'Riverdale' S1E9: La Grande Illusion

★ ★ ★ ★

When Ethel arrives, so does the moral lesson.

The last time Ethel made an appearance was in "Body Double," which took a break from the murder mystery to focus on an altogether different standalone case about slut shaming in a high school setting. It was a cute, well put together episode preaching against the act by having all of its female ensemble team up against those responsible. "La Grande Illusion" may not have the most worldly of messages, but it does have one.

Ethel's an odd character. It's hard to keep up with her given that she's been missing for the past six episodes; and unlike some other characters, her transformation and the revelation that her parents were fighting is entirely new information to have to take in. Riverdale tends to forget it has an entire ensemble to work with outside of the parents and the Scooby Gang, which is why holes in the development of characters pop up when they're called upon. Like Kevin's serious relationship with Joaquin, Ethel's developments come across as random since they don't have any precedence whatsoever besides what's best to fit the plot.

Riverdale: S1E9

If there's one thing Riverdale knows how to work to a T, it's melodrama. Veronica has been faithful to her father through thick and thin, but the line she was asked to cross this time around was too thick for her to take. To Veronica, business isn't just some impersonal part of life, it's a situation that affects everyone involved in more ways than one. (Too bad the Blossoms can't see that.) So when Veronica understands the impact of her father's actions that led him to wind up in prison, it only makes sense for her character to reject him so wholeheartedly. (And in the most over-the-top fashion possible.)

Riverdale doesn't have any shame when it goes full camp. If anything, there is nothing more ridiculous sounding than a blood feud based on murder over a maple syrup company that has lasted a century, but here we are at the tapping ceremony as Archie and Cheryl work together to impress the board of trustees — and you barely think twice about it.

Archie's working through the female ensemble of the show at a brisk pace. Amazingly enough, no one's really batting an eye about it and Riverdale is prolonging any inevitable relationship with Betty or Veronica for the time being. Just makes you wonder what might make Betty and Jughead hit a rough patch. Riverdale has an odd issue in that while, yes, it does have a lot of characters, it doesn't particularly use them to their fullest extent. So far the only eligible bachelors on the show are Jughead and Archie (and Kevin), but will new romantic interests get thrown into the mix eventually? Ones that are, hopefully, not just one-time flings?

When characters end up in relationships with one another it's usually because they need something from the other. Betty needs affection and emotional support from Jughead, Jughead needs some semblance of a functional family from her. Archie follows this same pattern, but to a far more selfish extent. He never seems to give anything back to the relationship, solely using it to please himself or to get ahead in life. Valerie finally breaks up with him (it only took like three episodes, but eh, did we ever really care?) after she realizes this and throws shade at his tendency to do this sort of thing.

With the maple syrup storyline comes a whole new revelation: that the Blossoms are the ones pulling the strings that put Hiram in prison. Pun intended, they're more than likely the red herrings of the season given how quickly their name is getting dropped as potential murderers. Polly's gone undercover in Thornhill and Betty's elated to see that her sister didn't just abandon them out of hatred for their parents. Alice Cooper has evolved so much over the past couple of episodes alone. From being one of the series' oddball villains to becoming one of the most dimensional of the parents, Alice is undergoing a wind of change that is making her more relatable by the minute. You can't help but root for Alice despite all that she's done to Polly. The show's really worked on turning her old reputation around and making audiences believe that there's a shot that this family might be somewhat happy. Even better than that is watching Alice throw a rock through the window of her own newspaper in an act of rebellion against her husband. (Go, Alice!)

"La Grande Illusion" may not have progressed the storyline very far but it certainly knew the tone of the show and used that to its advantage. Riverdale can handle ridiculous storylines without jumping the shark because of the show's odd level of melodrama. Ryan Murphy would be jealous of the writers of the show, given how much he tries injecting camp into his series, often failing to make it fit. Riverdale outdoes other teen dramas by poking fun at the genre and having plenty of fun while doing it.

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