One of my favorite things about this season of Riverdale is the fact that the writers have just completely given up on pretending like these characters are high schoolers. “Outbreak” thankfully remembers that Cheryl exists, and in one of the first full Choni scenes of the season, the maple syrup heiress asks her girlfriend to move in with her. It’s sweet, and at least the show is acknowledging that this couple exists, but I couldn’t help but think about how truly bonkers it is that a teen is asking her teen girlfriend to move in with her…and specifically, into a home with her abusive, possibly murderous mother who once sent her away to gay conversion camp.
This midseason finale really doesn’t pull any punches. Cheryl and Veronica, who has suddenly decided that yes, she does indeed want to fight her evil parents, team up after a MASS SEIZURE strikes the high school. They try to faceoff against the parents, who call an emergency meeting because a bunch of teens having synchronized seizures is indeed concerning. Veronica and Cheryl try to accuse the Lodges as being responsible for the outbreak, suspecting they have ulterior motives for shutting down the high school. Later, they torture Penelope Blossom for answers by MAPLE SYRUP-BOARDING HER…like waterboarding…with maple syrup. I’m sorry for all the all-caps, but this entire episode of Riverdale was almost certainly written entirely in all-caps.
Meanwhile at the Sisters of Quiet Mercy, Betty plays the sisters by pretending to take her “candy” and continuing to work on her escape plan. She locks Ethel in a room to get the drugs out of her system in hopes that she’ll then see more clearly. It works, and they team up to try to save the rest of the kids who are being force-fed hallucinogenic drugs.
Betty and Ethel learn that G&G was designed by residents of the Sisters of Quiet Mercy as a coping mechanism, but also the sisters use it to manipulate the kids and instill fear in them? Technically, a lot of the threads of the season’s many conspiracies are coming together, but it’s still messy. Within the walls of the Sisters of Quiet Mercy, the Gargoyle King is just a figment of everyone’s imagination, an image planted by the sisters through their manipulative tactics, brought to life by the drugs, which are being tested on the kids as part of Hiram’s masterplan to essentially turn Riverdale into a lawless crime capitol (more on that later). But outside of those walls, the Gargoyle King is real, and he’s not Hiram, because we see Hiram toasting him at episode’s end. Also, this season keeps screaming that G&G is like a drug, but is it that or is it that those playing it are usually on actual drugs? There are times when it feels like the writers are just spinning a wheel to come up with plot developments instead of making coherent attempts to connect and contextualize it all.
That said, “Outbreak” is actually my favorite kind of Riverdale episode in that it’s just pure, unadulterated madness. Watching it made me feel like I too was on fizzle rocks, and I’m okay with that! Over in Jughead and Archie’s side of the increasingly sprawling narrative, we finally meet Jug’s kid sister Jelly Bean and his mom, who is very hot and definitely knows how to weld and also maybe do murders? Penny Peabody shows up, and Jelly Bean has to save dummy Archie from getting his throat slit by slingshotting her in the head (Jelly Bean and Cheryl should honestly lead the revolution in Riverdale with a slingshot and bow in hand). Then I’m pretty sure it’s implied that Jughead’s hot mom killed Penny? Although probably not, because Penny does seem unkillable. Maybe just some lite torture happened. Just cute little Riverdale things.
Some of the Jones family drama that surfaces throughout this plotline is actually great stuff, touching on Jughead’s complicated relationship with his parents. Both parents wanted to keep Jughead far away from the gang, but they also weren’t really there for him, so of course he gravitated to the gang for a sense of family. Sometimes parents really do the exact opposite of what they were trying to do. If there’s one piece of coherent, true wisdom applicable to the real world that Riverdale deals with, it’s the fact that parents do a number on their kids. Would any of these teens be where they are if not for the fucked up shit their parents have done? Archie is literally a teen who is ESCAPING TO THE CANADIAN BORDER because his ex-girlfriend’s father is trying to murder him. P.S. Fred, why would you give Archie his dog? I mean, it’s a cute gesture, but I don’t think Archie is really going to have time to take care of a pet while on the run.
Speaking of families, Hiram Lodge is scary-good at psychologically torturing his own daughter, from framing Archie’s absence as Archie abandoning her to congratulating her after she and Cheryl storm the parent meeting. I do have all sorts of issues with how Veronica is portrayed this season, but there’s no doubt that her allegiances would be confusing given her parents knack for gaslighting. But I’d be more convinced by all her back-and-forth and inconsistent motivations if that were made into a more explicit part of her arc by the writing.
Amid the chaos, all of the threads of this season’s many town conspiracies have come together. Hiram and Hermione Lodge’s masterplan turns out to be much bigger than just a for-profit prison. They want to turn Riverdale into a…crime hub invisible to the outside world? The Lodges are presumably behind these seizures, which they use as leverage to get the whole town put under quarantine — no one in or out. As a geographical place, Riverdale already seems pretty detached from the outside world, but I guess they’re just making it official.
Betty and Ethel succeed in breaking everyone out of the Sisters of Quiet Mercy, even the poor kids in the gay conversion wing who at least they finally remember exist in this episode. They have to literally write the escape into G&G in order to convince the brainwashed kiddos to go through with it, which leads to a hilarious slow-motion sequence of Betty dressed as the Griffin Queen. Again, this episode is full bonkers in a way I admire. Teen asylum breakouts, maple syrup torture, hot moms who weld, mass seizures — this show really does have it all. Let chaos reign.