“It’s the calm before the storm.”
In true Riverdale fashion, Season 3 opens with Jughead’s ever-mysterious narration. With only a few days left of summer, everyone is soaking up the sun for as long as they can. Or at least, they should be. But this summer is different, especially for Archie and the gang. This is undoubtedly the worst summer ever. In fact, a summer that will change all of their lives, forever.
At the end of Season 2 and the end of last school year, after crossing Hiram Lodge, Archie is arrested in the school gym of all places for the murder of Cassidy Bullock. And while the man is dead, it wasn’t Archie who killed him, but Andre, Hiram’s lackey. But Hiram’s nothing if not thorough, wiping all traces of Andre before the arrest is made. So, how have our favourite Riverdale residents spent their summer? Veronica has been working at Pop’s, anxious to get away from her father. Jughead has been trying to rally the Serpents and gather as much intel on the Ghoulies as possible. Betty has been helping Archie’s mom, Mary, and the former mayor, Sierra McCoy, build a case for Archie, desperate to keep busy and forget, at least temporarily, the horrors she faced only a few months before. And in the little free time they do have, they spend it in a courtroom, watching as Mary Andrews fights against her son’s sentence, trying to convince the jury of what we already know. Archie is innocent. And there is no way to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he is guilty. With no evidence, all the prosecution has against him is, as Mary puts it, cloudy testimonies from unreliable people.
After their closing statements, Archie takes a minute alone while the jury deliberates. Of all things, he isn’t thinking about prison and what might happen in there. He’s thinking about Sweetwater Swimming Hole, a place where he, Betty, and Jughead used to swim all the time as kids. His whole life has been spent with those two, and now Veronica as well, and the thought of being separated from them, his chosen family, is what’s worrying him most. He hopes to take Veronica to their favourite childhood place when he walks out of that courthouse a free man. Well…if he walks out a free man.
But it seems things won’t be settled so quickly. The judge has dismissed the jury. They will reconvene on Tuesday morning, after Labor Day. And in the meantime, he urges Archie to spend these next few days with his loved ones. Archie plans to take full advantage of this extra time, spending it with his dad and, of course, his girlfriend and two best friends. But before they manage to leave the courthouse, Hiram stops Archie, telling him to have a terrific weekend. Whether it’s the smug smirk on his face, the ill-will behind the pretty comment, or the fact that Archie is only dealing with this because of Hiram, something in Fred snaps. He winds back his arm and delivers one of the most satisfying punches in TV history. Get it, Fred!
After the trial, the gang heads back to Pop’s, where Jughead comes across Dilton and Ben playing some kind of role-playing game. It seems a little weird, but trust me, it’s an important detail to remember. We’ll come back to that. Back at their booth, the gang discusses how to use these last three days to their full advantage. What more can they do to prove Archie’s innocence? They’ve searched for the gun all summer, but maybe they should try with metal detectors! But Archie won’t have any of it. If these are his last three days of freedom, he’s going to spend it enjoying the end of summer with his best friends, with his family. And after this declaration, who should arrive but Cheryl, decked out with her very own red Serpent jacket, inviting them to a big, end of summer pool party she’s hosting down at Thornhill. Well, there’s one event down!
Back at the Cooper residence, things are still hellish for Betty, but in a very different way. Polly is back with the twins, but she brought some people from the farm into town, and they’ve converted Alice. Alice! Of all people! The woman who a year ago forced her daughter to take Adderall, the woman who was uptight and extremely overprotective in an abusive way is now all about healing teas and spirituality. I guess finding out your husband was a serial killer will do that to you. But Betty isn’t sold on the ways of the Cult-like farm. Alice suggests that she should burn her old diaries and destroy/deal with the pain from her past. Edgar, from the farm, thinks it would do her a world of good. But Betty’s seeing her own therapist (or so she says), and he says that keeping a journal is a perfectly healthy way to cope. She’s tired of listening to her mom and Polly go on about the farm, but what she doesn’t know is Polly’s done some digging on her little sister. More on that later.
Betty heads over to Archie’s to help him and his dad fix up an old car. Archie’s first car, in fact. And they manage to get it up and running, making it perfect for a trip down to Sweetwater Swimming Hole later! Archie’s just happy they were able to finish working on the car in time, before the completion of the trial. Fred leaves, nearly in tears at the thought of his son going away, so Archie makes Betty promise that she’ll check in on his dad if he does go to jail. That she’ll invite him over for dinner sometimes. If Archie leaves, he’ll be all alone, and he can’t stand that thought. As always, Archie, the boy-next-door, is thinking of everyone else before himself.
