Editor’s note: This review contains spoilers for the first three seasons of Riverdale and plot references to Stranger Things.
After watching the season three premiere last week I felt that Riverdale was on the road to redemption after some questionable storylines and a lack of central focus in season two. However, I’m almost tempted to retract my favourable comments because this week’s episode was both quite haphazard and unoriginal, making my friends and I start to lose faith in the once intriguing concept of the show.
In the opening scene, Jughead gives a poignant narration about how we all feel the first day of school nerves caused by fears of struggling to fit in, over serious images of his friend Archie being processed for juvenile detention. Although his dry sarcastic joke may seem harsh, not only does it add comic relief typical of what we have come to expect of Jughead, but also reminds the audience how unfamiliar the prison setting would be to the heroic golden boy Archie Andrews. In the second half of the episode, we watch his girlfriend take a more serious approach to his arrest by plotting to create a local ‘Innocence Project’ to get him acquitted. She additionally tries to boost his spirits by organising a pep rally to support the positive juvenile detention football game he planned. However, that well-intended idea of teamwork is hijacked by supposed inmate riots used to implicate Archie after he ignores the advice of his mysterious cellmate Mad Dog (played by Eli Goree). Mad Dog importantly informs Archie that you have become an animal to survive in that kind of environment and is later distrustfully pronounced dead, despite not attending the game where the riots happened.
Although, Archie’s new jailhouse life is quickly sidelined when the Cooper family tell Betty of their concerns about her mental health, after her peculiar, horrific “hallucinatory seizures” at the end of “Labor Day” last week. Throughout the episode, it is left purposely vague whether Betty did hallucinate the disturbing images of the twins being thrown into a fire or whether Alice is trying to cover up the farm’s cult-like malevolent meetings. One thing is for certain the strange, seemingly supernatural farm sect will be much more than a throwaway line of dialogue about Polly’s whereabouts this season. The farm leader’s daughter Evelyn Evernever (played by Zoé de Grand’Maison) emphasises that the farm and other supernatural occurrences will become a prominent focus when she questions Betty about the impact of the “seizure” at school, that might have actually been caused by the farm’s potential possessive powers.
As a viewer, my suspicions about the farm’s odd activity were heightened when Jughead revealed that the victims he found in the woods were marked with demonic runes were boys he knew. So he and his girlfriend decided to go to the morgue and visit the hospital for further inspection of the case. The two victims were: murdered boy scout Dilton Doiley (played by Major Curda) and Miss Grundy’s second, musical teenage lover Ben Button (played by Moses Thiessen). Ben was found with life-threatening injuries and had to be put into a coma in order to survive.
When the investigative couple hear Ben’s mother mention another visitor from school matching a description of Ethel Muggs (played by Shannon Purser) that gifted Ben a creepy woven talisman. They decide to interrogate her at school.
She confesses to dating Ben over the summer and hanging out with him in Dilton’s secret underground bunker which she reluctantly agrees to show them at night in the woods. Betty and Jughead wait for Ethel who never arrives, so they are instead greeted by a terrifying woven deer-like creature that leaps up them threateningly until they reach the bunker location. Although this scene might seem like a well-written scene with nail-biting jeopardy, it is an undeniable theft from Netflix’s groundbreaking Stanger Things.
Shannon Purser might have risen to fame due to her role as Barb in the science-fiction hit, but there is where the similarities should end because Ethel is a different character living in a different fictional universe. Some might say this view is hypocritical given that Stranger Things pays homage to many 1980’s classic films, programmes and songs which are all significant to the plot. Therefore these eighties’ references are at the heart of what makes the show so iconic and popular. Whereas this scene’s clear attempt at copying Nancy and Jonathan’s confrontation with the mutilated deer in Mirkwood that draws them to the upside down portal tree is shocking because it is so blatantly obvious to any Strangers Things fan.
I wish I could say the parallels end there, Jughead and Jonathan are both sometimes considered as misunderstood loners and their respective love interests are both unassuming, studious girls-next-door who happen to have a passion for solving puzzling mysteries. Furthermore, when intrigued Betty and Jughead enter the bunker they find a young missing boy scout with a Gargoyle and Griffons role-playing board game by a drawing of the creature they saw known as the ‘Gargoyle King’. Frustratingly this board game set with relevant playing cards is basically a renamed version of the real ‘Dungeons and Dragons’ games that the Stranger Things gang play to help them contextualise the world of the upside down. In spite of how irritating I found the plagiarism, it does serve a purpose by reinforcing to the fans of both shows that Riverdale is going to flirt with a supernatural theme- one similar to Stranger Things’. This message is finally conveyed in the last scene in which disturbed Ben speaks in riddles that suggest he has been supernaturally possessed and jumps out a window to be reunited with Dilton.
Although I was disappointed by how unoriginal and somewhat predictable this week’s episode was, I hope the dark, fateful night alluded to by the parents this week will unfold in a gritty and gripping flashback episode later in the fourth episode of the this season.
Featured Image Via makeitstranger.com