In some ways, last night’s episode of Riverdale revealed the entire show’s inciting incident.
Since SDCC last summer, the series has been teasing the third season’s fourth episode, in which the actors playing Archie’s gang would assume the roles of their parents in the 1980s to unearth one chilling Riverdale secret. But I don’t think we were expecting the episode, “The Midnight Club” to reveal why the parents all ended up in their unhappy adult states.
That everything stems from the Gargoyle King is pretty telling.
In the episode, Alice (Madchen Amick) finally tells Betty (Lili Reinhart) the truth about their experience with Gryphons & Gargoyles. As she tells it, she, Fred, Hermione, Sierra, Penelope, and F.P. all bonded in a Saturday detention room where they found a copy of G&G. The game gripped them, but also created something special among the group. Fred and Hermione started dating. Alice and F.P. reconnected. Penelope, previously an extremely sheltered hall monitor, made friends. Sierra shared her secret relationship with Tom Keller with them. It was all very high school, but also somehow heartwarming. Then again, there is something special about watching extremely attractive people play a role-playing game so intensely. They even LARP!
But the game isn’t all its cracked up to be. The self-named Midnight Club eventually discover Hiram Lodge, Tom, Dilton Doiley’s father, and Reggie’s dad were also playing in a separate group. After they merge into one, they are all invited to an ascension ceremony. Dilton’s father assumed Penelope set it up and vice-versa, but the real culprit’s plans were thwarted when Hiram spiced up the party with a Jingle Jangle precursor. Already pregnant with Chic, Alice declined the drugs, and therefore saw the Gargoyle King and the goblets spiked with Dran-O. Fearing the whole scene, Alice bolted.
A week or so later, Principal Featherhead (special guest Anthony Michael Hall) was discovered in one of the janitorial closets dead with blue-stained lips. The Midnight Club agreed to disband and hide all the remaining G&G materials. In doing so, they also broke their bonds. Fred gave up his dreams to carry on the family business, Hermione began dating Hiram, F.P. joined the Serpents, Sierra and Tom broke up, Penelope dedicated herself to the Blossom cause, and Alice gave up Chic and began her ill-fated relationship with Hal Cooper.
All of which means these few weeks of the Midnight Club set in motion the rest of their lives and established the environment their children would be born into. And even as the episode offered warm nostalgia for the 1980s, it also echoed old storylines like Fred and Hermione’s Season 1 affair, the entire Chic nightmare, and the ongoing plot regarding Sierra and Tom. It even added a new wrinkle to Jason Blossom’s murder.
In possibly the cruelest — and most glossed over — twist in the whole sordid Blossom affair, Penelope tells the gang she was adopted into the family to be Clifford’s sister and eventual wife. Ick. As the episode continued, though, Penelope became a surprisingly sympathetic character. So much so that her fear of the outside world after the ascension party is arguably the most tragic outcome for any of the Riverdale parents.
Not that any of this excuses her treatment of Cheryl, mind, but it just makes her a little bit more the victim of circumstances. It also makes her a suspect for the present-day Gargoyle King as she was the Midnight Club’s game master. She has been conspicuously absent this season despite joining Hiram Lodge’s legion of doom.
But let’s ponder the implications of the Gargoyle King’s presence in town then and now as we watch a preview of next week’s show. Jughead (Cole Sprouse) is running his own G&G campaign and suffering from the compulsion to play. Meanwhile, Archie (KJ Apa) seems headed toward a prison break.
Riverdale airs Wednesdays on The CW.