Riverdale Season 3, Episode 8: “Outbreak”

This episode, as always, leaned in to the camp factor with toothy delight. And it also… maybe… got rid of my least favorite character, or at least freed Jughead from his clutches. All in all, rather fun if also bewildering.

Previously on Riverdale: Archie ran away from Riverdale, with Hiram following, and Jughead accompanying; Jughead decided they should go visit his (Jughead’s) mom. Alice sent Betty off to the Sisters of Quiet Mercy after she and a bunch of other girls had seizures. Hiram was making drugs in Serpent hang the Whyte Wyrm. Betty was punished by the Sisters throwing her into a chamber with the Gargoyle King, and she became Pod Person Betty, all docile and convinced the Gargoyle King was her “savior.” And it was totally creepy. But that was so last week–this episode pivots away from that immediately, because the sheer number of plot points being crammed into each episode does not allow a lot of time for building suspense.

Jughead narrates from across the country as the Vixens walk in formation through school, preparing for the annual pep rally, while Kevin and his bf make out in a darkened classroom while apparently high on Fizzle Rocks. Suddenly, though, Cheryl screams: all the other Vixens are having seizures.

Meanwhile, Ethel is running a quest at the Sisters of Quiet Mercy, while Betty seemingly waits in breathless suspense. They all take their candy, including Betty–but later, Betty throws it all up. (Notably, she doesn’t even bother closing the stall door while she kneels over the toilet. Why, Betty?! Can’t anyone on this show be a LITTLE bit stealth?)

Jughead and Archie arrive at what appears to be a junkyard and are greeted by a locked gate. Lounging nearby in a bandanna and work clothes is little sibling Jellybean, who gets the gate open for them and hugs Jughead happily.

Chez Blossom, Cheryl tucks Toni into bed and tells her that the family physician is on call. (And she’s brewed her “narcissus tea,” which I can only hear as “narcissist tea.”) She tells her to stay as long as she likes… “even permanently?” She wants Toni to move in because she’s “cuckoo bananas” for her. Aww, cute! But… aren’t they children? Do children really move in together? What’s up with Toni’s parents?

Veronica, for her part, wakes up in her old bed at her parents’ place and overhears them arguing–something that Hermione accuses Hiram of having allowed to happen after promising it wouldn’t. They want to send her to New York (which will make more sense later), but Veronica indignantly refuses.

She meets up with Reggie at Pop’s and tells him, “It’s like… they don’t want me around for whatever’s coming next.” Reggie responds to this the same way he responds to everything: with a vacant stare. But when the cadets come in laughing and clearly high, Reggie finally has something useful to say: he tells Veronica that Jingle Jangle is over and there’s a new thing, a candy, being distributed by a new gang called the Gargoyles. Veronica intelligently says, “With ties, no doubt, to this godforsaken G&G everyone’s playing.” Brilliant deduction, since the second G stands for Gargoyles. She asks Reggie to do some sussing about the Fizzle Rocks, and of course he agrees, because Reggie exists only to do what Veronica says. She explains to him that after accidentally helping her parents hurt people last year, she wants to stop them this year. Reggie responds by… letting his mouth hang open and giving her the same old vacant stare.

Jughead and Archie make their way back to meet up with Gladys Jones, Jughead’s liberally face-lifted mother, who’s also wearing work clothes. She acts thrilled to see them, ignoring Jughead’s distant, cautious politeness–and even more thrilled that Jughead and Archie have finally gotten together! (Clearly the show shouting out to its slash fans.) They correct her, and she effuses, “Why didn’t you call me?” Jughead finally can’t resist and coolly points out that last time he called her she told him not to come. They’re interrupted by a kid named “Lugnut” (I guess Gladys isn’t any better at naming people now than she was when Jughead was born?), and Gladys orders him to prepare a feast for the night, while Jughead looks on in suspicion.

Alice visits Betty at the Sisters’, and–after gratuitously telling Betty she looks terrible, in classic Alice fashion–informs her of the mass seizures. Betty is all worried about Veronica, and I have to kind of wonder why Veronica and Jughead aren’t more worried about the fact that they haven’t heard from Betty, but oh well.

