Teenage wasteland: Season 3 of ‘Riverdale’ takes suspension of disbelief to whole new level

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If you have been missing small-town drama filled with Abercrombie models and teenagers who act like 25-year-olds, fear not, because season three of “Riverdale” is back and angsty as ever! The gang is back in the summer before junior year, ready to face even more spooky murders. It’s frightening to think that they’ve been sophomores this whole time, considering Betty Cooper (Lili Reinhart) was a cam girl last season.


Season three, episode one: “Labor Day”

Picking up in the aftermath of last season’s finale, Archie Andrews (K.J. Apa) is on trial for a murder that Hiram Lodge (Mark Consuelos) framed him for in a courthouse that seems straight out of “To Kill a Mockingbird.” After listening to closing statements from both sides, the judge dismisses the jury for Labor Day weekend, because even accused murderers should have one last summer weekend.

Archie and the gang head to what seems like the only dining establishment in the town, Pop’s Diner, and commiserate over the whole situation. Thankfully, Cheryl Blossom (Madelaine Petsch) interrupts the misery, inviting them to her end-of-summer pool party and cheekily warning them that she’s in the mood for some “hell-raising.” In Riverdale, this could be anything from breaking out of a gay-conversion therapy institution to shooting down a serial killer with a bow and arrow.

At The Pembrooke apartment building, Veronica Lodge (Camila Mendes) pleads with her dad to stop this tyrannical revenge against Archie, because it is not at all weird for a grown man to frame a 16-year-old for murder out of spite. Of course, this behavior is not unusual in a world in which a New England town is small enough to have only one diner but somehow big enough to have two feuding gangs. But Veronica’s pleas fall on deaf ears and the daddy-daughter rift gets even wider.

Cut to the Cooper family — Betty’s mom and sister have been drinking the Kool-Aid at some place ominously called “The Farm” and led by a mysterious figure named Edgar. Betty just cannot believe the outlandish things her mother is doing under the guidance of Edgar, such as drinking oolong tea and trying to help her daughter recover from the fact that her father was a serial killer. In the multiple confrontations between the Cooper women, it is revealed that Betty has been casually forging medication prescriptions for herself.

At the pool party, an excuse for The CW to show off its actors’ six-packs, Veronica gets the idea to sneak into the jury’s hotel rooms to expose her father’s dastardly ways, adding jury tampering to the extensively long list of crimes committed by these teenagers. Unfortunately, her thinly veiled plan is quickly dashed by the fact that there are security guards watching the rooms.

Meanwhile, Jughead Jones (Cole Sprouse) finds out that members of the Ghoulies gang have taken a dog named Hot Dog, who is for some reason dubbed the mascot of rival gang the Serpents even though the group is already named after an animal. Jughead gathers some Serpents, who now include Betty and Cheryl. Apparently, getting into a motorcycle gang is easier than getting into a club at UC Berkeley. The group goes “behind enemy lines” to reclaim its pooch. Despite being confronted by the Ghoulies, the Serpents succeed with the help of Cheryl’s Katniss Everdeen-esque archery skills.

On the last day of summer, the gang heads to Sweetwater River for one more wholesome day of splashing around in leech-infested waters. While they’re all drying off, Archie tries to break up with Veronica, who will not have it. He also laments the fact that he’s more scared of not graduating with his friends than of getting shivved in the joint.

No, Archie. You should be way more scared of being shivved.

The next morning, before Jughead is about to head to the courthouse, Dilton Doiley (Major Curda) comes in babbling about how his role-playing is real and “the gargoyle king” is out there. Even though it seems pretty important, Jughead has no time for this and rushes out to hear Archie’s fate.

It turns out the jury is still deadlocked and a mistrial is declared. But the prosecution offers Archie a plea deal of two years in juvenile hall, which Archie, being the well-meaning but simple-minded teenager that he is, immediately stands up and accepts despite everyone’s rational protests.

Not to worry — Riverdale’s resident DILF squad, consisting of Fred Andrews (Luke Perry), F.P. Jones (Skeet Ulrich) and Tom Keller (Martin Cummins), is ready to use all of its resources to prove Archie’s innocence. Meanwhile, Mary Andrews (Molly Ringwald), despite knowing her son is in juvenile detention for a murder he didn’t commit, flies back to Chicago, most likely because Molly Ringwald is too famous to have in every episode.

