Season 3 of Riverdale kicked off tonight with business as usual in our favorite little hamlet of weird. A teenager on trial for murder, an escalating gang war, a Heaven’s Gate-like cult, Cheryl vying for best archer on the CW, and a Dungeons and Dragons-esque mystery unfolding are all story points on deck for this season. We are all still wondering why Penny Peabody is a character that exists, why Hiram Lodge, mob boss, is gunning for a 16 year old, and why Archie doesn’t seem to have any working brain cells, but the season premiere showed promise for a better outing than last year.
Heading into a third year of Riverdale recaps, and being disappointed with the sophomore season, I decided to re-tool my approach to my series coverage. After all, I assume if you are here, you have A) watched the episode and/or B) probably read a recap from one of the other 15 outlets that writes them, so in the vein of doing what TV Source Magazine does best, and stay fresh and innovative, I will be looking at each episode with a little more insight and a little less “here’s what went down.” Choosing instead to focus on story elements, we can dive into the mysteries and development of the story together.
Riverdale: Chapter Thirty-Six: Labor Day!
Directed by Kevin Sullivan, Written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (#301.)
Original airdate 10/10/2018
Episode 301 sets up a multitude of stories that will progress throughout the season, some hopefully will be shorter story arcs than others. Season 1 of Riverdale had 12 episodes and Season 2 had 22; adding an additional 10 episodes meant that the narrative stumbled a lot in the sophomore season, but hopefully the writers room has done some summertime reflecting and chosen to serve us some mini-arcs coupled with a longer arc which will service both the characters and the story well.
Archie Andrews, the walking iteration of beautiful but dumb, is still displaying inadequate decision making skills while also attempting to be reflective of last years poor choices.
While I’m happy to report Archie realizes that joining the mafia and organizing vigilante groups was a bad idea, he still makes the rash decision to accept a plea deal and head off to prison. Sigh. Oh Archie… you’re so lucky you look delicious without a shirt on. While I never think it’s a good idea to send your main character to prison because it limits story potential, Archie’s stint in the big house sets up arcs for other characters in a promising way, namely Veronica and Fred.
While Mary was in town to represent her son at the trial, she’s headed back to Chicago for the moment, but Fred is more determined than ever to clear his son’s name. FP Jones and Tom Keller promise Fred they’ll do what it takes to help him and no one is more excited than me to see the Hot Dads of Riverdale team up in the name of justice and taking down Hiram Lodge. The show has always done a job good of inserting the parents into the narrative and I hope we get to see this dad team up as a focal point moving forward. Also interested in taking down Hiram is his daughter Veronica. Finally seeing him for what he really is, Veronica will not go gently into that good night and she will not allow her Archiekins to rot in prison. Hermione and Veronica started an honest conversation about why she stays loyal to Hiram that I wish had been longer and I hope gets revisited. One of the best relationships in Season 1 was this mother/daughter duo and I would love to see a return to that in the form of them teaming up to take him down from the inside.
The Cooper women find themselves involved in a peculiar story this season as it appears Polly has brought Alice into “The Farm” which Betty believes to be a cult. Alice seems to have found some inner zen, but can we please get Mama Cooper out of those rags and back into her sexy Serpent attire? Madchen is far too hot to be looking like something that walked out of a hippie commune. FP, where you at? Come collect your woman. Betty has spent her summer throwing herself into Archie’s trial and not dealing with her father’s serial killer status which leads Polly to put her own detective skills to work and discover that Betty has been lying about going to therapy and not taking her medication. While witnessing what seems like some kind of bizarre ritual with the babies, Betty collapses and has a seizure. I don’t know where this is going but I am super intrigued. Any ideas what could be going on with our favorite blonde pony tailed sleuth?
The story choices for Jughead Jones are perhaps the most head scratching this show makes, yes including having Archie join the mob. I find myself bizarrely longing for the days when fans were mostly upset that Jughead wasn’t being portrayed as asexual because now he’s not even the faintest image of the character he is in the comics — which is fine, it’s just funny. It’s amusing watching him confidently lead a biker gang and brokering deals with rivals over turf. Who could forget his impassioned “I’m a weirdo” speech? Yes, Season 2 dealt mostly with this character progression as he tried to emulate his father and assert leadership skills, but Jughead is definitely the largest departure from his comic counterpart. While the other core 4 are different, they are still recognizable, but Jughead is a whole different animal.
It works for the most part, I think… though I find him most enjoyable when he’s solving a mystery with Betty or bonding with Archie. In the premiere, he’s still very much in charge of the Serpents, again a teenager in charge of a biker gang while there are perfectly capable adults around, and still engrossed in this war with Penny and the Ghoulies. The Ghoulies kidnap Hot Dog and Jughead enlists Cheryl, Toni, Betty, Sweet Pea, and Fangs to steal him back. There is not an instrument small enough to measure my interest in this and I’m hoping the show wraps this up by mid-season and gets back to regular biker gang activity. I think what hurts Riverdale a bit is it doesn’t lean in to its ridiculousness, instead treating all of this like it’s perfectly normal when they could be camping it up left and right. Look at DC’s Legends of Tomorrow; they recognized the ludicrousness of their show and leaned so far into it, that giant blue, furry plush animals are saving the world from alternate universe demons. Sounds ridiculous right? It is amazing. Riverdale could do this if it acknowledged the bizarre-ness of a 16 year old leading a biker gang, but they act like this is all perfectly normal and its off putting.
The big horror element mystery of the season comes in the form of The Gargoyle King, which isn’t afforded much time in the episode because so much else is going on. Dilton is playing a Dungeons and Dragons type game with another student and seeks out Jughead when he realizes its “real”. Jughead dismisses him until later when he finds Dilton and the other boy engaged in some sort of Satanic looking ritual, symbols cut into their backs, bowing to a giant stick statue… are we sure there’s no Chilling Adventures of Sabrina crossover in the works? I loved the Jason Blossom murder mystery and even the Black Hood story (in the beginning), so I’m all for this creepy turn! The minimal set-up in this episode felt very much like a page out of the Stranger Things book and if that’s the vibe they’re going for, I’m ready. If Riverdale could borrow something else from Stranger Things, I would like it to be the way they focus on the relationships between the characters. What makes Stranger Things work, is the strength and bond that exists between the kids within their friendships and the lengths they’re willing to go for one another with a little help from the adults. If Riverdale can shift back to focusing more on the relationships between the characters within the context of The Gargoyle King mystery, than it’s bound to do well.
Where Riverdale shines is in its quieter moments and when it focuses on some of the other characters. Cheryl telling Toni how Archie saved her life the night she tried to commit suicide, Kevin making a pact with Moose about losing their virginity, Josie and Sweet Pea discussing their summer fling, even Fred, Betty, and Archie working on his car. What has lacked in Season 1 and 2 is focus on the other characters that are just as intriguing as our core 4.
I want to see Choni’s relationship developing, Josie focusing back on her music, Reggie doing douche-y Reggie things, and Moose embracing his bi-status with Kevin’s help. All of these characters are charismatic in their own right and brighten the canvas. With a 22 episode order, there’s no excuse not to afford them character moments and story arcs. The key demographic for a show like this is teenagers, wouldn’t it benefit for the characters to really dive into some of the struggles modern teenagers deal with; from surface issues like who’s dating who to the deeper problems like depression, anxiety, grief, and overall mental health. The characters and the opportunity are there, the actors are capable, and the writers can do it. I know they set up this Archie in jail story last season and have to follow through, but let’s hope they do it quickly and focus less on the biker gang and more on the fun horror elements and kids being kids moments that made Season 1 so interesting.