With Halloween fast approaching and the launch of new Netflix shows like The Haunting of Hill House and the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, I can’t help but think that the new tone to the third season of Riverdale is an intentional move. The thing is that Riverdale, even though it is aimed at a teenage audience and sometimes feels like it, has delved into darker themes in the past. In Season One it dealt with murder, grieving, gang culture and extremely dramatic moments such as Cheryl’s attempted suicide. The second season excelled in the darker and more serious tone by exploring the values of family, ethics, and morals through the decisions of Archie’s loyalties and Jughead’s leadership. The most memorable episode for me was when Veronica’s ex-boyfriend/boyfriend came into town and drugged Cheryl whilst attempting to sexually assault her before the girls stepped in to stop the situation. Even though that makes it sounds like all the bad things happen to Cheryl, there are more mature themes and darker tones interweaved throughout the programme and the different character arcs.
The thing I’m trying to argue here is not that Riverdale has a darker tone, because it has explored that before, but that the programme is trying, and arguably failing, at integrating magic into the narrative. Is this to do with us approaching Halloween? What are they trying to do? Although the programme isn’t always realistic, it is normally grounded in its own logic. However, the premiere deviated from that and ran with it. The floating babies in the first episode and Betty’s seizure was a little too much to handle. They seem to be writing the script to their advantage. The new season has given them the freedom to start again but they have crossed the line with the choices it is making. The postponing of Archie’s trial was purely for the benefit of the narrative, whilst the choice of Archie to plead guilty based on the thought that ‘he could have killed someone’ is absurd.
The audience’s attention won’t be held for long if they are writing disorganized and illogical episodes
Riverdale is self-aware of the changes it’s attempting to make.. The doctor in the second episode references the murder of Jason Blossom and the activities of the Black Hood, neatly tying together the previous mysteries of the programme. This subtly highlights how the previous plot lines have been grounded in investigative narratives, but the doctor then describes the recent events in Riverdale to be ‘the true face of evil’. The season so far is heavily reliant on spectacle; the floating babies, the figures in the woods, the symbols on the dead bodies of Ben and Dilton. Then through the investigations of Betty and Jughead, the narrative is trying to ground the overtly ridiculous stories in facts. They try and find reasons behind the events, but who is buying it?
What I keep questioning is whether this is an active decision by Netflix to fit their recent releases. Does that mean it will rein in the weird magical elements that don’t fit in Riverdale? Hopefully, the season will either move on from this different (not darker) tone or blind-sight us all and turn it into a plot device. Whatever they decide, they need to do it fast because the audience’s attention won’t be held for long if they are writing disorganized and illogical episodes. Optimistically, there are still good elements to the programme like Jughead and Betty’s relationship, Veronica’s resistance against her Dad and the teaser of the parents having a secret that is now going to affect their kids. Nevertheless, there is only so much weight that these elements hold to discount the madness of the new season.