If season 2’s big swing was the musical episode, then I’d like to officially welcome you to season 3’s big swing: The flashback episode, in which all of the show’s actors take on the roles of their parents … as teens. It sounds more confusing than it is.
We start the episode with the Gryphons and Gargoyles pandemic. Every time an adult confiscates a rule book, another one pops up, until, eventually, Mayor Hermione Lodge ends up standing in front of a classroom filled with high schoolers explaining that she is officially banning the game, because she claims it could foster violence in developing minds. Furthermore, she’s set up a hotline for anyone who needs someone to talk to — but only if that someone is Kevin and only if they want to talk after school. Otherwise, he’s not available.
But Hermione’s announcement isn’t the only big news to come out of school that day: Betty gets a call from the coroner revealing that someone died a “suspicious death” many years ago, and the deceased had blue lips. It was right around the time Betty’s mom Alice would’ve been in high school. So of course, Betty goes straight to the source, and when Alice finally gives in and decides to tell her daughter the whole story, we enter flashback land.
We head back to when all of Riverdale‘s parents were juniors in high school, when “phones had cords, Winona had Johnny, and everything smelled like teen spirit.” At least that’s how Alice, who went by Alice Smith at the time, puts it. She was the bad girl from the wrong side of the tracks with enviable hair and a very big problem: She’d just found out she was pregnant with FP’s child. Hermione and Sierra catch Alice crying in a bathroom stall before Penelope busts in demanding hall passes. But when Alice doesn’t have one, well, one thing leads to another and Penelope calls Alice a bastard baby, and suddenly, the two are fighting it out in the girls’ bathroom.
Across the school, FP — a football player!!! — is being made to streak the school. Apparently, it’s a Bulldog tradition. FP is hesitant until Fred Andrews, a baseball player, agrees to go with him. (Fred’s done it once already and apparently it really helped him with the ladies.) And so, the two go streaking down the halls of the school, a move that lands them in Saturday detention, where the bathroom ladies — probably not their preferred nickname — join them. Leading their Breakfast Club-esque Saturday detention is Anthony Michael Hall, which is insanely perfect casting, and have I mentioned how fun this episode is ALREADY?
As Alice tells Betty in present day, it was supposed to be one Saturday where six people — the bad girl (Alice), the rebelling Catholic (Hermione), the teacher’s pet (Penelope), the artist/athlete (Fred), the political animal (Sierra), and the ladies man (FP) — sat in silence for eight hours and wrote 1,000-word essays about what landed them in detention in the first place. But of course, it evolved into much more than that.
The moment Principal Featherhead (Anthony Michael Hall) decided it was a good idea to leave the kids unsupervised and return to his office is the moment all of Riverdale makes sense. These kids just need some supervision!! And that’s also the moment that things start getting interesting…
First of all, apparently Sierra and Tom Keller were a major item (and maybe if she’d known how well he was going to age she never would’ve let him go). And when everyone realizes they don’t know anything about one another, Sierra suggests a round of “Secrets and Sins,” and so, they move from their desks to the floor for a game of what’s essentially Truth or … Truth. Sierra’s secret is obviously her relationship with Tom, which leads Hermione to talk about the fact that she’s interested in Hiram but her parents don’t approve. As for Fred, he thinks Riverdale is the greatest city in the world and sees himself playing baseball and music here until he, one day, runs for mayor. (Sierra scoffs at the idea). More than anything, Fred wants to stay in town to look after his sick father.
When it’s Alice’s turn to tell a secret, she decides instead to out FP as a guy who lives in Sunnyside Trailer Park and wears a varsity jacket like he’s from the North Side. Alice tells him he’ll end up just like his dad, but FP one-ups her by revealing that his dad is the one who broke his arm when FP told him that he wanted to be the first Jones to go to college.
As for Penelope, she’s got the biggest secret of all: She’s not really a Blossom. She grew up at the Sisters of Quiet Mercy orphanage until the Blossoms showed up when she was 8 and asked to see all the red-headed children. They then picked her from the group and took her home to be Clifford’s sister and … life companion. Ew. Needless to say, she takes every opportunity to escape that house. (Next: The Gargoyle King says hello)
But if there’s one thing that’s not a secret with these kids, it’s their affinity for fighting. Hermione and Penelope end up getting into it over their secrets, which leads to all the kids earning three additional Saturday detentions. But what starts as a punishment ends up being an opportunity for friendship, particularly when Hermione breaks into the teacher’s desk drawer — again, can we get some supervision?! — to find something she had taken from her. There, they find Gryphons and Gargoyles. They’d heard of the game because someone almost died playing it in another town, but for Alice, nothing is more enticing than the fear of death. And so, they play.