As for Veronica, who everyone always seems to doubt? She knows her father is behind this and pleads for him to stop. Archie is innocent. Framing him for murder isn’t only crossing a line, it won’t make Veronica stop seeing him. But Hiram pretends to be naive, unsure of what she is implying. Despite her tearful pleas, he doesn’t falter. In fact, he looks more smug than ever.
Meanwhile, the Serpents are helping Archie prep for the worst. FP tattoos a Serpent on Archie’s arm, making him an honorary member. There will be Serpents wherever he ends up, and his key to survival will be finding them and joining them. But FP points out while that will protect his body, the real trick is protecting his mind. If he can do that, he’ll be okay.
Later, at Cheryl’s end of summer bash, things are heating up in the junior class. Kevin and Moose make a pact that if they don’t lose their virginity by Halloween, they do it together. Josie and Sweet Pea reveal they’ve been having a summer fling, and while Sweet Pea wants it to be more than that, Josie doesn’t want anything distracting her from her music, despite how attracted she is to him. Even Archie’s enjoying himself, while getting his affairs in order, making sure Reggie will keep the peace with the Serpents when he’s gone. And despite what happened last year, he’s more than on board, knowing now who the real enemy is. The only two people not enjoying themselves are Cheryl and Veronica, both for the same reason.
Cheryl is teary-eyed as she explains to Toni how exactly Archie saved her that day on the ice. He came to her rescue when she thought she was alone and hopeless. And now, when she wishes she could do the same for him, there’s nothing anyone can do. Except for maybe Josie and Veronica. We know a Lodge doesn’t go down without a fight. She begged Mary and Sierra to put her on the stand, to tell the jury everything she knows about her father, but it was too late. But what if she could get to just one jury member before Tuesday and convince them of his wrong doing? It would be enough to make it a hung jury, giving them more time to prove Archie’s innocence. And Josie knows where the jury is staying and how to get Veronica in. She sneaks in disguised as housekeeping, but before she can talk to anyone, the Sheriff discovers her. He was warned by Hiram she might try something like this. He may be the worst father ever, but he certainly knows his daughter.
Luckily, it isn’t Hiram that comes to pick her up, but Hermione. Though, Veronica’s angry at her, too, for just standing by his side through all of this. Hermione forcefully shuts the door and confesses to her daughter that she knows he’s a monster. She’s trapped in this marriage, a prisoner to her husband. But she is not his toy, his puppet, or accomplice, and she will never leave her alone to deal with her father. She’s with her daughter, no matter what. And with those words, trust is restored with Hermione, and completely destroyed with Hiram.
Back with the Serpents, they discover that the Ghoulies stole Hot Dog, and from the looks of it, they haven’t been feeding him. It’s time for a rescue mission. Betty’s dead set against it, and who can blame her? The last time Jug went into Ghoulie territory he was beaten nearly to death. But he won’t be alone this time. He’ll have the Serpents with him and it’ll be a stealth mission. Betty agrees, but only if she comes, too. Jug instantly and firmly says no, but Betty won’t have it.
“No, don’t you dare tell me that it’s too dangerous, Jug. The Serpent Queen is a warrior Queen. So if you’re on the front-lines, so am I.”
Cheryl and Toni nod in approval while the tiniest smile plays on Jughead’s lips. The Serpent King is proud to have Betty as his Queen. His expression makes it obvious. As she stands her ground, all he wants to do is kiss her (probably more, let’s be honest). But they’ve got a rescue mission to carry out.
Under the cover of darkness, after lying in wait for an hour, Jughead heads into enemy territory while the others watch nearby. He cuts the chain around Hot Dog’s neck when the place lights up. All the Ghoulies come out to play, led by none other than Penny Peabody. She’s pissed that Jughead’s been sending spies over all summer. He insists they were just looking for Hot Dog, but she isn’t buying it. She wants payment, of sorts, starting with his jacket. The South Side doesn’t belong to the Serpents anymore, so they really shouldn’t call themselves that. When he doesn’t give it to her, she threatens Betty, his North Side Queen, and the entire territory. He proposes an exchange. He’ll give them the jacket if she promises not to touch the North Side. But the Ghoulies don’t like Jughead making demands, and starts to threaten him. Before they can get close to Jug, an arrow shoots through the air and hits one of them in the shoulder. Cheryl came to play, and we all know she never misses.
Before the Ghoulies can attack, Jug orders Cheryl to aim the next arrow between Penny’s eyes, and that stops everyone in their tracks. She’ll let them leave tonight, but the North Side just became fair game.
