Riverdale Season 3, Episode 4: “The Midnight Club”

This episode is pretty much automatically a winner in my book: it’s a flashback episode, a nineties episode, and a Breakfast Club ripoff all in one. What more could a girl ask for? It’s just made more amazing by the fact that, since each teen actor plays their own parent, it also includes Cole Sprouse playing a young womanizer FP and Lili Reinhart in bad-girl gear, a fun change for both of them.

Previously on Riverdale: Turns out the parents used to play Gryphons and Gargoyles and they have some kind of big secret that they vowed never to reveal; Dilton killed himself with cyanide to appease the Gargoyle King; Jughead played with Ethel to get the rulebook, which made FP suuuuper mad; and FP burned the rulebook, but all the kids got copies.

We start with one of Jughead’s trademark melodramatic, borderline nonsensical voiceovers: “A deadly mutating virus had been introduced to the ecosystem of Riverdale and it was spreading like an epidemic.” The kids are all playing G&G, “because for us, the game was an escape from our nightmarish reality.” (I mean, is their reality really that bad? Sure, people are dying and all, but Veronica is making money off of a dry speakeasy, for Christ’s sake, and Betty and Jughead seem to be spending most of their time sexing it up in Dilton’s underground bunker.)

The parents respond to the game’s spread in a sort of adorably optimistic way: by bringing Mayor Hermione to class to do a PSA about how the game is bad. Jughead and Betty are predictably aggressive in questioning her, but the rest of the kids are just busy crowing about how they still want to play the game. Hermione announces that she’s banning the game because it’s designed to foster delusions and violence. Also, Kevin is manning a crisis hotline all by himself, apparently. Sure, sounds reasonable.

Later, Veronica and Betty have their first hang-out sesh in what feels like a long time. Veronica assures Betty she’s not playing because she wants to make “Fibes 20 under 20.” (Um, Fibes? ) Conveniently, this is when Dr. Curdle calls, having found something in the archives at Betty’s request: the suicide that reminded him of Dilton’s, which just happened to take place at Riverdale High back when Alice was a kid. Betty promptly brings the file to her mother and demands to know what she knows. Alice gives in surprisingly quickly, which is fine because that gives us more time for the next part. That’s right, folks:

FLASHBACK TIME!

Baby Alice walks down the hall, clad in an excellent 90s grunge ensemble complete with corset, flannel shirt, and leather jacket. I love it already.

Soon she’s sobbing in the bathroom over a pregnancy test. Baby Hermione, in tortoiseshell glasses and a Catholic schoolgirl outfit, finds her there, and Alice complains that it’s FP’s, who blew her off for “some Vixen he’s screwing.” Baby Sierra, who’s also in the bathroom, and Hermione squeal over the revelation that it’s FP’s. Just then Baby Penelope stops in to demand their hall passes and randomly insult Alice for being a “bastard baby.” The two of them promptly get into a catfight, accompanied by twee pop music. Love it.

Meanwhile, in the boys’ locker room, Baby FP resists peer pressure to streak from the rest of the football team, until Baby Fred Andrews offers to streak with him. Even though Fred’s not even on the football team. Fred, that’s called “exhibitionism.”

So there you have it: all six of them are now in Saturday detention. Six strangers from different parts of society, all stuck in all-day detention! What could possibly happen? I also really appreciate that Riverdale fully committed to this flashback with their title card:

A "RIVERDALE" title card in a blue block font, over a yellow scalene triangle, with red confetti pattern behind it.

As early as role call, FP and Alice start exchanging smoldering looks. Alice’s voiceover is also hilariously thirsty. “Forsyte Pendleton Jones Jr.,” she breathes, almost panting. “He was the BMOC, an all-American athlete; a stud-muffin as we used to say.” Good lord, Alice, we get it! You’re hot for FP! (Betty has just about the same reaction. Hee!)

The kids are assigned to write a 1000-word essay about why they’re here, at which point the chaperone (who I had NO idea was played by Anthony Michael Hall till I started googling this episode) promptly absconds to his office down the hall. Baby Tom Keller stops by to see his secret girlfriend, Sierra, and when the gang figure out that they don’t know each other, they decide to play a round of Secrets and Sins.

Sierra shares first: she’s been secretly dating Tom since their parents don’t approve of an interracial romance. Then Hermione shares that she has a big crush on Hiram. Fred’s big dream is to stay in Riverdale his whole life. Seems teenaged Fred is pretty much just as boring as teenaged Archie. Then it’s Alice’s turn to share a big secret–but instead she reveals FP’s secret, that he’s really a South-sider. FP glowers sexily at Alice and shares that his dad hit him when he said he wanted to go to college.

Finally, Penelope tells them that she grew up at the Sisters of Quiet Mercy orphanage, only to be adopted by the Blossoms in a quest for red-headed children, and raised to be Clifford’s sister and “life companion.” Um, gross? Somehow, this leads to Hermione and Penelope getting into a fistfight after they trade a few insults to each other’s families.

For the latest infraction, the six are sentenced to a month of detentions. Now it’s time for a Making Friends Montage — yay! The only thing this episode needed to make it perfect was a montage.

On one of these Saturdays, Hermione breaks into the desk to get back her “Gamelad,” which leads to a treasure trove of confiscated treasures, including a game of Gryphons and Gargoyles. When Bad Girl Alice hears that there’s an urban legend that it killed a kid at another school, she’s psyched to play. Does anyone else kind of wish that Bad Girl Alice could be a regular on this show? Lili Reinhart is obviously getting such a kick out of this whole thing, and she’s doing a fabulous job (as are the rest of them).

