Riverdale S3E20: Prom Night
It’s a strange episode of Riverdale, really,when the show seems to remember that it still has some vague tethering to the real world. Prom? Who’s that? Never heard of her, not in between the serial-killing and fantasy role-playing and even our heroes trying to boil people alive in hot tubs.
But, this week’s episode, Prom Night, is both an embracing of the real world and a complete rejection of it. Because yeah, it’s prom, but you best believe it’s Renaissance-themed (though initially it was a Prom of Ice and Fire, because Riverdale is supportive of my endeavours and wants to remind you that I’m recapping Game of Thrones this season) and that it’s the culmination of a plan cooked up by an on-edge Betty to murder the Gargoyle King once and for all.
I mean, I know I’m going to have to mention the fact that there are other storylines going on this week, but I don’t actually want to. Why would I? Betty, as I have announced loudly and constantly into everyone’s ear while leaning over the table just a little too close to them, is the best thing about Riverdale, and this is a delicious culmination of so much of her plot for the last couple of seasons. After the apparent death of her father in a car accident, Betty becomes convinced that he is on the loose as the Black Hood once more – watching her try to navigate a potent mixture of grief, guilt, and fear marks this out as one of her most impressive performances of the season.
But, you know, that’s far too serious for Riverdale to leave it there: Betty is on the hunt for the Gargoyle King, as her and Jughead (always at their best together when they’re investigating something nefarious) uncover more about the mysterious leader and plan to take him down for good. This plot also involves Chad Michael Murray getting his kit off, because I assume that’s a requirement for any halfway attractive man on the show at this point? Anyway, the hunt for the King leads Betty through the winding underbelly of Riverdale, the farm, her family history, and her own dark places, and it makes for a genuinely compelling piece of television – not to mention the brilliant slasher-inspired third act, with Betty fleeing the returned Black Hood as he stalks her through the neon-lit halls of the empty school. When Riverdale leans into horror, it usually does so via Betty, and the combination of those two things make for outstanding entertainment.
Would that I could leave this recap there, but there’s just…a lot going on this week. Prom episodes are the equivalent of eve-of-war outings in high school shows – emotional denouements aplenty, and everyone has the excuse to take a step back and look at the turns their lives have taken to bring them to this point. For Betty, of course, this actually means really interesting stuff – even for Cheryl, with a supremely Blossom-appropriate internal battle over her desire to become prom queen, it’s at least goofy, overacted fun. For Archie, though, less so, as his mother turns up to try to convince him to join the Navy, while he spends an episode crash-dieting to lose weight for an upcoming fight – I have long-since lost patience with the “Archie is a boxer! Look, here’s a bunch of shots of this kid who’s meant to be underage shirtless and sweaty!” plot, and now that it is missing the much-missed Luke Perry for good, I just couldn’t care less.
Veronica gets some juicy developments, too, as it’s revealed that her father has owned her club the whole time without her knowing a thing about it. It’s a curious twist, but at the same time an obvious one. I’m only somewhat tired of Hiram being behind everything – which is saying something, because this has been happening for two straight seasons now – because at least Mark Conseulos knows how to bring the camp to his outrageous performance. But I have to admit that I really like Veronica as a self-defined businesswoman – or I did, when we thought she actually was one, and seeing what the removal of that will do to her character is going to be interesting.
So, for all that this might be grounded in something close to reality, Riverdale doesn’t want us to forget that everything is still just as deranged as ever for the least realistic high school show since Buffy the fucking Vampire Slayer. Prom works beautifully as a twisted backdrop to the horror-themed bleakness of Betty’s plot, as well as a chance to bring everyone together and get them to re-evaluate where they’re at. As the season pulls into its final corner, I still don’t know what I’m expecting it to yank out of the hat at this late stage in the game. But, I’ll take what I can get – and if it’s a wild prom night to remember, Renaissance-theming, mass-murder, and clear stylistic references to the second Nightmare on Elm Street movie and all – I can live with that for now.
(header image via Den of Geek)