Betty proceeds to troll Ethel by announcing calmly to all the other girls that she and the Gargoyle King have gotten close. Coyly, she adds that he even told her she “was his new favorite.” Ethel frantically accuses her of making this up, but Betty, and her gaze of demure unblinking innocence, is prepared for this: if Ethel doesn’t believe her, they can go talk to the Gargoyle King together. She does have the keys–doesn’t she?

Ethel can’t resist this dare, of course, but when they get down to the chamber Betty PUSHES ETHEL IN ALONE AND LOCKS THE DOOR. I actually gasped at this. That is dark! Betty explains–to both us and to the sobbing Ethel on the other side of the door–that the Gargoyle King is a hallucination brought on by the candy the Sisters keep feeding them, and that Ethel will see the truth when the drugs wear off. Even so, though, I have to say that this was a mind-bogglingly cruel thing to do to poor Ethel.

When Betty comes back to get Ethel, the latter is sobbing in front of a completely non-alive gargoyle statue that she had apparently hallucinated was the Gargoyle King. Ethel sobs that she saw him and Betty responds hilariously, “We all did. Because we were high. On Fizzle Rocks.” She tells Ethel that this is Hiram’s work and he’s testing his drugs on the girls. Then–though both she and Ethel agree that they have seen the Gargoyle King outside of the monastery–she tries to get Ethel on board with getting out and stopping the game. Ethel seems amenable, but like, she believed in the Gargoyle King way before she was staying here, so I’m not sure why she’s suddenly on Betty’s side. On the other hand, she’s Ethel, and not particularly rational. Upshot being, they (well, mostly Betty, who’s very clearly the brains of this operation) are going to try to get Sister Woodhouse to confess before escaping.

Over at Riverdale High, it’s exposition time: Veronica and Cheryl talk about the fact that all the extra-curriculars have been shut down, and Cheryl tells her that there’s a big board meeting tonight. Then, suddenly, and utterly absurdly, a bunch of people in hazmat suits storm the premises and everyone starts screaming and running around, and the hazmat suits even grab young girls by the arm and roughly throw them out of the hall. Well, that escalated quickly. (That sentence could probably be tacked onto the end of every single paragraph I’ve ever written about Riverdale, TBH.)

Apparently Veronica escapes perfectly intact, not that we get to see the end of that completely inexplicable scene. Next thing you know, she’s chatting with Reggie over at her speakeasy, as always. Reggie has found out that the Gargoyles are distributing the drugs for free (Veronica logically points out that it’s probably to get people hooked to get customers for life) and that the candy is coming from the prison that was built on the old South Side High site. This is accompanied by a bunch of Reggie’s trademark vacant facial expressions.

The school board meeting Cheryl told Veronica about is taking place with Penelope, the Lodges, the principal, and Alice. Penelope is all mad and arguing for medical tests on all the seizure kids. Hermione announces that as mayor, she’s going to issue an executive order shutting down Riverdale High. Where are all these kids going to go to school if both high schools are shut down? I’m so confused. And, does Hermione realize that being mayor is not the same as being dictator of a small country?

Veronica marches in to accuse her parents of acting too quickly to get cheap land for his criminal enterprises, pointing out that the FCC hasn’t even been here. (In one very funny exchange, Veronica also mentions that he’s using Southside High as a drug lab and Alice, shocked, says, “Wait a minute. I thought Southside High was being developed into a prison,” like that would be so much better. I love it. It’s not like the high school was being developed into a florist!) Hiram plays it very cool and calmly (and condescendingly) explains to her that the FCC didn’t want to come for such a small crisis and that Southside is definitely being turned into a prison–he even has the names of guards he’s hired that she can call! I mean, it could be both, but this does take the wind out of Veronica’s sails. She frantically accuses him of manufacturing Fizzle Rocks, but an unconvinced Penelope suggests she’s having hallucinations due to the seizures. Suddenly Cheryl is like, “Oh, by the way, what’s up with my squad all having seizures?” as if she just remembered.

