“In a Lonely Place” trades the bonkers nature of last week’s Josie-themed episode for outright tragedy. I figured this episode would lean more on painful revelations rather than clever twists and visceral thrills the moment I saw the title. Riverdale once again demonstrates a love of classic film that I find charming. The title comes from a personal favorite of mine, the 1950 noir starring Humphrey Bogart and my classic Hollywood bag girl, Gloria Grahame. Riverdale isn’t nearly as emotionally cutting and smartly constructed as that film about a washed-up screenwriter with an angry streak accused of murder. But this week’s episode shares In a Lonely Place’s interest in excavating the lie that is the American Dream, and how the most venomous bonds people make in life are often the hardest ones to leave behind.
“In a Lonely Place” is truly Jughead’s episode from beginning to end. It opens with a dream of his. He’s surrounded at the dinner table by Betty’s family. Across from him are Jason and Polly. Everyone looks like the picture of '50s American perfection as if they just walked off the set of a Douglas Sirk film. In fact, they look a lot like how most people think of their comic-book counterparts. But something seems off. Maybe it’s the creepy smiles everyone wears like they’ve been hit with some of Joker’s laughing gas. Their smiles don’t seem to reach their eyes which seem lifeless. Maybe it’s that Alice and Betty’s heads creepily move in unison. Or perhaps the dream's unease comes from Archie asking Jughead why he stabbed him in the back with the actual knife protruding from him. When Jughead wakes, it’s finally been revealed where he’s been crashing since the drive-in closed down: a small closet in the school.
Of course, Jughead couldn’t keep this a secret for too long. Crashing at the school seems pretty risky. Thankfully it’s Archie who comes across him early that morning and not someone else. “Truth is things aren’t good at home,” Jughead says, which honestly is an understatement. Jughead’s dad, FP Jones (Skeet Ulrich), is a study in parental failure. He’s an alcoholic who refuses to own up to his own problems even though Jughead’s mom left, taking their 10-year old daughter, Jellybean, with her. Archie is quick to try and help his friend by persuading Fred to offer FP his old job back. FP is stubborn at first until Jughead tries to talk some sense into him. While Jughead doesn’t deserve to be collateral damage for FP’s poor decisions, it is undeniable that Fred is going to regret letting him come to work at the construction company again.
Things start off okay when FP returns to work. He’s trying to prove himself to be more than the sad punch line everyone thinks he is and works hard on the job. He even offers to take Fred, Jughead, and Archie out for dinner on his dime. They of course go to Pop’s diner, since it’s apparently the only place to eat in town. The history between FP and Fred is apparent. They have real camaraderie joking about their time in high school. FP is working overtime to get on Jughead’s good side asking him about his writing and relationship with Betty. It’s forced, to be sure, but sweet. Unfortunately, things take a turn when Fred insists on paying. FP takes it as a slight and gets angry refusing to let Fred pay. Something he says about Fred owing him piques Archie’s interest, although he doesn’t ask about it then.
Having Archie as a supporting character who acts as a foil to his friend’s more interesting problems was a really smart choice. Anytime he’s on screen, he looks to be in a perpetual state of confusion. I couldn’t help but laugh at the face he makes when he sees Jughead put his arm around Betty. But Archie also isn’t that bright and doesn’t know how to leave well enough alone. He asks FP about what he meant at the diner earlier with Jughead visibly annoyed that Archie won’t just drop it. Apparently, FP and Fred were actually partners in the construction business. But Fred felt FP was a liability after he got into trouble. Fred bailed him out but also bought his share of the business. So, FP has been blaming Fred for his problems ever since. Even Jughead has ire toward Fred, feeling he’s responsible for FP’s current state. The moment I heard all this, I figured FP was leaving some things out. In his rendition he comes across looking like a victim, and life is rarely that simplistic.
Fred’s side of the story is far more believable. He explains to Archie that FP was stealing from the company and routinely needed to be bailed out of jail. Eventually, Fred hit a breaking point and took over the company entirely. But Jughead has bigger problems to worry about than the bad blood between his father and Archie’s. Toward the end of the episode, Sheriff Keller takes him down the station and it isn’t any routine questioning. Jughead has become a suspect in Jason’s murder. The evidence is circumstantial at best. But what makes this situation more damning is that Sheriff Keller, proving to be cruel and incompetent, is only targeting Jughead because he is a poor kid from the “wrong side of the tracks”. FP may not be a good parent but Fred is and provides an alibi for Jughead.
The Blossoms and Coopers of course wouldn’t be happy unless they retained the title of Riverdale’s most messed up families. Betty’s story line has some tantalizing moments because of this. But a lot of it feels heavy on tension with little reward. Nearly anytime Penelope or Alice are on screen I kept expecting them to stab someone given how cunning and vindictive they’re proving to be.
When Jughead walks Betty home one night, something he says leads Betty to realize where Polly is hiding: the attic. Apparently, this pregnant teenager slipped into the house unnoticed and has been camping out in the attic. She refuses, with good reason, to trust Alice and Hal, who want her to put the baby up for adoption. I wouldn’t trust them either. Did you see how eerily still and unfazed Alice was when Penelope got in her face during the search for Polly in the forest? That’s not the face of a woman rising above her anger but someone who is plotting.
Alice is smart to reveal Polly’s pregnancy by Jason at a press conference. It immediately spins the story in a different direction and gives her the upper hand over the Blossoms. What I don’t understand are the decisions Betty makes after this. Sometimes I have to remind myself that despite being smarter than Riverdale’s police force when it comes to murder investigations, she is just a teenager. But seriously Betty needs to be a better liar. She could have handled Cheryl asking her if she knew where Polly is much better. Even worse is that despite not trusting Cheryl, she agrees to meet with the Blossoms.
The meeting between the Blossoms and Betty is tense, to put it mildly. Penelope’s overtures about making sure Polly is well taken care of and wanting to provide emotional support sound like beautifully spoken lies. “It’s not safe,” Cheryl warns Polly when they finally meet. Cheryl worries that her parents would harm Polly and Jason’s unborn child. This leads Polly to go live with Veronica and Hermoine for the time being. By the way, Alice has no idea about any of this, from Polly’s temporary stay in their attic to her current residence with the Lodges. I get why Betty doesn’t want to advise her parents about this, but I can’t see any of this ending well. It seems everyone, particularly Betty and Jughead, are headed toward heartbreak because of the sins of their parents.
One of the most poignant aspects in the film In a Lonely Place are lines of dialogue from the script that Bogart’s character writes, which come to feel like an omen about his relationship with Grahame, "I was born when you kissed me. I died when you left me. I lived a few weeks while you loved me." There’s a haunting quality to these words leading me to think about them when watching Riverdale this week. But for the teenagers at the center, it’s their parental bonds, not romance, that leads to heartbreak. They may not have the home lives they so deeply hope for. But sometimes friends and siblings become the only homes that truly matter, filling the voids that parents leave behind.
— I don’t understand why Hermione doesn’t just tell Veronica that the reason she forged her signature was also because without the deal, Fred would be put in a tough financial situation. I think she’d be more okay with the forged signature knowing how much Archie would have been affected by proxy.
— I find Veronica’s insistence on calling Kevin “my gay”seriously troubling. He’s a human being, not an accessory.
— The Blossoms' crashing the search for Polly was hilarious enough given the dramatic entrance. That they actually brought hounds tips it over the edge.
— These kids need to learn not to discuss family secrets and murder investigations at school where everyone can hear them. If they were wiser, Cheryl would have never found out about Polly.