Editor's Note: This is (strictly speaking, no guarantee) the longest article we've ever published in the history of Street. Sadly, as much as we'd like to, we at the office can't watch the show back–to–back together in order to copy edit the piece and make sure Isaac has got every tiny detail right—that's the task we've left to all of you. I can't speak for everyone else, but I'm so ready to dive into Riverdale world immediately after this is published.
— Weike Li, Film & TV Editor
SEASON ONE: We open (and, seven years later, will close) on a suburban nightmare in upstate New York. Cheryl Blossom is shivering on the banks of Sweetwater River, dark mascara trails and bright red hair stark against her pale face. Her brother is dead. And she swears she didn’t do it.
Jason Blossom has died. Not on July 4, when he, Cheryl, and Jason’s girlfriend, Polly Cooper (Betty’s older sister, shipped away to the Sisters of Quiet Mercy church/orphanage/mental facility/gay conversion camp by her mother to go be pregnant elsewhere) faked Jason’s death to get Jason and Polly from the clutches of their disapproving, upper (the Blossoms)/upper–middle (the Coopers) class parents and their suburban sensibilities. No, he was shot dead.
We go, led via dry and dramatic narration by writer Jughead Jones who hopes to novelize this true crime, through a list of suspects: Cheryl herself, of course, but she’s innocent; FP Jones, Jughead’s alcoholic, deadbeat dad, the leader of a gang on the stereotypical Wrong Side Of The Tracks called the Southside Serpents; the shady, mafia–involved, new–to–town Lodge family, with its patriarch, Hiram, still powerful despite being behind bars back in NYC; and we land finally on Clifford Blossom, who employed some Serpents to help him, but who ultimately shot Jason point blank himself when it became clear that Jason would expose his maple syrup business as a front for a heroin smuggling endeavor. (This is far from the last time that Riverdale will have a drug–related plot, but it’s the last time they’ll be real drugs.) This is not a reason anyone was suspecting, because they all thought that if someone in the family committed violence against Jason, it would have been due to the fact that Jason and Polly were actually cousins, something that the two of them did not know but that a handful of adults did.
Also, there’s of course a Betty/Archie/Veronica love triangle going on. He ends up with Veronica. Betty ends up with Jughead (who joins the Serpents). And Archie has a Troy Bolton arc, having to pick between music (compelling to him because he loves it, a love that is facilitated by his grown adult music teacher preying on him, something that no one really seems to care about because they have a very men–can’t–get–sexually–assaulted mindframe) and football (compelling to him because Archie Represents American Masculinity). Riverdale treats Archie’s choice like it's Sophie’s, and never really drops this uncompelling pick–a–side storyline. In the end, of course, he figures out that you can do both. (Foreshadowing for season seven Archie's bisexuality!)
Things In Season One I Didn’t Have Time To Talk About But Are Great And/Or Insane: Josie and the Pussycats; Jughead living at the drive–in movie theater; Kevin Keller having a Serpent boyfriend who, two seasons later, kisses and stabs Archie; Reggie Mantle being played by a different actor than he will be played by for the rest of the show; Alice Cooper having given up a son before Betty to the Sisters because she got teenage pregnant; Betty having a weird memory–repressed alter ego she calls Dark Betty; Cheryl burning her house down; the fact that, before he got a boyfriend, Kevin was hooking up with a closeted guy named Moose, about whom he says, “his name may be Moose but I would describe a certain appendage of his as horse–like;” Betty and Veronica kissing in the very first episode of the show.
And that’s season one of Riverdale!
SEASON TWO: Fred Andrews is shot by a man in a black hood in the middle of Pop’s Chock’lit Shoppe. He survives, thankfully, becoming the first person targeted by Riverdale’s latest criminal: a serial killer targeting sinners. He shoots Fred because Fred was having an affair with Hermione Lodge, Veronica’s mom, last season; Fred is separated from his wife (played by Molly Ringwald) but not divorced from her, and Hiram and Hermione remain married despite the jail of it all. Also, Grundy (Archie’s pedophile music teacher) gets killed by the Black Hood. Maybe serial killers made some points!
The central mystery (still narrated via voiceover by Jughead, as nearly every episode in Riverdale is) for season two is, of course, Who Is The Black Hood? The answer—spoiler alert—is Hal Cooper, Betty’s dad. Betty goes through various and sundry crises about this, convincing herself (not for the last time!) that she’s evil due to her patronage.
