At the time of writing this recap, I have been done with Riverdale’s “The Great Escape” for about 10 minutes. Yet, my heart is still pounding.
Y’all, that was riveting! Thrilling! Riverdale is back — without question. And, this newfound renaissance is all thanks to a very complicated plan to help Archie Andrews (KJ Apa) escape Leopold & Loeb Juvenile Detention Center, which is actually a nightmarish mashup of bloody Shawshank Redemption and Fight Club references. As proof that “Escape” marks a true turning point in Riverdale season 3’s quality, Archie’s exhilarating flight from L&L somehow ties into Jughead Jones’ (Cole Sprouse) ill-advised descent into Gryphons & Gargoyle’s madness… leading the teen gang leader to finally come face-to-maw with the Gargoyle King. Season 2 could never.
Let’s unravel how Riverdale pulled the entire wild episode off.
“Escape” announces it is not here to play with its very first scene, where the L&L guards open fire on a group of inmates in the middle of an escape scheme. In a world where it feels like there have been more mass shootings than days this year, the image of teen boys plummeting from the sky as bullets hit their body is especially harrowing. Even when we later learn the bullets are rubber, the scene doesn’t feel any less terrifying.
Yet, the scary moment also sets up a now-impossible romance we can all root for: Joaquin (Rob Raco) and Archie. During the guard attack, Archie covers Joaquin’s body with his own. He still doesn’t know the bullets are rubber, making his gesture even more meaningful. Towards the end of the episode, however, Joaquin kisses Archie (!), but then stabs him ( :( ). This is when we learn the evil Warden Norton (William MacDonald) is definitely an acolyte of the Gargoyle King, as Joaquin explains his betrayal by saying, “The warden said if I did this, I’d finally ascend.”
But, we’re getting ahead of ourselves. The first part of “Escape” also sets a few different journeys in motion: Serpent game master Jughead’s obsession with G&G as a tool to understand the Gargoyle King, Betty Cooper’s (Lili Reinhart) decision to use good old-fashioned detective work in that same quest, and Veronica Lodge’s (Camila Mendes) interest in figuring out what is going on with Archie behind bars.
Eventually, one of Veronica’s mob connections gets her into the L&L fight club (her blonde Monica Posh alter-ego has a very welcome return). Veronica is horrified by the brutality, but not too terrified to squeeze in a post-fight sex romp with Archie in the inexplicable fight club locker room. Once Varchie wraps their quickie, Veronica pledges to figure out how to break her red-haired beau out of prison.
This promise is what brings all the disparate threads of Riverdale together. Veronica barges in on a G&G investigation meeting between Betty, Kevin (Casey Cott), Josie (Ashleigh Murray), and Reggie (Charles Melton), and demands they all help her spring Archie from the hoosegow. Immediately, everyone is in. Betty tries to get Jughead to join in the group’s upcoming Prison Break cosplay, but he is far too fixated on G&G to help his best friend. Instead of lending a hand in any real way, Jughead decides to take elements from his girlfriend’s upcoming real-life quest and let them inspire his next G&G quest with with Teen Serpents.
So, the lines between actual Riverdale and G&G’s Eldervaer — itself an anagram for Riverdale — blur as the these two groups of heroes attempt to save Archie Andrews, “The Red Paladin” in game-speak. “Paladin,” for the record, is another name for a chivalrous knight and goes back to King Charlemagne. Monica Posh returns, this time with a posh Reggie Mantle as her “fiancé” (again, Riverdale is dropping hints Veggie is imminent). Kevin plays a catering delivery boy who is actually smuggling in smoke bombs. Josie looks fantastic as a cocktail waitress. Betty is the only one without an elaborate disguise, but she does get to sport a Serpent jacket and ride a motorcycle, so she’s good.
Veronica’s plan goes well until her dad Hiram Lodge (Mark Consuelos) spots them, but even he can’t stand in her way. Veronica stabs her dad with her stiletto, and everyone throws smoke bombs into Archie’s fight, giving him ample cover to escape through a drain. Archie’s fight club opponent Mad Dog (Eli Goree) returns from the not-dead to fight off any guards who would try to follow him. So Archie comes sliding out of drain pipe somewhere in the forest, finishing his time in Shawshank Redemption. Betty is there to help a muck-covered Archie, and it’s suggested she tossed him on her motorcycle… only, we find out after a breathless chase scene, it was Kevin on the back of Betty’s bike the whole time.
Veronica dragged a hobbling Archie to the group’s stashed car. He’s free.
As each team member makes their way through all of these challenges, Jughead and the Teen Serpents roll through a perfect mirror-image of a G&G quest. We would assume the narrative choice is for the sake of drama, until Warden Norton demands to know where the “Red Paladin” is. That means these entire heist was actually a legitimate G&G quest after all, and it’s one the warden, who previously branded Archie with a G&G symbol, failed.
We’re left wondering how the Gargoyle King even knew about the Red Paladin trial, since Jughead seemingly came up with it himself. Or, how much the Teen Serpents’ gameplay actually influenced the outcome of Team Veronica’s prison break. Hopefully, these are the questions the remainder of Riverdale season 3 will tackle.
At least we know that Archie is okay. He is dropped in the Betty & Jughead Sex Bunker, which has been repurposed as the Jughead G&G Bunker. Archie is just surprised there is a bunker in the first place. Then, like their parents before them, the entire group (plus Sweet Pea and Fangs) swears to never reveal Archie’s whereabouts and their own involvement in the breakout.
This should be the end of this story, but the Gargoyle King would like to ruin two more lives. First, Warden Norton drops a cyanide pill into a random chalice of blue liquid, dying in the same way Dilton (Major Curda) and Principal Featherhead (Anthony Michael Hall) did earlier this season, and Ethel (Shannon Purser) nearly did. Finally, Jughead, fresh off of creating the most exciting G&G “quest” in decades, bumps into the Gargoyle King in the forest. He bows.
Will we finally learn who’s under all that shrubbery and gore?
The most Riverdale of Riverdale quotes: “I’m helping Veronica break Archie out of juvie, and I’m hoping you can come with us.”
“I’d recognize those abs anywhere.” Same, Veronica. Same.
“The dark dragon,” of “fork-tongued” monstrosity, is the funniest metaphor yet for Hiram, a millionaire and mobster hell bent on killing the 16-year-old boy he already spent $30,000 framing for murder.
Betty got to drop her ponytail for the L&L prison break. We are one step closer to her “Midnight Club” aesthetic becoming permanent. Bless.
Josie, Kevin, and Reggie start playing the game since no one will give them the “Midnight Club” recap they so desperately want. Oh no.
On the other hand, Josie and Kevin’s parents are engaged. Mazel!
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