This Riverdale review contains spoilers.
Riverdale Season 3 Episode 22
“May the final quest begin.”
With three seasons now come and gone, Riverdale remains an anomaly in this age of prestige television. A series packed with the sort of authentic camp that last week’s Met Gala could only dream of, this remains a unique show where with parents lament about whether or not their child’s relationships is “endgame” at the same time their town is being overrun with murderous LARPers. There are often so many tonal shifts per episode that it’s hard not to get narrative whiplash. It is, as they say, a scene.
But isn’t that also the charm of Riverdale? For this is a show that has, and always will, be a ridiculous creation. A dark re-envisioning of a comic book franchise that was long ago (and wrongly) dismissed as being lightweight and forgettable seems like such a goofy idea that a parody of this very concept existed before the series even did. Any such creative endeavor was bound to be marred by plot developments that were contrived at best, non-sensical at worst.
Yet the key to getting on board with this series was hiding in plain sight all along. Back in the film-noir inspired “The Red Dahlia” episode, Veronica summed up perfectly why it’s best for viewers to just go along with the logistical leaps in logic needed to enjoy the series by saying “forget it Jug, it’s Riverdale.” Bear in mind that a huge portion of the CW’s demographic probably never saw Chinatown,but this is another moot point. You see, this wasn’t a clever reference, but a mission statement. Riverdale is a show that will always be critic-proof as it’s audience is now so deeply invested in the characters (uneven though they may be, sometimes scene to scene) that it ultimately doesn’t matter to the hardcore fans who are more concerned with ships than consistency.
Insert thinkpiece about if shipping trumps story here.
This season has been wildly uneven, with the past couple of episodes making some truly welcome course-correcting. First and foremost, Archie, ever the cipher, has finally been folded into the main action of the series in a way that almost feels organic. (Even if it did require some plotting acrobatics to do so). If the flash forward is any indication, he will finally be deep in the shit alongside Betty, Jughead, and Veronica in next season’s main storyline.
I’ll be the first to admit that the Gryphons & Gargoyles plotline has dragged out far too long, but this is more of an issue with Riverdale having 22 episodes to fill with story when a shorter season would be more satisfying. But the big conclusion that Penelope Blossom was pulling the Gargoyle King’s strings made narrative sense and was consistent with what we know about her. Indeed, she has been driven mad by the loss of her son and still coping with her unresolved childhood trauma.
Penelope tells the core four that her G&G insanity was caused by a desire to “take my revenge on a town that allowed me to be sold as a child bride to the Blossoms.” Unfortunately, Riverdale isn’t nuanced enough of a series to adequately explore how small towns turn a blind eye to abuse, so instead of a thoughtful rumination on this issue we get an elaborate spin on The Most Dangerous Game that comes complete with gunplay and poisoning.
Yet, with Veronica’s aforementioned declaration again ringing in my ear, this all seems to make weird sense for Penelope’s character. She has always been unhinged due to the horrors she suffered as a child. This combined with the loss of Jason Blossom sent her on a spiral of insanity that causes her to revive a game from her twisted childhood in an attempt to get revenge aginst those she percieves as having wronged her by murdering their children. It’s all very Freddy Krueger by way of One Tree Hill, but damn if the developments here don’t track with Penelope’s story.
Hal and Chic are lost souls themselves, which is why they find themselves spun in her web. The latter is the more pathetic of the two, getting G&G iconography tattooed on his back and posing as Jason to recieve the closest approximation of love that he has ever experienced. “Who doesn’t want blood sacrifices made in their name?” he asks Jughead, as if it is the most normal question in the world. Chic was gone before we ever met him, a vessel just looking to be filled with the crazed acceptance Penelope promised.
The Black Hood is revived because Hal doesn’t know how to process anything other than the darkness that has come to define him. His only interest is perserving the Hood’s legacy by encouraging Betty to kill him in order to embrace the serial killer potential that she harbors. (Again, this is a silly/glorious show). Hal doesn’t even see Betty as his daughter anymore, but as a tool to spread evil and chaos. He is toxic masculinity personified, and is, in Penelope’s eyes, even a failure at achieving this. She shoots him in the head at point blank range, ending both Hal and the Black Hood’s lives of evil in the process. It’s a shocking scene that was shocking in its brutality and heightened by Lili Reinhart’s intense portrayal of helplessness. A takeaway: Betty will never allow herself to become like her father, whom she loves, loathes and now, mourns, equally.
