Riverdale Season 1, Episode 9 Recap: "La Grande Illusion"

No episode of Riverdale has so clearly demonstrated the naïveté of Archie Andrews better than “La Grande Illusion.” Despite including a suicide attempt, double crosses, two breakups, and other drama, this is episode isn’t as memorable as it should be. But there are some pleasures to be found thanks to Archie’s own stupidity. At this point he should know that, any time a Blossom sweetly offers what he desperately wants, he should run in the other direction. It only takes Cheryl laying on the damsel-in-distress act pretty thick and Penelope offering a good word to get Archie into a prestigious music program for him to make a deal with the devil. “These kinds of favors always come with a price tag,” Veronica warns. On the surface, all Archie has to do is accompany Cheryl to the annual tree tapping ceremony her family hosts on their property. (I still find it hilarious that the maple business is treated with such grim concern in this show.) But is anything that easy with the Blossoms?
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The moment Archie walked along the snowy landscape of the Blossoms' land with Cheryl by his side, noticing the horde of people wearing matching blood red outfits standing around trees as if a cult ceremony was about to start, he should have run home. Instead he decides to play nice, encouraging Cheryl when she gets nervous about kicking off the ceremony. Alice was right to call the board members of the Blossom’s maple company a “cabal of vampires.” Their general moodiness, penchant for backstabbing, and obsession with that particular shade of red makes them seem like background vampires in a season three episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Without the witticisms, of course. Archie goes so far as to defend Cheryl when they overhear two board members denigrating her. “Don’t bet against her,” Archie cautions them. Watching Archie get closer to the Blossom family, albeit reluctantly in the hopes of them opening doors for him, made me wonder what exactly he said to Val that made her okay with this. But Val isn’t the only problem. Cliff has targeted Fred’s construction business making life at home difficult for Archie. So, why agree to also attend a dinner the Blossoms are hosting? Oh, Archie, when will you learn to listen to your friends when they warn you about the very obvious mistake you’re about to make by trusting the Blossoms? Of course, Archie isn’t the only one mired in family drama.
Betty is buckling under the weight of her family’s many issues. Polly won’t return her calls. Alice is a wreck. Hal decides to be vindictive by firing Alice from the paper, making matters worse. Thankfully, Jughead is supportive and comforts her at every turn. But I’m honestly counting down the days until Alice becomes fully unhinged and kills Hal. The woman has so much pent up fury I’m surprised she hasn’t killed anyone yet.
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Elsewhere, Veronica can’t help but solve the problems of others. This week it’s Ethel Muggs. Veronica takes the dark poem Ethel reads in class as a cry for help. But in this town everyone has ulterior motives. For Veronica she doesn’t just want to be friends with Ethel. She wants to atone for the mistakes of her past. Before her father, Hiram, went to jail for his Ponzi scheme Veronica was the Cheryl of her school. She was so bad she got a girl to drink gutter water just for her own amusement. That’s definitely cruel. But the friendship becomes strained when Hermione tells Veronica that Ethel’s father lost a lot of money after investing with Hiram. Veronica has previously been steadfastly in Hiram’s corner so it’s interesting to watch her decide being kind is more important than worrying about how Ethel’s parents will likely testify against her father. Soon Veronica is spoiling Ethel, giving her expensive items of clothing and jewelry that were once gifts from Hiram. But this isn’t enough to distract Ethel from her family’s problems especially once her father tries to commit suicide. This dramatic turn of events forces Veronica to come clean to Ethel about her lineage and Hiram’s role in her family’s problems. Ethel later decides to forgive Veronica since she has neither control nor power over Hiram’s decisions. She’s just a kid after all. While I’m glad Veronica got some development, this isn’t what I had in mind. It’s kind of ridiculous seeing Veronica break down crying after Ethel’s father tried to commit suicide to the point she needs to be consoled by Betty. I get why she would be sad that Hiram’s actions have such tragic consequences but it’s a bit much. What’s more interesting is watching Archie think he can’t get played by the Blossoms.
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Look, you can’t say Archie doesn’t have plenty of warnings. Cheryl bulldozes through his life dropping expensive gifts (like a 1984 Les Paul guitar) along the way. Fred cautions Archie not to accept anything from Cheryl but he’s too enamored by all the things money can buy and the ease with which the Blossoms move through life to protest that much. At one point Val straight up says, “The Blossoms are buying you.” Even as Val tells him Cheryl decided to say some questionable things as if Archie were her boyfriend he can’t help but downplay the situation. The more time Archie spends with the Blossoms the more eerie these scenes become. Take for example when Archie gets a suit made at the Blossoms' behest (and on their dime). When Archie tries to convince Cliff to help Fred instead of putting in a good word for him in regards to the music program, he’s impressed. Apparently, Jason would never give up something he wanted to help Cliff. Watching Cliff admire Archie so openly makes it seem like he’s being groomed for some nefarious purpose. This only becomes more apparent during the dinner.
Cheryl swears that her parents are only saying empty platitudes. Jason was the golden child and they only want her to fail. They’re only putting on a good face for the board of trustees. Cliff sees Archie as a good influence and imagines him at Cheryl’s side. It’s the kind of narrative the Blossoms want to develop to maintain their hold over the company to prevent a hostile takeover and keep Cheryl under control. Good luck with that. After Cheryl gets into an argument with Cliff she runs outside with Archie trailing after her. “People hate me, Archie” Cheryl says sadly. People hate her because she’s a terrible, manipulative person who uses sympathy as a weapon. She doesn’t have the self-awareness to realize that, though. Cheryl is so used to getting what she wants she can’t understand why Archie didn’t respond lovingly to her kiss. Cheryl is a character who is fun to watch, all great mean girls are, but if I was ever alone in a room with her she probably wouldn’t get out alive. Archie’s presence at the dinner allows him to pass along valuable information to Jughead and Betty including what he overheard the Blossoms say. Apparently, Cliff is responsible for Hiram being in jail which means he could have had Jason killed as retaliation.
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The most fun part of the ending though is Val breaking up with Archie. He comes crawling back to her admitting she was right about the Blossoms and he won’t deal with them again. But she’s over being cast aside for whatever drama he’s dealing with. “Unlike you I won’t be bought,” she says. It’s a shame the relationship didn’t get any development, otherwise this would have hit harder. Seriously, Riverdale needs to start developing more of its characters of color. Having a diverse cast isn’t meaningful when most of them don’t have much to do.
Other Gossip:
— Jughead eating chips while Ethel reads her downright depressive poem is pretty hilarious.
— Is it just me or is the editing weird in this episode? The conversation Cheryl has with Val is abruptly cut so it’s unclear what exactly went down, which is a missed opportunity.
— Polly reveals to Archie that she’s ignoring Betty for the sake of appearances. She believes the Blossoms were definitely involved in Jason’s murder and wants to prove it. But to do that she needs to make sure they believe she’s completely forsaken her family. I’m glad Polly isn’t as naive as I thought.
— Hermione admits to Fred that the secret investor is Lodge Industries. Instead of quitting Fred insists on a 20% when it comes to the business for whatever will be built on the land. He also smartly breaks up with Hermione. But it’s a bit odd that there are two major breakups this week for relationships that weren’t well-developed in the first place.
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