Riverdale S3E4: The Midnight Club

by thethreepennyguignol

Right from Riverdale’s unbelievably kooky little nineties-throwback title card, I knew that this was going to be an episode that, despite myself, I enjoyed. And dammit, I did.

The Midnight Club, this week’s episode of Riverdale, is the long-awaited flashback episode, covering the teenage past of Alice,  FP, Fred, Hermione, and company as it relates to the current outbreak of suicides in the present-day Riverdale teens.

And let me just say, for one thing: this is a really good chance to figure out who can actually act and who can’t amongst the teen cast, because they’re forced to play (broadly) against their types: Lili Reinhart slips with uncanny ease from uptight maniac into leather-clad bad girl as the young Alice, while KJ Apa does a solid job taking on Fred (and man, does he look weird with dark hair). Madeleine Petsch is shaved of Cheryl’s hard edges, as the gestational Penelope, and it’s a treat to see her play a very different type of alpha as head girl and academic overachiever. Cole Sprouse, after a few episodes growing on me as a performer, in this episode delivers a solid reminder that he’s best at making out with Lili Reinhart and drawling voiceovers, while Camila Mendes often looks as though she’s wandered accidentally on to set in a giant pair of glasses as a joke that just went too far as a young Hermione.

But aside from the performances – which, even when bad, are at least amusing in their newness – this is just a solid episode of traditional, fantastic Riverdale madness. And that’s not to say that all of this is the hilarious scream you might expect it to be. I didn’t realize until now just how much I was missing a real look into the background of the adults we’ve been following around few three seasons, but here it is: framed as a series of Saturday detentions featuring Cierra, Penelope, FP, Fred, Alice, and Hermione, this is ostensibly a look at how the group came to stumble upon the dangerous game that is leading to the deaths of current Riverdale youths, but really, it’s a chance to get to know the older generation more intimately.

FP reveals the violence he suffered at the hands of his father for wanting to avoid the Serpents and attend college; Fred is struggling with the illness of his beloved father, and Penelope is dealing with oh, you know, just being informally bethrothed to her adopted brother. Soap-opera-fodder or not, these fears are more poignant for us as viewers, knowing that everything these kids were scared of came to pass. Unsurprisingly, Lili Reinhart is the one who delivers best on these fears, as Alice tries to deal with an unwanted pregnancy and the fear of being trapped in Riverdale: Reinhart is such a solid actress, and given a whole new complex set of conflicts to cope with, she excels. Her scenes shared with KJ Apa (and man, is it good to have him out of prison and interacting with the rest of the cast again) as they try to come to terms with the reality of their pressing, adult pressures are a reminder of just how far the two of them have come as actors.

But let’s get back to what actually matters here, and that’s the fucking sheer fun of this episode. It’s a little late for Halloween, but I’m calling this as their Halloween outing anyway. I love the way the show plays with classic moral panics of the nineties – role-playing games, weird new drugs, teen pregnancy – and turns them up to eleven (thousand), with outrageous dutch tilted angles and screaming neon lighting and spooky demons eating principals. It plays out more like an episode of Buffy than Riverdale, except without Xander’s grubby little hands all over it. FP’s cast has the loser-lover cross-out from IT on it. I screeched. What’s not to love? This is insane, but somehow finds a grounding amongst that madness.

The Midnight Club, as well as being a fun flashback for us as viewers, is an exceptional love letter to the tropes and terrors of nineties television. This is an episode crafted with such a deep and abiding and gleeful love for a very specific genre of entertainment that has mostly been lost to memory and VHS tapes, while balancing that indulgence with genuine insight into rich, full characters that populate the show at large. Riverdale is on a soaring high right now – whether it can sustain that remains to be seen, but we might as well enjoy it while it lasts, right?

And that’s us for this deranged little outing. 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 The Wrap)