Much less effective was the last-minute revelation that Alice is helping the FBI investigate The Farm. (For this is a series in which law enforcement officials would get nothing accomplished without the help of unqualified locals). I want to go back and rewatch the last couple of episodes to see if the seeds to this twist were planted previously, because other than Alice’s explanation that she’s been talking with Charles, it seems like a major contrivance that came out of nowhere. The bright side of all of this is that it will give Betty a family member to confide in now that Hal is gone and Alice and Polly have vanished with The Farm.
Then there’s the Cheryl problem. We live in a time when mental illness is still extremely stigmatized despite its prevalence in society. Riverdale is hardly an issue-based show like the problematic 13 Reasons Why, yet its treatment of the subject leaves a lot to be desired given the series’ demographic. Last season, Cheryl’s obsession with and subsequent stalking of Josie was introduced and resolved without any real exploration of this topic. In a show that regularly features “crazy” (an irksome term itself) characters, there’s an opportunity for the writers and producers to really explore mental illness in a thoughtful way a la its progressive takes on other contemporary issues. Especially given how popular the Cheryl Blossom character is. She and the viewers deserve better.
As the episode ends, Archie, Betty, Jughead, and Veronica are seen just enjoying teen life at Pop’s. They make a vow to have the BEST SENIOR YEAR EVER, with their optimism immediately undercut by a flash forward in which Jughead is missing, they are all coated in blood, and Betty convinces them to all cover up some unnamed but apparently heinous crime. Thus ends another confounding and satisfying season of Riverdale. Congratulations, you have ascended.
– The Lodges are mostly absent from this episode’s proceedings except for the third act revelation that Hiram is still pulling the strings from prison, getting Hermione arrested for his attempted murder and planning to execute some mysterious plan of vengeance for Veronica that we will see play out next season. Archie’s so right, he does suck.
– What exactly is the “ascension” that The Farm does in this episode. We see Kevin in a room filled with white shrouds and shoes, a visual homage to the notorious Heaven’s Gate cult. Charles’ tone seems to indicate that they have just moved on from Riverdale and not this mortal coil a la Jonestown. But why was Kevin chosen to be the one left behind and how will he cope with The Farm equivalent of survivor’s guilt?
– Hasbro recently released a Stranger Things-branded version of Dungeons & Dragons. I say we riot if there isn’t a Riverdale one on the market by the time the show returns in October.
– Timekeepers out there, does this episode have the longest pre-credits scene to date? It certainly feels that way. Then again I just might still be dizzy from all the exposition thrown out during the opening minutes.
– How much Gargoyle King cosplay will there be now that convention season is underway? I’m hoping a lot.
– Hermione now owns the Pembrooke and co-owns the Chok’lit Shoppe and La Bonne Nuit with Veronica. Archie is now legally the owner of the El Royale gym. Update your Riverdale Monopoly games accordingly.
– It appears that Penelope and Edgar have at least some knowledge of the other, so how involved were they in each other’s illicit activities? Was Penelope loaning Chic to The Farm so he could pose as Jason during Cheryl’s treatments? Or was Cheryl just looking at Jason’s corpse in the chair and was hypnotized into thinking she was chatting with him?
– The most awkward scene of the night goes to Mary Andrews, for her hamfisted way of asking if Archie and Ronnie were back together. Subtle she is not.
– As a general rule, you probably should never take Penelope up on her offer of refreshments.
– Archie referring to gargoyles as “gremlins” has to be the writers commenting on how disconnected he is from the main plotlines of this show, right? Because this is absolutely my head canon.
– “Don’t forget, I survived a real bear attack, remember?” Riverdale is the only show on television that can get away with this kind of dialogue. K.J. Apa’s line delivery of “of crap, not again” in this scene shows off some real comedic abilities (as did the moment when Archie told Veronica that her father sucks last week). For the fourth season, the showrunners should take a page from Chris Hemsworth’s book of Thor and allow the character to embrace his ridiculous qualities. This is a series based on a humor comic after all.
– One of the many bombshells dropped in this packed season finale is that F.P. and Alice’s son, Charles, is alive and well. More than that, he is an FBI agent who has been utilizing Alice as an informant in the government’s case against Edgar Evernever and The Farm. Charles also appears to be terrible at his job, thus his showing up in Riverdale after The Farm has vanished. Then there’s the manner of him asking Betty and Jughead for their help, as if no one in the FBI is as competent in their work as these two junior detectives.
– Finally, I want to thank you all for reading these reviews for the past season. It has been a wild, fun ride. I can’t wait to see what these crazy kids get mixed up in next…and if Hot Dog is ever seen again.