Warning: This contains spiolers for the first half of Riverdale Season 3, up to its mid-season finale. Not up-to-date? Read our spoiler-free review of Season 3’s opening episodes here.
Riverdale Season 3 came flying out of the gate and – it’s great to report – kept up its veritable awesomeness throughout its first half, without any sort of wobble or momentary dip in quality, which plagued previous seasons. The writing feels tighter and less padded. Not even the bizarre sight of the Riverdale Vixens getting their cheerlead and sing-song on outside the fence of Leopold and Loeb juvie detention centre (the musical numbers being the daftest part of Riverdale tradition) could derail the overall impression that Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa has finally rid his show of narrative and tonal inconsistencies. Of course, we’re only at the mid-point, but after Season 3’s mid-season finale, it would take a truly disastrous act of creative self-mutilation to screw things up.
We all know Riverdale loves David Lynch and Twin Peaks long time (going so far as to cast TP alumni, Mädchen Amick, as Alice Cooper), but Season 3 to date has been a love letter to the late – and very great – Wes Craven. The homage goes far deeper than the brilliant Scream (1996) nods in Ep 6 (Skeet Ulrich’s FP climbing through the bedroom window à la Billy Loomis, popcorn burning on the stove) or the flashback episode, which saw the Fredheads singing the anthem from 1987’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors); it’s also right there in the supernatural-tinged plot, the stark generational divide, Archie and the gang learning what their parents got up to back in the day (that flashback episode rocked) and the fabric of the nuclear family spectacularly falling apart. While the ‘sins of the father’ theme has been very present since the beginning (Cliff Blossom’s crimes, and then Hal Cooper being revealed as the Black Hood), it’s now the turn of another patriarchal figure least likely to win Dad of the Year (Hiram Lodge) and the unveiling of his long-game scheming.
Riverdale’s bad apple son is intent on turning his hometown into a gangster’s paradise, installing himself as the capo dei capi (boss of bosses). The obsession with Archie Andrews was a cunning ruse to disguise his true aims, although Archiekins has been nothing but a thorn in Hiram’s side ever since he and V got together. But really, Riverdale’s own Scarface just needed Red, Jug, Betty and Veronica (his headstrong daughter) kept well away from the truth. Things got freaky, however, in the last scene of Episode 8, whereupon Hiram made a toast to the mythical creature called The Gargoyle King… and the monster was standing in the room with him.
Is Hiram getting high on his own supply of Fizzle Rocks? This dangerous hallucinogenic drug has been manufactured and pushed by the kingpin onto susceptible teens and emotionally disturbed kids, as part of his grand plan to subjugate Riverdale’s residents. He even succeeded in getting the town quarantined by the state governor. Fizzle Rocks are bad news and make sticks of Jingle-Jangle as innocuous as Haribo Star Mix. The cliffhanger ending left us with plenty of tantalising questions. Either the Gargoyle King is real – somebody, quick, call Sabrina Spellman! – or Hiram is hooked on the FR and tripping balls. Or it’s somebody in a Scooby-Doo ‘Old Man Withers’ type of disguise. (Penelope Blossom or Reggie’s old man being our current preferred suspects.)
If there is one specific, recurring subtext evident in Riverdale, it’s the psychological burden and emotional tragedy accompanying the realisation ‘Mom and Dad’ are bad or very complicated people. They do not live up to the parental ideal, they cannot be relied upon, beneath the role of parent lies somebody not to be trusted and maybe capable of monstrous actions. This feels a quintessential Wes Craven thematic preoccupation. Twinned with the Lynchian notion of white-picket-fence American life hiding dark secrets and depraved lusts, Riverdale places itself as a fine continuation of Lynch and Craven’s celebrated works and is a show much smarter (and more subversive) than it lets on, or people give it credit for.
Riverdale rugby-tackles nostalgia into the dirt, terrorises the family unit, pokes at cultural and social hypocrisy, torments loving relationships, picks at the scab of everyday life and portrays interactions as a series of emotional battles (skirmishes that leave raw physical and psychological wounds). At heart a deliciously dark and demented melodrama greatly influenced by horror cinema, the town is built upon nightmare terrain and thrives on social and economic disparity between its citizens. The South Side might be the designated ‘wrong side of the tracks’, but there’s not much going for it elsewhere. Riverdale sees itself as a Bedford Falls clone (from It’s a Wonderful Life), when Pottersville, the gone-to-the-dogs town shown to George Bailey in the film’s fantasy sequence, is closer to the truth. Tempting though it is, we need not pin down the popular CW series as a zeitgeist-grabbing representation of ‘Trump’s America’ or see Hiram Lodge as a Trump-style Big Bad. Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa is showing us America in any – and every – era, full stop. It doesn’t matter one iota who is currently occupying the White House.
Riverdale Season 3 has been a humdinger so far, with Mark Consuelos being the standout among the ensemble cast. For the engrossingly Machiavellian Hiram Lodge is the perfect type of villain: a character you love to hate.
Riverdale Season 3 is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription. Part 2 premieres on 17th January 2019.