I’m sorry to say Riverdale has bid us farewell for winter break with one of the dullest episodes in a while. Steel yourself for a lot of people marching into rooms and announcing things while other people (okay, sometimes the same people) learn things that the rest of us have known for a long time, and also, honestly, that I thought they already knew too, but apparently they didn’t? It is rare that I simultaneously feel this bored and this confused. Also, sleepy.
Let’s start with the most interesting storyline, which isn’t saying much: Archie and Jughead arrive at the rusty junkyard exclusively staffed by male preteens in Toledo that is the small but proud kingdom of Gladys Jones (Gina Gershon — the second Riverdale mom to have had a role in Pretty in Pink, albeit the first, so far, to have appeared in Showgirls). They don’t even sell that many stolen hubcaps and stereos!
“You two finally got together, huh?” she beams at her son and his lifelong BFF. Sorry, Gladys, but you’ll have wait like the rest of us for the possibility of some abrupt but appreciated fan service in the series finale, as when [redacted] and [redacted] smooch at the end of [redacted]. (If you know what I’m talking about, then you know what I’m talking about.) We finally meet Jughead’s little sister Jellybean, a dusty little junior mechanic who has rebranded herself JB.
It’s been 15 minutes since anyone had a seizure, so the River Vixens — minus Cheryl, for some reason — dramatically convulse on the floor of the school hallway. These girls will later be referred to as “The Fallen” and “The Infected” as if they are dead, or perhaps zombies, though they are neither. That said, the mass cheerleader seizure leads to a) a convalescing Toni agreeing to move in with Cheryl (cute!), and b) Veronica’s parents threatening to send her back to live in New York (not cute!). Veronica belatedly learns about fizzle rocks — and her dad’s connection to them, and that they’re being dealt by a gang called the Gargoyles, and that they come from the prison, or whatever — from Reggie (Charles Melton, who the actual human actress Camila Mendes is dating IRL, by the way; adorable, I love it, Veregnica, make it happen).
I thought we were in for at least half an episode of Betty stumbling around under the Gargoyle King’s spell, but our heroine is already doing just fine, thank you, obediently taking the nun’s “candy” and then puking it up in the privacy of a bathroom stall. In group therapy, she gushes about how she’s the Gargoyle King’s “new favorite.” Hearing this, Ethel, predictably, loses her mind, and next thing we know she’s unlocking the Gargoyle King’s chamber with her special teacher’s-pet set of keys to find out what the fuck is up, my dude. But Betty takes her by surprise, pushing Not-Barb inside and locking the door behind her. A few hours later, she returns to find Ethel sobbing on the floor. Now that the drugs have worn off, she sees that the chamber contains only a statue of a gargoyle — the nuns have been manipulating them, with the help of their fizzle rocks-induced hallucinations. And so Betty has recruited herself a loyal deputy.
Sports and extracurriculars have already been cancelled at Riverdale High by the time a squadron of bright blue hazmat-suited creeps starts grabbing people on campus and generally terrifying the student body. At an emergency school-board meeting, Mayor Lodge declares that she will shut down Riverdale High, just as Veronica and Cheryl barge in to rant about fizzle rocks and make wild-sounding accusations about Hiram’s plans, to which he responds by being like, “Actually, no,” at which point all the adults are like, “Okay.” Penelope volunteers patronizingly that seizures like Veronica’s can cause hallucinations, then promptly has a seizure of her own. At this, Cheryl just rolls her eyes, which actually made me laugh out loud.
Later, acknowledging that she’s right about his evil intentions, Hiram “commends” Veronica for her “audacious” “gusto” in interrupting the meeting. I guess I’m glad she’s finally getting some SAT vocab practice in.
A pig roast at the junkyard is crashed by Penny Peabody, who holds a knife to Archie’s neck until JB handily knocks her out cold with her slingshot. It is heavily implied that Gladys kills the ex-Serpent, or, best-case scenario, does something to Penny with a knife that results in a lot of blood to clean up. But before, uh, whatever happened to Penny happens to Penny, Gladys learns that Hiram has placed a bounty not just on Archie, but on anyone who aids and abets him. Archie overhears this, and insists a reluctant Jug return home — he must continue on alone and stop putting his loved ones in danger. To that end, Mrs. J summons to the junkyard both Fred and her own ex-husband, who has a slightly chilly reunion with the daughter he apparently has no interest in being in contact with, which, fair, JB.
Before Riverdale takes a few weeks off, we’re in for one more heartbreaking fatality: Archie’s beautiful ginger locks. He dyes his hair black in a public bathroom. After an emotional goodbye with Fred, Archie wanders into the woods toward the Canadian border accompanied by his dog, Vegas, whose welfare I am more worried about than Archie’s.
Thanks to some assistance from a sharpened-pencil shiv, Betty and Ethel get Sister Woodhouse tied up in the Gargoyle King’s chamber. There, Nun Ratched explains that the asylum has used this creepy-ass room and its creepy-ass statue to scare misbehaving kids since its very earliest days. When the “more disturbed” patients concocted an entire “fantasy realm” inspired by it, the nuns were pleased to find it only made the populace more compliant — but this game “born of madness” was never meant to spread to the outside world. If that is really all that’s up with G&G, well, that is pretty dumb. Then again, this time last season, we were led to believe the Black Hood was Joseph Conway.
Betty and Ethel find it difficult to rally their fellow inmates to escape, until they realize they can put their brainwashing to good use. Ethel frames their flight from the Sisters of Quiet Mercy as an in-game quest, and Betty appears in costume — wings, crown, robe, bejeweled belt, all resourcefully procured from, I don’t know, Sister Woodhouse’s unexpectedly exciting wardrobe? — as the “Griffin Queen.” She throws the severed stone head of the Gargoyle King to the ground. With that encouragement, an asylum’s worth of children gleefully run into the night, and I am sure nothing whatsoever could go wrong with that.
Cut to another tied-up lady, this one not so much a nun. Tipped off to the Blossom-Maple-truck–Sisters of Quiet Mercy connection via a call from Betty, Cheryl and Veronica interrogate Penelope, who is for some reason decked out in full leather fetish-gear for the occasion, by repeatedly dumping maple syrup on her head. She reveals that Hiram — hindered neither by the dead sheriff nor his mayor-wife — plans to turn Riverdale into a freewheeling, any-crime-goes Hamsterdam dusted with fizzle rocks. Haven’t we been down this road already, just with the Southside?
Veronica storms into her mother’s office and says she is “relieved of [her] mayoral duties” (yup, sure, that’s a thing citizens can do), but it’s too late. By the time FP and Jughead drive up on their motorcycles, rifle-toting cops have formed a blockade around the town. Riverdale is an “official quarantine site,” thanks to an order from Hiram’s good pal, the governor. In his office, the Man in Black raises a celebratory glass to the Gargoyle King.
See you next year, hair models of the damned! Please use jingle-jingle responsibly this holiday season.