"How the hell did we get here? When did our lives go from worrying about who's going to sit next to us on the bus to drug-lord mothers?"
This quote comes courtesy of Jughead on last week's Riverdale. It's dark and sensational in and of itself, but then his girlfriend Betty replies, "And serial killer fathers. And unstoppable cults." Keep in mind this happened in the midst of a musical episode that featured Cheryl Blossom doing choreography with a croquet mallet. It wasn't but two minutes after Betty said serial killer that she broke into song.
I found myself laughing throughout this scene, not because anything was funny, per se, but because Jughead's question is spot-on. How the hell did Riverdale get here? The hit CW series has always been over-the-top—the characters campy, the dialogue even more so—but that's part of its appeal. But season three has reached new heights (or lows, depending on whom you ask). Showrunner Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and company are throwing everything at us, including the kitchen sink.
I'll get to specifics in a second, but this season alone we've seen Archie in jail, Archie in a fight club, Alice maybe-probably throwing Polly's twins in a fire, multiple seizure outbreaks, two new couples, two new gangs, a board game that inspires people to kill, a cult, creepy stickman costumes, drug smuggling, alcohol smuggling, people smuggling—all sometimes in the same episode. And don't even get me started on Jughead's singing.
To play devil's advocate, this is par for the course for a teen drama like Riverdale. Look at Pretty Little Liars: The series kept viewers hooked by upping the stakes each year, but by season six the antics became less enticing and more stressful. The "A" iterations grew exhausting, as did the show's tendency to bring back old characters to fill plot holes. (I still don't fully know who CeCe Drake is, TBH.) I think the same thing might be happening to Riverdale right now…in season three. As the stakes rise, so does the confusion. I'm a Riverdale diehard, and yet I spent the entirety of last week's episode looking like this:
In the span of 42 minutes, Toni and Cheryl imploded and got back together; Jughead discovered his mom was Riverdale's new drug lord; "Bughead" boned in front of a burning trailer; and everyone sang a bunch of songs from the Heathers musical, which made following any of the aforementioned plot points near impossible.
I'm not alone in thinking this. Many fans finished the episode feeling lost, baffled, or even bored:
I have no intention of quitting Riverdale—there's still a lot to love. Cheryl Blossom is my queen, and I shout about her and her perfect hair flips every chance I get. Archie's shirtless scenes are bright lights in this dark, dark world. The cult story line is arguably my favorite thing on TV right now. (Long story short: Betty's mom and sister joined a social group called The Farm, but she thinks it's something out of Wild Wild Country. It's delicious.) The show's pros still greatly outweigh its cons. In fact, all the bewildering narratives I'm referencing aren't even cons: I'm just asking, how can this much batshit nonsense happen to one group of hot teens at the same time? And why is everyone, parents included, treating it so normally?
Jughead's "How the hell did we get here?" revelation is the first time in Riverdale history a character has acknowledged the show's craziness. And that's how you know we're off the rails—in the most entertaining way, of course. Even with all the head-scratching plot lines, Riverdale is still my fave.
But just for my sanity, let's run through everything stressing me out this season:
1. Veronica She dumped one guy with abs (Archie) for another guy with abs (Reggie), so no complaints there. But we need to talk about La Bonne Nuit, the speakeasy she owns and operates. Veronica Lodge is 17, people, and she runs a bar. A bar that serves alcohol. She's supposedly in major debt to her father, Hiram, but somehow can buy dozens of slot machines for a casino night. That debt, if you're curious, came from Veronica setting her parents' drugs on fire in the hopes they'd stop selling. Casual. Her life is truly something out of The Godfather: gambling, drugs, hidden speakeasies. What is this, the Prohibition Era? How she found time to study for the SATs in between this life of crime is beyond me.
2. Archie He's with Josie now, which I fully support. They both love singing moody covers of showtunes, so it's a perfect match. However, this is the only Archie storyline I can wrap my head around. When he's not drinking milkshakes with Josie at Pop's, he's beating up people in attempt to be Hilary Swank in Million Dollar Baby. Seriously, Archie wants to become an Ultimate Fighting Champion, and it's too much. He doesn't care about school. He doesn't care about friends. He doesn't care about anything except boxing, and his gorgeous face is suffering as a result. I'm all in for Shirtless Archie, but Bleeding Archie? Call the ambulance.
3. Betty Polly, Alice, and Kevin have now all joined The Farm, and Betty's still convinced it's a cult. I can't get enough of this story line; it's just the right amount of bonkers. The only part throwing me off? The actor playing The Farm's mysterious leader, Edgar Evernever: Chad Michael Murray. Yes, my friends, your teenage crush from 2004 is the cult maestro we've been waiting for. I'm here for it, but the jokes write themselves. If Edgar doesn't make at least one deep-cut One Tree Hill reference, I'm declaring a national emergency.
4. Jughead Ahhh, the bane of my existence. In my unpopular opinion, scowling Jughead and his beanie are the weakest links in the Riverdale universe. His obsession with the Gryphons and Gargoyles board game? Don't care. The gang war between the Serpents, Ghoulies, and Gargoyles? Wow, really don't care. The fact his father, now sheriff of Riverdale, is deputizing the Serpents to clean up crime in Riverdale? I've never cared about anything less. What's more: His story lines are the most confusing. The search to find the "Gargoyle King" (yawn) has had more cumbersome twists than the Black Hood saga, and that's saying something.
5. Cheryl She had a rough patch with Toni, but they made up. Thank God. Cheryl Blossom remains unbothered as the most iconic part of Riverdale, and the all-female gang she started with Toni, the Pretty Poisons, only adds to her reign. I have nothing snarky to say about her. My only request is that showrunners incorporate Cheryl into the Farm plot because it'd be the perfection combination of my interests. (From the looks of the photo, below, it's happening.) Her archery skills are random, sure, but they can absolutely help Betty infiltrate the cult. The town of Riverdale is in serious triage, but Cheryl can fix it. There's no one else we can count on.
Riverdale airs Wednesdays at 8:00 P.M. ET on The CW.
Christopher Rosa is the Glamour entertainment writer. Follow him on Twitter at @chrisrosa92.