At least for a time, it seem Riverdale‘s third season will be “Life Without Archie.”
Granted, one of the program’s great strengths is its ability to tell interesting stories without Archie Andrews (KJ Apa) at the center of everything. In fact, it may be one of the reasons why the series took off as strongly as did where earlier attempts to bring the Archie Comics characters to television faltered. Nevertheless, it is interesting to note that while he may not be the center of the universe, Archie is more than willing to carry the weight of its troubles on his shoulders. As last night’s episode illustrated, even his dreams tell him to take on guilt which is not his and bear it alone.
For all the time the show spends on the psychological stresses surrounding Jughead (Cole Sprouse), Betty (Lili Reinhart) and Cheryl (Madelaine Petsch), it has kept Archie’s mental state at a certain distance. Sure, he formed his vigilante groups in response to seeing his father shot, but it really doesn’t explain his willingness to become High School Capo last year. And considering his actions while working for Hiram Lodge (Mark Consuelos) seem to consume him more than reality of the boy Hiram’s guard shot, examining why Archie feels so responsibly for everything is something the show should try to cover. Some of it is heredity, of course. Fred Andrews (Luke Perry) has a habit of taking on a lot of responsibility, but that impulse derives from somewhere. It could be an innate altruism, but it could also be a form of narcissism. Perhaps his time in the hilariously named Leopold & Loeb Juvenile Detention facility will help Archie sort it out.
Meanwhile, there’s plenty for the remaining Key Four to do while Archie is away. There’s still Hiram’s masterplan for the town. Presumably, construction on the Southside prison complex has not begun, but his alliance with the Ghoulies and Penny Peabody (Brit Morgan) is in full-swing. And since she loves to agitate things, her attempt to get the Serpents to rescue Hot Dog may lead to a war. Which should be enough for the crown to lay heavy on Jughead, but a new mystery has also swooped in which will, no doubt, consume him and Betty in the months to come.
Provided it is a season-long story. More on that in a bit.
Betty, for her part, is struggling with the knowledge her father was the Black Hood. While Alice (Madchen Amick) and Polly (Tiera Skovbye) seek solace with a nearby guru, Betty constructed the fiction of a therapist over the summer to obtain Adderall — which is a strange choice of medications for her situation and indicative of a genuine problem in dear Betty. Considering The Farm’s overt cultishness, that’s not really an answer, either, but at least she’s willing to talk to Jug and consider actual therapy. It’s just a shame The Farm folk won’t let her now that she’s seen … well, whatever she actually saw at the conclusion of the episode.
You saw it, too. Polly’s twins floating above a fire pit in the back yard of the Cooper home. Was it just a hallucination as she comes off the Adderall? Or is Riverdale veering toward the supernatural after years of accepting it is a crime show?
The pivot, if it is happening, wouldn’t be out of place as the show always flirted with a certain spookiness. But considering the debut of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina on Netflix in a few weeks, introducing covens, secret societies and obscures runes feels a touch orchestrated to give the other show a boost or give both a thematic tie. Even Betty’s Adderall misadventure has a Greendale connection which seems pretty pointed.
And that brings us back to the new mystery. Jug finds Dilton Doiley (Major Curda) and another boy out in the woods stripped to their skivvies with runes carved into their backs. Earlier, Dilton tried to tell Jug that the RPG he was playing all summer was real, but he missed the details as he focused on the Archie verdict. The main takeaway for the audience at home: the “Gargoyle King” is real. What that means — and if it is connected to The Farm — will be key to this year’s case. Provided of course it isn’t just window dressing for a different witchcraft-related series.
But let’s ponder that as we take a look at a preview of next week’s show. Archie acclimates to life at Leopold & Loeb while Betty faces repercussion from whatever she saw the night before. She and Jug begin their search for the Gargoyle King, but he may already be looking for them.
Riverdale airs Wednesdays on The CW.