Um, good title. Spoilers much?
Previously on Riverdale: Archie was forced to join the sadistic warden’s fight club, “The Pit.” Hiram Lodge was evil. Mad Dog may have died. All the grownups played G&G together in the nineties. Jughead played with Ethel. Archie and Joaquin decided to escape, because sometimes when you’re in prison, you don’t want to escape so you just have to stay there, but other times, you really really want to escape so it just magically happens.
Jughead has formed his own G&G group which, conveniently, mirrors Archie’s situation exactly: it’s about an escape. Archie and Joaquin are plotting together. Joaquin says that the electricity to a random part of the fence has been turned off so they can climb through it, and it’s “now or never.” But he actually means now, like they start running for it at that moment while they are on recess surrounded by a bunch of guards. You may be surprised to hear this, but this is not successful. Within seconds they’re both down.
Betty arrives at the bunker agog with the story her mother told her, but she finds Jughead not only in the middle of a game but in the middle of what appears to be inching closer to a psychological crisis. He tells her, just a little too intensely, that everything makes sense, and that he’s about to ascend and meet the Gargoyle King. Betty’s jaw literally falls, because this is that kind of show.
But soon enough they do sit down to talk and Betty tells him about Principal Featherhead and their parents’ midnight club. Jughead declares that this is just more evidence that all of life is actually G&G and all of the adventures they’ve been on were actually “off-board” G&G quests. Wow. He points out that Eldervair, the setting for G&G, is an anagram for Riverdale, and says that it’s all connected in one big narrative. “Who’s telling you this?” Betty says. “The game,” Jughead says with a hilariously matter-of-fact hand flip. Betty becomes more and more convinced that her mom was right, the game would mess with their head. Jughead does not give one fuck if his head is messed with. He’s just excited to meet the Gargoyle King.
Betty, maybe not ready to admit that her boyfriend has los his shit, decides to go investigate by herself. Her reasoning? As long as Jughead is safe in the bunker, she has less to worry about. I mean, sure, he’s playing a game that involves regularly drinking from chalices that have a 50% chance of killing you, but yeah, totally safe. Betty’s powers of rationalization are not new, but the fact that she’s not freaking out about Jughead’s major personality change is a little sad for their relationship, isn’t it?
Veronica is sitting at her giant breakfast table eating a fancy meal all by herself like she’s in an episode of Dynasty or something when Hiram comes in from his run and shares the news: at Leopold & Loeb, some kids tried to escape and Archie was the ringleader, so he’ll probably get another year on his sentence. Veronica announces that she won’t get upset because she’s going to get Archie out. Hiram immediately picks up his phone and calls the warden. Gee, Veronica, if only that had been a foreseeable consequence of telling him your plan after he JUST SAID that he was friends with the warden! But then Veronica is not one for subtlety.
Over at the prison, Archie is pulling one of his patented martyrdom moves, insisting to the warden that this was all his idea and Joaquin didn’t do anything. As you can probably tell, Archie’s whole saint routine annoys the crap out of me. I can’t explain why. Even the fact that the warden responds by BRUTALLY BRANDING HIM WITH A RED HOT POKER is only going to elicit my sympathy until the next time Archie tries to act like a big hero.
Having disposed of Jughead in a game of G&G, Betty next goes to tell Reggie, Josie, and Kevin, who find the whole story of their parents’ backstory a little shocking–more the part where they were all hooking up with each other, than the theory that one of their parents may be murderers, which is pretty much par for the course in Riverdale. Betty wants them all to investigate their parents, but be subtle. The kids are like, sure!
