The episode delivers on the title — I mean, when does a musical episode ever NOT? It’s still insane, but on the other hand, there’s singing, and a Very Special Guest Star from the classic years of the WB shows up at the end, in a deliciously dramatic fashion. A+ from Adversion.
Previously on Riverdale: Reggie wanted to be more than Veronica’s casual hookup, but Veronica was totally not over Archie; Josie had a fling with Sweet Pea and then started dating Archie; Toni regretted moving in with Cheryl; Jughead found out that Gladys wanted to take over the drug trade; Betty and Jughead decided to run Gladys out of town; Kevin fire walked with the farmies; Cheryl decided that the school would put on Heathers the musical.
Guess who’s all about the welfare of Riverdale teens these days? Hermione Lodge. SURE, Hermione. I’m sure you care. She’s called some kind of meeting in the Principal’s office to try to get them to call off the Heathers thing, but Kevin (who was planning to do Godspell until Cheryl rudely overruled him seven days ago), argues that the ultimate message of the show is a “rejection of nihilism.” To demonstrate, he legit performs the first song. Wow, I’m so happy to see Kevin involved in a storyline that isn’t just about him being gay. AND he gets to sing!
Soon the other characters join in on the song, including Veronica (who’s posting a sign for “BOUNCER WANTED” on the front of the Chock’lit Shoppe), Archie and Josie (who are making out), Betty and Jughead, Cheryl and Toni (who have officially broken up), etc. The song is about being kind and beautiful someday, but not today.
Jughead and Betty have come up with a plan for their plot against Gladys, which Jughead helpfully informs us is the “goal for the week.” It’s to find and destroy the lab where she’s planning to make the drugs, in order to prevent her from taking over the drug trade. As Riverdale schemes go, it’s not super convoluted. Dare I say, it almost makes sense!
Kevin convenes the cast of Heathers in the auditorium. By the way, if you haven’t seen the movie, you probably want to stop watching and go watch that instead, but basically I’m going to spoil it because otherwise this episode will make no sense. It involves a group of four popular girls all named Heather except one; that one, Veronica Sawyer (Winona Ryder, in the movie), falls for a bad boy and they start killing people with drain cleaner. It’s totally hilarious, dark, sharp, and smart; at its very very best moments in the early seasons, Riverdale almost resembled it a little bit, but that has not been true for awhile.
Cheryl, unsurprisingly, is playing H.B.I.C. Heather, Veronica and Betty are playing the other two Heathers, and Josie is playing the Winona Ryder character, Veronica. Sweet Pea is playing Christian Slater’s bad-boy character… I smell an unearned love triangle! And as Reggie weirdly announces, he and Archie are also in it, and they’re going to “bro it up… just two single straight dudes doing some theater.” Archie at least has the sense to look embarrassed.
Bad news for everyone: Kevin has decided to bring in his junior cult leader, Evelyn, as co-director. Ewwww! She smugly hops up on stage with him. Everyone is, appropriately, horrified. Also, Kevin has brought on a choreographer: Toni Topaz. Cheryl stands up and yells, “WHAT. THE.” Credits. Hee!
Evelyn is just as horrifying and awful a director as you would expect: she makes them all lay down on the ground while she announces that she’s going to explore their personal traumas to get at the universal truth of experiences. “A you inside of me, a me inside of you.” Dirty! No one looks very happy about being used as a new source of potential Farm converts. Luckily, just then Kevin pops in to tell them that costumes are ready for their rehearsal of a number called “Candy Store.” In Riverdale, regular rehearsals aren’t a thing: you gotta get right to the good stuff, and that means, costumes!
The song is about how fabulous the Heathers are. Toni has choreographed a dance for it, but somehow Cheryl and Veronica and Betty have already choreographed their own dance. With croquet mallets. So they start singing, and then Toni and the Pretty Poisons are also all singing for some reason, and then Cheryl and Toni get into some kind of sing-off? Whatever, I’m just going to let this happen.
Betty finds Evelyn and accuses her of using this musical to recruit people. But Evelyn says she’s just doing it to have “big fun” (hey, that’s my favorite IMDB keyword! Title of movie spoken by character!) and then decides to throw a spur of the moment party for the cast where they all come in costume. The show acknowledges that this (a cast party before opening night) does not usually happen, neatly sidestepping any cranky recapper’s commentary. Thwarted again! (But then when Archie is busy getting his chest clawed open by a bear the show is like, “This could TOTALLY happen!”)
