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Archie’s mother uses the word “endgame” in this week’s episode, an assemblage of letters that’s taken on a few alternate meanings as of late. When she utters this word, Mary Andrews means it in the colloquial neologism sense, an expression of one’s belief that two characters deserve to be together in the conclusion of a fiction. She thinks Archie and Veronica would be good for one another, and because this is Riverdale, she makes it known using millennial online-speak. (On the recent finale of the also-quite-plugged-in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, there was plenty of chatter about which well-heeled suitor would be our gal Rebecca’s “endgame.”) When we hear her say it, we can’t help but think Avengers, cultural saturation ensuring that the word may never be fully scrubbed of its association with Marvel’s most recent pre-viz extravaganza. The dictionary still has a thing or two to say about all this, too, flatly defining the term to the most literal extent as “the final stage of a game such as chess or bridge, in which few pieces remain.”

We’re all really talking about the same thing, though — a wrap-up. The word “endgame” implies a decisive denouement after many months of plotting, a final delivery on all the clues and backtracking and red herrings and mysteries. The good folks over at Game of Thrones are currently struggling with this same thing, but Riverdale already has a fourth season order and doesn’t have to worry about tying a ribbon on the whole series. Even so, tonight’s hour answered some big, burning questions and reassured the viewership that a show which constantly seems to be on the brink of going haywire has indeed been following a grander blueprint. The writers know what they’re doing. We’re in good hands

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The show had to eventually reach a “cards on the table” point with The Farm plotline, when the writing staff could no longer forestall revealing the totality of the group’s evil doings. We know they’ve been brainwashing, ritually drowning, pretty average cult stuff, but there has to be a point to all their manipulation. I recently spoke with director Mary Harron about her new Charlie Manson movie, and one of the things she said that stuck with me was about cult leaders never being original. They talk a big game about utopia, about launching a revolution amongst themselves, but it always comes down to the same old shit: money, sex with younger women, or indulgence of violent impulses. If they’re building a new world, it’s one in which they’re allowed to get away with anything.

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Edgar Evernever, for all his seductive ideas and comforting words and inhumanly defined abs, is just another grifter trying to squeeze some cash out of the gullible. He only wants you for your precious, expensive viscera. We all knew something messed-up was going down at The Farm, but “black-market organ harvesting under the guise of New Age faith-healer nonsense” is an impressively loopy pick. He’s got a talent for identifying someone’s weakest spot, instantly honing in on Betty’s shadow-self and letting her do the rest of the mental legwork while trapped in hypnosis. Once he’s got a person destabilized and wracked with emotional pain, he transmutes that into physical pain, which can be removed with a simple, deeply invasive medical procedure. It’s a well-oiled machine of deception and highly lucrative predation. If Betty’s piece of this season could be busted out of the series and reshaped into its own movie, it’d work just fine.

This litmus test of functionality reflects more poorly on Veronica’s go of Season 3. She’s spent this year backtracking and contradicting herself, navigating an obstacle course of retcons both professional and personal. She was under her dad’s thumb, then she wasn’t, except she was, but she wasn’t, and just when it seemed like she definitely was, she turned it around once more. The revelation that her various properties had all been signed under Hiram’s names turns out to be a blessing in disguise, because now she’s got someone to pin all her illegal activities on. It’s not as if that was depicted as a particularly pressing issue for her before the reversal of fortune, but it’s an easy out. One call to the FBI (an agency willing to glance past their question of “Aren’t those crimes you committed?” to Veronica in the interest of landing a bigger fish in Hiram), one sting operation with a boxing match for its cover, and his scheme to privatize the entire town has fallen apart.

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Her life and how it’s written aren’t any less messy on the romantic front. After having been shuffled off into a time-out of irrelevance, Reggie’s back and he wants to get serious. What do you know, he’s right on time for Archie to develop a serious interest in Veronica yet again, cuing up a proper love triangle. The show has painstakingly avoided this device with regard to Archie, Betty, and Veronica, but anyone who’s watched the show this long won’t be surprised that Roberto Aguire-Sacasa considers two boys fighting over a girl to be more compelling TV than two girls fighting over a boy. This could be resolved in next week’s finale, or this conflict could be the focus of Veronica’s life in season 4.

Veronica’s section of the episode contains plenty of bits that hold up in isolation; the shot of Archie’s bloody retainer flying out of his mouth, the camp-adjacent (or is it!) performance of “Daddy Lessons,” the subtext-laden homoeroticism of Veronica’s half-naked boyfriend and father beating each other to a pulp. But it lacks the cohesion of Betty’s plot, the satisfying feeling that everything is now locking into place. She’s got no endgame, and moreover, no sense of what game she’s playing or when it might end.

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Most of the time, it’s not a problem when shit doesn’t add up on Riverdale, at least not for me. I’m not going to get bogged down in Cheryl Blossom’s reasoning for staying behind and letting Toni Topaz escape when they both could have easily made it out of that window. I’ve got no trouble accepting that Jason Blossom’s death video was apparently faked. It’s a soap opera, and the highly implausible is par for the course. But that friendliness with the absurd must be marshaled to create pleasure, such as the horde of boy scouts that attack Jughead, and not to obstruct it. The constant flip-flopping on Planet Veronica has gotten in the way of her best self, the social butterfly flightily causing drama wherever she goes. She’s been up to her knees in paperwork and contracts, and two strapping boys vying for her attention could snap her out of this workaholic phase. It’s not an endgame, but rather a continuation of the game.

Everybody else seems to bracing for the end, or at least the end of this segment of the middle. Hiram’s in cuffs, Archie’s swapped parents, and a new phase is on the horizon. After years of Black Hoods and Gargoyle Kings, everyone’s ready for a new menace. There’s a spirit of rebirth in the air, but there’s no birth without blood. Next week’s finale will undoubtedly cue our cast up for something new. Before that, there’s one last bit of hell to get through. Reckonings with an escaped Hal and a resurrected Jason are in order, and every endgame has to have a loser.

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Stray observations: 

- Has The CW started manufacturing copies of the cute Farm ringer tee for sale yet? I’d buy one. Would be a good way to pick out simpatico minds in a crowd.

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- The MAOA and CDH13 diagnosis Betty was nervous about? Pseudo-science! The notion of the “warrior gene” or “psychopath gene” has been widely debunked by academics, dismissed as sensationalist pop-psych promoted by the exact strain of pulp to which Riverdale loves to allude.

- Before the payoff showing her jamming the wax into her ears to block out the hypnosis, Odysseus-style, I thought Betty might have been squishing the wax between her fingers as a nod to Joaquin Phoenix in You Were Never Really Here squishing the green jellybean. That movie changed the way I eat jellybeans forever.

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- Cheryl Blossom takes the week off from her reign as One-Liner of the Week queen, temporarily ceding the spot to Veronica, who responds to an inquiry of how she’s holding up with “by a gossamer thread.” Or maybe Hiram, who tells Archie that “there’s nothing soft about me” in yet another steam room scene. Flashes of Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, when Tura Satana shoots down an offer of a soft drink by saying, “Everything-a we touch is hard.”

- Out in the real world, the royal baby has been named Archie. Truly, the influence of this show knows no bounds.

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