Riverdale season 3 episode 8 review: yet more gleeful absurdity

Outbreak, Riverdale's midseason finale is characteristically bonkers stuff. Spoilers ahead in our review...

This review contains spoilers.

3.8 Outbreak

“May God have mercy on our souls.”

“Not God, Governor, the King.”

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And so we arrive at Riverdale‘s mid-season finale, and I for one am still catching my breath. And holding my sides from laughing at how absolutely silly this series has become – in the best possible way. I am genuinely not sure of exactly how I am feeling about this game-changing instalment at this point, but let’s work through it together, shall we? What I can say with some definitive clarity is that this was one hugely entertaining episode that gave viewers some big answers while setting up the second half of the season.

Let’s start things off with Jughead and Archie. Arriving at Gladys Jones’ garage/chop shop/orphange/whatever, the pals get another harsh lesson in how far Hiram’s reach extends when Penny Peabody arrives to collect the bounty on Archie’s head. Fortunately, Jug’s kick-ass little sister Jellybean – she prefers J.B., thank you very much – won’t have anyone threatening her crush, so she knocks Penny out with the aid of her trusty slingshot. (Because this is Riverdale, and kids in this show’s anarchronistic universe clearly still use slingshots, duh).

Gladys learns that the bounty Lodge has put on Archie extends to anyone who helps him as well. Although we don’t know hardly anything about her character yet, it seems a safe bet that she cares about her boy as she calls F.P. to get him when Jug insists on returning to Riverdale to bring down Hiram once and for all. It would be interesting to know what Jughead’s plan here is exactly, as everytime he has confronted Mr Lodge in the past it has resulted in nothing but grandstanding on his part.

Mrs Jones made another call too, to Fred Andrews. The ever-honourable Fred shows up to take Archie to the Canadian border, where he can start his new life, hopefully out of Hiram’s reach.

At this point, can we all just take a second to contemplate Archie’s career prospects North of the Border? Given his experiences working for Fred, construction would be his best bet. But Archie being Archie, deep down I know he’d either give his music another go or, most likely, find work as a chiselled but not so bright escort.

That said, the scene between Archie and Fred is touching. And when Fred gives Vegas to Archie to keep him company on the road? I was crying more than watching one of those Sarah McLachlan SPCA ads. Where will Archie go next? And how many episodes until he his path leads him back home? With Archie heading to Canada, F.P., Jughead, and Fred all head back home. Although they have no idea what awaits them upon their return…

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Back in Riverdale, Betty is still captive at the Sisters of Quiet Mercy. I have been vocal about not being a fan of how the show imprisoned yet another character here, but at least this ep shook things up a bit by taking the unexpected route of having Betty and Ethel work together to escape. Shannon Purser hasn’t been properly utilised on the series to date, with the characterisation of Ethel being all over the place. Now off Fizzle Rocks and seemingly well-adjusted, she and Betty put their heads together to set in motion a cheer-worthy plan – all hail the Gryphon Queen! – to get the brainwashed patients to freedom. I genuinely hope that now this friendship between the pair has been established, that it gets further developed in the backend of this season.

Their plan is a huge success, albeit one a bit too late. Which brings us back to the main narrative thrust of this episode: Hiram’s plan for Riverdale.

Essentially, he wants to turn the town into Hill Valley from the dark alternate timeline from Back to the Future, Part II. In his brave new order, Riverdale will be full of Fizzle Rocks and Penelope Blossom prostituting herself and costumed gang members and generally all sorts of ridiculousness that will make life there like The Purge, minus the wanton killing.

Do I even have to mention that this plan makes not one iota of sense? How exactly does Hiram plan on keeping the townsfolk from rising up against him? Why would he and Hermione want to be stuck in the hellscape that a town quarantined from the outside world surely will become? Will this series of events turn Veronica’s hellscape into the sort of bizarre cabaret glimpsed at in Escape From New York‘s Everyone’s Coming to New York song and dance sequence?

As the episode ends, the show has everything turned upside down. It is a daring move in a season whose waters have already been muddied with several potential shark-jumping moments. But this raises a bigger question: How much is too much for Riverdale? Are we at the breaking point for what the show’s largely tween-driven viewership will put up with? These are all rhetorical questions, because from this writer’s perspective what the series does best is over-the-top storytelling.

This midseason finale furthered the gleeful absurdity that has been the season’s calling card. While I’m personally tired of seeing Hiram’s constant success as I watch this show to escape from the real-life facepalm that is an unqualified businessman holding a position of power, I can at least appreciate how Riverdale has turned him into a Machivellian villian. Watching tonight I found myself utterly charmed by how unafraid the series is with bear-hugging ridiculous plot points. With the town now cut off from the outside world, we are at peak Riverdale. And it’s a beautiful thing.

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