Sit down, grab a milkshake, and get ready to marvel at a comically unending parade of beefcake. Because, dear Riverdale friends, the most ridiculous, lovable teen soap this side of the Atlantic has returned (since, as a I learned this weekend, the murder-y Elite might just be winning the international teen soap game). After watching Wednesday night’s premiere, and witnessing first-hand just how confident the Riverdale team was at New York Comic Con about their show’s upcoming episodes, Riverdale 3.0 just might be the best season yet.
For proof of that, look no further than the last two scenes of the season 3 premiere, “Labor Day.” Two words: Gargoyle and King. First, we get our first glimpse of a looming Big Bad from a drawing by Dilton Doiley (Major Curda), the jumpiest boy in Riverdale. On the other side of Dilton’s drawing is a map, which Jughead Jones (Cole Sprouse) uses to track his classmate, who has been acting even more suspicious than usual, down. Jughead finds a ritualistic scene in the middle of the forest, complete with chalices filled with blue liquid, a massive altar identical to that drawing, and Dilton and Ben (Moses Thiessen), who was equally suspicious all episode, bowing and scarred with gigantic unknown symbols. Are they dead? We can’t tell, but Ben is spitting up a lot of blue liquid.
On the other side of town, Betty Cooper (Lili Reinhart) walks outside to see her mom Alice (Mädchen Amick) and sister Polly (Tiera Skovbye), mom to twins, in the midst of a fire ritual. As the premiere takes great pains to prove, Alice and Polly have joined an organic, crystal-loving cult that has branded itself a “farm.” All of a sudden, the women drop Polly’s twins into the fire… before they float into the air. Betty faints and seizes. Was the supernatural scene real or a figment of Betty’s imagination? She has been prescribing herself pills, as we learn earlier in the episode.
Who knows? After all, the mystery is 63% of the fun in Riverdale. Yet, we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
Let’s backtrack to the very start of “Labor Day.” Harkening back to Riverdale’s roots, we open with an overwrought narration from Jughead waxing poetic via voice-over and showing off his biceps in Pop’s. Quickly, we learn this summer was brutal for our leading foursome. Former New York queen Veronica Lodge (Camila Mendes) is stuck waiting tables after cutting off her relationship with scheming dad Hiram (Mark Consuelos, now almost exclusively twirling a mustache in all scenes). Betty threw herself into exonerating long time BFF Archie Andrews (K.J. Apa) to avoid dealing with that fact her father (Lochlyn Munro) is a freaking serial killer (and a bad one at that). And, of course, Archie is on trial for the murder of Shadow Lake townie Cassidy (Harrison MacDonald), whom he didn’t actually kill. Jughead also probably did something of note, but he doesn’t mention it.
We enter Archie’s trial, which is on its very last days. Here, Riverdale does two very smart things. First it reminds us of the truly bonkers actual explanation for the murder in question: Archie’s girlfriend’s dad’s doorman, who’s actually a mob hitman for hire, did it. The jury is correct for questioning this story. Then Riverdale reminds us of how much nonsense Archie pulled during his pro-Hiram fascism era last season. He started two masked vigilante groups! He ran around the Southside pointing guns in people’s faces! He set off an explosion (which the D.A. didn’t even bring up!). He joined the mob. However, as Archie’s mom and attorney Mary (Molly Ringwald) brings up, the “sensitive musician” has also saved someone’s life, opened his home up to friends and former enemies alike, and isn’t actually a murderer.
That Archie Andrews — he contains multitudes.
This is what inexplicably leads to the judge deciding to put the trial on pause to give Archie one last Labor Day weekend of freedom. This decree is announced roughly .56 seconds after Archie tells his friends he would really love one last breezy Labor Day weekend. Court adjourned and, as Amanda Bynes once said, bring in the dancing lobsters.
So, it is time for some good old fashioned Riverdale fun. Cheryl Blossom (Madelaine Petsch) glides into Pop’s to announce a pool party. Jughead, Sweet Pea (Jordan Connor), and Fangs (Drew Ray Tanner) introduce us to a shirtless encampment of Serpents. Archie, following the house rules and therefore sitting sans top, gets an honorary Serpent tattoo in preparation for possible jail time. No, he is not in the gang, but the tat will get him the necessary protection if he ends up behind parts. Now we all understand that hotly debated snake ink from the trailers.
Everyone heads to the sexy, sexy pool party, which is being held next to the burned-down ruin of Thornhill. Only Riverdale. To make things even more Riverdale, a half-naked Sweet Pea runs into the bash to dramatically announce, “Those bastards have Hot Dog!”
Commence the gang war over a dog (the Serpents’ mascot, who was integral in Jughead’s gang initiation, remember?). A lot of Ghoulies — yes, those drug-slinging Mad Max rejects — versus Serpents nonsense occurs, but only two moments matter. First, the Ghoulies have a guy with a hook for a hand. We all need to recognize that. Secondly, Cheryl, in all her Red Riding Hood by way of Arrow glory, shoots Lead Ghoulie (Tommy Martinez) in the shoulder with an actual arrow. Cheryl is a true biker gang asset and helps Hot Dog come home.
With Hot Dog safe, the quartet is free to head to some sort of beloved, never-before-mentioned swimming hole that is actually full of leeches. They drive a retro car there and wear retro outfits and the entire vibe of carefree 1950s youth is so strong, it protects them from any bloodsucking worms. Everyone has an emotional conversation about saving Archie, and he finally unloads all of his guilt for the madness of season 2 and the death of Cassidy, whom he didn’t kill, but also didn’t stop from getting killed.
All of that emotional vulnerability leads to one of the biggest Bughead scenes ever captured on film. At last, Betty opens up about how she’s avoided processing the fact her dad is a mass murderer by obsessing over Archie’s trial. No matter the outcome now, she’ll have to face all her baggage come in a matter of hours, when said trial comes to a close. Then Jughead, of “Have you ever seen me without this stupid hat on?” fame, takes off the stupid hat and places it on Betty’s head with some words of assurance. It’s ridiculously sweet. They are partners and I am sold on Bughead, at last.
Sadly, back to reality. On the last day of Archie’s trial, a hung jury is announced. That means either another painful trial is ahead or Archie accepts a deal to plead guilty to manslaughter and head to a juvenile detention facility for two years. Innocent Archie, still clearly wracked with guilt, accepts. To the Leopold & Loeb Juvenile Detention Center with ye, Red.
Are you ready for things to get dark?
The most Riverdale of Riverdale quotes: “The Serpent Queen, is a warrior queen.”
- Hiram Lodge, a fearsome lifetime mobster of unimaginable wealth, is feuding with a boy who hasn’t even started his junior year of high school yet. Nothing is funnier.
- Also, the Riverdale quartet is entering their junior year of high school. Their junior year of high school. That means they are at best 16 years old. The last two season of nightmares befell literal 15 year olds. Just think about that.
- The premiere sets up a few major feuds: Southside vs. Northside and Serpents, The Riverdale quartet vs. Hiram’s Legion Of Doom, Jughead and Betty vs. The Gargoyle King, and, unfortunately, Archie vs. juvie.
- And the couples percolating in the background are: Kevin and Moose, finally. Josie and Sweet Pea. Cheryl and Toni are still going strong, fresh off their coast-to-coast motorcycle tour.
- I assume you could hear applause across America over Fred’s fist hitting Hiram’s face.
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