Riverdale Season 1 Episode 4 Recap: "The Last Picture Show"

Photo: Courtesy of The CW.
The writers behind Riverdale love film — especially the classics. This week everything from The Talented Mr. Ripley to the work of Quentin Tarantino gets name checked. But the most telling reference comes early on during Jughead’s voiceover when he refers to Betty as “our friendly neighborhood Hitchcock blonde.” I don’t even think Jughead knows just how true that is.

“The Last Picture Show” puts the overarching mystery of Jason’s murder in the backseat in order to flesh out the thorny secrets and relationships of Riverdale’s living residents. The adults get a surprising amount of juicy development that causes complications in the lives of their children. Alice and Hal (Lochlyn Munro) continue to be terrible parents to Betty. The former is obsessively controlling, the latter is a pushover. Fred somehow can’t see that Archie’s discomfort when he invites Ms. Grundy to join them for dinner is far more than teenage angst.

The parental figure who gets an actual, meaty storyline this week though is Hermione. Between parenting Veronica and working shifts at Pop’s Diner, she somehow finds time to continue the shady business dealings of her incarcerated husband. This includes using the money the valet found in the car in one of her husband’s bags at the beginning of the season to buy the land of the now closing Twilight Drive-in Theatre. With a little help from Mayor McCoy of course. That’s just for starters. She also pays off the leader of the notorious South Side Snakes Gang who helped ruin the reputation of the drive-in. Did I mention the gang leader is played by Skeet Uhlrich of Scream and The Craft fame?

For Jughead, the loss of the drive-in theatre isn’t just heartbreaking since he works as a projectionist there. It’s “another nail in the coffin of the American Dream,” he says at one point. He spends the entire episode making impassioned pleas about the drive-in’s importance to himself as a cinephile and the fabric of Riverdale itself to friends and even Mayor McCoy. At times this seems like an oddly overzealous crusade until we get to the end of the episode. The camera follows Jughead in the small projection booth packing up his things when he gets up to leave a small bed and hot plate is seen. He isn’t just losing a job but his home. Where is his father that is mentioned earlier in conversation between Jughead and Fred? That’s when the episode adds another twist — Jughead’s dad is the South Side Snakes Gang leader. That Jughead is effectively homeless with an unstable sense of family adds new meaning to his cynical exterior.

But the main draw of this episode is one I was expecting to happen far later in the season: Ms. Grundy and Archie’s “relationship” coming to light. The whole town doesn’t find out. But enough people do that no one involved is left quite the same afterwards. You can thank Betty for this.
Photo: Courtesy of The CW.
Pictured: Luke Perry as Fred Andrews and KJ Apa as Archie Andrews.
Learning that Ms. Grundy was at the river that fateful morning helps Betty put things together and realize the relationship she’s carrying on with Archie. When Ms. Grundy, Archie, and Fred walk into Pop’s Diner together Betty can’t hold her questions in any longer. Maybe if Archie was a better liar he could have kept his relationship with Ms. Grundy a secret from Betty. Betty is quick to bring up the moral and ethical problems of Ms. Grundy having sex with Archie who can’t be more than 15 or 16 years old. Jughead makes a good point later when he asks Archie, “What do you see happening with Grundy in the longterm?” Archie is obviously blinded by his puppy love for Ms. Grundy. But Betty can see the problem. What kind of 30-something year old woman starts up a relationship with a teenage beyond a predator? Who really is Ms. Grundy?

Those are the questions Betty is wondering. So she goes to the source. Using a fluff piece for the school paper as an excuse for what amounts to a clever interrogation, Betty starts asking Ms. Grundy about her past. What other schools did she teach at? Why did she come to Riverdale? Not all the answers are satisfying, but one is: Ms. Grundy tutored Jason privately just last year. Could she be involved in his murder?

Even with that bit of information Archie steadfastly remains in Ms. Grundy’s corner. Seeing Archie so upset over her sleuthing Betty promises she will stop digging into Ms. Grundy’s past. She doesn’t of course. Instead, Betty ramps up her obsessive quest by breaking into Ms. Grundy’s car with a reluctant Veronica in tow.

Betty’s Nancy Drew act gets her the proof she needs in order for Archie to open his eyes to the fact that his beloved is what Veronica so cleverly refers to as a “sketch queen”. In the car they find an ID reading “Jennifer Gibson” that has Ms. Grundy’s face and a gun. What is this woman hiding?

“Who are you?” Archie asks Ms. Grundy after hearing about Betty’s proof. Ms. Grundy reveals, with tears almost on cue, that she escaped an abusive relationship. See, she’s not a bad person…except for the statutory rape she keeps downplaying.

When putting Betty’s laundry in her room Alice comes across Ms. Grundy’s gun. Betty is a smart girl. Why would she hold onto that gun? It’s the kind of development that only happens when characters need to momentarily dumbed down in order advance the story. But at least we get a major showdown out of it.

Archie comes by Ms. Grundy’s class in order to end their “relationship” and give her a present he had to pawn one of his guitar’s in order to afford. That’s when Alice, Fred, and a teary-eyed Betty charge in. There is no denying what’s going on between them given their intimacy. Also, Archie once again proves he couldn’t lie to save his life. This leads to the kind of nasty argument that soap operas were made for. Insults are traded. Tears are shed. Secrets are revealed.

While I rejoiced Alice called Ms. Grundy a “child predator” it’s clear she’s motivated by misguided hate toward Archie. While Fred is busy defending Archie from Alice’s sudden attack, Archie is too worried about Ms. Grundy to notice. He says he wanted all this to happen and he pursued her. But remember when the summer flashback is shown of her leering at a shirtless Archie walking down the street wearing Lolita sunglasses, no less? The meek, humble version of Ms. Grundy that Archie is enamored with seems to be a clever facade.

Betty once again proves to be the most cunning person on this show when she plays hardball with Alice. She’ll tell everyone in town she made up the story and broke into Ms. Grundy’s car. They believe crazy runs in her family anyway, right?

After cowering in the corner Ms. Grundy musters up the courage to end the tense argument by saying she’ll quit her job and leave Riverdale. She’s last seen wearing those Lolita sunglasses and checking out some very young men walking past her car before she drives off into the proverbial sunset. This will definitely not be the last time we see Ms. Grundy. Even as she exits Riverdale she leaves behind a trail of chaos in her wake. Archie is heartbroken. Fred is realizing he doesn’t know his son as well as he once believed. And Betty? Well, she’s continues to wrestle with control over her own life from Alice. “I’m not Polly,” she says. Will this revelatory episode get Alice to stop using the turmoil between Jason and Polly as an excuse to control Betty? Or will Riverdale’s Hitchcock blonde finally reach her breaking point?

Other Gossip:

- I love that capes are a daily staple of Veronica’s wardrobe.

- Of course, Veronica gets her wit and fire from Hermione. When Cheryl once again gets into far deeper waters than she can handle, Hermione is ready with a fierce clap back, “Cheryl, I went to school with your mother. She didn’t know the difference between having money and having class either.”

- Kevin finally gets some development thanks to an unexpected session with the newly introduced, Joaquin (Rob Raco). Only problem? Joaquin is a member of the South Side Snakes Gang. How long will this opposite side of the tracks romance Kevin finds himself in remain a secret from his sheriff dad?

- I’m happy about the makers of Riverdale making Veronica and Hermione Lodge Latinas without resorting to stereotype.

- Betty, from one girl with a controlling mother to another, either hide your diary better or don’t write in one at all.

- The cinematography and production design continues to be some of the best aspects of Riverdale. I was particularly impressed by how Ms. Grundy is framed through the episode contradictorily suggesting she is victim and predator.

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