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TV Review: Riverdale (Season 3, Episode 4)

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This week marked the much-touted and long-awaited "Breakfast Club" flashback episode of Riverdale and for the first time so far this season, we actually had a cohesive narrative running through the episode!

In true Riverdale style, our flashback to the 90s was still bonkers, but this episode gives us answers to the origins of Griffins and Gargoyles as well as allowing us to enjoy the young cast playing their parents. 'The Midnight Club' is without a doubt the strongest episode of the season so far.

Image credit: The CW Television Network and Warner Brothers

The episode starts off where the last one finished, with the kids becoming obsessed with G&G after finding the game rulebooks. After Mayor Lodge bans the game, Betty returns home to demand answers from her mother, which acts as the framing device for the rest of the episode's 90s flashback. It works pretty well in this sense, as Alice's narration of the story to her daughter ties the present in with the past, meaning the episode doesn't feel disjointed, something Riverdale had a problem with in the first few episodes of this season. 

Watching the young stars of Riverdale play their teenaged parents is a joy, with Lili Reinhart turning in a particularly memorable performance as young Alice. All of the cast were great in their roles, but none seemed to melt into their characters quite as much as Lili.

The clear 80s parallels with what is meant to be a 90s setting is a bit of an anachronism, but since Riverdale has always kind of existed outside of any clear time period and it is meant to be an homage to The Breakfast Club, it kind of works, in a very weird way.

Some of the parallels to their future children and future lives were a little heavy-handed, with Fred being a musician and Penelope's "in the mood to cause chaos line" being a clear throwback (or throwforward!) to Cheryl's same line in the pilot episode. However, the parents definitely felt different enough that it didn't feel like the actors were playing their usual characters which was great.

The parents of Riverdale have always been somewhat of a mystery to us. We've been given some indicators to each of their respective pasts throughout the series, but this is the first episode where we are really given any insights into what they were like in their pasts. It gives you more sympathy for them, especially Penelope who, in one of the biggest reveals of the episode, was revealed to have been adopted by the Blossoms from Our Sisters of Mercy and groomed to become Clifford's sister-wife. Honestly, what is it with that family and incest?

We also find out that Sierra and Tom used to date, that Fred's father is sick and that FP's father is abusive. Pregnant Alice dodges the question and lands FP in hot water by revealing his trailer park roots (it turns out that in the 90s FP was quite the jock, something that no one saw coming). 

The episode also reveals how some of the relationships we know in the present came about. Obviously, everyone already knew about FP and Alice and their secret lovechild, but here we get to see the beginning of animosity between Penelope and Hermione, the origins of the relationship between Fred and Hermione, how Hermione became twisted up in Hiram's criminal activities... basically a lot of the decisions the characters have made as adults make a lot more sense after watching this episode and it's wonderful to finally have some background on all of the elusive parents of Riverdale!

It does feel like a bit of a loose thread that young Mary Andrews does not appear in the episode, but I suppose it makes sense since they didn't have an obvious teen counterpart on the show for her.

The parents' big secret is finally revealed in this episode; after getting wrapped up in playing G&G in their Saturday detentions, they formed a Breakfast-club-style group called The Midnight Club and broke into the school after hours to play the game. On one of these illicit outings, the group (all except Alice who is pregnant at the time) take drugs and Alice witnesses the first sighting of the Gargoyle King (not any scarier than it was before). It turns out Alice also witnessed the poisoning of their Principal: Principal Featherhead (yet another check on the Riverdale stupid-names list) and this is the secret that the parents have been keeping all these years.

We don't get any answers about who committed the murder, but it certainly seems as if the game was intended to kill one of the parents. The teens make a pact to destroy the game, and go back to their separate lives and it is the keeping of that secret which turns them into who they become as we know them now. I have to admit, it all seemed to be tied together a little too neatly, but I did appreciate that for the first time this season, Riverdale told a singular cohesive narrative!

Riverdale is knocking it out of the park with the cliffhangers this year, as we end the episode back in present time. Betty, after finding the original chalices from the game hidden in the school trophy case, goes to find Jughead in the bunker. When she gets there, however, she discovers Jughead, fully immersed in the game, ready to "ascend". This certainly seems to be setting up for an exciting episode next week, and I can only hope the momentum from this week's episode keeps going throughout the rest of the season!

Riverdale Season 3 is streaming on Netflix with new episodes available every Thursday.


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