Last year, Mr. Robot ended its impactful run with its fourth season, arguably its best. Sadly, not many people saw it—the show’s audience numbers peaked with its first season and dropped to a fraction of that viewership by series end. Series like Better Call Saul, which lives up to the quality of its predecessor, feels extremely under-discussed in the grand scheme of things. Hell, we live in a world where Succession’s phenomenal Season 2 episodes didn’t draw in more viewers than their very excellent Season 1 finale, especially with the top tier run Season 2 was on. I know that Succession’s thing was that it was more of a critical darling than anything, but Robot lost a load of viewers after the Season 2 fakeout, which is similar to another series currently being under-watched: Riverdale.
Moreso than Robot, I can understand why people aren’t watching Riverdale like they used to—similar to Robot, they threw a monkey wrench into the storyline (namely, the Gargoyle King), turning many people away. That’s understandable; getting through Season 3 of Riverdale is rough for that very reason. That said, last week's episode (“Chapter Seventy-One: How to Get Away with Murder”) finally paid off all of that torture, rewarding those who waited for THE Jughead reveal that’s been teased since the very end of the Season 3 finale.
[Ed. Note: Riverdale spoilers from this point on.]
For those who remember, Riverdale's Season 3 finale ended with a promise that we’d see Archie, Veronica, and Betty trying to clean up the death of Jughead. They’d then tease that (mostly in quick scenes at the end of Season 4 episodes) while dealing with whatever insanity goes on in the world of Riverdale—literally everything from guy-on-guy tickling videos and rum empires to squaring up with local drug dealers and dealing with the storyline death of Archie’s father after the tragic loss of Luke Perry. We got properly introduced to the Stonewall Prep jerks, and got to see Betty figure out that she’s got the serial killer gene, as well as a trigger word that puts her into a Wolverine-esque berserker rage (allegedly). We even got to see them dive all the way back to Season 1’s “Dark Betty” persona to help foster this: Betty holding a bloody rock over Jughead’s lifeless body. It wasn’t a surprising image, especially if it is the Stonewall kids trying to frame her, but the payoff? Chef’s kiss.
It wasn’t just the fact that we were finally at the spot they teased at the end of Season 3; it’s the fact that they steered clear of the mystical bullshit and whatever other camp there is out there to get back to the vibe that made me love Riverdale after a few coworkers coaxed me to start watching three long years ago. I was sold on the smalltown murder mystery and stayed for the fanciful high school shenanigans. Problem is, we got way too much of the latter while being underwhelmed with the former. Now? We have a capital-M Murder to solve, one involving a key figure in the series, and Riverdale handled it right: they kept it about the murder-at-hand, and spiraled the insanity out of that. There was no Riverdale High cheerleading drama, no masked avengers running roughshod in the midnight hour, no plot to trick some forgotten C-level character from seasons gone. Just bare-bones murder mystery and the various storyline strands that are being woven into it. It's not even like this is grade-A storytelling here, but the fact that they kept the intensity high without getting in their own way is worth the kudos.
My hope? That this episode is the beginning of a glorious ending to Season 4 and this mystery. The problem? We have all of March and April to get through before season’s end. I’m a realist: the very nature of 22-episode seasons of television—especially during sweeps periods for local channels!—means that stories end up meandering before getting to the real shit. (Remember all of those filler Dragon Ball Z episodes?) That said, all I ask is that the Epic Saga That Berlanti Built gives me more “How to Get Away with Murder” and less...whatever else they have in the pipeline that will deviate from this Fire Television that they served us last week.