Photo: Courtesy of The CW.
What’s clear only a few minutes into “The Outsiders” is that the parents of Riverdale’s charming, albeit emotionally messy, teenagers are just as capable of bringing the drama. Honestly, the most interesting developments this week have nothing to do with Archie and his ragtag group of friends. It’s their parents, particularly Alice, Fred, and F.P. that make this episode so engrossing.
By this point, it’s inarguable that Alice is the kind of mother who treats her daughters as extensions of herself. Her obsession with perfection — or at least the image of it — is so consuming that Betty and Polly don’t trust her anymore. Riverdale opens with the Coopers taking a family picture while Jughead provides the biting voiceover. The image they project of pristine, blonde, pure Americana happiness is of course a lie. “The Coopers…The Stepfords of Riverdale,” Jughead snarks. Just like the events of The Stepford Wives, beneath the glossy, beautiful surface, this family has an underbelly teeming with darkness and tragedy. This image the Coopers strive so hard to project was blemished by Polly’s forbidden romance with Jason, which gets its own rundown at the beginning of the episode as well. Although I still don’t buy the chemistry between the two. I think one day Polly will look back on how she let Jason consume her whole life and regret it. I’m surprised she doesn’t regret the relationship already considering she is pregnant, Jason’s been murdered, and she has little resources. Her parents may care about her but they want nothing to do with the child she is carrying considering its paternal lineage. The Blossoms may want that baby in their lives but I wouldn’t put it past them if they ever left Polly for dead.
“It’s an impossible situation,” Betty says. So Veronica suggests what she does best: a party. Okay, not exactly a party. She offers to host a baby shower at her place believing that this would force the warring families Polly is torn between to get over their issues for the sake of the child. They wouldn’t unleash total carnage in public, right? Alice is less than thrilled by the idea of a baby shower and that Polly is living with the Lodges at all. But for once Betty doesn’t back down in the face of her mother’s fury. She insists that if Alice doesn’t put her ego and grudges aside, then she will have no place in Polly’s future. Alice isn’t the only Riverdale parent coming undone because of outside pressure.
The major project Fred’s construction company was supposed to break ground on hits a snag thanks to none other than Cliff Blossom. Apparently, Cliff was trying to buy the land before he was usurped by Fred’s mysterious benefactor (neither realizes Hermione’s involvement). He decides to play nasty by offering Fred’s crew a juicy contract they can’t turn down. This leaves Fred without the crew and the resources he needs, meaning his business is teetering on the verge of bankruptcy. Cliff of course doesn’t give a damn about who he’s hurting in the pursuit of his own desires. Even when Fred confronts him and calls him a “pompous ass,” Cliff doesn’t feel sorry. If anything, he’s just mildly amused that Fred thinks he can cause him any damage whatsoever. Riverdale really nails the callous disregard and haughty entitlement of old money.
Archie tries to help his father by getting a few friends to do the construction work until a real crew can be hired. That helps only momentarily until two hooded men come to the construction site at night, wrecking Fred’s equipment and beating up Moose in the process. So, Archie being the earnest if occasionally stupid kid he is decides that it’s smart to try to track down whoever targeted Fred. Sheriff Keller isn’t being helpful in regards to parsing out whether Cliff had anything to do with this.
So Archie, with Kevin and Moose in tow, goes to a dangerous dive bar that the South Side Serpents frequent in hopes of getting information. Archie also thinks it’s wise to wear his Riverdale letterman jacket. Oh, my sweet summer child. He’s lucky F.P. is around to stop him from getting hurt. Of course, learning that F.P. is an important member of that gang causes a momentary wrinkle in Archie’s friendship with Jughead. F.P. actually proves to be somewhat of a hero this week. He comes to Fred with a crew of his own to help with construction. They do need some legitimate work after all. He offers to find information on whoever originally harmed his equipment and hurt Moose. But F.P. isn’t exactly on the level. He already knows who is behind the attack: Hermione’s mysterious husband who is currently in prison for a Ponzi scheme.
Apparently he somehow found out about Hermione’s romance with Fred and is retaliating the only way he knows how. F.P. asks Hermione an important question: Who passed this information to her husband in the first place? F.P. has bigger things to worry about since it’s obvious he’s keeping secrets. Sure, he tells Jughead and Betty he had nothing to do with Jason’s murder. But why does he have Jason’s jacket? And why is he encouraging Joaquin to date Kevin for information from the sheriff? Of course, the most intense drama and revelations are courtesy of Alice.
The baby shower that Veronica and Hermione host starts off well enough. Alice surprisingly shows up to support Polly. It seems Betty’s harsh words and Hermione reaching out worked after all. Alice is even able to keep it together while Cheryl and Penelope find ways to make themselves the center of attention, flaunting their wealth as if it can buy Polly’s love. This doesn’t last all that long of course. Before you know it, Penelope and Alice are trading barbs. At one point it seemed Alice was going to turn their fight physical. If that happened I’d bet on Alice winning. Alice tries to patch things up with Polly. But when Polly reveals that Hal got her an appointment for the doctor and called her pregnancy a mistake behind Alice’s back, things take a dark turn. The word “abortion” is never used, which is sort of annoying. If you’re going to deal with such heavy subject matter, be honest about it. But this at least leads to an intense showdown between Alice and Hal.
Alice is stuck with a fraught decision. Does she welcome Polly back into the house, obliterating her marriage in the process? Or will she shun Polly to retain some semblance of perfection that she desperately clings to? Alice chooses Polly. Hal suggesting Polly get an abortion behind Alice’s back brings up bad memories. (It’s hinted at that he tried to get Alice to do the same but the writing is a bit murky on the details of this.) Alice isn’t afraid of getting physical, which lends an abusive edge to their already thorny marriage. When Hal refuses to accept Polly and her unborn child Alice stands firm in her own decision. She kicks Hal out of the house. “I think by now you know what I am capable of,” Alice warns. That isn’t ominous. But Alice’s sudden burst of maternal instinct and care proves to be futile. Polly moves in with the Blossoms leaving Alice an emotional wreck. She’s nearly lost everything.
Polly’s storyline was more interesting before she was actually introduced, when I still suspected that maybe she was an alternate personality of Betty’s. Everyone treats Polly like a child making it easy to forget she’s supposed to be older than Betty. But I actually understand why. Polly is naive in ways that are frustrating. Also, that she still hasn’t been to a doctor for an ultrasound this far along in her pregnancy is worrisome. She’s foolish to trust the Blossoms considering she knows how terrible they were to Jason, forcing him to run away. Why would she put herself and her child in danger like that? Polly’s parents have a host of issues only a very skilled therapist could parse out. But sometimes it's better to trust the devil you know. This is a lesson I think Polly is going to learn sooner rather than later.
— The expression on Archie’s face when he hears Veronica refer to Jughead as Betty’s boyfriend is priceless.
— I really love the brotherly dynamic between Archie and Jughead. Although I’m curious how this will evolve considering Jughead’s relationship with Betty is only getting more serious.
— At this point it is safe to assume that Archie’s relationship with Val is going to get very little development. If the only Black girl on Riverdale that has any romance in her storyline gets treated like some placeholder girlfriend before Archie couples up with someone the writers are actually interested in, I am going to be pissed.
— Veronica can be a fun presence but she’s in desperate need of development. It seems that Cheryl has taken over her spot as the queen of bitchy one-liners.
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Photo: Courtesy of The CW.