The season 3 premiere of Riverdale was pretty boring, giving us more of the Archie vs. Hiram shit that doesn’t work if they’re not seductively wrestling each other. At least, until the last five minutes, when Taylor Swift’s boyfriend walked into the room, set off a giant smoke bomb, and said “Everything’s changed, suckers, get on board or get off the boat.”
“Chapter Thirty-Six: Labor Day” spends most of its time playing the waiting game—literally, as Archie and his friends wait to find out the verdict for his murder trial. There’s no evidence to support Archie being the killer, and Hiram Lodge spends most of his time being incredibly obvious that he’s setting the red-haired teen up, and yet the jury is still hung...even after the extended Labor Day weekend deliberation.
This is when shit hits every fan in town. Brace yourselves.
In lieu of another trial, the district attorney immediately offers a plea deal: Archie pleads guilty to manslaughter and gets time served plus two years in juvenile detention. Archie doesn’t do the smart thing and ask the prosecutor for a private re-negotiation with his attorney, who also happens to be his mother. Instead, he leaps out of his chair, screaming “I accept!” at the top of his beefy, chiseled lungs. No, no you don’t, Archie. That’s what an idiot would do.
So yep, Archie’s heading to jail. Luckily, he got a South Side Serpents tattoo put on his arm in one of the episode’s many Archie Shirtless Scenes™, so he should be fine. Meanwhile, Archie’s parents are preparing an appeal, confident they can clear Archie’s name and get him out of his sentence. Look, I’m not a legal expert, but I’m fairly positive that if someone willingly enters a plea deal—especially against the wishes of their legal counsel—that lawyer cannot appeal on their behalf and expect anything to happen. Archie confessed to the crime. It’s going to be nigh-impossible to undo that. Of course, the sad truth is it’s probably going to work. They can’t have Archie in jail all season. But the way they’re going to weasel their way out of this will most likely be very stupid.
That alone would be enough to consider this episode a glorious mess of “what the effery.” But no. We’ve also got the pseudo-Dungeons & Dragons mystery. Oh yeah, and a magic cult of floating babies.
The episode does a solid job at laying the breadcrumbs for one—or possibly two—of the season’s biggest story arcs. First, you’ve got a couple of kids playing a tabletop role-playing game at Pop’s Diner, during one of many “Archie gets all emo about his fate” scenes. Jughead innocently asks what they’re playing, only to have one of them to get all antsy about it. Turns out, that game is Griffins & Gargoyles, and it’s way more than just another RPG. One of the players goes to Jughead for help, warning him about the Gargoyle King, only to be turned away because they’re about to announce the verdict for Archie’s trial. Damn, Archie just gets in the way of everything.
Then, Jughead finds a Griffins & Gargoyles map the kid left behind, which takes him to the Riverdale woods and the site of a terrifying, quasi-Satanic altar. The two players we saw at Pop’s have been stripped down to their skivvies, runes cut into their backs, poisoned with a blue liquid, and left prostrated in front of the animalistic statue. What the hell?
This may or may not tie into the other big storyline of the season: Polly’s cult. Betty’s mom, Alice, has embraced the ways of the hippie, substituting investigative journalism for good vibes and Oolong tea. Betty is not okay with this, but she’s got her own problems to deal with: She’s been pretending to see a psychiatrist and filling out fake prescriptions for Adderall (man, her pharmacist must be pretty dense). Polly and Alice use this as proof that Betty needs to join the Farm, but I don’t think she’s going to want to enlist after seeing the weird ritual sacrifice going on in their backyard.
The episode ends with Betty seeing Polly and Alice, surrounded by a bunch of cultists, doing some sort of incantation that makes two babies magically float over an open fire. Then, she has a seizure. Is that the Adderall kicking in, was there something in the swimming hole water (there was a lingering shot of the “No Swimming After Labor Day” sign), or does the cult actually have powers? I learned at the Vancouver set visit that we’re not getting a Chilling Adventures of Sabrina crossover, at least not this season, so this might be the closest we get.
Keep in mind, all of these events happen in the span of seven minutes. And I’ve got to be honest, I’m kind of on board. Before this ending, the episode had mostly left me feeling tired, frustrated with the direction Riverdale has gone. But these last few minutes showed they’re clearly stepping up their game and trying something new. Something creepy. And I’m into it. Damn Riverdale, you might be full of nonsense, but you’re my brand of nonsense. Thank you for that.