Down at Veronica’s doomed fake speakeasy, a guy named Elio who is about to open a casino in Sweetwater is hanging out with Veronica. He remarks that maybe she needs some games and “maybe some cocktails with actual liquor,” and she accuses him of mansplaining. See, I’m not sure it counts as mansplaining if you are obviously TERRIBLE at your business, which opening a dry speakeasy is pretty solid evidence of. But what she really wants from him is information about Archie, and since Leopold & Loeb has direct ties to the mob, she thinks Elio can help. He hints that favors don’t come free, but she tells him she’s a Lodge–she knows the drill. (According to imdb Elio has shown up before, but TBH I have no memory of it; I have to admit that I didn’t pay much attention to the supporting characters while I was ravenously bingeing the first two seasons.)
Over at Jughead’s bunker, Tony and Cheryl’s “rendezvous” is interrupted by Sweet Pea and one of Jughead’s other mouthbreathing friends playing with real weapons. They complain to Jughead, so he tells the boys that only he can decide when they go off-board. They don’t seem convinced, so Jughead decides to enact a hilariously dramatic test of manhood to keep Sweet Pea in line: he stands with an apple on his head and lets Cheryl shoot an arrow into it, then dares Sweet Pea to do the same. Sweet Pea refuses. “You’re crazy,” he says. “No. I’m GAME MASTER,” Jughead growls. Good Lord. Put that away, Jughead.
Elio calls Veronica to tell him he can get her to Archie, but that she needs to come as his date to something–incognito. Oh no. The last time Veronica went “incognito” she was so conspicuous you could spot her from space. Elio refuses to tell Veronica what they’re going to because it’s “better” just to see it, which makes no sense except that obviously the show wants the drama of having Veronica be surprised by what she’s going to see in the moment. Why would you try to keep someone incognito, but not warn her that she’s about to see her boyfriend participating in a bonkers prison fight club?
At Jughead’s trailer, which is rather amusingly lit by an emphatically dusty light to remind us that these guys are living in a trailer, Jughead embarks on investigating his dad by revealing that he knows about the Midnight Club. FP whines that all he knows is Alice’s version, not his, so Jughead asks for FP’s version. FP launches into about a dozen possible excuses for why Featherhead’s death wasn’t his fault. Jughead, still in the grips of his Pynchonesque conspiracy theory, leans in and says intensely that it was clearly a Game Master and whoever did it “was playing a much longer, much deeper game.” Jughead, visibly on the border of a nervous breakdown, leans in and says in a shaky voice that he’s going to get inside their mind (pointing at his brain, in case FP isn’t sure what a mind is, I guess?) and catch them. FP seems to be too busy worrying about getting in trouble to notice that his kid is acting a little bit crazy.
Josie and Kevin have teamed up to investigate their parents at Pop’s, with no more subtlety than Jughead employed. “So you didn’t do any extracurriculars together,” Josie says. When that doesn’t work, Kevin flat-out asks if they played G&G, and they both say they didn’t. Then they make googoo eyes and say they have something else to talk about. Wonder what that could be! Looks like Kevin and Josie are going to be the new Kristy and Mary Ann.
Veronica enters the gym “incognito” in her obviously fake plastic blonde wig and giant sunglasses–only to pull down the shades and announce, “I’d recognize those abs anywhere! Archie?!” as soon as Archie is led out into the arena. What was the point of the disguise if you weren’t even going to try to be stealth, V?
But no one catches her, and when Archie is in the locker room after the fight (all alone, without any guards or even his opponent, because … sure), Veronica comes in too. They waste about eighteen of their twenty minutes having the sex, then spend two minutes planning Archie’s escape from the gym as blithely as if they were planning a fake-speakeasy launch party. Veronica tells him to be ready at his next fight, when she’s going to break him out.
I don’t even know why I keep pointing out how hilarious this is. Like, presumably the writers know that breaking out of prison is difficult, just as much as I do. They just don’t care, because this show is a campy fantasy. But I find it so funny that Veronica is like, cool, well, we can’t prove you innocent, so let’s just escape!
Back at the campfire, Jughead announces that his group, including Cheryl, Tony, and Sweet Pea, is going back to Eldervair the next day and gives them a truly terrifying smile.
