Riverdale season 4 episode 17 review: Follow my voice


Berlin comes to Riverdale in this week’s fun, but ultimately unsatisfying, musical episode centered around Hedwig and the Angry Inch.

When we last left off with Riverdale, the Jughead/Stonewall prep storyline came to a definitive close and all was well. Or so we thought.

After a hiatus, this week’s episode picks up with new videotapes on the doorsteps of everyone in Riverdale, leading to the first song in this season’s musical episode, “Wicked Little Town” from Hedwig and the Angry Inch.

Because Jughead is our audience surrogate for life, he kicks it off, and Cole Sprouse’s voice is surprisingly lovely here.

While previous musical episodes have been structured around Kevin directing Riverdale High’s school musical, this season is focused on a school variety show and Kevin’s desire to perform a song from Hedwig, only to be blocked by Principal Honey because of its “adult content.”

This sets up the very obvious thematic framework for the songs from Hedwig, a show about gender identity, oppression, and the journey to empowerment and liberation. But for a show as painfully straight as Riverdale is, it feels off.

Yes, there are queer characters on Riverdale, but they’re all played by straight, cisgender actors, and that matters when telling a story like Hedwig. This wouldn’t necessarily even matter so much if the Hedwig episode could have been centered on Riverdale’s queer characters.

Yet portions of it do work well and are very fun, primarily the protests in the school. When Kevin appears decked out in full Hedwig attire and gathers all the students in the music room for an impromptu concert to sing “Tear Me Down,” it’s a scene that is both fun and fantastical.

For the record, Casey Cott gives a lovely performance in this week’s episode. He definitely has the most Broadway voice of any of the cast members. And he, along with Cole Sprouse, get the closest to selling the darkness, heart, and emotion within Hedwig.

Sadly, Kevin’s storyline is quickly abandoned (and Cheryl and Toni are barely seen except for one pointless sexy dance) in favor of the less compelling, heterocentric stories of the week.

Yes, the core four are the main characters. But Kevin has been right alongside them this whole time and has been given short shrift in terms of storytelling. (Lest we forget, the last time we got any time with Kevin, he was pulled into a fetish scam.)

I really don’t understand why Riverdale doesn’t feel like it can devote a full hour to Kevin. Or any storytelling for that matter. Furthermore, Hedwig and the Angry Inch is a queer story.

To shift the focus from Kevin’s fight for representation and self-expression to a trite third act bit of drama we’ve all seen before is not only straightwashing, it’s boring. But here we are…

The main conflict with our core four centers around the fact that Betty is desperate to fix Jughead and get him back on track so he can graduate and attend Yale with her in the fall.

But Jughead is basically in a Season Six Buffy headspace. He’s come back from the dead and lost his own spot at Yale (which then went to his girlfriend) and is recovering from a traumatic brain injury on top of that.

Jughead is also an obsessive personality. After planning his revenge on the Stonewall Prep kids for so long, it’s just…over. So naturally, Jug gloms onto the next immediate mystery–the videotapes. He asks Charles if he can help him investigate (without telling Betty, of course).

(Sidebar:  is it crazy of me to assume that Bret is The Voyeur? He had hundreds of videotapes of people. I don’t know why we should assume otherwise. If it’s not Bret and some other rando, I’m going to be annoyed.)

Meanwhile, Hiram is still “sick” with some “illness” (again, the laziest and most infuriating writing ever). When Archie tells Veronica he thinks Hiram hasn’t been going to the doctor, they get into a big fight as she is angry he didn’t tell her sooner.

The Hedwig construct is really the only thing that makes this very dumb storyline tolerable. Archie begins singing “Exquisite Corpse” with Veronica as they fight and it intercuts to Jughead and Betty singing, too.

Cole Sprouse seems to actually sell this the best and really tap into what the songs are about whereas Archie continues to be insufferable. I’ve never been a fan of KJ Apa’s singing voice on the show, despite Riverdale‘s attempts to convince me otherwise.

But hearing him sing Hedwig was another level of uncomfortable. It’s not that he’s a bad singer, technically. But there’s a difference between technical skill and interpretation and feeling of song.

The book from Hedwig is very visceral and emotional. Hearing Archie sing it was like listening to a little boy sing about the war or something. It didn’t add up.

Everything comes to a head when Jughead and Veronica don’t show up for band practice. (Archie wanted to play in the variety show as The Archies, despite Jughead’s mockery.) After their faux-relationship during Jughead’s faux-death, things have been rekindled between Archie and Betty.

Betty tells Archie they can still rehearse without Jughead and Veronica. Which leads to a kiss. Ugh.

I don’t know that I’m even that mad anymore because I ship Bughead or because it was written so poorly. I really don’t care about Archie and Betty’s romance sung through Hedwig songs. Now, give me this same scene but with Kevin and Fangs? Gold.

Of course, by the end of the episode, one that started with Kevin at the center, he’s off to the side, back in his button-up and khakis, as Archie leads his eponymous band at La Bonne Nuit (the alternate host for Riverdale’s variety show after Principal Honey canceled it) in a supposed-to-be rousing rendition of “Midnight Radio.”

But that’s not all. Not only does Kevin take the backseat in what should have been a queer-centric episode, it ends with the revelation of Jughead watching a tape with Betty hitting him in the head with a rock. At least that’s what it appears to be…

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Riverdale airs Wednesdays on The CW.