This Riverdale review contains spoilers.
Riverdale Episode 13
As the first season of Riverdale comes to a dramatic close, the lives of Archie and his pals and gals are forever changed. Fred Andrews is dead (probably), Archie and Veronica have slept together, Cheryl has torched Thornhill, Jughead has become a South Side Serpent. The time of carefree nights packed with drinking milkshakes at Pop’s is now a memory…especially since the gang’s safe haven is now a crime scene. Why one can practically already hear the emo cover of “The End of the Innocence” kicking off the second season.
All in all, it was a pretty eventful finale. Yet one that, from an admittedly diehard Archie fan’s point-of-view, felt mildly underwhelming given how much the show has been working overtime recently to hint at darker, more supernatural forces that may be on the move into Riverdale — ones that are tied to a certain teenage witch. Yes friends, Sabrina did not make an appearance in tonight’s episode, despite rumors that have been swirling since the series’ debut that she would arrive at the end of the season. (Something that star K.J. Apa himself confirmed last year at SDCC). So as much that went down tonight that was great — and there was a lot — it feels a bit deflated under the expectations that Sabrina was going to somehow show up.
That pink elephant in the room now discussed, let us take on the episode at hand, and judge it on its own witch-free merits.
This season-ender was a juggling act between the revealtion of secrets and establishing new mysteries that will dominate the next season. Of the former, we learned that the Blossom family’s maple syrup business was a front for a heroin-funnelling and dealing business — one that apparently was so hardcore that Clifford killed his only son for not wanting to be a part of it. It also was apparently such, er, sticky business that even FP and his crew didn’t want to be a part of it. “Serpents don’t get into the hard stuff,” FP mused, hilariously.
Suitably, Cheryl got the most melodramatic storyline of the evening, with an icy suicide attempt that was followed by her burning Thornhill to the ground in a symbolic rebirth. It’s unclear exactly where the character will go from her — she even gave up being HBIC of the River Vixens — but she almost certainly will not be one to be trifled with next season. Which is fine with me, as Madeline Petsch’s consistently over-the-top performance is a highlight of the show.
Over in Cooperville, we learn that the argument that Hal and Alice had years before at the Homecoming Dance, the one hinted at during the uncomfortable dinner with the Joneses, was because Alice was pregnant. She went to the Sisters of Quiet Mercy and eventually gave her child up for adoption. Which means somewhere out there Betty and Polly have an older brother. Expect to see him sooner rather than later, that is if we don’t somehow know him already. Betty decides to use her pulpit as Editor-in-Chief of the Blue & Gold to point out the town’s hypocrisy and exonerate FP. A noble effort, but one that comes with the price tag of getting the words “go to hell Serpent slut” written on her locker in pig’s blood — shades of writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s Carrie remake — accompanied by a hanging effigy of herself.
Jughead continued his streak of being put through the ringer tonight. First having to leave Riverdale High to attend the wrong side of the tracks school South Side High, then having to be put into foster care (as of this point we know nothing of his new family other than they’re “nice”). All the while he is dealing with an imprisoned father who must himself choose between helping the authorities and betraying the Serpents. Tough breaks for the Jones family. By episode’s end, FP’s fate remains uncertain, but things are clearer for Jughead: He fits in perfectly at his new school, and he has decided to become a Serpent himself. Betty, as one can imagine, is not pleased. The dissapointment on her face as she watched him accept his jacket shortly after they declared their love for each other is heartbreaking. Well in a Riverdale way at least.
As for Veronica, she is contending with the imminent return from prison of her dad. She seems more convinced than ever that her pop is a very bad man, even with her mother cooing “he’s your father, not the Godfather” at her. But Hermione is increasingly not to be trusted. First she tries to manipulate Fred into selling out his business under the guise of not wanting him to get wrapped up in the whole Lodge/Serpents kerfuffle…even though he’s already in deep. (Point to ponder: Was the robbery at Pop’s staged by Hiram in order to get Fred out of the way?) Then she encourages Veronica to sexually manipulate Archie into doing her bidding, a strategy the young Lodge wants nothing to do with and even going so far as referring to her mom as “Lady Macbeth.”
