Teenage wasteland: ‘Riverdale’ pretends to be a poorly done episode of ‘Prison Break’

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Archie’s (K.J. Apa) sophisticated, well-thought-out plan for escaping the San Quentin-esque detention center that we totally forgot he was in consists of distracting the guards with a fistfight and then just making a run for it and trying to climb the fence.

Clearly, there’s a reason Betty (Lili Reinhart) and Jughead (Cole Sprouse) are the brains of Riverdale.

Obviously, his brilliant idea doesn’t work, as all of the escapees are shot down by rubber bullets, which almost seems humane compared to the underground fight club the warden is leading. As punishment for attempting the worst prison break in the history of television prison breaks, a shirtless Archie is tied up and branded by the warden — a scene weirdly similar to one from “Fifty Shades of Grey.”

Back in the bunker, Betty tells Jughead about their parents’ rip-off of “The Breakfast Club,” which Jughead sees as proof that Gryphons and Gargoyles is a metaphor for everything — a theory based on the very solid evidence that the town in the game, Eldervaire, is an anagram for Riverdale.

Jughead is convinced that by being the “game master” of the game he’s currently playing with Cheryl (Madelaine Petsch), Toni (Vanessa Morgan), Sweet Pea (Jordan Connor) and Fangs (Drew Ray Tanner), he can unmask who the Gargoyle King is.

Betty also tells Josie (Ashleigh Murray), Kevin (Casey Cott) and Reggie (Charles Melton) about the “Midnight Club,” essentially accusing all of their parents of potentially being the ringmaster. Reggie is the only true voice of reason, doubting that “his old man hung out and did, like, cosplay with a group of lame-ass nerds.” Betty warns them not to tell their parents that they know about what went down in the ‘90s, so obviously, all of them not-so-subtly probe their parents about their high school experiences. In reaction, Sheriff Keller (Martin Cummins) and Mrs. McCoy (Robin Givens) announce they’re getting married. Mr. Mantle, on the other hand, punches Reggie as a warning to keep quiet.

So does Riverdale just not have social services or does social services just not care about the well-being of these kids?

Speaking of the town’s poorly parented minors, Veronica (Camila Mendes) learns of Archie’s terribly executed escape. Rather than question why she is dating this boy, she hits up Elio (Julian Haig), one of the sons of her family’s fellow mobster friends, to help her get access to Archie. He takes a “very disguised” Veronica in a blond wig to one of the underground fights. After his fight, she meets Archie in the locker room, which, conveniently, has no guards. They agree to break Archie out by sneaking him out of the boxing ring’s drain. But before too long, their hormones get the best of them, and they fulfill The CW’s seemingly mandatory three minutes of softcore porn set to sultry pop music.

Veronica enlists everyone’s help to break Archie out. After a montage of vague preparations, the plan — which consists of Veronica wearing another wig to sneak in — is ready. Also, for some unexplained reason, Jughead and his G&G gang’s quest to “save the Red Paladin” is eerily identical to the plan to break out Archie.

But the warden has plans of his own. Just in time to up the stakes, the warden sends Joaquin (Rob Raco) to shiv Archie before the fight, which Joaquin does after kissing Archie for no other reason than to parallel Jughead’s narration that states that the quest begins with a “Judas kiss.” Well, that, and the shot was used in the episode’s promos to queerbait the audience.

The plan goes off with many hitches. Everyone’s favorite minor sadist Hiram Lodge (Mark Consuelos) is at the fight and recognizes Veronica despite her clever disguise. The wounded Archie is forced to square up against Mad Dog (Eli Goree) and his indestructible, chiseled abs. There is a padlock on the grate that they did not account for. And Kevin runs into his ex, Joaquin, while trying to break said padlock.

Nevertheless, the plan works because K.J. Apa’s shirtless body was getting too pale in prison. The teens, who all somehow snuck into this supposedly very secret and exclusive boxing club, throw smoke bombs to distract everyone. Archie tries to convince Mad Dog to go with him, but Mad Dog’s muscles are too beautiful and big to get through the grate, so instead he sacrifices himself and fights the guards while the scrawny, pale redhead shimmies down.

In two episodes, Mad Dog is already an infinitely better person than every other “Riverdale” character.

The rest of the crew gets Archie safely to Dilton’s (Major Curda) bunker, which is now the unofficial headquarters of the Riverdale youths. They realize Archie’s branding looks like a rune from the game — and that the warden may be an even bigger G&G fan than the Riverdale crew.

In his office, Warden Norton (William MacDonald) looks at two cards, one saying “Red Paladin” and the other saying “Kill the Red Paladin.” Maybe he failed his quest or maybe he is just really into the game, but he drinks from a conveniently placed chalice and dies.

Back in the Lodge household, Hermione (Marisol Nichols) goes off on Hiram and Veronica. As mayor, Hermione is actually facing the consequences of the underground fight club taking place at the juvenile detention center, with the Innocence Project and social services (finally) breathing down her neck. Truer words have never been spoken than when she yells at her family, “This obsession that you both have with Archie Andrews is going to destroy us all.”

Meanwhile, Jughead is traipsing through the forest and just happens to run into the Gargoyle King. If he unveils the Gargoyle King’s costume, maybe this season will end early.

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