They play it so much, in fact, that they eventually decide to take the game off-board and play in real life. Penelope pairs Hermione and FP and then Alice and Fred to go find something she’s hidden in the school, which is really just a chance for Alice and Fred to bond over their shared sadness — though she doesn’t tell him about her pregnancy — and kiss. (A nice nod to the Betty-Archie relationship of the show.) But their moment doesn’t last long. As the group continues to play the game, Hermione and Fred couple up, as well as FP and Alice.
Even after their detentions have ended, they continue playing the game. They sneak into the school after hours, which is why they call their gang The Midnight Club. As they start to act out their quests in the real world, they run into another group of kids who are playing the game: Hiram Lodge, Tom Keller, Dilton Doiley’s father, and Reggie’s dad. And so, they join forces, until one night, they all receive invitations from the Gargoyle King to the Ascension Party. That night, they are all meant to flip a coin for their fate and drink from a chalice. But when that doesn’t sound like much of a party to young Hiram, he brings out the Fizzle Rocks, the latest drug on the streets of Riverdale. Everyone partakes, except for Alice, who is of course secretly pregnant. And that’s when things get a little crazy…
The night begins with a concert from THE FRED HEADS — the world’s worst band name — which includes FP, Alice, Hermione, Sierra, and Fred singing their version of “Dream Warriors,” the theme song for A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors. But when the drugs start taking over a bit too much, Alice heads to the bathroom for a vomit break. (Not drug-related, possibly pregnancy-related, and definitely related to watching a near-orgy with her all her friends.) That’s when the lights go out and she’s presented with two chalices and a coin. “Flip for your fate” is written all over the bathroom walls, a sight that causes Alice to run. And speaking of sights that cause Alice to run, when she rounds the corner, she comes face-to-face with the Gargoyle King. (I’m not entirely sure how he fit through the school’s doorway but fine.)
The next thing Alice sees is Principal Featherhead arriving to investigate what’s going on at the school, and when she sees him, she runs all the way home. The next day, she runs into Hermione at school, which is when she finds out that not only is Principal Featherhead missing, but Fred’s father died while they were all high at the Ascension party. Fred found him when he got home.
After Fred’s father’s funeral, they all meet at Pop’s and agree to keep their mouths shut about everything, a pact that comes in handy when Principal Featherhead’s dead body shows up in the school closet. And his lips are blue. Alice tells everyone about the chalices filled with blue liquid, but when no one will fess up to staging the Ascension Party, they all decide to stop playing the game. They also agree to destroy the manuals and scatter the other pieces of the game all around town. Then they all spit in their hands and make an official pact to take their secret to the grave.
And that is how the Riverdale parents became the people we know today: Harboring that secret and the guilt of Featherhead’s death changed them. Fred gave up his guitar and went into construction. Hermione started dating Hiram. Sierra and Tommy broke up — the true tragedy of this story. Penelope committed herself to a life at Thornhill with Clifford. FP gave up his varsity jacket (and his college dreams) for a Serpent jacket. And Alice gave up her Serpent jacket for a tweed blazer (and her relationship with FP for one with Hal Cooper). “We’d become strangers again,” Alice tells Betty in present day.
They never did figure out who poisoned the cups. Alice says Featherhead’s death was ruled a “suicide under suspicious circumstances,” which sounds like something that would only slide in Riverdale. But as for the Midnight Club, they all grew up thinking that someone in their group was a murderer. Now, Alice makes Betty promise her she won’t play the game, and Betty does. But she will still keep investigating it.
Betty’s first stop after hearing her mom’s story is the school, where she finds the chalices hiding in plain sight: In the trophy case. Then, she excitedly heads to Dilton’s bunker to tell Jughead about everything she’s found out. But she’s too late. Jughead and a group of Serpents — including Cheryl and Toni — are already immersed in the game. Jughead’s a level three, and he can’t wait to ascend.
But like … can we go back to the parents?! This flashback episode felt in many ways like what Riverdale was always meant to be, and I loved finding out how the parents’ relationships unfolded in the past. And I’ve got to say: After this episode, I’m only more intrigued by the Gargoyle King mystery. All in all, this goes down as one of my favorite episodes the show has done. Now excuse me while I go make young Alice my style icon.
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- Riverdale first look: See the cast as their parents in the flashback episode