Welcome back to Riverdale, the small town with a big heart and what is surely the nation’s highest number of disturbing murders per capita! Our pals Archie, Jughead, Betty, and Veronica have spent the summer before their junior year in the regional production of Inherit the Wind that is young Mr. Andrews’s trial for the murder of Cassidy Bullock: Everyone is sweaty and languorous, and bow ties, apparently, are a fashion do.
Not uncompellingly, the prosecutor points out that Archie has “Founder of a Masked Vigilante Group” listed not once but twice on his CV, not to mention the incidents wherein he threatened Sweet Pea at gunpoint or beat up Nick St. Clair despite his pair of broken legs. Archie’s attorney, who also happens to his mother, who also happens to be, in case you forgot, Molly Ringwald, offers a defense that basically boils down to: He is a nice boy! (Okay, and there’s also the fact that there’s no murder weapon, motive, nor witnesses.) Have we fully considered the possibility that an owl might have done it? The judge orders the still-deliberating jury to be sequestered over the long Labor Day weekend.
A few booths away from where Dilton Doiley and Ben are playing a Dungeons & Dragons-esque game at Pop’s, the Scooby Gang sips a rainbow of milkshakes and discusses possible last-ditch efforts to clear Archie’s name, until the accused declares he’d rather not spend what might be his last free weekend looking for evidence that might not even exist.
Anyway, we’ve got some errands to attend to. FP gives Archie an “honorary Serpent” tattoo to help him camouflage in juvie among other gang members. (Is that ink for real? I have no idea; I’m not a dermatologist.) Over in the Pembroke, Veronica remains furious with Hiram for framing her boyfriend for murder, which, fair. It’s too late for her to testify about her father’s criminal dealings, so with Josie’s help, she attempts some good old-fashioned jury tampering in the hotel where the jurors have been sequestered — but Sheriff Manetta discovers her first, disguised in a maid’s uniform (Veronica’s in the uniform, that is, not the sheriff).
Fangs (who I momentarily forgot was ultimately not dead last season) reports that the Ghoulies abducted Serpent mascot Hot Dog on Riot Night and they’re still holding the pup prisoner. “No Serpent left behind” applies even, and maybe especially, when the particular Serpent in question is a dog, as confusing as that might sound, biologically. Serpent Queen Betty insists on tagging along on a rescue mission to enemy turf. As Jughead frees Hot Dog from his chains, flood lights switch on and Penny, the Ghoulies, and their customary spiked baseball bats appear to greet him. Penny demands Jughead’s jacket, if only on a technicality: Can they really be the Southside Serpents if the Southside belongs to the Ghoulies now? Before things can escalate further, unequivocal Serpents MVP Cheryl whips out her bow and arrow and starts shooting. We may be on the brink of another Serpents-Ghoulies war, but at least they saved the dog!
Her serial-killer dad is finally behind bars, though Betty’s home life remains creepy. Alice has clearly been brainwashed by Polly and the probably nefarious forces of the Farm and its leader, Edgar, as evidenced by the fact that she now wears flowing shawls and brews milk oolong tea. Betty finds her mother about to throw her diaries into the fire, on the grounds that her daughter’s past is “crushing” her. Betty wants no part of their “Heaven’s Gate commune for pregnant runaways and wives of serial killers,” but I most certainly do. The prestige Netflix docuseries sells itself. A call from the pharmacy leads Alice and Polly to discover that Betty has been forging her Adderall prescriptions from a fictitious doctor (his name is Dr. Glass, because Betty is a proud graduate of the Jan Brady School of Improvisation). Is Betty in sore need of some quality time unpacking her daddy issues of unprecedented scale with a therapist who actually exists, who most likely wouldn’t condone drug abuse? Without a doubt! Is Edgar and his all-purpose embargo on pharmaceuticals the answer? I’m going to go out on a limb and say no, although I’ll gladly take a cup of that milk oolong tea, please.
Archie, who is, naturally, shirtless, takes Betty, Jughead, and Veronica for a last-hurrah drive to Sweetwater swimming hole in his fixed-up vintage car. Under a graffitied overpass, they strip down to their underwear and dive in (they all seemed to know this was happening in advance, so why not wear swimsuits?), canoodling in water and also on land. Given that everyone is already being very horny, here’s a quick update on Riverdale’s hottest romances: Cheryl and Toni have just returned from a cross-country motorcycle trip, Sweet Pea and Josie are (maybe) wrapping up a summer fling, and Kevin and Moose have made a virginity pact with a Halloween expiration date.
Archie tries unsuccessfully to mercy break up with Veronica, who is having none of it; Jughead tries unsuccessfully to convince Archie to flee to Canada. He may be innocent, but Archie feels “guilty” enough for leaving Cassidy alone with Andre, and for allowing himself to be so deftly manipulated by Hiram Lodge in the first place. Besides, he’s less upset about the prospect of getting “shivved” than not graduating with his buddies, which is sweet, if perhaps short-sighted.
The next morning, Dilton storms into Jughead’s trailer, raving about how his and Ben’s “stupid role-playing game” has proven to be something much more than that, and about a mysterious, sinister, just far enough from True Detective season one not to sound too True Detective season one figure called “the Cargo King.” But Jughead has to get to court, where the jury finally delivers their verdict: They’re deadlocked six to six. It’s a mistrial.
The prosecutor offers a plea deal: As an alternative to prison, Archie can get time served plus two years in juvenile detention. Against literally everyone’s better judgment, he wastes no time in accepting this, blatantly ignoring Mom-Lawyer’s counsel in the hope of sparing his loved ones further turmoil. The courtroom is aghast. He’ll be immediately remanded to the Leopold and Loeb (I’m screaming) Juvenile Detention Center.
Hiram explains to Veronica that he didn’t do this to punish Archie, but to punish her for betraying her family. “You don’t have a daughter anymore,” she tells him. There’s also no love lost between rogue ex-member Hiram and the upstanding Riverdale Hot Dads Brigade — Fred Andrews, Tom Keller, and FP Jones, and notably not Hal Cooper, who, again, is in prison for being a serial killer — who are determined to seek justice for Archie.
Jughead arrives home to find Dilton gone but a rolled-up graph-paper scroll left behind. On one side, there’s a sketch of a skeletal cow nightmare creature; on the other, a hand-drawn map that seemingly (per Jughead’s murder wall, now a permanent piece of trailer decor) indicates Fox Forest.
There he finds a massive, real-life version of that creepy-ass livestock skull totem. At its feet are the remnants of a dark ceremony, with chalices, lit candles, and bones deliberately arranged in a shape that’s not quite a pentagram. An unconscious Dilton and Ben, wearing only underwear, are bowed prostrate towards the creature with runes carved into their backs. Ben rouses, green foam splurting from his mouth, and while I would love to know exactly what Jughead’s 911 call describing all this is going to sound like, we’ll have to wait until next week to find out.
Betty, too, is in for a pre-Halloween treat. She arrives home to find the lights out. In the backyard, a circle of people, including her mother and sister, clad all in white, stand around a fire. Alice and Polly hold the twins aloft over the flames and then drop them, but the babies float above the danger.
Betty faints, convulsing on the ground as Alice rushes to her aid. This seems like the perfect time to remind you that Chilling Adventures of Sabrina drops on Netflix later this month.