Riverdale Review: Chaos Theory

(Episode 1.10)

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<i>Riverdale</i> Review: Chaos Theory

Jughead’s (Cole Sprouse) opening monologues have been one of the more negligible aspects of Riverdale’s first season. At best, they’re white noise, a meaningless bit of voiceover that does little to establish the tone of the episode. At worst, they’re an overly on-the-nose setup for what’s to come, laying out the themes and sometimes even the plot mechanics of the episode that’s about to unfold. It’s often a storytelling crutch, perhaps the signs of a freshman show looking for a way to map out its narrative beats to make up for the fact that Jason Blossom’s murder isn’t exactly the engine driving this plot forward.

This week’s cold open veers awfully close to too-on-the-nose territory, but at the same time, Jughead’s thoughts about chaos and order, and the precarious balance of the two, is a perfect starting point for an episode that’s all about people, theories, allegiances, and feelings being in flux. “Chapter Ten: The Lost Weekend” explores the human need to find order in chaos, and how that’s a tricky thing to do when you’re dealing with, you know, teenage emotions, impending divorce, Blossom murders, and, of course, cheerleading tryouts. Emotions run high throughout the episode, but Riverdale is often at its best when it’s harnessing heightened emotions to provide insights into this group of kids learning to become adults.

For all the partying and Cheryl Blossom (Madelaine Petsch) awesomeness, this is a Jughead-centric episode. He’s the anchor that holds every plot thread and thematic musing together. What’s intriguing is that while Betty (Lili Reinhart) and Veronica (Camila Mendes) were the clear standouts of the first half of this season, the latter half has done much more to establish Jughead as the centerpiece of this story. He’s not always the most important player, but he has his hands—weirdly devoid of cheeseburgers—in everything. Here, he’s the reason everyone is getting together for one wild night. After Archie (K.J. Apa) spills the beans to Betty about Jughead never making a big deal of his birthday, Betty takes it upon herself to do the “girlfriend” thing and throw him a surprise party. She does this despite Archie’s protests, but eventually everyone in their circle is on board. She even goes so far as to tell F.P. (Skeet Ulrich) to drop by and see his son.

“The Lost Weekend” uses Jughead’s surprise birthday party as its centerpiece, and what could be better suited to the show’s teen noir aesthetic than a muted party livened up by a vengeful Cheryl Blossom? The answer is nothing, by the way. As always, the happenings of the party—from Chuck trying to shame Betty, to Joaquin (Rob Raco) giving some dirt about Jason’s murder investigation to F.P.—play second fiddle to the insights they provide into the dynamics of the main characters. The most interesting and potentially fruitful conflict, in terms of character arcs, is between Betty and Jughead. Up until this point, they’ve been a pretty strong unit, even as the relationship has suffered from a lack of screen time, a common problem with Riverdale. “The Lost Weekend” shows the first crack in their bond. Betty plans the party selfishly, so consumed with distracting herself from her own life, and the turmoil that’s come with Polly and her baby, that she becomes blind to Jughead’s wants and needs. I mean, she invites F.P. to the party! She was standing right there when Jughead had words with him, and she should know that no appearance from his father will make his surprise birthday party better. But this move tells us a lot about Betty. As her family fractures, with Alice (Mädchen Amick) and Hal (Lochlyn Munro) seemingly splitting up, she’s looking to rebuild elsewhere. Jughead goes too far in chastising her for treating him like a “project,” but that doesn’t mean she’s not projecting her own feelings onto his situation.

“The Lost Weekend” does a great job of making its character parallels clear. While Jughead muses on the weird normalcy that would come on his birthday as a child—the order amongst the chaos, if you will—all of his friends are dealing with their own familial struggles. Archie’s dad is off to sign divorce papers and Archie feels conflicted about the whole thing; as mentioned above, Betty’s family is falling apart; and then there’s Veronica, threatened by her father and forced to testify in order to help her mother stay out of trouble. “The Lost Weekend” manages to balance all of these emotional needs at once, bringing them to the surface in ways that feel organic to each character. So, while Betty masks her pain by planning Jughead’s party, and Archie gets straight-up drunk, Veronica gives off a cool, collected vibe before breaking down in Archie’s arms. Riverdale has had its fair share of issues with avoiding teen caricature and adding depth to the main characters lately, but this week’s episode is deftly handled. There are emotional revelations that really land, and that feel unique to each character and the way they’re growing.

By the end of the episode, just about everyone has found some sort of order within their chaos. Jughead and Betty make up after some wise words from F.P., while Veronica and Archie turn their bond over troubled parents into something more physical. They’ve each found something stable, at least for a single moment. And a single moment may be all they get, because as “The Lost Weekend” comes to a close, Archie’s mom (Molly Ringwald!!!) walks back into his life. This is Riverdale, after all, where stability is about as guaranteed as the job of being one of Cheryl Blossom’s social handmaidens.

Kyle Fowle is a TV critic whose work has appeared at The A.V. Club, Entertainment Weekly and Esquire. You can always find him tweeting about TV and pro wrestling @kylefowle.

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