Riverdale Season 5 Review: Dealing with Death
The moral case for the appropriate way to deal with death, and how not to.
Riverdale has a lot of death.
It's one of the defining features of the show, mainly because of the format. The entire show was premised on the idea of the death of one of their residents, Jason Blossom and the investigation of his murder. Thus dealing with death is part of what the show does. Historically, it's done it very well. The first season had a lot of great aspects in terms of how various characters were able to deal with it. In particular when the murderer was revealed and the finale is all about finding a way to move on. However, once that's over with, death becomes much less impactful in the show's stories despite clearly upping the game in terms of number of murders.
From season 2 onward, more people die and yet the way in which it affects the characters is reduced. Some of this makes sense. People who have to live with death regularly will become desensitized to things. It becomes less emotionally taxing to move through the process. You learn not to let it force you to stop what you're doing, mainly living your life. There is unfortunately an amount of diminishing returns when it comes to this. When you up the amount of death, there comes a point where it's no longer acceptable to see it as part of living. This is part of what bothers lots of people when it comes to season 2 and 3.
This is part of what makes the tease of season 4 in the season 3 finale so interesting. The expected death of a major character, namely Jughead, makes things more impactful. If you look at the way things changed in season 4, it becomes very clear that they changed tactics. Part of this has to do with Jughead as a character and the emotional attachment fans and the show's characters have for him. The other part of it likely has to do with the real life impact of Luke Perry and the way in which everyone dealt with his passing. What they did with the first episode of season 4 was incredibly powerful and brilliant on so many levels. It was a beautiful tribute to him.
This brought the idea of death home for a lot of people, fans and characters alike. Everything about the episode was stripped down to the bare bones with the raw emotion. All of it was very honest.
In contrast, however, is the way in which the ultimate conclusion of the Jughead storyline ended up. With the complete negation of this as something worthy of emotional weight. Despite the build up, all of it was completely for nothing. And they attempted something similar in season 5 with the character of Polly. Lots of build up to the idea of Polly's death was invested in the story. Betty's apparent single minded desire to figure out what happened to her had a lot of great aspects to it. There was at least an attempt to create emotional weight for the eventual reveal.
They certainly did a better job with it then season 2 and 3, not to mention they seem to have learned the lesson of season 4. But the fallout could've been handled a lot better. If there hadn't been so many musical numbers and an entire musical episode dedicated to setting up a Pussycats spinoff, the Next to Normal musical would've hit a lot harder. Unlike previous musicals, this one had real emotional resonance with the character's current circumstances. The songs made sense for what was going on.
What ultimately doomed it was the way it was handled.
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