Then comes another crazy plot twist that occurs entirely in exposition: apparently all the girls who had seizures, except Toni and Veronica for reasons unknown, are missing. Hiram claims they’re at the hospital (but the way he says it, and given the fact that he’s Hiram, this seems highly dubious) and just then, Penelope herself goes into a seizure. Hermione freaks, while Cheryl responds with an EPIC eye-roll.

So, let’s just review, shall we? People in hazmat suits attacked the school, physically assaulting female students for no reason. Also, apparently, most of the cheerleading team has been missing all day and no one even really cares. What is HAPPENING?

When Jughead and Archie update Gladys about Hiram, she remarks that “that good-looking short stack” was always trouble. Hee. Jellybean is excited to hear that Archie was formerly dating Veronica, which Archie laughs off. He explains to Gladys once again why he hasn’t called his dad (martyrdom complex run amok), and Gladys sends him off to get some food, which is roasting on a spit in the middle of the lot. Left alone, Jughead and Gladys discuss Jughead’s investigation of G&G, and Gladys asks about Jughead’s scar, which he explains was from Penny. “That wench,” says Gladys, and then complains a) that Penny had a thing for FP, and b) that she never wanted Jughead in the gang. Jughead finds this amusing since she’s running some kind of kiddie stolen-car sweatshop. She defends herself that the kids have nowhere else to go. Jughead can’t resist a comment about how she left him when he had no one else, but Gladys isn’t one for apologies.

Speaking of Archie not being able to go anywhere without getting beaten up, Archie has decided to walk around some deserted part of the junkyard, where he’s promptly attacked by Penny, who’s come to find him for the bounty on his “hip” (seriously, I think that’s what she says) that Hiram’s offering. Luckily the much tougher Jellybean is around to save Archie with a slingshot. “Drop the butter knife, bitch,” she says. What’s with all the misogynistic language? Eww.

Next thing you know, Gladys, Jughead, and Archie have Penny tied up in some half-built shed. Penny does what all trapped soap-opera villains do: claims that HIram won’t stop, so Archie’s screwed anyway. Gladys just takes off her jacket and mentions Jughead’s scar. Penny claims “that was business,” which frankly is a lot more convincing when Tom Hanks says it. Gladys takes out a giant serrated knife and clears the place out. “Ask her about G&G,” and Hiram, Jughead orders before he leaves his enemy to be tortured by his mom. Um, hi, Jughead? It’s your conscience. Remember me?

Hiram calls Veronica into his lair to congratulate her on figuring out that he has an evil plan up his sleeve (like that’s so hard to guess!). But he insists that his plan is even bigger than she knew, and that he wants her to be the heiress of his evil kingdom. Veronica is like, no thank you, and also, he’s going to get in trouble in the outside world. (She adds pricelessly that he might think he’s untouchable in Riverdale because, “Your wife’s mayor, and there’s no sheriff.” You know, because Hiram cut off the hands and head of the previous sheriff. I love Veronica’s absurd turns of phrase.) Hiram does not seem at all concerned, for reasons we will find out later. He also sneaks in a very creepy comment about how Veronica should wear more pearls, which honestly just sounds like something Donald Trump would say to Ivanka–accompanied by a leer, of course.

Jughead and Archie find Gladys standing around wiping a SHITLOAD of blood off her hands, having apparently given Penny a piece of her mind. And all Jughead cares about is what she found out about Hiram’s relationship to G&G! Christ. These kids might actually all be sociopaths. Gladys echoes all of our tone when she says that the kids are too obsessed with the game. She also thinks it’s obvious that Hiram’s real prize is Riverdale, not the game. “So it’s not about Ascending,” Jughead says, like, YOU THINK? He also becomes approximately the eighteenth person to note that Hiram is responsible for all the bad shit that’s happened this season, like, we know, thank you.

Veronica answers the phone at Pop’s and it turns out to be Betty, calling from the Sisters. Veronica has apparently thought Betty was at the farm this whole time, which… I don’t get why no one is more worried about Betty even if they think she’s at the farm! The farm is ground zero of a weird cult that causes seizures! She says she needs Veronica’s help. Aaaand that’s the end of their interactions for the time being.

