RIVERDALE Review: “Chapter Nine: La Grande Illusion”

The maple syrup plot thickens, which makes sense when you think about it.

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"We consumed Blossom syrup by the bucket. That sickly sweet smell was inescapable."

If you thought maple syrup couldn't possibly play a bigger role in Riverdale's first season, you were wrong, because it's becoming clear that this is an entire mystery based around maple syrup. And that is amazing, right? What a bizarre motivator for all of the strange goings-on in Riverdale! The Maple Syrup Titans have all descended upon Riverdale for the annual, ancient ritual of the first tapping, and Cheryl needs an escort. She selects Archie, likely thanks to his physical approximation to Jason Blossom, but can that be the only thing behind the Blossom family's sudden obsession with Archibald Andrews? 

It's an interesting way to drag Archie, kicking and screaming, into the A-plot for once, but as with everything on Riverdale, this arc reveals much more about Cheryl than it does Archie. We learn that Archie's sort of sweet, sort of selfish, totally clueless, and will do anything for his dad and his music - all of which we already knew. But we learn that Cheryl suffers from imposter syndrome thanks to the unceasing disparagement of her terrible family, none of whom thinks she holds a candle to Jason, mostly because she's a girl. Clifford Blossom even has the nerve to tell Archie that if he stays by Cheryl's side, she's more likely to get Jason's coveted seat on the board, as if Cheryl Blossom could ever need Archie Andrews to be seen as a competent businessperson. 

But Cheryl did need Archie for other reasons - she wanted to believe that one person in this rotten town is her friend for friendship's sake, and not because he wants something from her or her family. Of course, Archie could never live up to such lofty expectations, so now he's on Cheryl's terrifying vendetta list. He also loses Val in the process, because his girlfriend's tired of being his runner-up, and good on Val. I'm sadder that a potential Cheryl and Archie romance appears null and void, because that means we won't get to hear any more of Cheryl's spectacular pick-up lines. What's better: "If music be the food of love, play on, play on" or "My lipstick's maple red, by the way, in case you were wondering why it tastes so sweet"? 

Meanwhile, Polly's dragged in the middle by virtue of her new living arrangements at Thorn Hill. She's avoiding Betty and Alice, to their dismay (especially Alice's, who's going off the deep end a little this week), but it turns out she's just as intrepid as her little sister, and she's working to investigate the Blossoms from inside their creepy old haunted blood feud mansion. It's dangerous but cool, and reminds me that the Cooper ladies are, as a whole, extremely impressive. Betty and Alice both feel better about the situation, and apparently now that Alice is out of work she's going to write an exposé about the Blossoms for the Riverdale High School newspaper, The Blue & Gold. I'd say that's quite a step down from The Riverdale Register, but considering The Register is run by Hal and The Blue & Gold is run by Betty and Jughead, I think she's made a wise move. 

Finally, Veronica's making a real effort to befriend Ethel this week, partially out of guilt over what her father did to Ethel's father, partially out of guilt for her past life as a Mean Girl, and partially because Veronica's just a sweet person and Ethel seems cool. It's a nice friendship, one I'd love to see more of on this show, but it also reveals a lot about Veronica's biggest vulnerability: her deep-down belief that she's really a bad person, just like her father. The scene in the bathroom where she falls down, weeping, and then into Betty's arms, is such a lovely tribute to both their friendship and to the big, gooey heart at the center of seeming Ice Queen Veronica Lodge. 

"La Grande Illusion" is such a great episode of Riverdale, one that elevates the mythology of the show in a way very similar to but more streamlined than its spiritual predecessor, Twin Peaks. The very idea of a maple syrup blood feud is pure Lynch, but the plot also leaves plenty of room for us to understand more about our characters and what drives them to do the strange things that they do. Except Archie, that is. One of these days, we'll care about Archie. Or he'll die in the season finale and Riverdale will earn my eternal admiration. 

A few more tidbits: 

Jughead's voiceover mentions that the tapping ceremony has "brought the wolves to Riverdale," and while he means the cutthroat titans of the maple syrup industry (lol), there's been a lot of werewolf imagery on Riverdale lately. Please let this comic become a Halloween episode next season! 

Oh yeah, Hermione and Fred are dunzo, which means both of the Andrews men are single now. Look out, ladies of Riverdale! 

How the hell was Hiram not already on Betty and Juggie's murder board? 

Next week on Riverdale looks lit, fam!