The dads of Riverdale are really on their bullshit lately!!! Hal’s back and manipulating Betty into spending more time with him. Hiram’s teaming up with Claudius Blossom for his latest criminal shenanigans. Fred’s threatening Hiram and also assuring his son that he’s probably gonna be fucked up for a while and that’s okay. And FP Jones is the new sheriff?!?!?!?! A lot sure does happen in “The Stranger,” ranging in urgency from SATs to attempted murder to accidental murder to actual murder. Just another week in Riverdale!
First things first: Archie Andrews indeed survived the bear attack. And after surviving a bear attack, he’s like, “Oh I’m not afraid of Hiram anymore! I was attacked! By a bear! And lived! I’m such a brave boy!” So he heads back to Riverdale, but as Jughead informs us, the Archie Andrews that we knew before did die. Archie returns home changed. He drinks root beer floats instead of strawberry milkshakes (gasp!) and his signature very-obviously-dyed red hair is now a soft auburn. Archie is not who he was, and lots of characters remind us of this over and over again throughout the episode. Look, I’m pretty used to characters on this show stating the obvious, but there’s something a little extra forced about the way everyone reacts to Archie in “The Stranger” and by the end, I wanted to scream WE GET IT! HE IS DIFFERENT NOW!
What’s much more compelling than the root beer float shocker is the way that Archie’s trauma starts taking a hold on his life. He’s haunted by flashbacks to the disturbing hallucinations he had about killing Hiram and killing himself. Veronica, in typical Veronica fashion, wants to proceed as if everything is okay, as if Archie’s just coming back from studying abroad and not from running away from her homicidal father who has wanted him dead for months.
And on that note, why are we acting like Veronica cheated on Archie with Reggie? Archie may be Changed, but he’s also still the same self-centered dumdum as before, as evidenced by his complete overreaction when Reggie accidentally slips and tells him about kissing Veronica. First of all, Archie broke up with Veronica. And he did so in a really shitty way! Saying “goodbye forever” on the phone and then vanishing off the face of the earth is, uhhh, not a good way to break up with someone. Also, he kissed someone else in the interim, too! And it’s not like he was upfront with Veronica about that, so to have a lil freak out about the Reggie news is just so nearsighted.
On the one hand, of course Archie is frustrated that he can’t just return to his old life in Riverdale. That’s a pretty normal response to the admittedly very traumatic shit that he has been through. He wants to feel safe and comfortable, and the fact that his friends have been living their life without him is making him spiral out in a believable way. But I’m more so frustrated by Veronica’s actions in all this. She’s very content with just abruptly ending things with Reggie and acting like she did something wrong by getting with him in the first place.
Sure, she has had her fair share of traumatic experiences that would make her want to crave consistency and comfort, too. But there has been a dumbing down of Veronica this season that is very frustrating, and she keeps protecting Archie even when he hurts her. Everyone babies Archie Andrews and puts him on a pedestal, as evidenced by the way Jughead and Betty also immediately bend over backwards to help him study for his SATs.
Although, helping him study is probably a nice distraction from their other problems. Betty learns that her mother has drained all of her accounts, including her college savings and given it to the farm… because she’s mad her daughter won’t join her cult? Alice has been very bad this season, and I’m hoping for some kind of comeuppance for this behavior, because Betty has enough shit to deal with without having to worry that her mom is going to kidnap her and take her to the farm where… well, we still don’t really know what they do there. They have raw milk and cookies, which doesn’t sound so bad. But stealing from your child, even when the money in question is “blood money” from the Blossoms, is not great behavior.
Because Alice forged Hal’s signature in order to take control of Betty’s accounts, Betty has to face the Black Hood himself. And Hal immediately claims that he used to be the Gargoyle King and that he’s responsible for Featherhead’s death. This is, naturally, some creative embellishment by a known psychopath. He only knew about ascension night because his lover Penelope, who has been making conjugal visits under Alice’s name, told him. Betty once again faces down her evil auntie to get this information out of her, which leads to the excellent Penelope line: “As a young woman, I did write the odd letter to Jeffrey Dahmer, yes,” followed by a maniacal chuckle.
Meanwhile, we do learn who the actual Gargoyle King in the present is: Tallboy! Now, given the Gargoyle King’s stature and the absence of Tallboy throughout all of this, he was actually pretty high on my list for Gargoyle King contenders. It’s a relatively low-stakes reveal, too. I mean, who even cares about Tallboy? In any case, the reveal ends up being pretty small potatoes compared to all the other stuff that happens. I mean, shortly after we learn Tallboy has been operating as the Gargoyle King (under the real puppet master, Hiram), HE DIES. Fangs accidentally kills him, leaving Jug to have to come up with a new elaborate plan for hiding a body.
But everything’s actually okay, because as mentioned before, FP IS THE SHERIFF NOW. A meeting with Hermione suggests that this is part of some Lodge plan, but um, WHAT? I’m pretty sure the only requirement for becoming a sheriff in Riverdale is “have a jawline.” FP does make a citizen’s arrest earlier in the episode, apprehending Claudius Blossom for colluding with the Gargoyle King (what even is this show?). It looks like someone may have gotten to Claudius in jail though. He appears to be dead by the end of the episode. Riverdale certainly isn’t afraid to rack up a body count this season.
Even Hiram gets shot. He isn’t dead, and he’ll likely be okay, but the actual scene of him getting shot by an unseen assailant is very well done. In fact, this episode overall does a solid job of building tension and then exploding with big moments that, sure, are extremely chaotic developments, but off-the-rails Riverdale can often be a whole lot of fun. Hiram’s literally bragging about how intuitive he is and how he’s always one step ahead of everyone, and then he gets got.
And that’s what pushes Veronica to finally end things with Archie? She assumes it was him who pulled the trigger, because it happened shortly after Archie ran out of the SATs. Again, Veronica’s attitude toward her father has been wildly inconsistent all season. I mean I won’t go so far as to say she should be thanking Archie for (possibly) shooting her father, but the way she turns on him for this assumption (and for what it’s worth, I’m pretty sure it was not Archie) and not at all for the other things he did to deliberately hurt her — like calling her up on a pay phone to say bye forever! — is yet another inconsistency in her characterization this season. Based on the way she treats both Hiram and Archie, sometimes I swear this girl suffers from short-term memory loss.