Meanwhile, Betty has gathered together the parts of the crew that are still tethered to reality, a demographic that has dwindled to Reggie, Josie, and Kevin. No one has found out anything useful from their parents, but Reggie did acquire a black eye. Speaking of people who are not tethered to reality at all, Veronica busts in during this meeting to announce that she’s breaking Archie out of prison and they all have to help her.
Betty finds Jughead at the bunker prepping for his quest. “It’s a long story, but I’m helping Veronica break Archie out of juvie,” she says. Jug acts shocked… only because this is SO PERFECT for his quest. Poor Betty is like, “This is not a game!” and adds, “Since you refuse to recognize that… I’m taking your bike.” Wow, I thought that was going to lead to something way more dire than just borrowing his bike.
Archie sits at a giant meal with the warden, and correctly infers that he’s getting rid of Archie. The warden calmly agrees with this: this is his final meal before his final fight. Archie asks, since this is his last night, how did Hiram frame him? The warden says they paid all the witnesses, who are now in hiding, possibly in Shadow Woods or in the mines by Shadow Lake. Do you see the theme here? SHADOWS, you guys. Just in case you didn’t catch this. Archie asks if Hiram has always been in charge, but the warden deflects with some vaguely religious mumbo-jumbo about a “he” who is always watching.
Next up, Veronica’s cracked-out-Oceans-Eleven-like narration of her real-life quest is interspersed with Jughead’s scarcely more absurd narration of his G&G quest. Betty’s going to be the one picking up Archie in the woods, and she also mentions “another precaution.” Looks like bad-ass Betty is coming back!
Archie, who continues to be the most insanely trusting person alive, flat-out tells Joaquin that something is going down. So Joaquin kisses him and then TOTALLY STABS HIM. “The game begins with a Judas kiss,” Jughead intones. (He’s going to be doing this throughout, but I’m not going to bother recapping it, because it is a board game.)
Reggie and Veronica arrive somewhere in a car, with Veronica in her utterly absurd “incognito” getup that is literally a BALLGOWN and the fake blonde hair. Yeah. No one will notice you now! As Jughead’s quest progresses in parallel, Veronica claims to be Warden Norton’s daughter to get into the fight club when it turns out their password is outdated.
Kevin, for his part, gets in at a different entrance with a twelve-pack of sodas by claiming to be here to deliver refreshments. The security here is both intense and very… not good.
When Archie shows up for the fight, his opponent turns out to be Mad Dog. He’s like, “Mad Dog! Where have you been?” Mad Dog answers with a punch. I completely cracked up. Poor Archie.
As Betty sabotages someone’s car (wearing her own failed incognito outfit of all black with black gloves), Josie serves the same sodas Kevin brought in disguise as a waitress, and tells Veronica and Reggie that everyone’s betting against Archie.
Kevin is trying to detach the grate over a tunnel where Archie’s supposed to be coming out, when Joaquin runs by in what appears to be his prison uniform. He tells Kevin to get out of here and that it’s too late for Archie, then runs away again. Meanwhile, Archie valiantly stops the fight to hug Mad Dog and tell him his entire escape plan. How is Archie still so trusting? This guy just punched him in the face while Archie was trying to exchange pleasantries.
Meanwhile, Betty meets Kevin in the woods, but Kevin goes after Joaquin, and Veronica gets stopped by her father. Gee, it would have been a lot easier if she hadn’t told him she was planning to break Archie out, don’t you think? But it’s just a temporary setback — Daddy Lodge is easily taken out with Veronica’s stiletto, and she proceeds, with Josie and Reggie, to throw a bunch of smoke bombs down into the arena. Mad Dog heroically declares that Archie should go and that he (Mad Dog) will never make it through the drains with his giant muscles. I mean … he doesn’t actually say that, but that’s what he means. And they are pretty big. So Archie drops through the drain, and Mad Dog starts punching all the guards who come after him. Turns out Mad Dog has caught the martyrdom bug from Archie.
