With a little less than half a season to go, Riverdale finally seems to be fixing the biggest problem with season 3. In last week's episode, "Fire Walk With Me," we finally saw the gang back together and supporting one another... which highlighted just little of that we've seen lately. Prior to "Fire Walk With Me," in the 12 episodes following the Riverdale season 3 premiere, the main gang of Archie, Jughead, Betty and Veronica had only been together for two scenes. Three, if you count Archie hallucinating his friends in "No Exit" and four, if you want to count the flashback where the main cast played their parents in "The Midnight Club."
It doesn't seem to be an accident that Riverdale's main foursome have spent so little time together this season. The fact that the premiere featured scenes of them hanging out together at an idyllic bathing spot served as foreshadowing for a story arc where the friends - Archie in particular - would be torn apart. And it is Archie who has been the most distant from the rest, thanks to his stint in juvie and his more recent time spent on the run.
With this separation, Riverdale season 3 has been split into roughly four main subplots: there's Veronica's dealings with her mob boss family and their impact on Jughead's Serpents; the ongoing mystery of the Gargoyle King and the addictive game of Griffins and Gargoyles; Betty's family being drawn into the creepy cult of the Farm; and Archie's struggle to overcome his inner demons. So why is it so hard to keep track of what's going on?
Riverdale Has Split Up The Main Gang
If there's an iconic image associated with Riverdale, it's of the main group of friends - Archie, Veronica, Jughead, and Betty - sitting in a booth together at Pop's drinking milkshakes. This kind of character dynamic has allowed many TV shows to thrive: Buffy the Vampire Slayer had the Scooby Gang hanging out in the library; The Flash has S.T.A.R. Labs and its tight-knit crew; Doctor Who has the TARDIS, with its faithful pilot and his/her companion(s); the various Star Trek shows have the bridge and its crew; Stranger Things has Mike's basement, where the group of plucky young kids try to figure out what's going on Hawkins.
Obviously not every show needs to be formatted like this, but for Riverdale - a show about a group of young friends fighting against the various forces of darkness in their town - that sense of unity and characters having each other's backs is sorely missed. When Betty was sent off to the Sisters of Quiet Mercy, Veronica didn't even appear to notice that she was gone, despite the fact that they're supposed to be best friends. Betty is currently dealing with the horrifying situation of watching her mother and sister getting sucked into a cult (which has also swallowed Betty's college funds), and her own boyfriend is seemingly too busy with his own problems to do more than offer a few words of casual advice. Veronica and Archie both essentially exist in worlds of their own now - Veronica becoming a mini mob boss, and Archie caught up with his fighting and his new relationship with Josie.
While some of this isolation may be intentional (Archie's in particular seems to be self-inflicted), it seems to have gone unacknowledged by the characters as they focus on their own ongoing dramas. Their friendships with one another are a big part of what makes the audience care about these characters individually, and when they don't support each other it's harder to stay invested in the show. Betty's struggles with her family, which most recently culminated in Alice's decision to sell the family home and bring Betty to live on the Farm with her, has most painfully highlighted the degree to which the group has drifted apart. Betty has a boyfriend and two extremely close friends, but for a long time it has felt like she's going through everything alone.