At the sheriff’s office, Jughead asks his father if anything happened today, and his father says there was a pharmacy robbery and adds, “I wasn’t going to tell you this, but Tent City was ransacked, our trailer was stolen.” I love that FP is acting like Jughead twisted his arm to get this information when it took one question and about two seconds.
Jughead correctly identifies that someone is probably breaking bad with a mobile drug lab, which FP agrees with, and offers to help him look for the trailer, to which FP says, “Boy, it was worthless.” Worthless? FP, you JUST SAID that you thought people were using it for a mobile drug lab. At least TRY to pay attention here. Worst sheriff ever. Jughead goes into an emotional argument about what the trailer means to him. But like, what about the fact that you both think it’s being used for nefarious purposes… you know what, never mind.
Veronica saunters into her house to get changed for the cast party but is waylaid by her parents. They tell her they’re separating. Veronica is extremely surprised, even though Hermione made out with Fred a bunch of times and then sold Hiram’s drug trade and tried to have him assassinated, and Hiram is constantly threatening to have Hermione killed if she defies him. But anyway, Hiram leaves, and then Hermione explains that he knows what Hermione did with selling the drug stuff. For some reason Veronica is still upset that these two total villains who hate each other are splitting up.
Cut to the cast party, where the kids go from zero to sixty by doing jello shots. Evelyn looks on at this with the creepiest smile, so Betty remarks that she wonders what Edgar would say, and Evelyn says, “No need to wonder.” This led me to hope that Chad Michael Murray (who I’d read is going to play Edgar) was about to appear right then and there. Sadly, no. It’s just that Evelyn is TOTALLY PREPARED for that casual question with a full-ensemble song, “Big Fun” (Veronica gets Veronica Sawyer’s solo lines, conveniently). While everyone sings about big fun, Archie and Josie make out, making Sweet Pea (or is it Fangs?!) jealous, Cheryl mopes when the Pretty Poisons show up, and Veronica and Reggie sneak off to make out. Awww.
Veronica and Reggie have found a bed somewhere and are cuddling after their makeout sesh. Reggie says that maybe they’re meant to be together and are “end game” (ahh, so meta; also, so deluded). Veronica just kisses him. Literally anyone but Reggie would realize that’s a blowoff; Reggie probably thinks she agrees with him.
Speaking of people who aren’t that bright, Kevin takes a brownie with mushrooms baked into it from Evelyn. BAD IDEA, KEV. She sends him out to the hall take a drink from the jankiest water fountain I’ve ever seen, but as soon as he gets there he sees what looks like a corpse pinned to the wall with “IT’S ALL YOUR FAULT YOU KILLED ME KEVIN” written around it. As Kevin panics, the turns-out-it’s-maybe-not-a-corpse opens her eyes and looks right at him. I was distracted from the creepiness by the fact that I couldn’t figure out if I was supposed to know who this was. I mean so many people have died. It’s hard to keep track.
The next morning everyone’s listlessly recovering from their hangovers at rehearsal while Evelyn natters on about sharing their traumas or whatever. Kevin mentions the ghost of Midge (huh, so that was Midge! She changed her hair, it was very confusing). Naturally, since it’s Kevin, no one really cares except the one other dude (Fangs?) who is also seeing her in his nightmares. Poor Kevin.
Then Sweet Pea says it “blew” to see Archie and Josie making out. That’s, uh, very heartfelt. Everyone is shocked to hear about Archie and Josie. Even Betty didn’t know about it. (Side note, I’m kind of bummed out by the fact that none of these kids are talking to each other. This big reveal, instead of seeming dramatic, just seems depressing.) Reggie and Veronica immediately squabble, because Reggie thinks that seeing Archie with Josie is why Veronica was suddenly “all in” with him. See, I told you he was going to think that kiss was a yes! But Veronica tells everyone her parents are separating and she always thought they would work it out. I would feel worse for Veronica if the marriage she was mourning didn’t involve regular death threats.
Archie finds Josie for some reason stuffing her backpack with the Hostess cupcakes laid out on a tray. Is Josie broke? What a weird character note. Anyway, Josie complains that Sweet Pea is a real “class act” for blowing their cover. Archie suggests that they just go ahead and be boyfriend and girlfriend, but Josie, out of nowhere, declares that they just got together because they were lonely. All right, I guess we’re done with that storyline? What’s happening?
