“At 8:47 on a Wednesday morning, Archie Andrews died. At least the Archie we knew.”
This quote from Jughead sums up at least half of this episode, as Riverdale tries its hardest to make Archie an edgy outcast. Along with this, “The Stranger” brings another character back from the dead as an unexpected villain and really keeps us guessing as to which of the Cooper parents is actually the worst right now.
Seemingly having walked his way back from Canada after recovering from his bear attack injuries, Archie (KJ Apa) returns home with “dark hair and scars” and an attitude that’s meant to tell us that this Archie isn’t the same boy who left Riverdale. Except he kind of is, he’s just not as peppy as usual and looks almost exactly like his dad, all plaid shirts and dark hair. Oh, and he drinks root beer floats instead of milkshakes – GASP – which apparently is one of the most shocking things to his friends. However, despite continually insisting that he’s not the same person he was, Archie tries to pick up his life exactly as he left it. He goes straight back to Veronica (Camila Mendes) as though he didn’t abandon her a few weeks earlier, and even thinks he’s in with a chance of passing his SATs that weekend.
Considering we’ve probably only seen the Riverdale kids in four classes ever, it’s a wonder that any of the students are even close to ready to pass. But, when Principal Weatherbee (Peter Bryant) suggests that it might be in his interest to repeat junior year, Archie is completely affronted at the idea of not graduating with his friends. Although given our leading man has spent the last two seasons hunting down murderers, working for his girlfriend’s mob boss father, and living on the run, its difficult to imagine that he’s fit in enough schoolwork to pass such important exams – and the fact that Betty (Lili Reinhart) and Jughead (Cole Sprouse) try to help him cram it all into like two days is just insane. The real victim in all this is Fred Andrews (Luke Perry), the only good parent in town who can’t seem to do anything to help his son as he begins on a downward spiral except threaten to kill Hiram Lodge (Mark Consuelos).
Elsewhere, it’s a rough week for Betty, as her card being declined leads her to find out that her mother has taken all the money from her bank account – as well as the money for college tuition and given it to The Farm. Not only has Alice (Mädchen Amick) done this, but she’s done it illegally, forging both Cooper parents’ signatures to ensure the money was released to her. Yes, we understand that this Farm has brainwashed her like any cult, but how could any parent do that to their child? Literally, imprisoned serial killer Hal (Lochlyn Munro) is a better parent in this episode. When Betty realizes that her father’s signature is a forgery Sierra (Robin Givens) explains that if she can get Hal to sign an affidavit confirming this, they can prove Alice moved the funds illegally, and to be fair to Hal, he agrees to do this – if, and only if Betty brings him a copy of Gryphons & Gargoyles.
Of course, it doesn’t end here, and when she does return with the affidavit and a copy of G&G, Hal reveals to his daughter that it was him who poisoned the chalices on the Midnight Club’s Ascension Night, because the club was full of “sinners”, a.k.a. his mortal enemies. So, he claims that he will be able to decipher who the Gargoyle King is now, because he was the Gargoyle King before. However, when Betty investigates further, she finds that an Alice Cooper has been visiting her father every week like clockwork – and it isn’t her mother, or the ageing Rockstar – so who? Penelope Blossom (Nathalie Boltt). And why? For sex. More than this, Penelope also revealed the details of Ascension Night to Hal, so his story to Betty was a complete fabrication merely to keep her visiting him. The way things have been going in the Cooper household, he didn’t have to try so hard. Hopefully this is opening the door to more visits to Hal in his creepy Hannibal-style cell, as the dynamic between him and Betty has become quite interesting this week.
After his ousting from the Serpents last week, Fangs (Drew Ray Tanner) has plenty to make up for as he infiltrates the Gargoyle Gang for Jughead. But, when Fangs is to meet the King, the Serpents come up with a plan to storm the meeting and grab the King, which they pull off without issue, revealing that the Gargoyle King is a familiar face, working for Hiram. So, I guess that Hiram really is in control of this whole game, which is kind of disappointing if actually true. But after this week’s episode Hiram may not be a problem for much longer, as a tragic event seems to put Hermione (Marisol Nichols) firmly in the power seat and opens up the way for another whodunnit storyline to be investigated by newly-appointed Sheriff FP Jones (Skeet Ulrich) who appears to have been in on a plan with the Lodge matriarch for a while.
Riverdale still seems unsure of what the story is this season, as it rapidly switches between insane plotpoints only to never bring them to any satisfying conclusion. While the story in “The Stranger” is far more grounded than some of this season’s episodes, it still seems to be lacking in any real depth. Hopefully, the tragedy in this week’s episode will open the door for more of the Riverdale we saw in Seasons 1 and 2.