It was an episode that worked overtime to remind viewers that Riverdale is a town at a crossroads, celebrating its 75th anniversary jubilee against the backdrop of the most tumultous time in its history. There’s a growing civil war within Riverdale, one between those who wish to preserve the innocence it once represented and those who wish to bring it into chaos. As Betty’s speech eloquently put it, Riverdale is Archie Andrews. Just as it is Veronica Lodge, Jughead Jones, and all these other characters we’ve come to love over the past 13 episodes. As the credits run, all of their lives are full of pain and confusion. Terrible for them, but great for us viewers. Season 2 can’t get here quick enough.
– Well it’s about damn time. Seriously, Jughead without burgers just felt so wrong and was, far and away, my biggest complaint about this inaugural season. I’m fine with Archie schtupping Ms. Grundy. Have no issue with “Sugar Sugar” being a Josie and the Pussycats instead of The Archies’ signature jam. But Jughead not devouring hamburgers every minute? NOPE. So my eternal gratitude to the Riverdale crew for finally repairing this shocking omission.
– We learn that the reason the Andrews can’t just take in Jughead full time is because Fred had a DUI after Mary left him. Some nice character building there. It certainly looks like Fred Andrews is down for the count, but maybe Riverdale will just have him in a coma for awhile? Without the core guidance that Fred provides Archie is going to go off the rails. That might just be a welcome character development that will put him front and center next season, instead of having him sidelined with his own stories like he was so much this year.
– Two more brief Archie notes. First: Kudos for K.J. Apa’s acting in the scene where he attempts to rescue Cheryl. Apparently he broke his hand in real-life filming that scene. Secondly, this season had some truly stellar musical sequences that were full of fun and style. Why then was the song at the Riverdale 75th Anniversary such a forgettable dud? And man, Veronica added nothing to this performance either. Womp to the womp.
– As a friend at the viewing party I attended tonight mentioned, sex after milkshakes is always a terrible idea.
– HOT DOG APPEARED ON RIVERDALE! Which gives me chance to share some history: The character of Hot Dog made his debut when The Archie Show premiered in September of 1968. That December, Pep #224 featured the character in the comics for the first time — as Archie’s dog. Subsequent appearances had Hot Dog belonging to Jughead, which he has ever since. Hot Dog also plays a crucial role in the Afterlife with Archie comic, which is something I’ll get into if the show ever decides to take that route.
-Best line of the episode? Cheryl’s telling Jughead that if he pawns her “iconic” spider brooch that the money raised would be “enough to keep you in burgers and ‘S’ T-shirts for years.”
– I mentioned earlier my disappointment in the lack of Sabrina the Teenage Witch in this episode, but technically that’s incorrect. She did kind of appear. In his prison cell FP is holding an issue of the short-lived 1970s comic Chilling Adventures in Sorcery, a horror anthology in which Sabrina introduced each story. As you can see, Skeet Ulrich careful held the issue in such a way that the image of Sabrina was obscured.
– More supernatural foreshadowing: Betty says “something wicked this way comes” and names her article “The Riverdale Witch Trial.” Penelope Blossom mentions how her entire family is cursed. And, perhaps most interestingly, Cheryl sees a zombified Jason underwater. Hopefully all of this will lead to something in the second season, because as I’m prone to saying, weird Archie is the best Archie.
– Finally, as Den of Geek’s Archie guy and someone who has spent a large chunk of his professional life writing about Archie Comics, seeing Riverdale come to television has been something of a dream come true. It doesn’t hurt either that the show has had one of the strongest debut seasons in recent memory. Thank you for reading my wrapups every week. I’ll continue to cover all things Riverdale until the second season premieres. And when it does, I’ll be right back here again with my thoughts every week. I hope you will too. Until then, have a burger and shake at Pop’s for me.