SPOILER ALERT: This story contains details of tonight’s Riverdale Season 3 finale.
Taking it over-the-top is the bottom line for the fizzy CW series Riverdale and by that measure the Season 3 finale that aired Wednesday was top-notch for a series that is more of a pop-television tone poem than a traditional (or rational) storytelling endeavor. The season’s finish-line episode checked off all the boxes for a show, too, that yearns to be sleek, sugary, surreal, sexy, soapy, silly, and swooning – and to always look good doing it,
The young hearts of Riverdale were in Mystery Machine-mode in the “Chapter Fifty-Seven: Survive the Night” (written by showrunner Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Michael Grassi, directed by Rachel Talalay) as the climatic reveal of this season’s mystery antagonist, the Gargoyle King, finally played out. There was plenty of other business dealt with, as well, as the never-dull episode sprinted through twists and turns (and illogical leaps) like the most glamorous American Ninja Warrior contestant imaginable.
The finale also brought the Big 4 back together, too, as the Archie Comics-inspired quartet of Archie Andrews (KJ Apa), Betty Cooper (Lili Reinhart), Veronica Lodge (Camila Mendes), and Jughead Jones (Cole Sprouse) assembled to deal with, well, a long list of nuttiness. The foursome once again play the role-playing game Gryphons & Gargoyles (i.e., the Hogwarts edition of Dungeons & Dragons?) and the episode contains more revelations that you can throw an eight-sided dice at.
The biggest game afoot was the promised unmasking of the antler-crowned Gargoyle King. The monster turns out to be someone the kids already knew who was just wearing a mask (and he would have gotten away with it, too, if it weren’t for those kids…). The fan theorists were (mostly, kinda, sorta) right, it was indeed Chic (Hart Denton) who was dressed like a reindeer version of the Slender Man. Chic, as you may recall, was the shifty drifter from last season who impersonated Betty’s brother, Charles, and then thought dead. Instead he’s been busy foraging and terrorizing locals all at the command of his secret boss and the genuine mastermind: Penelope Blossom (Nathalie Boltt).
Yes, the true Gargoyle King is in fact a Gargoyle Queen, the Cersei Lannister of Rockland County, which makes the Blossom Hunting Lodge her rustic Red Keep.
Blossom has another minion, too, none other than Black Hood, aka Hal Cooper ( Lochlyn Munro), who has lost a hand along the way (hey, just like Jaime Lannister!). For the third season in a row, the mystery villain is revealed to be a local parent with a deranged secret, which makes perfect sense to anyone who grew up reading Archie Comics or watching Twin Peaks. There were more big “Zoinks!” moments, including the fact that Alice Cooper (no, not that one, this one) has been covertly working as an FBI undercover operative.
The episode was a big, frothy milkshake that might leave an uninitiated viewer with brain freeze, but for fans it was a satisfying meal with a cherry on top. From here, Season 4 could go in any direction, too, although there is one bit of unfinished business that fans know they can expect next season: A tribute to the late Luke Perry, whose tragic absence was a grim backbeat to the screen success of the show’s third season.
Perry’s death on March 4 at the age of 52 following a massive stroke was a heartrending loss for the Riverdale cast and crew and an emotional blow for fans of both Riverdale and the former Beverly Hills 90210 star. Perry portrayed Fred Andrews, father of Archie (KJ Apa) and husband to Mary (Molly Ringwald). He made his last on-screen appearance in Episode 19, which aired April 24, about two months after the Ohio-born actor’s death in Burbank. California. The Riverdale creative team, wanting a proper on-screen tribute to the popular Perry, will wait until early in Season 4 to directly address the absence of Fred, who has been “away on business” within the narrative of the series.