Riverdale Season 3 Episode 4 – TV Review
Get your nostalgia goggles on and prepare to be confused what decade you’re in, as we get the hotly awaited flashback episode where all our main teen cast portray their parents in the 90s, but the show kind of forgets and instead thinks it’s an 80s reference episode.
But the lewks are delish, so it’s okay.
TL;DR Alice recounts to Betty how she and the other now-adults became friends and played Griffins & Gargoyles while in high school; but it turned sinister, someone died, and they never spoke of it again; Betty vows to not stop investigating, but then discovers Jughead has fallen prey to the game’s madness.
Again, I’m just impressed by how invested these teens are in a tabletop RPG.
So it’s another Riverdale stunt episode, but this one’s premise is simply spectacular. Betty discovers a death occurred back when her mum was in high school that seems similar to the G&G deaths happening now, so Alice regales her with a tale of her youth. In the flashbacks, the teen versions of our Riverdale adults (Alice, Fred, Hermione, etc) are portrayed by their kids’ actors, and it is everything. Basically, everyone got Saturday detention together, and after some on-the-nose Breakfast Club allusions, they discover the G&G game and proceed to get very, very into it. It brings them all together and they form lovely friendships, but things eventually turn sinister when they get a mysterious invite to an ascension party and take drugs. Alice, being pregnant, abstains, but she ends up getting scared by a figure dressed as the Gargoyle King, and as she’s fleeing the school, she sees their prickly principal arrive. Days later, his body is discovered with blue lips from the ascension chalices they saw, and Alice demands to know what happened after she left. Everyone is cagey and/or sincere in that they don’t remember, so they all vow never to speak of it again. They go their separate ways and evolve into the Riverdale adults we know, and Alice tells Betty that as the principal wasn’t supposed to be there that night, she has always thought whoever set up the Ascension Party actually intended to kill her and her friends. The episode ends as Betty rebuffs Alice’s pleas not to keep investigating, and Betty finds Jughead and the teen Serpents under the spell of the game.
Even Cheryl? I’m not buying it.
I think what most impressed me about this episode is exactly the thing I’ve been clamoring for since Season 2: a return to some kind of teen drama normalcy.
Sure, the flashback teens’ experience inevitably devolves into a Gargoyle King attack. But for most of the episode when they’re just having normal conversations and interactions, it was nice. It reminded me of Riverdale Season 1. Before serial killers and mafiosos and for-profit prisons and gang warfare and evil board games.
So exactly how much more of this season will be spent on that evil board game, huh?
Why I hate this episode:
It’s a pretty big bomb to drop that all the adult characters of Riverdale have apparently been sitting on an I Know What You Did Last Summer esque secret all this time. It’s like Riverdale is on a relentless mission to strip all the goodness and sincerity out of every character, and I’m fucking sick of it.
Also, in an episode that apes The Breakfast Club so hard, why was there no Molly Ringwald cameo? You’ve already got her on the books, show. There’s not even a teen version of her.
Oh, and the lack of questioning by the characters as to who set up the Ascension Party was disappointing. We get a token moment where young Penelope and the Scoutmaster’s dad, the two Game Masters in the group, mention that neither of them did it. But then everyone kind of just continues on like it’s all fine. I know there were drugs involved, but come on, guys.
But it’s not all bad:
This plot point may turn out to be in our favour, as it marks the first step in grounding the G&G evil board game mystery as actually being some kind of murder plot by only one or maybe a handful of characters. And likely characters we already know. My wish for Riverdale at the end of Season 2 was for the show to rein it in. Coming out swinging with the Gargoyle King and cult stuff was kind of the opposite, but this new development could make my wish come true.
And with Betty on the case, I don’t think it’s going to take too long. I was so relieved that Betty got to be the character to whom the flashbacks were told. She is the driving force of this show. And anything that keeps us away from Archie and his prison drama, Jughead and his gang nonsense, and Veronica’s stupid speakeasy is a blessing.
Betty is also the most convincing of the Riverdale teens in their transformations to the 90s version of their parents. She almost does look like a young Madchen Amick, and her 90s bad girl outfit was killer. She was like a fun, non-psychotic iteration of Dark Betty, and I liked it.
Thankfully, Alice isn’t the only one to get a bit of focus with her sob/backstory about her teen pregnancy. Everyone else gets a moment to shine during a getting to know you scene in the detention room. The standout of which is Penelope, who begins the episode as a bookish hall monitor type, but reveals that she grew up at the Sisters of Quiet Mercy as an orphan, and was adopted by the Blossoms to be groomed as an incestuous mate for young Clifford. It’s upsetting, and perfectly on brand for the Blossoms.
I gasped in joy when the actor who played Jason shows up for a wordless, momentary cameo when Penelope reunites with him at the end of the flashbacks, submitting herself to her fate after the friend group collapses.
Young Fred also makes a mark, and we find out that he was a drummer, and had aspirations to do both music and sport at college, and then to come back to Riverdale to support his sick father. His father dies on Ascension Party night, which leaves him wracked with guilt that he wasn’t there in his final moments.
Hermione is a little more pedestrian, as we learn she was the daughter of poor people and initially wasn’t a fan of young Hiram, the petty criminal. But where there’s crime, there’s money, and that’s the life she ended up choosing.
Young Mayor McCoy is a little bit SJW, but thankfully doesn’t get much screentime. She does make an impact with her romance with young Sheriff Keller. After the gang breaks up, so do they, and this unrequited teen love actually informs their later affair to make it now seem more meaningful. Cool.
Skeet doesn’t get much to do, but it was interesting to learn that his father used to beat him because he didn’t want to become a Serpent. His eventual capitulation to a life he didn’t want is what motivated his drinking problem.
Molly Ringwald didn’t make the cut, but Anthony Michael Hall gets to play the stern principal. I wonder what caused him to want to drink from the chalice?
Fred and Skeet streak in the flashbacks. I’ll never say no to more gratuitous shirtlessness.
Oh, and young Fred with his rolled up jeans and oversized shirt is a total babe. Like father, like son.