With only a handful of episodes left in the season, Riverdale should be ramping up the mystery of Jason Blossom’ death, but it’s on hold for now. Instead, “La Grande Illusion” spends most of its time sorting through smaller details, revealing more secrets, and driving Cheryl to the edge.
One of the reasons that the show hasn’t been up to par recently is because it has toned down any significant interaction between Betty and Veronica. Why that is is unclear, but it’s becoming more noticeable. This isn’t to say they haven’t interacted at all, but they haven’t really talked or had any nice heart-to-hearts with each other. Their relationship has been the grounding point of Riverdale and their friendship has been sorely missed.
Most of the episode is spent focusing on the family from hell, the Blossoms. Having their annual maple tree ceremony, Cheryl is saddened it’ll be the first without her twin brother. Clifford and Penelope, the traditionalists that they are, don’t feel that Cheryl is capable of inheriting the family business. So the ceremony calls for a bunch of snot-nosed people to try and get a good word in to take over. Cheryl, not wanting to go to the ceremony alone, calls upon Archie to “escort” her. What it comes down to is that Archie is being primed to possibly keep Cheryl in check and maybe get in with the family later. In return, he has the chance to go to one of the best music schools.
The episode intends for us to feel the utmost sympathy for Cheryl, and although her family is terrible and she deserves better than to be treated like a second class citizen in her own household, it’s the way she treats others that’s still frustrating. She has the attitude that speaks of elite behavior when she always, always expects to get what she wants and is then disappointed when she doesn’t. I think she has a lot of potential to become a more grounded person, but she needs to stop relying on the fact that people will do whatever she wants at any given time. She depends on others’ kindness and sympathy, but isn’t sparing any of her own and this is something she needs to develop if she wishes to have genuine allies.
Meanwhile, Veronica seeks to befriend Ethel Muggs after hearing what she believes to be a cry for help. Ethel is having family problems and it’s later discovered that her father nearly kills himself because of a bad investment with Veronica’s dad, Hiram. Veronica can always be counted on to make people feel welcome and, in a lot of ways, is one of the only characters who is trying to atone for her father’s sins and for her own behavior prior to coming Riverdale. She’s got a good head on her shoulders and her genuine attempts at kindness and inclusiveness are some of the highlights of the episode.
Betty is off dealing with the fact that Polly has moved in with the Blossoms (apparently for her own ulterior motives). Alice is deteriorating after the betrayal and it gets worse after Hal fires her from the local newspaper. Betty is also beginning to feel overwhelmed with the situation. She doesn’t feel like anything she does is enough to hold her family together and it’s weighing deeply on her. Jughead is there to offer support and while I like their blossoming relationship, I do feel it’s taken away from Betty and Veronica’s time together. The show needs to strike some sort of balance because the two work best when with each other and I’d hate to see that pushed aside. Speaking of Jughead, since the show hasn’t gone down the asexual root with his character, it almost feels like they’re toying with it in a different way. There’s been no talk of sex between him and Betty and he can be very awkward and somewhat rigid in his interactions with her, like he doesn’t quite know what he’s doing. It’ll be interesting to see how the relationship progresses from this point forward.
Finally, I know there are a lot of characters on Riverdale, but the fact that Val and Josie are still the ones who get the least screen time is a crime. Val, who began dating Archie a few episodes ago, has been neglected and their relationship has lacked focus and attention. It speaks to the overall neglect that Archie has with his relationships in general, but in this case, Val has gotten shortchanged. Also, Josie has proclaimed she’s Cheryl’s friend, but where is she in an episode focused primarily on Cheryl? Will the show ever find a way to incorporate Josie and the Pussycats without having them disappear for episodes at a time?
“La Grande Illusion” has its moments, but it’s stunted by too much focus on the Blossoms and not enough focus on anybody else, so some of the consequences don’t have as big an impact. An example is when Archie realizes he really messed things up with Val or when Polly says she’s with the Blossoms to investigate what happened to Jason. Riverdale needs to recenter itself and find a way to not shortchange other important characters while also working to move the mystery along.