Riverdale season 3 episode 4 review: The Midnight Club

Riverdale meets John Hughes in an absolutely bonkers flashback episode. Spoilers ahead in our review...

This review contains spoilers.

3.4 The Midnight Club

For those who came of age in the 1980s, The Breakfast Club is a pop culture touchstone. In the film, a group of archetypical high schoolers – the nerd, the jock, the princess, etc – are forced to spend a Saturday in detention. Over the course of this fateful day, they each begin to let their guard down, discovering that despite their social status they aren’t all that different.

Written and directed by ‘brat pack’ auteur John Hughes, the movie was perceived by its target audience (including this writer) at the time to be a powerful rumination on the difficulties all teenagers face.

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Simplisticly enough, these characters seemed to have life all figured out by the time Simple Minds’ parenthetic anthem Don’t You (Forget About Me) appeared over the end credits, and audiences everywhere wanted to throw their arms up in exhilaration like economy brand Judd Nelsons.

Then we all grew up and realised that high school is utterly, utterly insignificant. Still, what a soundtrack, eh?

These days, The Breakfast Club continues to be spoken of with reverence. It is such a “important movie” that it even merited its own Criterion Collection special edition Blu-ray recently. And while I’ll leave my personal thoughts on the film these days (i.e. everyone in it except for the janitor is a huge pain in the ass) largely aside, I will say that whenever I see it I get a twinge of nostalgia for the 1980s and my own teen years.

So will the primary audience of Riverdale, most of whom weren’t even alive when the flick came out, care that tonight’s episode pays tribute to the film? Probably not. And that doesn’t matter one bit, because the series’ creative staff clearly does. After all, Molly Ringwald has a supporting role in the show, so perhaps a full-on Hughes homage was inevitable.

But what The Midnight Club does so well is follow Riverdale‘s mission statement of blending existing pop culture with over seventy-five years of Archie Comics lore to create a show that is its own funhouse mirror version of teen dramas. So far this season has been risking alienating fans who seem more interested in shipping characters than focusing on the narrative by upping the weird quotient. Ergo, we have Archie in a prison fight club and a shadowy cult getting screentime.

These are not things Bughead devotees really care about, but screw it, the show is a hit so the producers have a confidence to up its ridiculous ante. Remember, this is a very daring thing for a succesful series to do.

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And that brings us to Gryphons and Gargoyles. This entire storyline is a riff on the so-called “Satanic Panic” fears that kids will go mental from playing RPGs – as depicted in the laughably dated early Tom Hanks vehicle Mazes & Monsters. In 2018, there really isn’t much stigma attached to playing these games as nerd culture is the prevalent culture. Just look around this site/the world for proof of this.

But Riverdale exists in its own bubble of heightened realism, so it can get away with doing things like paying homage to thirty-three-year-old movies and Dokken deep cuts. Since the pilot episode it has been pulling such shenanigans. But by asking viewers to accept a flashback episode in which the lead characters portray their own parents, the series isn’t so much stretching the boundaries of its own credibility as it is blowing them up completely.

To put it another way using lingo borrowed from this very episode, Riverdale is ready to ascend to the next level. And you are either all in or all out.

Consider me very much in, because this was the most ridiculous episode of the series to date, and I loved every second of it. From the hugely over-the-top bathroom fight sequence with Alice and Penelope to the aforementioned Dokken singalong – easily the most subversive moment on what is ostensibly a teen drama in the past decade – everything that happened tonight was shithouse bonkers. And the show has never been trashier or more entertaining as a result.

With Riverdale High in the grips of G&G mania (haven’t these kids heard of Pokemon Go?), Betty wants to figure out why the adults fear it so. Which leads to Alice who, thanks to the Farm, is willing to talk. She spins a familiar tale about how a bad girl (herself), a rebelling Catholic (Hermione), a teacher’s pet (Penelope), an artist/athlete (Fred), a political animal (Sierra), and a ladies man (F.P.) all bonded during detention. They let their guards down and slowly become friends. But instead of library dance sessions and weepy revelations a la Hughes film, what really cements their friendship is playing the taboo RPG Gryphons and Gargoyles.

Eventually the game becomes such an obsession that they begin breaking into Riverdale High at night, thus becoming the titular Midnight Club. But during a mysteriously planned ascension party where Hiram Lodge (here portrayed by Mark Consuelous’ son Michael) gets everyone but a pregnant-with-Chic Alice high on “Fizzle Rocks,” all hell breaks loose. Alice has a vision of a bathroom overrun by graffiti encouraging her to drink from one of two chalices of blue liquid. She instead flees and encounters the Gargoyle King himself, in all of his spooky grandeur. Deciding to go home, she begins to leave when she notices that Principal Featherhead (portrayed by Anthony Michael hall, natch) has arrived to bust up the Midnight Club’s fun.

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Then the Principal goes missing, and is later found stuffed in a locker with the same blue tinge to his lips that the also dead Dilton Doiley had after he was found playing the game in the current timeline. The kids decide to not tell anyone about their G&G experiences, figuring that the killer is probably in their midst. And that person is almost certainly Hermione or Hiram, right? To be continued…

Anyway, they make a pact to never speak of this again, and go their separate ways, so utterly distraught over their gaming experience that they all make terrible decisions that will taint their once-promising futures. (F.P. joins the Serpents, Fred gives up music, Hermione goes against her parents’ wishes and begins dating Hiram, and so on).

Kids, ever hear of a saving roll? Sheesh.

It’s the sort of storytelling contrivance that also would have you believe that Indiana Jones became the man moviegoers love during the events of the opening sequence of Last Crusade, and it’s the only misstep in anotherwise perfect outing.

Back in the present, Betty runs to the Doiley Hatch to tell Jughead of what she’s learned. Only he is now way deep into the game. Boom! Roll credits.

The sheer joy of watching these actors ham their way through this episode is great, then you realize how skilled performers they really are. KJ Apa is especially great as Fred Andrews, perfectly nailing Luke Perry’s mannerisms so much that you’d be forgiven if you thought you were watching a lost 90210 episode.

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It will be interesting to guage reaction to The Midnight Club due to how relentlessly over-the-top it is. If there was any doubting it before, Riverdale is a mess, but a calculated one that seems more interested in courting the misfits than anyone else. What will the show do next? I have absolutely no idea. And in a time of predictable television that is a very exciting thing.

Read Chris’ review of the previous episode, As Above So Below, here.