Riverdale Season 1 Episode 5 Recap: “Heart Of Darkness”

Photo: Courtesy of The CW.
This week, Riverdale goes full blown gothic horror melodrama in order to create an engrossing tale about dark family secrets. From the opening scene onward Riverdale depicts its own spin on the genre tapping into some of its more recognizable attributes — lit candelabras, nightmares, a heavy use of blood red in the color palette, characters lurking in shadows, and a creepy mansion. The mansion in question is Thornhill, the residence of the Blossom family that has its very own graveyard. The memorial for Jason along with Jughead and Betty’s investigation into his murder reveal the fault lines in the lives of everyone in Riverdale. But this episode also reveals a major issue within the show itself: Archie doesn’t quite work as a character. This has nothing to do with K.J. Apa’s performance but with how the character is written. Archie’s story feels to be a part of an entirely different, far more pedestrian teen drama. He’s completely disconnected from the noir tinged murder mystery that gives the show its addictive pull. Jughead and Betty are actively investigating Jason’s murder better than Sheriff Keller seems to be doing. Veronica becoming an unlikely confidante to Cheryl and staying at Thornhill for history’s most awkward sleepover puts her at ground zero this week. Even Kevin has more of a stake in the mystery given that his father is Sheriff Keller. Not to mention the break in at their home with all of Sheriff Keller’s files and his so-called “murder wall” being swiped. Every other character has a pretty bonkers, rich storyline involving things like murder, intrigue, institutionalized sisters, and heavy doses of melodrama. Archie has none of that. In “Heart of Darkness” he obsessively focuses on football in order to ignore his feelings in the wake of Ms. Grundy leaving town. He stays up late at night working out using the punching bag in his bedroom. Shirtless and sweaty of course. The writers really know their audience. He’s up for varsity football captain position against Reggie. But trying to balance between football and his real passion of music proves to be difficult. Josie and the Pussycats’ bassist Valerie “Val” Brown (Hayley Law) becomes an unexpected ally aiding him with writing music. She even recommends him to contact Oscar (Raul Castillo), a successful New York songwriter currently working as a visiting professor at a Riverdale college. But Oscar is actually the worst choice to continue Archie’s music lessons. “I listened to your songs. They’re juvenile[…] I can’t help you,” Oscar tells Archie. Archie proves not to have a secure sense of self and begins to heavily doubt his abilities in the wake of Oscar’s judgment. Val is quick to note that Archie ties his worth too closely to what others like Oscar say. Eventually, Archie gets the varsity captain position only to turn it down and recommend Reggie. Archie knows he can’t give his all to football since music is his first love. He’ll remain on the team though. The most interesting thing involving Archie this week is a brief moment between him and Cheryl’s mother, Penelope Blossom (Nathalie Boltt). At the memorial he decides to give her Jason’s jersey retiring the number as a gesture of kindness. But she’s startled looking at Archie. “You’re so much like him,” Penelope says while gently touching Archie’s hair. Sure, that’s not creepy at all. What’s proves to be most engaging is everything occurring around Archie. Veronica agrees to spend the night before Jason’s memorial at Thornhill as an olive branch toward Cheryl. But it isn’t much of a sleepover considering she’s the only person who was invited. Having to interact with Cheryl’s parents proves to be downright hellish. Penelope doesn’t even try to mask her contempt. Cliff Blossom (Barclay Hope) needles Veronica about her incarcerated father. Witnessing the emotional abuse Cheryl’s parents gleefully unleash goes a long way to humanizing what could have been a simple albeit fun to watch mean girl. But witnessing the dynamics of the Blossom family only brings up more questions about the nature of Jason’s murder. It’s obvious he was running away from his parents. But what else were they doing to him that would compel him to try to fake his own death? This episode isn’t as engrossing and jam packed as last week. But it’s still glorious thanks to Riverdale’s best character: Betty. She continues to cleverly approach investigating Jason’s murder in a way that would make Lois Lane proud. She interviews his former friend/teammate, Trev (Adain Bradley) under the guise of a date. Secrets continue to come to light in the wake of Jason’s memorial. Jughead and Betty use the opportunity of being in Thornhill to snoop through Jason’s room. Dead men can’t tell tales but what they leave behind can. But it isn’t any item in Jason’s room that helps them out but creepy Grandma Blossom who confuses Betty for Polly. The show drops a tantalizing bombshell: Polly and Jason were engaged. Wait, what?! Does this mean Jason wasn’t the terrible influence Betty’s parents make him out to be? Was Hal lying when he said Polly tried to kill herself? How has Betty been so in the dark about her own family? Learning about Polly’s engagement leads Betty to confront Hal. Her father’s animosity toward the Blossoms is personal. Apparently great grandfather Blossom killed Hal’s grandfather in order to gain all the profits of their maple syrup business. It’s sort of hilarious hearing characters speak with such authority and anger about maple syrup. But the point of the scene is to sow seeds of doubt in Betty about her own family. She has good reason to be leery of her father: Hal is responsible for breaking into Sheriff Keller’s home. “How far would he go to protect her?” Jughead wonders about Hal’s obsessive protection over Polly. But there’s an even better question to ask, would he be willing to kill for Polly? Other Gossip: — I like that this episode gave new dimension to Reggie instead of keeping him as your standard issue boneheaded high school jock. That he cared enough to think of Archie’s injured hand instead of using it to his advantage on the field speaks volumes about his character. — The dress Veronica wore at the memorial was lovely and continues the tradition of the show featuring dresses I’d wear myself. — That slow cover of Tears for Fears’ “Shout” was a nice touch during Cheryl’s impactful memorial entrance. — While I enjoyed seeing Val befriend Archie she’s only there to help him out with his music and connect him to Oscar. Although they have nice chemistry that can be built on. Val, along with the other Pussycats, deserves to have more going on instead of just being a footnote in Archie’s story. — Archie looks nothing like Jason, he’s way better looking. Penelope needs to get her eyes checked.

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