When we get back from break, Warden is leaning over the drain hole and growling in his best imitation of a video game villain, “FIIIIND HIIIIIIIM.” Meanwhile, a super dirty Archie is squeezing out of the drain hole and right into Betty’s arms. His shiv wound is bleeding.
The Warden has decided to pursue Archie himself–luckily Betty sabotaged his car, since she somehow knew he wouldn’t do anything normal like send fit guards after him. Betty drives “Archie” away on a motorcycle as they are pursued by Warden’s minions, also on motorcycles, right through the woods. It’s fucking awesome actually. Love seeing a woman driving a bike with a man behind her.
Finally Betty’s bike is caught–but it’s Kevin who’s behind her on the bike, and meanwhile, Veronica has walked Archie over to a car where Reggie and Josie are waiting. Archie gets in the back. And Jughead reveals to his gamers that he doesn’t know the ending to his quest.
The Warden grabs Kevin and asks where Archie is, but gives up immediately and goes back to the center with his minions when Betty waves mace in his face. What? Why would he… whatever. Meanwhile, back at the bunker, Archie drops into the entrance tunnel, to be welcomed into Jughead’s arms. Aww.
The gang puts Archie (shirtless, of course) into bed in the bunker, as he explains that Joaquin stabbed him. They, in turn, explain that this is Dilton Doilie’s bunker. Wow, Archie has missed a lot! He doesn’t even realize Dilton is dead, and no one disabuses him. Just then Veronica finds the brand on his hip–and Betty and Jughead clearly realize that the symbol looks familiar. Veronica announces that she’s going home to deal with her dad and leaves Betty and Jughead in charge of watching over Archie. She orders everyone to keep all this a secret (they should really have gotten this promise before telling everyone, but OK).
Back at the Lodge headquarters, Hermione is flipping out at Hiram for knowing about the fight club and making a political scandal for her. When Veronica gets home she screeches about everyone’s obsession with Archie Andrews. Well… can’t blame her there, I find it puzzling myself.
Josie, Kevin, and Reggie go to Pop’s and Kevin tells them he couldn’t find Joaquin. Reggie is like “I can’t believe we pulled off the escape!” in a totally normal voice and rolls his eyes when he gets shushed. Hee! But they’re actually at the diner to do something else: play G&G to figure out what Betty and their parents aren’t telling them. The show has this hilarious G&G sound effect that sort of sounds like clanging iron followed by the breath of a giant monster, which plays when Kevin whips out the manual. Hee! Just then the radio announces that Archie has escaped and everyone looks very alarmed. Way to be cool, guys.
Jughead and Betty are sitting near Archie whispering about how the Warden called Archie the Red Paladin and gave him a G&G brand. Jughead leans in and reiterates his theory that the game is bigger than they thought, and that the Warden might be the Gargoyle King. Betty says gently that maybe he should go home and get some rest. Yeah… no kidding. Jughead wishes Archie farewell except he calls him the Red Paladin. And adds, “I have a feeling your troubles are only just beginning.” God, WE GET IT. Archie is the tragic hero who is just going to have troubles piled onto his rippling shoulders until he dies.
Meanwhile, the Warden is staring at G&G cards when Hermione arrives to talk to him. He says he’ll be right out… but instead he prepares himself a little chalice of blue juice and poisons himself.
If you thought Jughead agreed way too easily to Betty’s suggestion that he rest… you were right. He’s wandering through the dark woods by himself like an idiot, when he comes face to face with the Gargoyle King. He holds out his arms, like, Come get me!, as the episode ends. Oh, Jughead.
Well, I’m happy Archie’s out of prison. It was super weird when he was so siloed from the rest of the characters, and the warden’s sadism was a little too exaggerated to be pleasant to watch. On the other hand, given that Archie’s still a fugitive (and given that, you know, I’ve seen the next couple episodes), unfortunately I don’t think the plot silo problem is going to be solved anytime soon. But at least the warden is gone!