‘Riverdale’ Season 3 Ends With Wild Revelations and Bloody Showdowns

You have to hand it to the CW’s “Riverdale,” even when the plot spirals out of control it stays consistent in delivering jaw-dropping cliffhangers for every season finale. Our favorite pack of adventurous high schoolers have battled evil cults, underground boxing rings, gargoyle kings, the mob (again) and even bears, all this before even starting senior year. But that’s the appeal of “Riverdale,” it flaunts its absurdities and trashy sense of soap opera entertainment. In the season finale, “Survive the Night,” all these wild threads connect to deliver some answers and gear up for the next chapter.

Where last we left off our heroes had come close to uncovering what’s really going at the retreat/cult known as “The Farm.” Betty (Lili Reinhart) is now in the clutches of cult leader Edgar Evernever (Chad Michael Murray), who she discovered has been trafficking organs. But before being captured Betty managed to convince Cheryl Blossom (Madelaine Petsch) of what was going on. Cheryl managed to get girlfriend Toni (Vanessa Morgan) out, but now she needs to try and convince others to leave as well. Meanwhile a summons arrives for Archie (K.J. Apa), Veronica (Camila Mendes) and Jughead (Cole Sprouse) to meet at the mansion of Cheryl’s infamous mother, Penelope Blossom (Nathalie Boltt). Betty is there too, after Penelope struck a deal with Evernever. Not only that, but Blossom reveals she has been in league with Betty’s serial killer father, Hal Cooper (Lochlyn Munro) and the mysterious Gargoyle King, who has been the focus of a game locals play which has led to cultic suicides by poisoning. If that’s not enough of a shocker, it turns out the Gargoyle King is none other than Chic (Hart Denton), the maniac who last season posed as Betty’s long lost brother. Penelope decides to release the gang into the woods. They must play a specific game and pass certain obstacles, or face being killed by Penelope’s Gargoyle minions.

“Riverdale” has kept a steady pace in its wild storytelling, even after the show suffered a tragedy earlier this season with the sudden death of cast member Luke Perry. Indeed we never get a clear explanation for why Archie’s dad suddenly drops out of the narrative, although the showrunners have promised to address it at the beginning of season four. ’80s teen movie icon Molly Ringwald has filled in the parental gap for the last few episodes, including this one, as Archie’s mom Mary. Nevertheless, “Survive the Night” is a fitting closer for a season that has gone all over the place. Much of it was dominated by the lingering presence of the Gargoyle King, the bizarre entity behind the “Griffins and Gargoyles” game many in the town have been playing, which usually results in people drinking dyed poison out of goblets. But it was all part of Penelope’s master plan, as we learn in the finale, to cleanse and punish the corrupt town that ruined her childhood. Chic, who we assumed had been killed last season, was left alive by Hal Cooper, Penelope’s lover, and became a willing servant for her scheme. Yes, this is that kind of show, akin to old dime novels or daytime soaps where the plots grow ever more devilishly convoluted. Earlier this season Archie faced life in prison for a wrongful murder conviction, and was recruited into a brutal underground boxing ring by the warden, he escaped of course, only to be mauled by a bear before making it back to Riverdale and attempt to take his SAT. Veronica ran her own shady business, which was a 20s-style lounge she believed was independent from her crime boss dad, Hiram Lodge (Mark Consuelos). He’s in jail now, betrayed by his daughter, and plotting his own revenge against her and his now separated wife Hermione (Marisol Nichols), who is arrested at the end of this episode (due to a scheme by Hiram with the cops).

It’s been so much plot this season that the finale inevitably doesn’t address other loose ends, like Archie getting dumped so his girlfriend Josie can tour with her dad, or the lingering fallout at home of Jughead’s mom leaving Riverdale after being exposed as a drug runner. Instead “Survive the Night” is an old-fashioned survivalist episode, focused on explaining the whole Gargoyle King storyline and taking The Farm cult to another level. The friends face Penelope’s obstacle course, which includes some sort of giant barbarian in a bear skin who Archie clobbers with a big stick, a final showdown between Jughead and Chic, and a Russian roulette-style challenge involving poisoned cups. Veronica proves how much she cares for Betty by taking her friend’s turn, but it turns out Penelope is truly evil and so all the cups are poisoned. The final challenge forces Betty to choose between killing her psycho dad and getting the antidote for the poison, or facing a slow death. Fans will be delighted to see that before this all resolves itself, Archie and Veronica confess they still love each other. Hal is taken down, the antidote is retrieved and Penelope and her goons are chased away by Cheryl and Toni, who arrive right on time with their gang, the Pretty Poisons, armed with bows and arrows.

But this is “Riverdale,” so of course before the end credits we get a few more shocks. In addition to Veronica’s mother being arrested and Hiram vowing vengeance while pumping up in jail, the gang visit The Farm and find an abandoned Kevin (Casey Cott) confirming Evernever and the others have “ascended,” which means disappeared. Not only that, but Betty’s mother, Alice (Mädchen Amick), who we thought all season had gone nuts and become eternally gripped by The Farm, is actually an FBI informant, now infiltrating the cult wherever they may be. And there’s still yet another twist in store if you tune in.

Mock it, scoff at it, but it’s difficult to deny “Riverdale” is vastly entertaining. With its logic-defying scripts (these kids are still pondering college after living the equivalent of 10 lives) and pop art colors, it is the very definition of a guilty pleasure. Everyone looks great, the villains get their just desserts for the most part, and deep down we’re anxious to see where The Farm went, how Archie will run his boxing gym (yes, he owns one now), and why everyone was covered in blood in a brief flash forward during a final diner moment. It’s all in bad taste, and we love it.

Riverdale” season three finale aired May 15 at 8 p.m. ET on the CW.