, he’s more than excited to have Val on stage with him forgetting about Veronica entirely. The moment Veronica discovers this she takes out her ongoing frustration with her mother on him. “Ginger Judas!” she exclaims at one point. Veronica isn’t one to mope when she feels wronged; she aims for vengeance. The best revenge is always success, so she joins the Pussycats.
This leads to Riverdale utilizing one of the staples of the best teen soap operas: a slow motion walk through the school hallways. As the newly reformed Pussycats, Josie, Veronica, and Melody are a force to be reckoned with. It’s such a glorious moment watching these three women walk with braggadocio and style through the hall while wearing cat ears. Josie and Veronica’s side eye toward Val and Archie is the cherry on top. The episode of course ends with balance restored. Archie performs solo at the Variety Show after getting a pep talk from Veronica. He even gets a standing ovation and kisses Val afterwards. I’m totally here for Val and Archie getting together even though it’s obvious the show will pair him up with Veronica before the end of the season. Val is able to negotiate singing co-lead when she returns to the Pussycats. But she only gets to do so on the bridge of their songs which really isn’t a good deal. Val, you deserve better. What’s most fascinating about the Pussycats storyline is how it develops Josie.
Like Betty, Josie struggles under the weight of her parents’ expectations. Myles McCoy is a talented musician who takes off performing at Jazz Fest in order to see Josie perform. But he’s a pretentious traditionalist. He scorns Josie’s pop music and even insults her. “Pop music isn’t jazz. Beyoncé isn’t Josephine Baker,” Josie says to Veronica at the diner, recounting her father’s objections. Has Myles listened to Lemonade? Pop music can be art; Beyoncé sure is. But he doesn’t see it that way.
Josie’s mother, Mayor Sierra McCoy, isn’t that much better. She stands by Josie’s side but she seems more obsessed with branding and success than anything else. “No Josie. You’re irreplaceable. Everyone else is disposable,” Sierra says after hearing about Val’s (brief) exit. Not exactly a healthy way to look at the world. Especially since Val writes the songs and is the most talented band member. When Myles walks out of Josie’s performance covering a Donna Summers song my heart broke for her. Riverdale is a show that privileges the visceral and joyful over emotional depth. But through Betty and Josie’s arcs the series is able to tap poignant themes: the way women are constrained by the expectations thrust upon them and how the quest for perfection can only lead to ruin.
— I’m not sure how I feel about Jughead and Betty’s kiss. On one hand there has been an interesting tension building between them. So I’m not surprised. Plus they’re kind of a cute couple. But on the other hand I was hoping Jughead would be asexual like he is in the comics. The CW shows are not that inventive or intelligent when it comes to how they deal with romance. Hopefully this development doesn’t bog down either characters’ story.
— Hermione forging Veronica’s signature in order for Fred’s construction business to get the bid that Lodge Industries is in control of was a pretty damning move. Veronica is able to find out pretty quickly, causing further tension between the mother and daughter. Is Hermione’s fledgling relationship with Fred that important?
— Penelope Blossom definitely was crowned the worst parent in Riverdale last week. But Alice is not the kind of woman to languish in second place. Her unhinged laughter after Betty asked Hal if he killed Jason was quite a moment.
— Archie having a huge blown up picture of the Batman #5 cover by writer Tom King and artist David Finch was surprising. Who knew Archie was a fan of DC’s recent Rebirth line of comics?
Photo: Diyah Pera/The CW.