This week’s episode of Riverdale season 3 didn’t have a central conceit of its own. It rested on the audience’s investment in the shaky main plots.
One scene in this episode encapsulated why this season is so hard to care about. Betty Cooper assembled all the adults to question them about the Gargoyle King. They all complained, but still stayed to deal with her questions as though Betty has some sort of power over them.
This scene fundamentally undercut all the characters. Underhanded master of puppets Hiram Lodge shows up on demand any time Betty wants answers? Isn’t Betty supposed to be a determined detective who gets to the bottom of things despite resistance from all adults?
There was a similar problem when Jughead Jones began to suspect that Hiram was the Gargoyle King and immediately confronted him in person. There’s no tension on this show because the characters constantly everything out to each other. Even as Riverdale pretends that everyone in this world is mysterious and evasive, the children and parents are more open with each other than the Gilmore girls.
It’s also hard to be invested because the central mystery is so fundamentally confusing. Jughead seems to simultaneously believe that if he ascends the Gargoyle King will magically know and track him down and that the Gargoyle King is a regular human he’ll be able to unmask and turn into the authorities. The show refuses to clarify whether the characters think they’re dealing with an all-powerful magic or a serial killer. No one seems to care about the distinction.
Joaquin DeSantos’ death is an example of something that happens a lot in mystery shows after season one. The deaths just stop having an impact. Jason Blossom’s death fundamentally changed the town. But, now things are different and everyone understands they’re living in a show where everything is a bloodbath. Deaths aren’t dramatic, they’re just another small piece in a puzzle.