Meanwhile, Veronica decides to get religious about her parents’ separation, and Jughead finds himself at school in the Southside where, much to his girlfriend Betty’s surprise, he bonds with his fellow disenfranchised youths. Of the Southside gang, the most relevant is Toni Topaz, an adorable Serpent who has a weeklong fling with Jughead before telling him that she prefers girls (and, subsequently, pursuing a majorly repressed Cheryl.)
Archie forms a vigilante group, which goes over complicatedly. Alice attacks the Southside (from whence she secretly came) and leads Riverdalian bureaucracy to do the same, largely under the guise of cleaning the streets up of a drug known as Jingle Jangle (think: what if Pixy Stix was cocaine?) which is being distributed by the Ghoulies, a rival gang to the Serpents. But the real terror of the town is Nick St. Clair, Veronica’s NYC ex–friend who roofies and almost rapes Cheryl before being beaten to shit by first Veronica and the Pussycats, and then Archie. FP Jones gets out of prison, and the Southside school joins Riverdale High for plot reasons (very reverse Friday Night Lights, if football was gang warfare), and Betty engages with the man she thinks is her half–brother by way of FP. His name is Chic, and he ends up being an imposter who later gets married to her actual half–brother, an FBI agent named Charles. This show rules.
Class conflict is at a breaking point in Riverdale, and Archie, our working class all–American hero, is torn between his best friend Jughead and his proletariat cause, and his exploitative upper–class girlfriend. Ultimately, he wants to be seen as an okay choice for Veronica in Hiram’s eyes, and becomes a class traitor. The gang goes to the Hamptons about this, and Veronica kisses Jughead. Back in Riverdale, Cheryl watches Love, Simon and realizes she’s a lesbian. She then gets sent to conversion therapy at the Sisters of Quiet Mercy, gets broken out, and kisses Toni, beginning what will be one of the longest–running, most entertaining, and most insane romances on Riverdale.
After some mob drama, season two introduces what will become a Riverdale institution as synonymous with the name as Pop’s is with the town: this season’s musical episode. In season two, it’s Carrie, a musical that is … not good! Kevin is directing, and Betty, Veronica, and Archie have all been typecast as, respectively, Sue, Chris, and Tommy. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, watch the amazing 1976 movie, and skip the musical.) Cheryl has decided she will be Carrie. Jughead, being Jughead, is staying behind the scenes, acting as a documentarian and videographer. A random other student named Midge Klump is killed, her body pinned to the set on opening night. The Black Hood is still at large.
The mayoral race heats up (Hermione ultimately wins against Fred), and Cheryl emancipates herself from her horrible mother. Veronica also severs her familial ties. The Southsiders stage a protest to be accepted in the Riverdalian community, which they … sort of are, and for Riverdale to acknowledge its racist, colonialist past, which it … sort of does. FP retires as a Serpent, leaving Jughead as Serpent King, and Cheryl becomes a Serpent, which lasts about 10 episodes into season three. And we find out that the Black Hood is Hal Cooper, Betty’s dad, who has his own childhood trauma that I don’t care about, who decides killing people is a better option than talk therapy. Lastly, Archie gets arrested for a murder that happened a few episodes ago (too boring to talk about) that he didn’t commit.
Things In Season Two I Didn’t Have Time To Talk About But Are Great And/Or Insane: literally every Mayor McCoy plotline; mafia speed dating; Betty doing a weird striptease for the White Wyrm (the Serpents’ club) to be an honorary Serpent; side character Ethel Muggs reading Ship It, a book by Riverdale staff writer/story editor Britta Lundin, in a throwaway shot; the Canadian mafia that rivals Hiram being headed by men named Papa Poutine and Small Fry; Chic and Alice straight up killing a guy; Chic getting Betty into being a camgirl; Cheryl giving Josie an actual pig heart as a fucked–up secret admirer gift; Andy Cohen making a cameo.
And that’s season two of Riverdale!
SEASON THREE: My favorite season! Riverdale does the '80s far better than Stranger Things ever could, with an off–the–rails Satanic Panic/War on Drugs/cult craziness spoof that even manages to get in a dig at Michelle Remembers’ memory repression obsession.
Archie enjoys his final days of summer before heading off to juvie. Meanwhile, Betty’s dealing with cult BS, because her mother and sister have both been wholly indoctrinated by The Farm, Riverdale’s local cult. Veronica, who has purchased some space below Pop’s, opens up her age–appropriate speakeasy called La Bonne Nuit, and a game called Gryphons & Gargoyles (a Dungeons & Dragons spoof) gains popularity, along with a new street drug called Fizzle Rocks (think: what if Pop Rocks was cocaine, and also a hallucinogenic?).