Ohhh, I see. Now Veronica and Reggie are talking about their thing. Are we going back to Veronica and Archie? I’m bored already by this prospect. To sum up, Reggie asks why Veronica didn’t tell him about her parents, and she says that she just wanted to feel better–and that he makes her feel better. Aww. She thinks he’s going to be mad, but he’s not–but he does think they shouldn’t be together right now.
Sigh. I see a storm cloud on this plot horizon, and I fear it’s the looming prospect of Veronica and Archie.
The next scene is deliciously bonkers. Evelyn finds Cheryl in front of the girls’ room mirror, giving us the inevitable, “What’s your damage?” from Cheryl. Evelyn points Cheryl to the hallway, where Toni is… gasp… dressed in red! Cheryl loses it. Toni says that Cheryl doesn’t own the color red, but Cheryl corrects this misconception: “Here, I invented red.” Well, sure. She tells Toni that she has to leave the school by Monday. I don’t think that students can do that, but everyone takes it very seriously, so maybe in Riverdale they can.
But the really insane part comes next. Toni sings a song about being a “Dead Girl Walking.” During this performance, she legit rounds up Sweet Pea and Peaches (Peaches being the only other Pretty Poison I recognize besides Toni) for a threesome on the currently-empty stage. Because of course she does. Both of them enthusiastically strip to their undies. Then Cheryl busts in to cockblock, singing something about Toni being beautiful. Defiantly, Toni finishes off the song still seeming very excited about this impromptu public threesome. But then as soon as the song is over she just says she can’t do it and walks away, leaving Sweet Pea and Peaches in their skivvies on the stage. WHAT? But you seemed so excited about it!
Well, that was… wonderfully absurd.
Jughead gathers the Serpents (in the bunker, natch) to tell them to look for his trailer slash drug lab. Then we get to see him turn to Betty with a cute little smile and ask if she wants “to go hunting with me tonight.” Betty can’t; she has rehearsal in the Gargoyle Chamber. She does want to borrow Jughead’s camera for some reason.
Turns out to be a great idea when Betty shows up to the chamber and finds everyone dressed in white and Evelyn leading some kind of bootleg wedding ceremony between Kevin and Fangs, who apparently really bonded over their Midge hallucinations. (The song’s refrain is “our love is God.” I have to wonder how much of this inexplicable episode was motivated purely by getting the Heathers songs to fit in with the plot. On the other hand, every episode is inexplicable and most of them don’t require fitting to songs from unrelated musicals, so I don’t think the show needs any extra help to reach the heights of absurdity. They could easily have come up with all these shenanigans on their own.)
Archie’s boxing alone in his new gym when Josie stops by. Archie knocks it out of the park here: he says that if she isn’t into him anymore that’s fine, but if she does like him, then they should just start fresh and figure out what they are to each other, or could be. Josie melts, and they sing a cute little song about “fighting for each other” while dancing in the boxing ring. Hooray!
Betty takes her pictures to Principal Weatherby, who is completely uncooperative. He insists that Heathers is just a musical, the Farm is just a club–oh, and he read Edgar’s doctrines and found them appealing. Uh-oh. Betty immediately calls Jughead to report this and he says he also has news, and to meet him at Junkyard Steve’s.
Toni drops by Cheryl’s bedroom to give Cheryl a cup of tea as an “olive branch.” (“What is this, drain cleaner?” says Cheryl. Hee.) Cheryl is lying in bed wearing what appears to be a double-breasted pink satin smoking jacket, as one does. Toni says she’s there to make up, basically. Cheryl reveals that growing up, her home was a “den of shadows” where the only light was her love for Jason, until Toni came along. Toni says she’s still here and maybe it’s not too late for them. Both girls are staring into each other’s eyes. It’s really sweet.
Betty finds Jughead inside his childhood trailer, which is filled, legit FILLED, with drug-making equipment. It’s so full of drug equipment that it’s hard to imagine anyone having room to actually, you know, make drugs. But in case you didn’t get it from the approximately ten thousand beakers in the trailer, the wall has also for whatever reason been stamped with the “Fizzle Rocks” logo. Jughead concludes that his mom did this, which is obvious but also doesn’t seem to have any supporting evidence other than how obvious it is.
MONTAGE TIME! Josie and Sweet Pea are (supposedly) going to practice a song where they mourn their lost innocence, according to Kevin. But they don’t actually sing; they’re just there so Kevin can explain that this song is the climax and it’s about lost innocence.
