Why Riverdale’s Shocking Twist Reinvigorates The Series

The sixth season of Riverdale gets underway by doing the unthinkable...and it is glorious.

Riverdale -- “Chapter Ninety-Six: Welcome to Rivervale” -- Image Number: RVD601a_0115r -- Pictured (L - R): Drew Ray Tanner as Fangs Fogarty, Vanessa Morgan as Toni Topaz, Madelaine Petsch as Cheryl Blossom, Alvin Sanders as Pop Tate, Camila Mendes as Veronica Lodge, Erinn Westbrook as Tabitha Tate and Cole Sprouse as Jughead Jones -- Photo: Kailey Schwerman/The CW -- © 2021 The CW Network, LLC. All rights reserved.
Photo: The CW

This RIVERDALE review contains spoilers

Riverdale Season 6 Episode 1

Last season, Riverdale jumped ahead in time to skip over the gang’s college and re-contextualize their relationships with each other. That, meshed with subplots about everything from Mothmen to murderous truckers to Mr. Lodge’s latest (and for now at least, last) criminal scheme, resulted in the most uneven season of the series to date. In short order, the standard weirdness of Riverdale had become rote. Something massive had to change in order for the series to evolve. And so plans were hatched for a five-part season opening event called Rivervale.

Much like the current Doctor Who: Flux and The Flash: Armageddon, this miniseries aims to thrust the show into a bold new direction. We have now witnessed the first part of this experiment, and it’s clear that by breaking all of it’s own rules Riverdale, er, Rivervale has creatively reinvigorated itself.

And all it took to do this was murdering Archie Andrews.

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Yep, Archie is dead. Like really dead. Like Cheryl and the entire town conspired to rip his heart out of his chest to appease the Maple Maiden and restore life to the barren ground and wombs of Rivervale dead. It’s really wild and hours later I still can’t believe the show took this chance. And the thing is? It really needed to do this.

The dirty little secret about Riverdale for nearly its entire run is that its purported lead is also its least compelling character. Saddled with suplots about everything from prison fight clubs to PTSD that only ever tangentially connect to the main narrative, Archie has been this show’s biggest problem for awhile now. So why not just kill him? As someone who has been reviewing this series since day one, I’ve wondered what would happen if the perennially underwritten hero would meet his end. To be clear, KJ Apa does the best anyone could with the overly earnest character, it’s a problem the source comics have as well. Surrounded by more interesting figures, Archie is bound to get lost in the shuffle. But to actually kill him off (albeit obviously temporarily) is still a huge swing that is most welcome.

Now that we are in the “shadow town” that is Rivervale, such daring chances can be taken. And if Archie can have his beating heart ripped out of his chest, you’d better believe that anyone else can go in a moment’s notice. It’s not just the possibility of a body count here that is thrilling, but the sense that this show is completely and fully unhinged. Forget about the ships and schemes that are Riverdale‘s bread and butter, they’ve been replaced by sheer madness.

Obviously the leaning into supernatural elements easily accommodates the arrival of Kiernan Shipka’s Sabrina in a few weeks, but much more than this it allows showrunner Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa to bring the creepy elements of his Archie horror comic work to the forefront on the series. Even with it’s Gargoyle Kings and Mothmen, Riverdale always had a rational reason behind its chaos. That’s out the window now, and what comes next is anyone’s guess. As a result, Rivervale is a must-visit TV destination. I genuinely can’t wait to see where things go from here…and it’s been far too long since I’ve felt that way about this series.

Rivervale Rundown

  • Okay, so Archie obviously isn’t going to stay dead, so what do you think is really going on here? The smart money is on a coma dream endured by Archie or Betty in the aftermath of Mr. Lodge blowing up the Andrews household in the fifth season finale.
  • So the only Blu-ray at Thornhill is Midsommar, right?
  • Hilariously, Archie Comics tweeted “hey @CW_Riverdale we just want to talk” moments after its namesake died on screen.
  • Cole Sprouse gets to flex his acting muscles a bit by playing a smarmy take on Rod Sterling in the Rivervale intro segments.
  • The name Rivervale is an obvious homage to Welcome to Night Vale.
  • In this episode we learn that Uncle Frank’s secret mercenary work cost him the lives of his wife and daughter. It’s hilarious that instead of giving him his own back story, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa essentially just made him Frank Castle…so this is the closest we will ever get to Archie Meets the Punisher.
  • Cheryl and her flock are worshiping the Pagan goddess the Maple Maiden, because of course they are.
  • Toni won’t put a toad in her baby’s mouth for a second but she will leave him in Fox Forest overnight. Okay, got it. Once the whole maple cult thing dies down, Rivervale really could use some pediatricians.
  • How do we feel about Reggie and Veronica being Rivervale’s “premiere power couple?”
  • Kevin setting up Archie was brutal, as was Veronica knocking him out with a brick. Ruthless, these Rivervale kids are.
  • Archie Andrews was 25 at the time of his death. R.I.P. pal.
  • Kudos for Cheryl by referring to the Veronica and Reggie coupling as “Veggie,” you know you were thinking it.
  • There was a lot of Dr. Curdle Jr. in this episode, which is yet another reason to celebrate it.
  • Jughead apparently is quite the comic book collector. A big deal is made out of this and then it is never mentioned again so it will be interesting to see if anything comes of this potential plotline.
  • “I get it, I’d be obsessed with me too.” Even at her most evil, Cheryl still has a way with words.
  • What exactly is Cheryl’s “ancient cleansing formula” and how does it take over the mind of an otherwise rational person like Betty?
  • Along with the aforementioned Midsommar, Creepshow gets referenced in this episode. Expect more horror homages as this miniseries rolls towards its (almost certainly) insane conclusion.
  • Rivervale is the town with heart. Nice touch.