This brings us to possibly my favorite episode of the series, 3x04, "The Midnight Club," which is, predictably, a spoof on The Breakfast Club that follows the parents in high school, all portrayed by the actors of their children largely playing against type (so, for example, Lili Reinhart, Betty’s actress, as a fantastically edgy teenage Alice Cooper), as they bond in detention. The Joneses are trapped in a cycle of alcoholism and abuse. The Andrewses are the Good Guys. The Coopers are trying far too hard to not be out of place. The Blossoms have an upsetting history of grooming and incest. And the Lodges are only able to contest their outsider status due to being Latino with their burgeoning upward mobility gained via Hiram’s new gig as a mobster. Oh, small town America! (Also there’s the plot about Alice having been teenage pregnant—this is the whole Chic/Charles storyline we’ve gone through. I care so much less about this than I do about Mark Consuelos’ actual son playing a young Hiram Lodge.) And, most importantly, the parents all played G&G together back in the '80s.
Back in the present day, Veronica is trying to get her boyfriend out of prison; Archie, meanwhile is developing a friendship with fellow inmate Mad Dog, while also getting involved with the juvie’s underground boxing ring. And pontificating about the epic highs and lows of high school football. Betty investigates the identity of the Gargoyle King, the mastermind behind G&G who is causing all these impressionable children to fall prey to the machinations of this evil, Satanic roleplaying game.
Archie ends up getting broken out of prison, and goes on the no–homo run with Jughead to Toledo, Ohio, where Jughead’s mom, Gina Gershon, leads a Midwestern faction of the Serpents, and Jughead’s little sister, Jellybean, is androgynously going by JB and wielding a fierce slingshot. The boys can’t live out their Kerouacian escapist fantasies forever, though, and wind up coming home (with Archie taking a quick detour to get attacked by a bear in what sort of feels like a suicide metaphor and certainly feels like a fever dream).
Betty leads a breakout from the Sisters of Quiet Mercy, including freeing side character Ethel Muggs, who has a crush on Jughead, and Veronica has a brief thing with Reggie before Archie’s return. Alice gives all her money to The Farm, proving problematic for Betty, who wants to be able to afford college. Speaking of college, everyone has to take the SAT, which is a fantastic little plotline that they take as seriously as the gang warfare and cult tithing stories. Archie, who has missed most of his year so far due to prison and being on the lam, does not do so well.
Betty visits her dad in prison. A Serpent, Tall Boy, gets unmasked as the Gargoyle King … but we all know he’s a red herring. Archie finds out about Veronica’s dalliance with Reggie, and they end things. Hiram gets shot; Ronnie, in her grief, falls into Reggie’s arms. FP becomes Riverdale’s new sheriff, which is politically complicated at best.
Josie’s mom and Kevin’s dad are getting married! On the other side of the law, Ronnie and Reggie become a crime couple. Archie decides he could get a boxing scholarship, and puts on an exhibition match for his mom Molly Ringwald’s new girlfriend. Betty’s determined to save her family from The Farm, and Jughead’s determined to save his found family from Fizzle Rocks, a drug being pushed not by the Ghoulies but by his actual family—his mom’s come to town and has decided to go all Walter White. Archie, who has been getting attacked left and right, finds out that Hiram has been printing out quest cards to get G&G players to kill the “Red Paladin” (aka Archie). G&G players have sacrificed members before; Archie wouldn’t be the first casualty.
Naturally, it’s time for a musical. This year they’re doing Heathers. Choni has a sexually charged dance battle. The whoosh sound effect gets overused every time a girl whips her hair. Casey Cott (Kevin) remains leagues above everyone in terms of vocal talent (shoutout Christian!). Bughead makes out after setting fire to Gina Gershon’s Fizzle Rocks lab in a rare moment of me believing they’re actually into each other romantically. Thankfully, no one dies this episode, but Kevin and Fangs do become full–fledged Farmies. The episode ends with a harrowing slow–clap from an audience largely dressed in all white—they’re all Farmies, including the principal.
Betty’s on the Farm–focused warpath, and she finds out that Evelyn, a fellow student, head Farmie recruiter, and supposed daughter to the cult’s leader, is actually his wife. She’s in her late twenties but still passes as a high school student. Meta. Betty also starts to figure out that it’s an organ harvesting cult. Kevin’s already had his kidney taken, and once Betty convinces Cheryl that Toni could be next, the two of them stage a breakout for Toni. But Kevin and Fangs capture Betty. She almost gets lobotomized. Thankfully, she doesn't.
