Riverdale S3E1: Labor Day

by thethreepennyguignol

Well, hello, and welcome back: not only is this week the return of Doctor Who, but the beginning of the third season of TV’s resident chaos demon, Riverdale. If you’re just joining us now, check out my recaps for the whole of season two, right here. If you’re back for more, let’s get this Skeet Ulrich crush machine show on the road!

Now, I rewatched the second season in between the end of that one and the beginning of the third one, and I have a lot of thoughts regarding what we’re going to get for this next season of Riverdale. Mainly, and most importantly, I think it’s going to be a mess. And I don’t mean the kind of delightful mess that last season was, clawing something undeniably awesome out of the wreckage of the myriad subplots it hurled at the wall. I think  – and I do want to be proved wrong here, but I have to come out and admit it now – that this season is going to be pretty bad.

And I have good reason to think this. Not least that the last two seasons of the show, while I have loved them, have frequently been bizzarely awful, but because a third season for a show like this so often struggles to maintain the momentum that kept it going previously. Riverdale is a high-concept show – Twin Peaks meets The OC, Gossip Girl giallo – and “high-concept” doesn’t often stretch to “satisfying over the course of a bunch of seasons”. Look at shows like Lost, Hannibal, Outlander, Sherlock: most of these big ideas, at a certain point, just became too enormous for their own good, and toppled under the weight of what they were trying to achieve. That’s not to say I want this season to be bad – far from it, since I will be recapping the entire thing – but everything was just barely kept spinning last season, and I can really see Riverdale crashing down the same routes of other high-concept shows that came before it.

And with that aside, let’s actually get into the first episode of season three, Labor Day. Because there’s plenty to like about this, as there usually is in any episode of Riverdale: we pick up at the end of the summer, with Archie’s trial for the murder of the man Hiram’s bodyguard killed drawing to a close. And it’s a bleak episode for us to start with, little of Riverdale’s flirty, silly dumb shit on show, replaced instead by the trial and the aftermath of a tense summer for each one of our main foursome.

This offers some really prime real estate for KJ Apa to prove just how much he’s developed as an actor since that first season, as Archie dips in and out of visions and nightmares about his complicity with the murder, and what he believes is his penance for choosing Hiram over his own family. It’s an extension of the season-high “Archie attempts to reclaim his masculinity by becoming a mobster” storyline, and that it begins with running through all the acts of violence Archie really did commit is a reminder of just how bleak things got for him last year. It’s a solid start to the season for our dear Archie, and when he takes a plea deal that puts him in a juvenile detention centre, it’s a real “oh, fuck” moment, and didn’t feel like a cop-out, which I was concerned this story could.

Also dealing with the backlash of last season is Betty Cooper, Adderralled-up to the gums and helping out with Archie’s case as the remaining lady-Coopers get absorbed into a cult in an attempt to come to terms with what happened with their murderous father and spouse last season. I like abrasive, angry Betty a lot, though this plot does involve neutering the fearsome Alice and involving the exceptionally rubbish Polly, neither of which are my favourite choices the show has made. But with the episode closing out in the cult apparently chucking Polly’s baby twins into a fire only to have them float to safety, this plot looks suitably dark, and I’m interested to see how it evolves (or devolves, knowing this show).

As far as the central mystery of this season goes, Jughead winds up stumbling over what appears to be a supernatural altar, of something known only as the Gargoyle King. I mean, don’t get me wrong, this is just as deranged as I would have hoped for this season’s investigative thread, but this, along with magic floating babies, seems to nudge this season towards the preternatural. Is that a good thing? Well, I don’t think it’s a bad one. Last season was a mafia movie, why can’t this season be a horror one? Besides, if it keeps Jughead out of the Soutside/Northside feud storyline, I’ll take it. Because…yeesh, what we saw of that this week really didn’t feel like it had much in the way of legs, not least because Penny as an antagonist is bad enough without an actor as dodgy as Cole Sprouse to come up against. Rescue Madeleine Petsch from this plot, is what I’m saying.

To round out the foursome, I suppose we have to take a look at Veronica, who doesn’t get a lot this episode beyond being sad and wistful about Arhie’s trial and mad at her father for orchestrating it, but there are still a couple of solid moments for her here: Camila Mendes isn’t the most astonishing actress, but when she’s bouncing off her mother or her father she works impressively well. The scene in which Hermione begs her to give up on testifying against her father, because Hiram will take it out on Hermione, is genuinely powerful stuff, with her mother declaring “I won’t leave you alone in the world with him”. It’s a confident reminder of just how far Hiram has fallen from his family over the course of the last season, and I’m interested to see how this plot unfolds now the Lodges are fractured parts forced under the same roof.

So perhaps my fears about this third season will prove to be unfounded. Based on this relatively strong first episode, I’m hoping so. But we still have a couple of dozen to go before I get to make a declaration on Riverdale season three one way or the other and, as ever, there are a lot of balls in the air right now: Archie in juvenile detention, Veronica trying to survive her father, Betty and the family cult, Jughead and the serpents – oh, and Jughead and the Gargoyle King. As I predicted, this season is going big. But will it hold up under the weight of its own enormity, or are they going to find a way to pull these disparate threads together?

And that’s use for episode one! What did you think? Are you confident about this season, or worried about the turn its taking?Let me know in the comments below, or hit me up on Twitter or Tumblr! If you enjoyed this article, please feel free to check in with my other recapping projects – I’m currently covering the first Harry Potter book as well as the current season of American Horror Story. If you want to read some of my fiction, please check out the ALPHA FEMALE erotica series (eighteen-plus, obviously), available on Amazon now. As ever, if you want to see more stuff like this, please consider supporting me on Patreon!

(header image courtesy of Den of Geek)