Riverdale S3E10: The Stranger

by thethreepennyguignol

After watching this week’s episode of Riverdale, I feel like I’ve been hit by a speeding train and now my broken, twitching body is trying to write these recaps before the life seeps out of me for good.

What I’m saying is, this was another one of Riverdale’s patented fucking batshit episode that almost defy criticism, good or bad. The Stranger has so much packed in, such a huge amount of tonal whiplash from scene to scene, so many plots moving forward and shifting back in the same moment, that it’s hard to know where to begin – or, hell, if I even liked it in the first place. Let’s break this down, plot by plot, and then I’m going to lie down with a strong cup of tea and my cat for the rest of the day.

The title of this episode refers to a number of different concepts and characters, but the most significant one is, of course, Archie. Archie has survived his encounter with the bear, and returns to Riverdale a completely changed man, a stranger to the people who loved him. I actually think this is a pretty interesting notion to explore at this point in the show’s run, because Archie has been through just a phenomenal amount since we first met him. Watching him try to reintegrate into the world of his friends, of his high school, of his girlfriend, is honestly painful; those moments he shares with his father (Luke Perry and his Concerned Brow Furrow are seriously growing on me this season) in particular. This plot reminds me a lot of How To Get Away with Murder’s Wes, and his short, brutal, cruel life.

Both are lead characters, ostensibly, and both are played by actors who improved over the course of their run, but it’s really the utter savagery that both shows laid on them that connects them in my mind. And I mean that as a compliment. Archie is rapidly unravelling, and where this will end could take the show to some really interesting places. Just try to ignore all the goofy stuff about him studying for the SATs chucked in there for comic relief. Tonal whiplash, I’m telling you.

Next up, Betty reunites with her father after her mother gives away all her college tuition to the cult she has joined. Now, I’ve been waiting with baited breath for the return of Hal since the end of last season, and I make no bones about the fact that I would love to fuck him  find his interactions with the rest of the Cooper family, especially Betty, particularly fascinating. He and Betty are reflected in one another, something B has been trying to avoid since his incarceration, but here they bond over the fact that they are both victims of Alice’s machinations over the course of their time with her. Those beautifully-shot, shadowed conversations between the two of them remind me of a cut-price Hannibal, which is still a mid-range anything else, and I love it. Betty with her high school peers is fine, but Betty exploring the dark depths of her hereditary darkness is brilliant. Though she wants to be a stranger to Hal, she can’t be, because they understand each other – and perhaps he understands her better than anyone else in her life, due to his embracing of the blackness inside of him.

Veronica is dealing with the blowback of Archie’s re-arrival in Riverdale, following her brief fling with Reggie (thanks to the Twitter follower who gave me the heads-up that Veronica and Reggie are actually dating very cutely all over social media in real life, by the way), and this is some of the best work Camila Mendes has done on the show. I can’t believe I’m sliding this in as a side note, but Hiram gets shot this week (and, oh my goodness, it’s directed SO bloody well), and seeing her completely alone as she pushes away the last people close to her is genuinely moving. In pursuing the life she wants, Veronica has forced a divide in her family and in her relationship with the man she love/d, a stranger to the people who once knew her, and maybe even to herself, too.

Let’s blaze through the rest of the plots before my brain starts to leak out of my ears: Tall Boy, having survived his murder last season, is actually the Gargoyle King who’s been tormenting Riverdale for the past dozen episodes or so, but he winds up dead after Jughead’s minions accidentally off him, leaving Jughead to cover up the crime. FP has become sheriff (and adds another layer to my fantasies, thanks, show), and declares a rule of new law over Riverdale at large. Hal has taken an interest in Gaycoding and Gastro-Intestinal Troubles, after being usurped as the big bad of Riverdale.

It’s all crammed into this overstuffed episode, and the show is really leaning into high gear with the back half of the season, just as it did last year. Honestly, when the show throws this much at me, it’s hard to even know if I actually like it, or if I’ve just overwhelmed by the sheer amount of content that I’m trying to process. But, for now, they get a pass, with a thematically strong piece that manages to finagle its way through the more bizarre corridors of thought it chooses to prance down with a grounding in the consequences of the show on our characters so far.

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. 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 ComicsBeat)