Riverdale S3E8: Outbreak

by thethreepennyguignol

Well, with half the season over, I can safely say that Riverdale is doing better than it was last season. The plot are wilder, the stories bigger, the performance even more enormous – it feels like it has bloomed its way through an awkward adolescence and is now in the unearned confidence of young adulthood, sure in its identity even if everyone else can see that it’s batshit stupid. But, despite that, Riverdale has never been great at endings, even half-ones. Can Outbreak turn it around?

I still think this is a reasonably strong episode to bring this half of the season to a close, in all fairness – Betty has the best plot, without a doubt, as she puts together an audacious escape from the Sisters of Quiet Mercy hospital. A lot of this episode revolves around exposure and revelation, as a midseason should, and it’s an awesome amount of fun to watch Betty kicking into high gear to break herself and the rest of the inmates at Quiet Mercy out into the real world again. Lili Reinhart is the only one of the teenage cast who can inspire genuine fear in me, and her holding a shiv to the neck of a nun and telling her not to scream is what I’m in this show for. This is also a solid episode for Shannon Purser – perhaps her first one – as she has to come to terms with her delusions and aids in Betty’s breakout, and maybe there’s still time for me to come around to her character yet.

Veronica and Cheryl are off trying to expose Hiram’s machinations after the high school cheerleading squad end stricken with the seizures, and they’re a pairing I’d forgotten how much I liked. In theory, their alpha-female energy should be too much when they’re sharing the screen, but the two of them are just a drawling, well-oiled pop-culture-reference machine (my “I have to pause this episode to shake my head in disbelief” was the Blossom family doctor being named “Caligari”) delivering syrup-boarding torture and generally stalking about Riverdale like they own in.

It’s certainly a step up for Veronica’s normal over-egged subplots, and it’s always a delight to see Madelience Petsch step up to centre stage, particularly when it involves tipping breakfast condiments on her mother. And this plot has a really solid sense of forward momentum – maybe a little too much, given all the reveals that explode in every direction – which is nice, because I was honestly struggling to see where Riverdale would or indeed could take this plot that even made in-universe sense.

And Archie and Jughead are off chilling with Jughead’s mother, Gladys, and his sister, Jellybean. Now, it’s not that I think this plot is bad as it functions in the episode – Gina Gershwin as Gladys is appropriately grizzled and maternal, and there are some sweet moments as Jughead reunites with his family. But my issue here is that we’ve barely spent any time really looking into Jughead’s relationship with his family beyond FP, so this all feels a little unearned. Is it cute to see Jellybean take down a gang member with a slingshot? Of course it is, but this is still a storyline that we just haven’t seen enough investment in to make it really stick. In fact, the most affecting part of the episode is Jughead and Archie reuniting with their respective fathers, probably because real time and effort has gone into those relationships to make them feel meaningful. I didn’t hate this plot, but I also found it hard to care, because Riverdale doesn’t seem to much give a damn, either.

That said, the final sting to Outbreak is one of the best I can remember in Riverdale’s history. The town is on lockdown after Hiram Lodge calls in some favours to expediate a quarantine that cuts Riverdale off from the rest of the world, and frankly, this is the kind of juicy set-up I’ve been waiting for. It’s not where I saw the Grunting and Gaycoding plot going, but it’s a great chance for the show to turn its focus inward and see what some cabin fever does to the already on-edge cast. They’ve just brought everyone together again (Jughead and FP, Cheryl and Veronica, Betty and Alice) to completely flip the script on them, and that is the kind of backhanded resolution I like to see from Riverdale.

More than anything, Outbreak seems to find a balance between bringing some stories to a close while opening the door to other ones. And for that, it’s one of Riverdale’s most successful finales – and the one that most leaves me wondering what the hell we’ve got coming next.

And that’s us for the first half of season three. What did you think? Are you confident about how this season is unfolding? 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 Vikings. 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 Daily Express)