This summer, Refinery29 launched Cult Fridays, where we explored the clout that cults carry (at least currently) pop culture. Apparently, Riverdale was just a little late to the game, because season 3 of the show has not one, but two possible cult storylines in the works. Or are both storylines actually part of a bigger, crazier endgame?
It’s complicated, but let’s unpack what we know so far, shall we?
In the season 3 opener, “Labor Day,” Betty (Lili Reinhart) has had it up to here with her mom Alice (Mädchen Amick) and sister Polly (Tiera Skovbye) obsessing over “The Farm,” some new-agey organization that helped Alice get over the fact that her husband Hal (Lochlyn Munro) murdered four people as the Black Hood. (The “small town with pep!” tagline here is more like “the small town with multiple serial killers!”)
Alice tries, and fails, to get Betty to join The Farm, but she refuses. Then, at the end of the episode, Betty heads to the backyard to find Alice and Polly in some sort of bizarre, baby-centric ritual. Alice and Polly hold Polly’s twin babies over a fire, drop them… and, suddenly, the babies float!
Betty, meanwhile, isn’t sure if what she’s seeing is real, because moments later, she falls to the floor and has a seizure.
In season 3, episode 2, Betty’s mom and sister convince her that the seizure was just stress related. But that doesn't mean that Betty trusts the Farm, or Evelyn Evernever (Zoe De Grand Maison), daughter of the Farm's founder, who is now going to Riverdale High. What exactly is going on with the organization that has gripped its claws into Alice? And did they cause Betty to seize?
Maybe. Or maybe there's something even darker going on in Riverdale.
During the season 3 premiere, Jughead is approached by scout master/hardcore survivalist Dilton Doiley (Major Curda), who tells him that the "Gargoyle King is real." It seems that Dilton is playing some sort of Dungeons & Dragons-type game, that had bled over into reality.
When Jughead goes to the woods to look for Dilton, per the map Dilton left, however, he finds Dilton dead at the base of an altar alongside drive-in worker Ben (Moses Thiessen) who is barely clinging on to life. Both are in child's pose, have blue lips and appeared to have poisoned themselves in sacrifice to the rumored Gargoyle King.
It's all very True Detective, especially when you note the creepy symbols carved into Dilton and Ben's backs. In fact, during a panel at New York Comic Con, Riverdale showrunner Aguirre-Sacasa confirmed that the plot of season 3 was inspired by the first installment of HBO's crime drama.
Of course, the Gargoyle King drama is its own weird, twisted thing. It could be even more disturbing than the Black Hood killings from last season.
In episode 2 of season 3, Betty and Jughead reteam for a good ole' fashioned investigation (it reminds them of their early dating days, when they sought the truth about Jason Blossom's murder) and discover that Ben and Dilton were both playing some sort of roleplaying game. Ethel (Shannon Purser) was also involved, and apparently can't tell the difference between reality and this RPG — she thinks she really is a princess.
Betty and Jughead go into the woods, searching for answers, and find what appears to be the actual Gargoyle King in the flesh. Or, rather, in the sticks, cloth, and mud that make up the Gargoyle King. Is someone wearing the Gargoyle King costume? Could this be a real supernatural entity? Jughead and Betty never find out, because they book it real fast.
The Gargoyle King isn't even the most disturbing thing they see in the episode. Later, they witness Ben, who is recovering from his own poisoning, hurl himself from his hospital window. He plummets, seemingly to his death.
Ethel also has her own crisis. When Betty and Jughead go to question her about what the hell she, Ben, and Dilton were up to, she starts to answer, but before she can, she has a seizure, just like Betty did.
This is when our first cult, The Farm, comes smashing into whatever is going on with the Gargoyle King. The Farm "first daughter" Evelyn is in the very room where Ethel has her seizure, and watches creepily as Betty and Jughead attempt to get help. We also know that Evelyn was present the night Betty had her seizure (back when the babies floated), so is Evelyn doing something to cause this? And if so, is she connected to the Gargoyle King, to Ethel, and to whatever really happened to Dilton and Ben?
In the same roundtable interview at Comic Con, Aguirre-Sacasa teased that Evelyn would be connected to quite a few disturbing moments:
"Some bad things start happening, and it always seems that Evelyn is always lurking in the background of them," he told journalists.
Right now, it seems obvious that there is some sort of connection — how could there not be, with two bizarre parallel plotlines?
We will, of course, have to wait and see how exactly this connection plays out — or what it has to do with the Riverdale parents (like, all of them) who seem particularly worried about what happened with Dilton uncovering a secret from their own collective past.
Whatever's going on: Cults are in, and serial killers are out this season on Riverdale. Just like in fashion, one day you're in, and the next day you're the Gargoyle King.