Riverdale S3E6: Manhunter

by thethreepennyguignol

There’s a scene in this week’s episode of Riverdale, a scene that’s so purely horror that it hurts: Betty confronts Alice in the family home, in the midst of an enormous storm. The lights cut out – for a moment, we can make out a shadowy figure moving past the windows lit by the watery blue light of the moon (it wasn’t Chic, but it was Chic, you know?). As Alice goes to check the circuit breakers, the Gargoyle King himself turns up in their front room. Fleeing to Betty’s bedroom, the pair stumble across an even more sinister tableau: a grave marker, with their names written in red, lying above a human skull. They scream, the camera twists in, and I’m over here cheering with delight.

And that’s because Riverdale has gone full horror, and there’s nothing I love more than full horror. Last season’s genre – if I had to pin it down to just one, which is nigh-on impossible – was crime, in all its forms, from the serial killer to the gangster to the gang warfare. But with season three, and especially with this week’s outing, Manhunter, Riverdale has affirmed that it is committed to the world of horror, and damn, I couldn’t be happier.

I think that Riverdale’s inherent oddness and stylistic camp has always leant itself well to the world of horror, because horror is a genre that inherently calls upon the audience to suspend their disbelief to a certain degree: with the addition of the Gerbils and Gungans storyline, they’ve given up on any semblance of a connection with reality – but those final vestiges of the real world were only really weighing it down, anyway.

There’s a lot going on this week on the show, all of it ridiculous: Archie is out of prison and on the run, while Veronica is trying to prove his innocence by going through her father’s giant novelty box of dirt he keeps on other people (in which, I presume, he stores KJ Apa’s performance from season one). Betty and Jughead are trying to get to the bottom of the death of the prison warden in the previous episode, while the parents have finally been roped into the Garters and Glitter plotline to help uncover the truth behind their grim history with the game. I’m not entirely sure it holds together – there is a lot of Veroncarhie nonsense and not nearly enough FP/Alice nonsense for my liking – but the show’s embracing of a pure horror storyline certainly allows for some killer moments.

I mean, yes, this is silly, but who can argue with the sheer, sinister joy of Penelope Blossom asking Betty to call her “auntie”? Who can resist the delightfully self-referential list of Murderous Riverdale Dads that Hiram reels off to Jughead after calling him a teenage nerd? What about that ending sting of Betty, carted off to the mysterious Farm by her mother, standing in the art room and realizing she is surrounded by people painting images of the Gargoyle King as the camera dutch-tilts so much I think the person behind the lens might be having a seizure? By leaning into the horror of this season, Riverdale can revel in its true bizarreness without having to apologize for the complete disconnection from reality it has thoroughly and cheerfully embraced with these last few episodes.

Riverdale has never been gritty, hard-hitting, real-life drama, and it’s never wanted to be. But it at least had to pretend to be something of a relatable teen show to scam the network heads into thinking it was something they could sell. Now, with a solid audience behind it, it feels as though Riverdale is soaring into something that’s far more accurate to its true self – and I, for one, couldn’t be happier.

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 Doctor Who. 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 via Give Me My Remote)