Riverdale season 5 “Next to Normal” recap: Does Betty reach Alice?

Riverdale -- “Chapter Ninety-Four: Next to Normal” -- Image Number: RVD518fg_0075r -- Pictured: Mӓdchen Amick as Alice Cooper -- Photo: The CW -- © 2021 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Riverdale -- “Chapter Ninety-Four: Next to Normal” -- Image Number: RVD518fg_0075r -- Pictured: Mӓdchen Amick as Alice Cooper -- Photo: The CW -- © 2021 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved. /

Riverdale season 5, episode 18 “Chapter Ninety-Four: Next to Normal” brings us directly into the aftermath of the Coopers finding Polly’s remains. The entire episode, at least for Betty and Alice, is about grief and what happens to our relationships and our minds when we’re struggling with the loss of someone we love.

The thematic element of grief in “Next to Normal” is counterbalanced by the prospect of new relationships coming into bloom and juxtaposed with a relationship coming to its end. Death, decay, and renewal. That’s the central focus of episode 18 wrapped up in a Broadway musical that has a special place in the Cooper women’s lives.

Spoilers ahead of Riverdale season 5, episode 18

Ignoring the mouthful of exposition that Lili Reinhart had to give as Betty in order to inform the audience of the plot of the play “Next to Normal,” the episode started as it should’ve with Betty surrounded by her friends.

We learn three things in the opening scene. The play is centered on a mother who wants a perfect life for her family despite being in a loveless marriage, fighting with her daughter, and her son’s death. Alice has been listening to the cast album on repeat which has Betty worried. Also, Cheryl’s taken in the twins for the time being.

Betty and Alice’s grief

The round-up of the Riverdale gang at the Whyte Wyrm in support of Betty sets the scene for how the episode is going to go for the Coopers down to the letter. Through an amazing emotional performance by Mädchen Amick and Reinhart (who also gives a stunning vocal performance as well), we’re taken on a sped up grief arc for these women who are routinely devastated by tragedy.

Unable to cope with the loss of Polly and Charles, Alice retreats into “Next to Normal” as Betty pleads for her to come back to reality.

Fast-tracking grief in a show can go terribly. Either the characters end up looking callous because there’s not enough time spent on the aftermath of losing a loved one. Or you can tell the writers are waiting out the clock so they can focus on other storylines.

The Riverdale writers, however, capsule the Coopers’ grief somewhat deftly. There are brief moments when it feels like Betty is pushing Alice too fast, too soon like when she tells her that she needs to move on despite it likely only being days to maybe a couple of weeks since they found Polly.

But even those moments don’t take away the episode’s strength in showing that people grieve differently, at their own pace, and often in ways no one can expect or predict. Alice blaming Betty for Polly’s death wasn’t out of left field for most viewers, but it still landed as a point of tension for the pair that made sense.

As did Betty’s struggle to continue to be there for her mother when it felt like all she wanted was to wallow in her grief over her lost children instead of focusing on the one that stayed.

Kevin’s advice for Betty to continue to be there for Alice in spite of everything, accompanied by yet another wonderful performance further highlighted by the staging and lighting of the band room, led her to stay in town with her mom.

It’s especially moving because in Alice’s anger, Betty also heard how sad her mother was. How she’d begged her to come home for seven years, and she wouldn’t. That’s the resonating piece, the defining factor for why she stayed along with Alice’s loneliness.

Alice apologizes for what she’s said once she’s cleared through some of the fog of her grief-induced depression. They lay Polly’s ashes to rest, surrounded by the Riverdale family, which brings a close to season 5’s Polly-centric story arc.

An end to Varchie?

Veronica ended “Chapter Ninety-Three: Dance of Death” on a high. She’d outwitted her father, killed her ex-husband in self-defense, and gotten back with Archie. This episode, she and Archie discussed moving in together. She’d initially meant for them to move into her penthouse, but when he suggested his family home so they could grow into it, she agreed.

The demise of Varchie was imminent as soon as that decision was made. Though it definitely felt like it was on a faster train than the Coopers grief storyline for the episode. The moment Veronica entered the domain of Archie, Frank, Jughead, and Eric, it became clear she’d be the odd woman out and it started with a dinner that turned out to be a bust.

She’d prepared a wonderful meal, even made a comment about Ina Garten aka the Barefoot Contessa that went over the men’s heads. However, as soon as firefighting duty called, they were all off like a light except for Jughead who took his dinner back to his room in the garage.