But because “Riverdale” isn’t “Riverdale” without an overarching murder mystery, Jughead goes home and sees that Dilton has left behind a map. Somehow in homage to “Stranger Things,” “True Detective” and every occult movie ever, Jughead uses the map to find a naked, unconscious Dilton and Ben (Moses Thiessen) in a forest, with mysterious symbols carved into their backs and vague ritual items such as candles and a looming skull sculpture around them.

Betty, not to be outdone by Jughead’s findings, comes home to see her mom and sister with various cult people in weird culty outfits. Mrs. Cooper and Polly hold Polly’s babies in the air Simba-style over a large fire and drop them, but before the censors can scream infanticide, the babies float in the air. Betty faints and begins convulsing.


Season three, episode two: “Fortune and Men’s Eyes”

School is back in session for everyone except Archie Andrews — but don’t worry, his gratuitous shirtlessness has followed him to juvie. He moves into his cell and meets his cellmate, appropriately named “Mad Dog” in true nonsensical-Riverdale-names tradition. (RIP Papa Poutine. You are missed)

Meanwhile, Betty’s family is working overtime to convince Betty she was hallucinating. After learning Dilton has died, Betty and Jughead meet to investigate “the gargoyle king,” because the only way to one-up a sin-obsessed serial killer is with a bloodthirsty occult creature. After easily bribing the new mortician to tell them how Dilton died, the two learn that the cause of death was cyanide poisoning.

Meanwhile, over in juvie, Archie is the new kid on the exercise yard and tries to fit in with the fellow imprisoned Serpents, but his freshly inked tattoo isn’t enough to stop them from calling him “Mr. Clean-Cut-All-American.” This is a pretty accurate way to sum him up. He just cannot seem to catch a break. Later, when he is playing a guitar (that is conveniently available in a juvenile detention center), a group of Ghoulies beat him up and take his shoes.

After visiting a comatose Ben at the hospital, Betty and Jughead learn from his mom that Ethel Muggs (Shannon Purser) was a close friend of his and track her down at school. Ethel reveals that she was Ben’s girlfriend and that Dilton had a secret bunker in the woods, as many teenagers do, where they all would play “Griffins and Gargoyles” together. The two agree to meet Ethel in the woods to go to the bunker, but instead they come face-to-face with a bloody bone creature and do a complete 180 out of there.

Veronica and Reggie (Charles Melton) go to visit Archie and get him the most obnoxiously colored pair of sneakers for him as replacements. Inspired by Reggie’s letterman jacket, Archie decides to give a speech in the yard about uniting and living as a team to his fellow juvenile detainees. It’s not the “Friday Night Lights” moment Archie hoped for, but it’s enough to persuade Mad Dog and his chiseled abs to agree with Archie, which, in turn, gets everyone to agree to a football game.

Back in Riverdale, Betty and Jughead use Dilton’s map to locate the bunker where they come to discover that the cyanide drinks were part of the game. (Side note: Is no one questioning how a teenager got his hands on a bottle of cyanide? No one?) In the bunker, they run into a young boy who turns out to be a missing Boy Scout member of Dilton’s troop. The boy tells them that he was instructed to hide in the bunker until Dilton came back to get him, which did not happen, for obvious reasons.

At the prison football game, Veronica surprises Archie by bringing the River Vixen cheerleaders with their abnormally short skirts to do an impromptu song and dance to “Jailhouse Rock” right outside the yard’s fence. Like most prisons in real life, there’s nothing more than a chain-link fence between the incarcerated and the outside world. But while the boys are playing the game, the warden brings out the riot guards to beat everyone up, which may be some unintentional social commentary on prison reform. Archie is told that Mad Dog died in the riots, which is blatantly not true because Archie saw Mad Dog being escorted out of the cell before the game even started. The warden tells Archie that he “is going to be the new Mad Dog,” much to Archie’s dismay.

In the adult world, Hermione Lodge (Marisol Nichols) gathers all the hot parents of Riverdale (i.e. her husband, Cheryl’s mom, Betty’s mom, Josie’s mom and the DILF squad), hinting at a secret they all kept in high school. Apparently, Dilton and Ben being found with blue lips has something to do with this secret they vowed never to mention again.

Because shit hasn’t hit the fan already, Betty and Jughead go to visit Ben again, only to see him sitting on an open windowsill, blabbering on about how he’s “going to be with Dilton now” before he jumps to his death.

Never a quiet moment in this town, huh?

Julie Lim covers television. Contact her at [email protected].