This Riverdale review contains spoilers.
Riverdale Season 3 Episode 9
“The place and time where it all went wrong…”
Rest in peace, Archie Andrews.
Following a bear attack in the Canadian Hinterlands, our Red Paladin has finally ascended to the next level. Well, probably not, but this episode works overtime in trying to make you think that our ginger hero (who just so happens to be Riverdale‘s biggest liability) has gone to the great big Chok’lit Shoppe in the sky. Let’s take this at face value for a second and imagine that the series has the cojones to kill off one of its leads in the goofiest manner possible. What would this mean for the show?
Mainly this: Killing Archie would solve the show’s biggest problem since it premiered — i.e. what to do what a character who always seems disconnected from the main narrative even when he is the focus of it. Despite KJ Apa’s great work on the show, Archie has long been problematic, with his storylines (sleeping with Grundy, befriending Hiram, fighting Hiram, and so on) constantly overshadowed by whatever way more interesting things Betty, Jughead, Veronica, etc, are up to. Last season’s journey into vigilantism did him no favors either. Nor does the fact that Archie constantly makes bad decisions. He is the weakest link in this show, so why not kill him? After all, the show is called Riverdale and not Archie.
Then there’s the issue of how his loss would impact the other characters’ storylines: Betty would have to deal with her complicated feelings for Archie, which in turn would impact her relationship with Jughead. Veronica would feel guilty over her daliance with Reggie and also would blame her father for Archie’s demise. Fred would be grief-stricken over the death of not only his son, but his best friend.
The story possibilities are endless, and ones that would only enhance the quality Riverdale in the long run. After the initial grief and complaints from the Varchie shippers died down, the show would have a renewed creative focus…and earned itself some respect from those who wrote the series off as a lightweight CW drama.
It’s an interesting thing to think about, but the more realistic option here is that the writers are using Archie’s ursine encounter and his subsequent vision as a way to hit the reset button on the character. And I am fine with that. In his ponderous dream sequences tonight, Archie is shown killing what he views as his greatest weaknesses. After slaying the Black Hood and Hiram, he must then face his greatest challenge by murdering his own good nature, which he does in his subconscious, and apparently pays the ultimate price for committing such an act. Granted, he had more than enough opportunity to walk back from this point of no return, by engaging with Betty about his long-abandoned musical aspirations or heeding Fred’s advice about their being another way home, but our Red Paladin wasn’t having any of it.While I’d be shocked if his apparent death lasts longer than an episode, when Archie does return, he will be a hardened, more cynical character than we have seen before. Which is kind of a bummer as viewers have already been down the Dark Archie road. But if it leads to a better Archie narratively, bring it on.
All of this leads into the bigger problem with this episode, nothing that happens on Riverdale right now seems to have any lasting impact. Tonight’s return picked up a few weeks after the quarantine was implemented, supposedly cutting Riverdale off from the outside world. But we learn quickly through Jughead’s narration that the quarantine has now been lifted. Reggie is regularly traveling to Canada on beer runs. Jug, FP, and Fred are all back in their homes. So what exactly was Hiram’s master plan? Wasn’t he trying to isolate the town Escape From New York-like into his own criminal empire where he could be (Gargoyle) King? How did the cutting off of the town impact its residents? How does Hiram feel now that he has succeeded? Why did Principal Weatherbee decide to turn Riverdale High into a “police state?” None of these important questions are addressed, and the time jump just feels lazy.
The plot murkiness spills over into other aspects of the show. We see Pop Tate in the speakeasy, when just weeks back he told Veronica how he wouldn’t stand for criminal activity in the business that his been his home for so many years. For that matter, Veronica has abandoned her intents on keeping her business legit. These decisions all likely resulted from the quarantine and its immediate impact, but we don’t really know this. There’s a fine line between spelling things out for the audience and having contempt for viewers, and sadly this episode feels like more of the latter.
Elsewhere, the storyline of what Betty will do with the refugees from the Sisters of Quiet Mercy is given the most obvious wrap up possible — with the kids heading to the still mystery-shrouded Farm and the nuns being bailed out (and likely led to their demise) by Hiram. And Jughead further proves himself to be the worst leader of the Serpents ever by changing the rules for Fangs only to have it immediately blow up in his face.
Watching this episode, it felt like the writers immediately backpeddled the changes implemented in the previous episode. That’s distressing given how big and weird it was. To immediately restore the status quo feels like cheating, a move that will be downright infuriating once Archie is ressurected. Unless he isn’t, in which case I’ll have much more to say on the matter as soon as I finish eating crow.
– Bear attacks in the Archieverse are nothing new. The weird/wonderful 1970s run of Life with Archie regularly had our heroes encountering bears. Knowing how plugged in to Archie history the Riverdale writers are, I can’t help but feel that Archie’s run in with his hairy foe is not a subtle reference to this.
– Another check in the “Archie is alive” column is Jughead’s referencing of Luke Skywalker’s hero’s journey and how Archie’s experiences tonight shadowed some events from The Empire Strikes Back. No, seriously! Archie does indeed head out on his own like Luke, where he encounters a bear (Wampa) and has a vision (an injured Luke seeing Ben) that will alter the course of his future.
– This is the first time in the series in which Evelyn Evernever has appeared and no one has had a seizure.
– I would very much like one of those Farm t-shirts, please and thank you.
– I addressed this above, but Veronica got the cooked books she showed her father from Pop Tate. Hopefully she isn’t dragging him into her life of inconsistency/crime.
-Speaking of which, let’s hear it for Josie who tells Veronica that she wants no part of the Lodge family bullshit, headlining job or not.
– Where is Ethel? She was all about helping the refugees from the Sisters of Quiet Mercy but is no where to be found in this episode.
– I’m being hard on this episode, but I will say that the Choni catburglaring stuff was fun. And we are given another fake brand in the form of ‘Glamourege’ eggs.
– So Archie’s job was “clearing trails” in the Hinterlands, right? I’ve watched this episode twice and his job, like several things happening in this installment, made zero sense to me.
– Am I the only one who thinks that Fangs already is a member of the Gargoyle Gang? That he joined them after Jughead kicked him out? I foresee some betrayal in Fangs’ future. And what exactly is happening between Fangs and Sweetpea?
– “We’ll go, but we’re keeping the jackets” – Cheryl, forever slaying, even when on the verge of becoming a meme in search of a character.
– Farewell Sisters of Quiet Mercy, I sincerely hope this is the last we see of your tired characters.
– This episode takes its title from the existential John-Paul Sartre play of the same name, which famously gave us the phrase “hell is other people.” In this case most likely referring to Archie’s low-rent Twin Peaks vision of those from his past.
– Finally, regarding the Veronica and Reggie kiss. This is being written before the episode airs, so I’m not sure what the fan reaction will be. I’m guessing that it’s a pretty even split between Varchie shipper outrage (2019, you are something else!) and those happy to see Veronica moving on with the increasingly interested Reggie. Personally, I’m all for the Archie/Veronica relationship getting tested by something not involving Hiram. Besides, if the pair are endgame, this won’t matter. And let’s not forget how quickly Archie was ready to hook up with Lori Lake a few episodes ago.