What happens is that Jughead and Betty sit on Jughead’s couch. Jughead goes full emo and asks how they got to this place. How did his life become about druglord mothers? So Betty starts singing (soon joined by Cheryl and Toni) a song about being normal and being seventeen again, which ends with each couple kissing and singing, “You’re the one I choose.” Aww! Cheryl and Toni, back together! Unclear why Betty and Jughead had to choose each other, but the show probably realizes that when Betty and Jughead so much as bump fists their entire fandom melts into a puddle (myself included).
After commercials, Jughead and Betty sit at Pop’s and plot. Jughead wants to steal the trailer back. Betty asks, “Is this idea maybe more emotional than practical?” They should probably just play that two-second clip before every single other scene in this show. She suggests Jughead let it go.
Veronica meets her dad over breakfast to plead for him to come back. He reveals that her mother tried to have him killed, twice. I mean, yes, but I wouldn’t get too high-and-mighty there, Hiram. Hermione could pretty much leave hair in the drain and you’d respond with a death threat. Veronica tears up and says, “I can’t believe that.” I feel like Veronica is extremely disconnected from reality. She goes on to plead with her father that he always says “family first.”
OK. So Veronica is SEVERELY fucked up. She just learned about yet another attempted murder in the family and her response is, “Family first,” and not, “Yes, it’s probably a good idea for you to divorce each other because no healthy marriage involves this many assassination attempts”? That’s… not a well-adjusted response.
Later, Veronica is in rehearsals for a solo, looking quite distressed. Kevin says, “I was going to talk about the devastating loneliness your character feels at this particular moment, but it seems like you’re already there, so… take it away.” Heh. Veronica sings a song about a (metaphorical, I think) lifeboat, and meanwhile, we see her at La Bonne Nuit asking her parents to come to opening night together to make one last happy memory. I mean, here’s hoping they both survive the night.
FP arrives home all bloodied up to find his whole family plus Betty waiting in the living room. Turns out he was attacked by a Fizzle Rocks junkie. “Drugs,” Gladys camps. “Terrible.” Hee! Jughead and Betty say they’re going to ride on ahead to the show, with barely a pretense that they’re not up to something.
Over at the school everyone’s getting ready; it’s ten minutes to curtain. Archie and Josie, and Cheryl and Toni, are cuddling up backstage. Veronica peeps out to see her parents sitting awkwardly next to each other. And Evelyn is creepily happy and making everyone sign her programs (there is something so disturbing and honestly kind of repulsive about her smile, ugh, it creeps me out! Which I guess means the actress is doing a really good job!). Finally Betty and Jughead show up, covered in what looks like soot. Kevin is all mad that they’re late and dirty and tells them both to get to makeup. Turns out Jughead has been surprise-conscripted into the cast for one line in the closing song. Sure, why not.
Immediately we are at the closing song, with the whole cast arranged onstage. Gee, that was… fast. Jughead’s big line is “There’s a new sheriff in town.” They sing about being beautiful again. In the audience, FP, for some reason, has a very thoughtful and intense look on his face (maybe he’s regretting dumping Alice? On the other hand, she’s a legitimate cult member now, so I feel like he could do better?). Meanwhile, Hiram and Hermione continue to look awkward. Betty’s parents are nowhere to be seen.
In the middle of the song we see a flashback to Betty and Jughead sitting in the car, drinking giant sodas, watching his trailer burn. This turns them on, as you would expect from these two, and they start making out passionately. The camera also pans lingeringly over to a gasoline can in the back, in case you didn’t grasp that they had set the fire.
Back to the show: the song starts to crescendo. Everyone sort of strips off a layer of their costumes and starts to dance. (Somehow, Betty strips off a layer and is still wearing a trademark Betty sweater. Love it.) Jughead puts on his Jughead Cap. And finally the song ends–and one man gets up and starts clapping slowly.
IT IS CHAD MICHAEL MURRAY, YOU GUYS. What an inspired casting choice. “I knew my father would like it!” says Evelyn happily. (Also a great casting choice: a teenaged girl who manages to be more creepy than a thirty-something Chad Michael Murray.)
For some reason Edgar claps really slowly and then like half the audience also stands and claps really slowly and the other half just stays seated. What’s wrong with these parents? Your kids just did a musical! Get up and clap like normal humans! Maybe Edgar hypnotized them? From Betty’s giant, scared eyes, I’m thinking she feels the same.
I’m so excited, you guys. Seeing Chad Michael Murray on the WB makes me feel like I’m seventeen again.