Veronica calls upon Cheryl, who arrives at the speakeasy with customary dramatic flair and Blair Waldorf-like bon mots. Veronica explains that Hiram and Claudius are distributing Fizzle Rocks to the patients, and might be causing the seizures–so they’re going to ask Penelope. Cheryl is only too happy to interrogate her “Gorgon-like mother.”

Over at the Sisters of Quiet Mercy, the girls are eating under the watchful eye of exactly two nuns, Sister Woodhouse and a less scary one. While Ethel distracts the less scary one, Betty sneaks up on Sister Woodhouse with the nunnery version of a shiv, presses it to the Sister’s neck, and tells her to come with Betty. I really feel like the nuns were understaffed and that brought about their downfall. Next time they want to run an evil prison they should really consult me.

Gladys wakes Jughead up in the middle of the night for our weekly dose of Gratuitously Half-Clothed Hunk. This time it’s Jughead, in a tank top. Gladys wants to tell him what Penny really told her, which is that Jughead is in trouble for helping Archie as well, and that Jughead has to “cut him loose.” Jughead indignantly refuses, but Archie OF COURSE has been listening at the doorway so that he can sail in at the climactic moment and pull his martyrdom shtick AGAIN. He thanks Jughead for everything, blames himself for bringing Penny to the junkyard, they hug, blah blah blah. Gladys says she can get Archie a ride to the border. And Jughead says he’s going to go home and take down Hiram.

Down in the Gargoyle King chambers, Sister Woodhouse is tied to a chair just like Penny (and she’s not the last Evil Woman to get this treatment this episode, either). She’s showing her true colors, screaming that she’s going to strap the girls to their beds and “electrocute the sin out of you!” Heh. Betty goes Dark Betty on her ass, leaning in close and talking in a very quiet yet melodramatic voice. She declares she can’t be scared since she’s already seen evil and everything.

The girls accuse Sister Woodhouse of working with Hiram to drug the girls, but she says that all the girls are broken and they need to be controlled with treatment. This apparently includes the game, which was originally invented to make the patients docile, and never intended to leave the monastery. Betty unforgivingly tells Sister Woodhouse she’s going to pay for everything she’s done, and leaves with Ethel in slow-motion action-hero style while Sister Woodhouse screams for help behind them.

Cut to the third woman to get tied up and tortured! It’s Penelope, who’s being fake-waterboarded with buckets of maple syrup by her daughter and Veronica. Does this show have issues with women? (I mean, duh, of course it does.) Penelope likes Hiram’s plan to turn Riverdale into a place where they can “pursue our various enterprises.” Poor Veronica, still an innocent at heart, has no idea what that means, so Cheryl has to explain that it means drugs and prostitution. They press for details on how he’s going to do it, and Penelope agrees to tell them–but then we cut away.

Betty and Ethel, just as Sister Woodhouse predicted, are having trouble convincing the doped-up girls to leave with them. (“Not to mention all those girls in the gay conversion wing,” Betty muses, which, like… I bet you could get the kids in the gay conversion wing to leave! Why don’t we see any gay kids? Why even throw in that line? So weird.) Anyway, Betty and Ethel come up with a new plan: use the game.

In the morning, Jughead and Archie are packing when there’s a knock on the door. Oh, hey, it’s Fred! I guess Gladys didn’t take Archie’s silly martyrdom complex that seriously either. They share a nice big hug. And outside, someone else is waiting: FP, on his motorcycle. (I guess he and Fred came separately? Unclear.) FP asks for a hug from Jellybean, but she’s not into it, given the fact that he’s an absent father and everything. Gladys excuses her, “She misses you. She’d rather fight than get into it.” FP flirts, “Like mother, like daughter,” and then Jughead comes out to have his own nice big father-son hug. FP even brought Jughead’s Serpent jacket! Meanwhile, Gladys is like, “I don’t think we have to worry much about Penny anymore.” So did she like… KILL her?! I’m so confused! Why isn’t Jughead even a bit freaked that his mom seems to have been wrist-deep in viscera last night, judging by the amount of blood on her hands? But no one even reacts to Gladys’s announcement, and FP gives her a big hug (complete with a couple smacks on the neck from Gladys) before leaving with Jughead.

