Warning: This contains spoilers 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 – or our spoilery review of the first half.
The latter half of Riverdale Season 3 was overshadowed by the untimely death of cast member Luke Perry. Although a supporting character, Perry’s Fred Andrews was always a welcome face, his scenes with Archie (KJ Apa) gave us a father and son relationship that felt grounded and believable, and the actor imbued the part with a thoroughly American sense of decency and working-man dignity. It won’t be the same without Fred. How Riverdale’s creator handles this remains to be seen, but recasting the role would be a mistake.
There’s no denying it, folks. Riverdale’s third outing was the best and most compelling yet. In our initial review of the season’s first half, we pointed out this run’s great debt to Wes Craven, and those themes and reference points continued strongly into the latter half. Where Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s show stumbles is in the number of episodes. There are still too many and when faced with mid-point breaks, breaks for national holidays, breaks because of sporting events and breaks for other silly reasons, in the age of Netflix, the weekly format is going the way of the dinosaur. A return to Season 1’s 13 episodes would be a smart move, but they’re probably not going to make it. Because the frantic pacing and myriad plots give the impression two seasons’ worth of material has been smashed together in a Hadron Collider, the dramatic energy of Riverdale can sometimes be overwrought and overcooked. And they need to Stop trying to make the musical episodes happen – no, Riverdale, these stage school kids warbling rubbish tunes is not fetch.
Now, where to even begin with the season narrative arc? Mad, wasn’t it? Archie was sent to juvie detention, became a prize-fighter, got attacked by a bear in the woods, then became a gym owner. Jug battled with his drug lord mother. Veronica finally sent Hiram Lodge down to Chinatown. The Gargoyle King reveal was a genuinely brilliant double twist, although Penelope Blossom’s role in the storyline had been heavily hinted at all season. And Betty … poor Betty. She was put through the ringer most of all.
Like The Empire Strikes Back, the gang were pretty much kept apart a lot of time. They all had different things going on. The finale, however, got Archie and the gang back together in a brilliantly bonkers episode directed by Rachel Talalay, who ramped up the gothic mood to delirious heights. After months of playing the guessing game, the Gargoyle King was finally revealed to be … fake Chic Cooper (Hart Denton)? Wow. Who saw that one coming? Nobody!
While we never saw the Black Hood make minced meat of the fraudster posing as Alice’s long-lost boy in Season 2, did it ever occur to anybody he would make such a dramatic re-entry? It got even better (and sillier) when Alice Cooper joining The Farm – the Scientology-like cult, which was really an organ harvesting front – turned out to be part of an FBI sting operation. Alice got her Donnie Brasco on (going deep undercover), helping expose Edgar Evernever (Chad Michael Murray) as a mad scientist and lowdown dirty crook. Yes, Alice is FBI Special Agent Cooper (kind of). As Mädchen Amick is part of the Twin Peaks cast, does this mean we should start addressing her as Coop?
Sabrina Spellman didn’t make a cameo appearance in the end, although there’s always the opportunity in Season 4. Since the very beginning of Season 1, Riverdale has hinted at supernatural goings-on and other such weirdness. Greendale’s teenage daughter of Satan (Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Part 2 was excellent) could always drop by Pop’s for a milkshake or head for a night out at La Bonne Nuit, Veronica’s Bugsy Malone-style joint. Make it happen, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa.
So, the cliffhanger. The flashforward device was surprising and Archie, Veronica and Betty covered in blood, burning their clothes in a fire and tossing Jug’s beanie into the flames was … well, one helluva way to end things. What on earth is going on? Time will tell. But one thing is certain: Riverdale is going from strength to strength.
Riverdale Season 3 is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.