“Riverdale – once a safe, decent, innocent place – had become Noir Town.”
Oh yes, Riverdale is Noir Town, as the series appears to have completely written off the insanity of this season in favour of returning to its noir-mystery roots, if not in a slightly cheesy way for “The Red Dahlia.”
We begin with Jughead Jones (Cole Sprouse) as always in his role as narrator, except in this episode his narration adds a new dimension to the classic noir format – he is the hard-boiled detective, and his client? Veronica Lodge (Camila Mendes) the sorrowful daughter trying to find out who pulled the trigger to the shot that nearly killed her father. However, considering the depth into which other Riverdale murder mysteries have gone, this is over pretty it seems, leaving us to ponder whether this season will have more to build on, or whether the show has lost its touch for weaving lengthy mysteries into its plot.
Nevertheless, Jughead dons his investigator’s beanie and hits the streets to search for evidence on Hiram’s (Mark Consuelos) attacker. His first stop – the mayor’s office. Because who else than Hiram’s wife would be first on the suspect list? Weirdly, Hermione (Marisol Nichols) is very forthcoming, seeming to reveal all the sordid details to the teen reporter, including the fact that her husband was having an affair with a mystery blonde. Health and sanitation inspector Mrs. Mulwray (played by Consuelos’ real-life wife, Kelly Ripa) is Hiram’s mysterious lover, but more than anything, their “relationship” serves a purpose for the Man in Black, as it turns out that when you’re running a secret drug factory, it isn’t great for the environment so you have to fudge test results here and there. Following the insanity of the Gryphons & Gargoyles nonsense, these new reveals are very grounded in comparison.
It seems that Hiram and (the late) Claudius Blossom (Barclay Hope) were running a Fizzle Rocks factory near Sweetwater River, the run-off of which was causing the town’s seizures – although no one seems to be able to explain why the seizures were only effecting girls, which seems like the writers didn’t realise that they hadn’t had any boys fall victim to seizures and now they’re going to have to blame it on some kind of period-related thing to make sense of the gender-specific illness. But, with Claudius’ untimely demise last week, it’s up to Betty (Lili Reinhart) to try and work out the truth.
We rejoin Betty Cooper as she once again visits her father, this time to try and make sense of all Riverdale’s recent poison-related deaths, which she has decided are no longer suicides to induce “ascension” to the Gargoyle King. The rate at which this game storyline has been cast aside is insane – you can’t spend ten hours of a show on a completely crazy murder-suicide game and then discard most of the lore you set up with it in 10% of that time just so it fits in with your more grounded noir tale. Regardless, Betty believes that Penelope Blossom (Nathalie Boltt) is the culprit, given that the poison used is grown in the family’s greenhouse, and seems to have consistently been used as the murder method – even in those which appeared to be suicide.
On her search our teen detective stumbles upon The Maple Club – Riverdale’s very own brothel, run by Penelope herself as per her agreement with the Lodges. But, when Betty confronts the woman she dubs “The Red Dahlia” for being the poisoner, the two reach an impasse, as Penelope reveals that Hal (Lochlyn Munro) told her that Betty was the one to turn Chic over to the Black Hood. And if Betty talks to the police, she’ll be happy to do the same. This is what happens in a town where everyone seems to have had a hand in murdering someone, you’ve all got to stick together.
Meanwhile, with Hiram down for the count, there’s disquiet in the Lodge camp, as everyone in the criminal underworld seems to believe that the Man in Black’s reign is at an end. The family is vulnerable, so Veronica has two choices – either they join forces with another mob family, or sell Hiram’s empire to the highest bidder, a bidder which Hermione has suspiciously already lined up. Between Veronica and Jughead, the mystery of Hiram’s attack is cleared up, especially when they find that a familiar face isn’t as dead as they were led to believe and the Lodge patriarch wasn’t the only one with extramarital activities going on. All the more worrying for Jughead, were the truth of Hiram’s attack to come out, FP (Skeet Ulrich) would also be in the firing line.
Finally, this week sees Archie (KJ Apa) become the angriest kid in Riverdale, as he decides he doesn’t want to go to college but work with his dad’s building firm, then proceeds to get himself kicked off site for starting a fist fight with his foreman. From here, the boy goes to drink away his sorrows in the speakeasy (which has suddenly begun selling alcohol, despite Veronica being adamantly against it when the club opened), starts another fight, and is dunked in a cold shower by Josie (Ashleigh Murray) to sober him up. And, as begin to mirror Season 1’s character arc, Josie suggests that Archie may want to work through his feelings with music, as well as boxing. Of course, this conversation leaves Archie adamant that he will return to the hospital and kill Hiram once and for all, because as ever the boy’s logic is flawless. Fortunately for him, this visit actually does him good, making up for this episode’s sort of irrelevant Archie parts up to this point, tying up another loose end of the season’s early plot.
Thankfully, Riverdale is beginning to regain some of the characteristics that brought them fans in the beginning, with more grounded plots and a noir feel. While this episode powered through a mystery all too quickly, at least there was very little mention of G&G. Hopefully, this is a sign of good things to come.