This review contains spoilers.
3.10 The Stranger
“At 8:47 on a Wednesday morning, Archie Andrews died…at least the Archie we knew.”
After last week’s episode – my least favourite of the series to date – I came into this instalment with both hope and apprehension. It was fairly obvious that Archie would survive, but this being Riverdale, I must admit that I was pleasantly surprised that his resurrection and return home happened immediately as the episode opened. As viewers will be quick to point out, despite the amount of scenes each episode of the show features, certain storylines have a tendency to drag out well beyond their sell-by date. This was certainly true for the Black Hood, and while way more compelling of a plotline, it’s about time for the Gargoyle King to ascend to the next level himself. The point being here that Archie is finally back in Riverdale, and thanks to some subtle course-correcting by writer Brian E. Paterson, once again in the heart of the action.
Suffering from some serious Hiram/bear attack PTSD, he finds himself struggling to return to regular teenage life. Mr Weatherbee recommends that Archie repeat his junior year and, more pressingly, the SATs are in a few days. It’s always hilarious whenever Riverdale does typical teen storylines, knowing that within minutes elsewhere in the show someone will be bleeding out or getting involved in an extended Silence Of The Lambs homage. All of those things happen here, and it is fantastic. While high school life may have been the focus of the great Archie Comics on which this show is (loosely) based, it is extremely odd seeing these kids taking tests and doing other mundane teen things. Then again, this mad plot-shifting is all part of the show’s strange magic, isn’t it?
Further complicating Archie’s homecoming is his now-strained relationship with Veronica. Ronnie is forever torn between her loyalty to the Man in Black and her love for the Red Paladin, even though the former has sworn to end the latter. Varchie never was really in The Notebook territory in terms of aspirational romances, and it’s not like Veronica isn’t more than aware of what her father is capable of. So it’s easy to sympathise with Archie here. Everything bad that has happened in Archie’s life is primarily due to his own stupidity. But Hiram’s machinations are a close second. If Veronica doesn’t realise these facts, then perhaps she is better off in the arms of that increasingly lovable doofus Reggie Mantle.
Reggie’s role on the series is very ill-defined, his cipher nature means that the writers can manipulate his underdevelopment to their whim – which is why he has been portrayed as sports bro, drug-dealer, blood-thirsty antagonist, reliable employee, and, now, opportunistic would-be boyfriend. Are we supposed to be rooting for him or jeering his lovesick puppy dog eyes? We don’t know because it feels like the writers aren’t quite sure. This season has definitely done its share of overtime working Reg into an actual character as opposed to some inconsistent personality traits. Charles Melton is great in the role when given the right sort of material to work here, as seen here. Clearly “Veggie” are doomed due to Veronica and Archie being end game, but ol Arch needs to get his shit together right now, and if going all in on using boxing to deal with his complicated feelings, man, is what he needs to do, so be it.
Speaking of needing to get their shit together, hello Cooper family! In this episode we learned that Alice donated Betty’s college fund to The Farm. Her reasoning is that all the kids who Betty and Ethel liberated from the Sisters of Quiet Mercy need food and shelter, etc, so in Alice’s own addled way, she had good intentions. But also, hell no. Betty rightfully is pissed off, so she enlists the help of Sierra McCoy to try to get her money back. Since Alice forged Hal’s signature, getting him to sign an affidavit should reverse the donation… or something, the legality of the donation is hardly anything more than a plot device to get Betty and the erstwhile Black Hood back together.
Apparently spending all of his time in prison immersed in the works of Thomas Harris, Hal begins manipulating Betty with a tall tale about his involvement in the death of Principal Featherhead back in the ’90s. But twist! He was lying just to get Betty to want to investigate more, and thereby spend time with her incarcerated father. It would be sweet if it weren’t so fucked and toxic. But twist again! The plan actually worked! Betty returns home with the signed affidavit and discovers a feast of vegan milk and oatmeal cookies to celebrate Alice’s new job as a TV reporter and The Farm’s successful purchase of the former home of the Sisters of Quiet Mercy, which will become the group’s new compound. (But, um, doesn’t the document Betty now have in her possession undo the donation Alice illicitly made? Legal folks, speak up in the comments). Distraught, Betty heads back to visit Hal, who comforts her by reminding her that her intelligence will result in plenty of scholarship opportunities.
While his girlfriend is kicking ass at the SATs and dealing with her nutzo family, Jughead learns that Fangs’ infiltration of the Gargoyle Gang has gotten him close to the Gargoyle King himself. The Serpents bust up a big meeting between Fangs and GG to discover that the King is really Tall Boy. They use him to get close to Hiram, who smells trouble and sends new sheriff Claudius Blossom in his stead. While gloating about how he has a way of avoiding danger over the phone to Hermione, Hiram is shot. Did Hubris itself fire the gun? We don’t know! Veronica thinks maybe Archie did it, because he stormed out of the SATs earlier in the day. He realises that Varchie is no more. And with that, the show’s fanbase erupts into tweets and tears. Shh, it’ll be okay, we all know that the couple will be back together sooner or later.
In the season’s most confusing turn of events so far, Fangs shoots Tall Boy as he tries to escape from Dilton’s bunker. Jughead’s suggestion to cover up the shooting is… throw a party? Huh? Fangs and Sweet Pea are just as bewildered as the viewers at home, nevertheless, a party is thrown. One that is enhanced by the arrival of F.P., who was made Sheriff by Hermione while Hiram recovers in the hospital. It seems that F.P. and Hermione are in cahoots, and the strange bedfellows may have their own plan to undermine Hiram…
Read Chris’ review of the previous episode, No Exit, here.