The kids start to play, and–predictably–Penelope volunteers to be Game Master. The others pick their characters, and then the quest begins. “That’s how it begins, Betty,” intones Grown-up Alice’s voiceover. “The maddening obsession. With a roll of the dice.” She’s almost as good at ridiculous voiceovers as Jughead!

After one round with a game board, they decide to do a quest that involves roaming the halls in pairs. Penelope, evilly, sends FP off with Hermione and Fred off with Alice despite the thirsty looks being exchanged by the opposite pairings. Sierra is left to hang out with Penelope for no other reason than that they’re minor characters, apparently.

When Hermione and FP find the object of the quest first (a jewel in a vending machine) they find themselves with their lips about two inches apart. At the last minute, Hermione springs back from FP’s sultry face, but it’s pretty clear she was tempted. She takes the opportunity to ask about him and Alice and suggest he talk to her.

Meanwhile, Alice gets lightheaded but doesn’t quite confess to Fred. They end up sitting knee-to-knee, having an emo conversation about how they escape their problems using G&G. (No judgment, I mean, this decade is all about being emo.) Finally they end up kissing. Grown-up Alice, hilariously, excuses this as “It was just once, a brief flame between two people that existed in that one moment.”

After detention is over, the kids name themselves “The Midnight Club” and keep playing G&G, accompanied by David Bowie on the soundtrack. They sneak into school at night to play, and quickly escalate to full-on cosplay. Similarly, our two couples–Hermione and Fred, Alice and FP–have escalated to full-on making out in the hallways. Then they discover that another group including Dilton’s dad and Tom Keller is also playing it, and join groups.

Soon the gang find invitations in their lockers to an “ascension party.” They gather in the original classroom. Penelope announces that they flip a coin, drink from chalices, and the lucky ones will ascend to the third level. They all, except for the pregnant Alice, take some drugs called “fizzle rocks” to make things a little more fun. At the end (just as Alice is intoning more nonsense about how they’d all been monsters all along, which, OK?), the two game masters, Doily and Penelope, discover that neither one of them set up the party. Dun dun dun!

Next thing you know, it’s Ascension Night, and the “Fred Heads” (consisting of Baby Fred and Baby Sierra singing, Baby JP on drums, Baby Alice, and Baby Hermione on the … tambourine?) are performing in the school at night for some reason. There are so many people in this band that there are only like four people left to dance, but hey, it’s a chance to give the female audience a little eye candy in the form of Cole Sprouse playing drums. They all get high on fizzle rocks, except Alice, who gives everyone judgy looks and then pukes again.

While she’s in the bathroom, the lights start flickering. She comes out to find a message written in lipstick on the mirror (and all over the walls too): “FLIP FOR YOUR FATE.” Two chalices wait there, plus a coin (which doesn’t entirely make sense… which is heads and which is tails?). When she comes out into the hall, a bunch of people run by her and she’s confronted by the Gargoyle King. She sees the principal investigating and hides instead of warning him; she can’t find any of her friends for the rest of the night, and then when she comes in the principal isn’t there either. (Gee, how convenient for Alice that she happened not to be there when it all went down!)

When she finds Hermione, Hermione says that Fred’s dad died in the night, which as far as I can tell serves two main purposes: to provide yet another parallel to Fred’s childhood and Archie’s, and to send KJ Apa into yet another illogical tailspin of guilt because he wasn’t there when it happened. In case you can’t tell, I’m kiiiiiinda tired of listening to Archie/Fred have drawn-out existential moral crises manufactured out of nothing.

The principal is also still missing. After the funeral, Alice confesses over milkshakes at Pop’s that she saw him. Penelope grabs her hand and insists that they can’t admit to seeing anything. Soon enough, though, Principal Featherhead is found with blue lips, decaying in a closet in the school hallway.

Alice gathers up all of her friends in a classroom and accuses them of knowing more than they’re saying. Hermione gets right back and accuses her, saying it’s awfully convenient she left early. Alice pleads with Fred, but Fred is too busy freaking out over his made-up problem. This is when it comes out that Penelope and Darryl didn’t set up the quest. When they realize that whoever set up the party was trying to kill them, so they decide to destroy the game. And, adorably, they spit on their hands to make a pact! Oh these kids are so precious.

To the soundtrack of Tears for Fears (wha? I thought this was the nineties), all the kids change into their future adult personas–Sierra and Tom split up, Hermione dons pearls, Penelope comes onto Cliff, FP hangs out with his dad, and Alice buys some tweed.

Betty, back on the couch listening to her mom’s story, asks who poisoned the cups. Alice says that they never spoke about it, because they knew it had to be one of them, and that the murderer intended for one of the club to drink it. Betty starts flipping through a notebook, saying she has more questions. Oh, Betty. You are such a darling. Alice pleads that if she keeps thinking at the game, she’ll be more at risk. “Mortal risk,” she adds, in case Betty doesn’t remember the story she just told. She doesn’t want the game to give Betty permission to hurt people. They also have this deliciously absurd exchange: Betty says, thinking out loud “Was it murder or suicide?” Alice answers, “In the end, it’s just death.” Um… Alice would not be a very good investigator.

Betty theorizes that the murderer might be the same this time around as last time. Alice pleads with her not to play the game. Betty does so. Yeah, I give this promise about one and a half episodes.

She goes to school to check on her mom’s story and finds the initials Alice carved into the room during detention (this school must be REALLY decrepit if they haven’t even repainted the window sills in twenty-five years) and the chalices hidden “in plain sight” amongst the school trophies. Immediately she heads to the bunker to tell Jughead — only to find him in the middle of a G&G game.

Jughead leaps up to give Betty some major Crazy Eyes and announce to her that everything makes sense, that he’s a Level Three, and that he’s about to ascend. Ruh roh!

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