Over at Pop’s, Veronica and Cheryl have convened the Cadets, to the accompaniment of twee Caper Music. God, Kevin has NOTHING TO DO on this show. He’s not even the primary guy Veronica orders around (that would be Reggie). The boys are eating hot dogs, and their mouths fall open almost as vacantly as Reggie’s when Cheryl climbs on the table for no apparent reason and announces that they’re going to war.

Ethel, meanwhile, has convened the girls for a G&G game and set them a mission of escaping. They protest that they can’t because they’ll be punished, but Betty has donned a Griffin Queen costume (which doesn’t hide her face AT ALL, so it should be obvious even to the doped-up girls that this is, you know, Betty). She announces that the Gargoyle King is dead and everyone cheers and gets ready for their escape mission.

If you thought this building up to be the climax of the show you’d be… wrong. The ENTIRE SUM of this mission is that Ethel tells them to be quiet and meet her at the front door, to which she has a key. There are no obstacles on the way to the front door, so they don’t really have to “meet” her–they just stream outside, unmolested by any sisters. Um, great mission guys. That was a nail-biter!

But I admit it is fun to see Betty cosplaying and high-fiving with Ethel. The girls are obviously getting a kick out of this, so it’s still fun to watch even though the plotting is all over the place.

Archie dyes his hair dark brown in a dingy bathroom somewhere (he looks wayyyy better, too bad he’s going to Canada now!) and goes outside to meet Fred, who exposits that this is the last stop before the border. Fred offers to come with him, and Archie tragically refuses, even though there’s nothing that forces Fred to stay in Riverdale. But here’s the really inexplicable part: they share a dramatic hug good-bye in the parking log, and Fred SENDS ARCHIE ALONE INTO THE WOODS. Doesn’t he realize that Archie cannot be left alone because he will immediately be attacked?! You guys, if Archie makes it all the way to the border, even if the border is like 100 yards away, I will eat my hat.

Veronica, Kevin, and Cheryl–the other cadets are nowhere to be seen, because continuity means nothing on this show–stride into Hermione’s office and Veronica announces a “coup de moi.” Hermione, who’s drinking whiskey neat, gently explains to Veronica, “You can’t just walk in here and depose me. I’m an elected official. Besides, you’re too late.” She looks very sad, although I find it hard to tell whether that’s because she feels guilty for going along with Hiram’s plan (the details of which we won’t find out till the next scene) or because she raised a daughter who doesn’t realize that you can’t walk into the mayor’s office with a single teenaged cadet and somehow make them not be mayor anymore.

What sounds like a bunch of air-raid sirens start to go off as Hermione continues to sip sadly at her whiskey. “It’s starting,” she whispers.

Meanwhile, Betty and Ethel are walking the grounds with a bunch of escaped G&G players. Alice arrives and announces that hell is breaking loose so she came to get Betty. Betty is like, great! You can take the hundreds of girls who just poured out of this monastery, too! Just then, the air-raid sirens go off again.

Jughead jumps in to pontificate about how the town had changed once again, “but this time, irrevocably.” As Veronica and Pop hang out at the Chock’lit Shoppe, Cheryl and Toni for some reason cuddle in bed under a sea of pink satin, (and the doomed Archie fumbles through the woods with a flashlight) the sirens keep going. Jughead and FP zoom towards the town, both on separate motorcycles (unclear where the second one came from) and find that the way into town is blockaded. A bunch of overly aggressive military types announce Riverdale is quarantined and threaten to shoot Jughead and FP if they don’t turn around. Oh no! DON’T SEPARATE JUGHEAD AND BETTY AGAIN! Oops, did I just say that out loud? Sorry, my inner fangirl sometimes takes control of my keyboard.

Hiram prowls in his office/lair as he takes a call with the governor, who exposits that Hiram got what he wanted: the town is quarantined. Hiram thanks him, hangs up, and lifts his glass to … the Gargoyle King.

So I guess Hiram isn’t the Gargoyle King after all. I’m guessing Claudius Blossom? Or, who knows, we haven’t seen Penny in a few hours…

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