If there's one thing we've learned over the first three seasons of The CW's Riverdale, it's not to expect anything to feel very plausible when it comes to the contemporary adventures of Archie Andrews and his friends. Everything in Riverdale is stylishly heightened, with soap-worthy twists around every corner, including romantic relationships with half-siblings, a secret twin, mistaken identities, and affairs aplenty. Creepy nuns, a killer who seemingly returns from the dead, and mythical monsters all add to the heightened atmosphere.
The show's third season leaned even further into the ridiculous, beginning with Archie (KJ Apa) in court accused of murder, and ending with the teens fleeing from a deadly game. Thankfully, Cheryl (Madelaine Petsch) and Toni's (Vanessa Morgan) gang, the Pretty Poisons, were on hand to provide cover, taking a page out of the DC side of the CW's television playbook with a bow-and-arrow assault (yes, Cheryl is essentially the Green Arrow of Riverdale). The season finale closed with a celebration and a milkshake toast to the forthcoming senior year, punctuated by an ominous flash-forward revealing Archie, Betty (Lili Reinhart) and Veronica (Camila Mendes) standing around a fire in their underwear. This is not a prelude to a new throuple: instead, their mud and blood covered bodies suggest something terrible has happened.
That mystery is set to be the focus of this year's fourth season, but perhaps an even greater mystery is whether Riverdale can somehow top last year's most delightfuly over-the-top storylines. With that in mind, here are our picks for the five most bonkers storylines of Season 3:
As a One Tree Hill alum, Chad Michael Murray is no stranger to outlandish narratives, but as the cult leader Edgar Evernever (try saying that fast), he took the absurd to new heights. Edgar played the leader of the Farm, a cult taking up residence in the Sisters of Quiet Mercy convent. In a town like Riverdale, there were plenty of willing participants searching for a place that feels like home. Edgar's daughter Evelyn (Zoé De Grand Maison) secured numerous recruits from the school, including Cheryl, her girlfriend Toni, and Kevin (Casey Cott). Betty's sister Polly (Tiera Skovbye) and their mother Alice (Mädchen Amick) also fell prey to Edgar's methods and promises. Using hypnosis, he was able to manipulate a recruit into believing they were conversing with the dead. Betty spent most of Season 3 trying to prove that Edgar and Evelyn were up to no good, ultimately uncovering the fact that they weren't father and daughter but husband and wife. And the actual reason they were signing so many up to their cause? Edgar was a black market dealer in human organs, and the members of the Farm were unknowing participants, buying his lies about how they would ascend to a higher plane of existence. When Betty returned to the Sisters of Quiet Mercy in the finale, everyone had "ascended" except Kevin, who had been left behind in a scene straight out of The Leftovers.
Betty's mother and sister are among those who disappeared, but her mom is not as clueless as Betty thought. Instead, she has been working undercover for the FBI … and the FBI Agent she was working with was the son that she gave up for adoption when she was in high school. Yep, this show loves a plot twist.
The murder mystery that kicked Riverdale off was a case of Cheryl's father killing his own son. In Season 2, Betty found out her father was the serial killer referred to as the Black Hood. Riverdale is no longer "the town with pep," rather it is "a great place to get away with it all," as the body count grows every year. Two serial killers worked in tandem during Season 3, which involved a role-playing game dating back more than two decades. Gryphons & Gargoyles is similar to Dungeons & Dragons, but is far deadlier and incorporates imagery you are more likely to see in Hannibal or True Detective. The Gargoyle King is a deity-like figure: first Cheryl's mother took on this role when she was at high school, now the guy Betty thought was her brother has taken this identity. Chic (Hart Denton) is no relation to the Coopers, but her dad trained him as if he was his serial-killing heir.
Speaking of murder, Archie was accused of a crime he didn't commit but ended up taking a plea deal to a manslaughter charge. Locked up in the Leopold & Loeb Juvenile Detention Center — yes, this is really what it is called — Archie organized a prison football game, because of course he did. The Riverdale High cheerleaders even came by to sing "Jailhouse Rock" as motivation. Archie also found himself embroiled in a far deadlier prison fight club, but he was able to use this illicit scheme as a cover for breaking out. Fleeing town seemed like the only course of action, but Veronica's dad's goons were still hot on his tail. He made it out into the wilderness, living in a cabin with his dog Vegas. It was all going so well until he was attacked by a bear, which almost killed him and sent him into a near-death fever dream. A fever dream is how it feels to watch this show half the time.
More than one parent has turned out to be a killer on this show (see above), and at least one has tried to have their spouse bumped off. Hermione Lodge (Marisol Nichols) is currently the mayor, and in this capacity, she made former Southside Serpent leader, FP Jones (Skeet Ulrich) sheriff while also trying to frame him for attempted murder. Yep, the biker gang is now law enforcement. Jughead was already playing junior detective with girlfriend Betty, so he might as well get paid for it. In a town where Jingle Jangle and Fizzle Rocks are the drugs of choice, a former criminal as law enforcement was the next logical step. The season ends with Hermione getting arrested for the conspiracy to commit murder against her (now incarcerated) husband. Soon every parent will be in prison!
Some of the least interesting parts of Riverdale involve the back-and-forth arguing and business schemes of the Lodge family. Without getting into who owns Pop's Diner or who is inevitably screwing over who, Veronica turned the basement space of Pop's into a speakeasy called La Bonne Nuit. Every teen show needs a place to hang out, and for Riverdale, it somehow makes sense that this venue is modeled on the lawlessness of the prohibition era. It was meant to be a mocktail only speakeasy, but the booze is now flowing freely and the junior Boardwalk Empire vibes are strong. Riverdale is at its most fun when it is a mash-up of genres, from noir to soap to horror, so why not throw in plot points from gangster stories for good measure?
With cults, prison, and a teenage gin joint behind us, there's no telling what Season 4 has in store. Aliens? Demonic possession? The SATs?
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Emma Fraser has wanted to write about TV since she first watched My So-Called Life in the mid-90s, finally getting her wish over a decade later. Follow her on Twitter at @frazbelina.