Had the Coopers made it to dinner, since V extended an invitation, things may have been different but Veronica at a fully set table by herself in the candlelight painted quite the lonely picture.

Archie choosing to stay at the station to let the others go home didn’t help matters. Especially considering Veronica didn’t find this news out from him, she learned of it when she walked in on Jughead and Frank getting ready for the day in the bathroom.

The lines of communication between Varchie had clearly dropped in their departure from one another. Though the signs for their break-up were left like breadcrumbs in these last few episodes. No woman who continuously refers to herself as the She-Wolf of Wall Street is going to be content staying in a small town with nary a hustle or a bustle, at least not at this stage in her life.

Veronica realized that herself when she was helping Reggie cram for his stock broker license, and he laid out his five-year plan. Reggie fully intends to become a big shot in his own right with a place befitting his station in the city. His drive reminded V of her own, of how much she enjoys that life, a life she can’t have in Riverdale.

It prompts her to ask Archie about what his five-year plan looks like. It’s a question anyone who knows him would already have the answer to. He’s a small town hero. Riverdale is where Archie belongs, it’s where he’s always belonged. That’s not likely to change.

Given this truth, Veronica does later tell Archie that they need to take a beat. She explains that she’s begun to lose herself in him the way that she lost herself in Chad. She wants them to figure out what they’re doing, but Archie’s response is that maybe they should go back to dating and having fun.

It’s not the answer that Veronica was looking for as she reminds him that they’re not in high school anymore. She does say that it’s a sweet idea, but she’s right. Casually dating and having fun isn’t where they are with each other anymore. So Varchie is over…for now. Like all break-ups on Riverdale, we’ll see if it actually takes. Though this one felt pretty permanent considering how grey, washed out, and dead the coloring was in the scene.

Jabitha and Tangs rise in Riverdale season 5

Out of all the couples we’ve seen rise, fall, and waver their way through Riverdale season 5, Jughead and Tabitha’s relationship has had the most consistency and build. Tabitha started off as Jughead’s boss willing to help him in his hour of need. She then became his friend and as their connection grew so, too, did their feelings.

Still, it was a pleasantly surprise in “Next to Normal” when Tabitha’s last minute fake dating ploy to have a buffer at Mother’s Day dinner with her parents turns into a moment for Jabitha to be honest about their feelings. In fact, it’s Jughead that suggests he could just come to dinner as her boyfriend rather than her fake boyfriend.

They both sing that in this messed up world, there’s one thing that they can do right and that’s be perfect for each other. The song is reprised later in the episode when Tabitha is once again treated to her parents’ discouragement over running Pop’s despite it being the family business. They also don’t have anything pleasant to say about Jughead who’s running late.

He, however, shows up looking dapper and nervous which prompts Tabitha to leave her parents behind at the restaurant to run off with Jughead to his bedroom garage. All in all, they are the sweet romantic bright spot in this episode.

Tangs also rose in episode 18, but they didn’t have the same impact. In fact, they seemed pretty rushed. Toni has been helping Britta cope with her parents’ rejection of her due to her sexuality. She further assists the young teen when she finds out that she’s been kicked out for being a lesbian.

At first, Toni struggles to get Britta placed in a loving home until Fangs tells her to ask Cheryl who’s already taking care of Polly’s children as the Coopers grieve. Since Cheryl opened her home to her cousins, and she has a kind heart when she wants to, Toni speaks to her about taking Britta in.

Choni both know what it’s like not to have the support and unconditional love of their family on their side. As well as how tough that can be. Toni knows the capacity for love that Cheryl has, she’s seen it and she’s felt it. Britta deserves someone in her life who can love like that and so that’s what she gets.

Yes, Riverdale did, in fact, make Cheryl a foster mom on Mother’s day. They didn’t, however, put Choni back together in the process. In a move that was seen coming by those of us paying attention to just how intimate the staging and framing has been lately for Toni and Fangs, the writers put Tangs together.

The two parents now share a romance after exchanging I love yous, but it kind of just happened. Not out of left field but not really organically either.

In any case, given Kevin’s sadness over the loss of Fangs, their relationship isn’t likely to go over well with him. There’s really no telling how Cheryl will react, but she may be a bit busy with her new charge as well as the Blossom curse come next episode.

We’ll have to tune into the season 5 finale to know what becomes of all of this, but it’s bound to be wild!

Next. What happened to Polly in Riverdale season 5?. dark

The Riverdale season 5 finale airs Wednesday, Oct. 6 at 8 p.m. ET on The CW.