Riverdale season 3 finale review: Ascension at last


Ascension is the theme of the night on an exciting third season finale. Lots of things wrapped up with a few items still left unresolved.

In a wobbly third season, Riverdale delivers a strong ascension themed finale. I’ve been one of the loudest voices of criticism over the last twenty-two episodes, but this last one, “Chapter Fifty-Seven: Survive the Night” came through in the clutch.

While the show drove towards resolution in the way of its dueling serial killers, it also laid quite a bit of ground work for season 4. I was impressed with how things ended, and there were a few moments that actually left me with my mouth hanging open. These are the best parts of the night, if you ask this Riverdale fan.

It was Penelope Blossom all along

Although Riverdale is infamous for reverse-engineering narrative motivations, this one really tracked for me. Citing her hatred for small town Riverdale and what its inhabitants let her endure, Penelope as the  mastermind fits everything we’ve learned about her over these three seasons. Ascension, indeed.

As the originator of the first G&G game and a founding member of the Midnight Club, she has both knowledge and experience of how to execute one final game. Even the threatening, yet cryptically-gorgeous invitations she sent to the core four had Penelope Blossom all over them. If that dinner party didn’t turn super gruesome, it would have been a pretty cool event to attend.

She sends the core four out into the wilderness for “The Final Hunt,” giving each member a possibly-deadly quest. Before they embark, she reveals that Chic has been the Gargoyle King all along. To double down on the creep, she also has him role lay as her dead son, Jason – red hair and all.

Her alliance to Hal/Black Hood was established long ago, as their affair became one of those head-scratching moments that Riverdale fans have learned to just overlook. I guess her capacity for romance with a serial killer ran out, because she shot Hal in cold blood, at point blank range, when Betty couldn’t bring herself to do it. I shouted, out loud, to my TV, “Daaaaaang!!!!!”

That flash forward

I guess it’s just too much to expect our little quartet to actually “enjoy their senior year” and it’s definitely too much to expect the writers not to offer a little suspense for the fourth season, but that glimpse into the future was dark as hell.

After Betty, Jug, Veronica, and Archie actually “survive the night” we see them enjoying a malt at Pop’s, recapping the recent revelations. Archie, as dim as ever, wants to vow to be done with “gremlins,” death cults, and murder mysteries.

It’s a sweet thought, but it it’s fleeting as the scene cuts to the gang, minus Jughead, standing around a campfire, covered in blood. The gang, in their underwear, are burning their clothes, including Jug’s beanie, and scheming to put whatever just happened behind them. So much for a smooth senior year.

Cheryl saves the day (just like we knew she would)

It took her awhile to get hip to the harvesting at The Farm, but once she did, she went straight into go-mode. After last week’s heroics, she is determined to get out and stay out. Aided by a now-woke (and apparently Federally-employed) Alice, Cheryl is able to escape The Farm, with Juniper in tow. She promises Alice she’ll save Betty, and she delivers on that promise in my very favorite scene of the night. Not to belabor a point, but Cheryl’s glow up is all the ascension I needed.

I’ve been lamenting Riverdale’s woeful underuse of Cheryl Blossom, but I dare say they made up for it tonight. Seeing her charge in, bow and arrow in hand, made me the happiest Riverhead, ever.

Teaming up, and subsequently leading, both the Serpents and the Pretty Poisons, was a fitting end to her season. Make her the mayor of Riverdale, somebody. It’s pretty apparent that local politicians and law enforcement can’t do anything without consulting the expertise of these teenagers.

Charles is alive and working for the FBI

Yep … Riverdale pulled a fast one on this. I guess Alice really wasn’t brainwashed at all, and she really was talking to her “dead” son, Charles. What we didn’t know, and what is a little bit harder of a sell, is that Alice was working as an informant for the FBI all along.

I think the writers must have known audiences would have a hard time selling this because they had Veronica chime in on the matter, stating, “That actually tracks.”

*Riverdale reviewer sighs and says* “No, V. It actually doesn’t.”

The Farm ascends, except for Kevin

I don’t think any of us thinks that Riverdale has the wherewithal to pull off an actual Leftovers-type rapture story, but the visuals of that scene were definitely haunting. Seeing Kevin surrounded by the piles of robes and empty shoes, crying about being “left behind” is the kind of camp I need in my life. Where were the Riverdale writers during the Met Gala?

But if they didn’t ascend, then that means they are on the lam, with Alice in tow. I guess they had a few refrigerated trucks standing by to transport all those organs. This is more seeds for season four, which also means lots and lots more of Chad Michael Murray with his shirt off (hopefully).

Finally, some stray thoughts (and loose ends):

Jason Blossom is back, sort of. We saw Jason’s empty grave last week, but we now know it wasn’t because he was the Gargoyle King. Edgar has been rolling his dead body around in a wheelchair but the reasons are murky. Is this what he used to trick Cheryl? Was it for some other nefarious reason? And we really, really need to address Cheryl’s latent instability. She has possession of said dead body, and ….. now what?

Speaking of bodies… Why did Penelope ask Edgar to buy all the organs “in bulk?” What is she up to? Surely, Riverdale isn’t about to pull a Frankenstein’s monster bit on us? But since Penelope is also in the wind, I guess we just don’t get to know.

Poor Kevin. He was one of the last main characters to still be a true believer, and now he’s the only one left? But to what end? Why him? Does this mean he’s going to get a meatier role in season 4? (Fingers crossed.)

Smithers is Veronica’s legal guardian? Is that even a thing in Riverdale? And what about Betty? Whose going to be hers? This was a fishy one-off, and I need more.

Also, how is it possible, even with the narrative acrobatics Riverdale so often performs, that Hiram can be an inmate in his own prison? That doesn’t track, at all. Do better, Riverdale.

Lastly, still no mention of Fred Andrews or his whereabouts. It’s a shame.

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Season 3 is officially in the books, and now the wait begins. October can’t come fast enough because I have questions. Lots and lots of questions.

Leave your reactions in the comments below, and let me know where you think our beloved Riverdale is headed.