The next morning, before the gang leaves for Sweetwater Swimming Hole, Alice and Polly confront Betty about the lies she’s been spinning all summer. She made up her therapist, forging doctor’s notes to get herself a prescription for more Adderall. And while Polly and Alice are wrong in the way they go about it, trying to get her to join the farm and their ways, they have a point when they tell her she’s in denial about what happened last year. She’s doing everything to keep busy and not think about it, when she should be dealing with it. Therapy isn’t such a bad idea. But that’s to think about later. For now, she’s going to enjoy her last day of summer with her friends before real life starts again, before the trial concludes.
Archie, Veronica, Betty, and Jug spend the day swimming and splashing, getting to actually be teenagers for once, and spend the night by a campfire on the beach under the stars. Jughead tells Archie he should make a run for it, that there are passes in the mountains that could get him to Quebec, that there are Serpents there who would protect him. But Archie is stuck on the idea that he somehow deserves everything that’s happening to him. If he goes to jail, he deserves it. He didn’t kill anyone, but he could have, and in his mind that’s just as bad.
The couples split up for the rest of the night to spend some alone time together. Betty confesses to Jug that her mom and sister might be right, and it might be good to actually start seeing a therapist, that she has been in denial. But she doesn’t know how to deal with any of it, and it terrifies her. Jug looks at her, takes off his beanie, and places it on her head.
“Betty, we’re gonna get through it. From now on, we’re partners. In Serpents, in life, all of it, okay?”
Yeah, it’s safe to say that Bughead is as united and adorable as ever. Not to mention steamy! And they aren’t the only ones! While Bughead is sharing an intimate moment, Archie and Veronica, in true Varchie fashion, have sex on the beach. After all, this may be their last night together. While cuddled up under the stars, Archie wants Veronica to promise not to visit him. He doesn’t want her to waste her final years of high school waiting for him, but she lays down the law. If he goes away, she’s going to visit him every single week and help work on his appeal. She’s not leaving him, and she’s not letting him break up with her because he thinks she deserves better. He is the only thing she loves, and he’s just going to have to deal with that. And as much as he wants to protect her, he also knows she’s right.
The next morning, the morning of the conclusion of the trial, Archie says a last goodbye to his dog before heading off with his mom and dad. Everyone waits anxiously in the courtroom to hear the jury’s verdict, but they’re split. This should mean that the judge will deem this a mistrial and they’ll have to go through the process all over again. Archie hates the idea of putting everyone through that, so when the prosecution offers a lesser sentence of 2 years in juvenile detention if he pleads guilty, he takes it without hesitation. He ignores the council of his lawyer, AKA his mother, and takes the deal. The 2 years begins immediately. He hugs his mother briefly and shouts to Ronnie that he loves her. She tries to push her way past the cops, crying and shouting that it’s not his fault, that he’s innocent. Betty runs over and holds her friend as she cries, and when Veronica looks up, she sees her father. She gives him a look that holds no love. And when they return home, and he tells her that he’s doing this to punish his daughter, not Archie, she venomously says that he has no daughter. We could not be prouder of Ronnie for standing up to Hiram once and for all. No one can save him now.
Archie’s off to juvenile detention and Veronica has disowned her father, but there are two final twists the premiere has to offer. The first of which has to do with the role-playing game Dilton and Ben were playing earlier. Dilton comes to Jug looking scared out of his mind, convinced it isn’t actually a game, but something real and evil. He leaves Jug a map, which he follows that night. It leads him into the woods before some sort of alter, where Dilton and Ben are lying on their knees, drawings carved into the skin on their back. This is a ritual. Some sort of Pagan ritual, it seems. And Polly’s farm may very well be involved.
Speaking of, Betty is woken in the middle of the night from the crackle of firewood. She walks out into her backyard to see members of the farm, along with Polly, her mom, and the twins all dressed in white. Polly and Alice hold the twins above the fire and drop them. Betty gasps twice, once when they drop them, and once more when they don’t hit the fire. They merely float and laugh above it. Betty looks like she’s about to faint, but she doesn’t. She hits the ground and begins to have a seizure instead. Alice runs over to her daughter and calls for help as Betty convulses in her arms. Based on the fact that she’s been forging doctor’s notes to get Adderall, this could very well be an overdose. Will the ambulance get there in time, or will the magic the farm practices save her?
This premiere was action-packed and tear-jerking, to say the least! Everything seems to be crumbling in Riverdale, but unlike previous seasons, the town is banding together. Fred and Mary have the support of both Tom Keller and FP Jones, and they’ll do anything it takes to bring Hiram Lodge to justice. The rituals and magic are definitely setting us up for Sabrina’s introduction, be it in Riverdale or just her own separate series that premieres at the end of this month. And at least, despite everything, our ships are still going strong.
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Riverdale Is Streaming On Netflix Now.