Hal Cooper apparently died in an explosion when a bus was transporting prisoners to a different prison, but Betty doesn’t believe this. She also has time to get crowned Prom Queen. Veronica, with her two men beside her, squares up to her father, getting him arrested by the FBI and securing Pop’s and La Bonne Nuit, her speakeasy, for herself.
BETTY IS REVEALED TO HAVE THE SERIAL KILLER GENES! I have to say that in all caps because it’s maybe the best moment in the whole show. This is where the season’s mockery of the Satanic Panic really comes to a peak, satirizing the false memory/ritual abuse post–Michelle Remembers hysteria, having Polly and The Farm essentially causing Betty to fabricate questionable memories. It’s legitimately very well done.
And finally, we’ve reached the end of the season. The Core Four receive mysterious invitations, leading them to Thistlehouse, the Blossom Manor. They’re guests at a dinner party courtesy of one Penelope Blossom—the real Gargoyle King (even if her crony Chic is wearing the actual costume), who is taking the crimes of the Four’s parents out upon our protagonist, those sons and daughters. Penelope sends them on a journey into the woods where they each have to face their pasts. Archie squares off against a bear. Veronica is forced to be unselfish and drink poison, saving Betty. Jughead has to fight Chic, which feels the least thematically appropriate for the Four, but whatever. And Betty is told to kill her father.
She can’t do it. Penelope does. Just when we think our Four might be in serious trouble, the Serpents show up and save the day. Penelope escapes.
We start to wrap things up. Archie and his juvie boxing buddy Mad Dog turn the El Royale, Riverdale’s boxing ring, into a community center. Alice turns out to have been an FBI informant using Charles, her son, to take down The Farm. The Core Four go to Pop’s, get some milkshakes, and toast to a drama–free senior year. Then we flash forward to Archie and the girls in their underwear, covered in blood, throwing a very conspicuous stupid hat onto a fire. Jughead is nowhere to be seen.
Things In Season Three I Didn’t Have Time To Talk About But Are Great And/Or Insane: all the cheerleaders having a mass seizure at the same time; Penelope Blossom running a brothel; Cheryl and Toni forming a girl gang; Mark Consuelos’ mistress being played by his real–life wife, Kelly Ripa; Cheryl finding her brother’s very well–preserved corpse; the introduction of Veronica’s go–to disguise, the cheapest blonde wig known to man and a pair of midcentury starlet sunglasses that goes by the name Monica Posh; Josie being the smartest of them all and deciding to leave Riverdale (Ashleigh Murray, you will be missed!).
And that’s season three of Riverdale!
SEASON FOUR: A moment for Luke Perry. Both in and out of the world of Riverdale. He was truly an icon. The season starts with a memorial to the actor and the character he played, and it is a lovely, moving, and somber tribute.
The rest of the season is far less grounded. We open on a Riverdale contentious, with Reggie’s abusive dad and the school’s new principal stepping confidently into the roles of Authority That Will Cause Our Kids Problems. Jughead gets an offer to go to Bennington–College–But–High–School (it’s named Stonewall Prep, but let’s call it what it is), complete with the absolutely fantastic characters that we will later meet, Donna Sweett (loosely based on Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch) and Bret Weston Wallis (loosely based off of Bret Easton Ellis, American Psycho). In the episode in which this institution is introduced, we see Veronica reading Tartt’s The Secret History. It is impossible to overstate how much I love this show.
Kevin’s the one with cult problems this season. There’s FBI activity (see: Betty/Jughead half–brother subplot from the prior season) involving Kevin’s relentlessly boring boyfriend, Fangs. Oh, Kevin. On the topic of gay characters with tenuous grasps on their mental health, Cheryl is hiding her dead–a–few–years twin’s embalmed corpse from her girlfriend. It’s a whole thing.
The central mystery is a dreadfully boring one: who is taking weird stalker tapes of peoples’ houses and staging faux snuff films enacting the crimes of Riverdale past? I really don’t care, because I’m much more occupied with the Jughead–faking–his–death–avenging–his–family–legacy–and–grappling–with–the–cycles–of–abuse plotline. (Spoiler alert for early season five, the Voyeur videotaping people creepily is JB trying to force Jughead to stay home instead of going to college, as she was finally developing a relationship with him. Average Riverdalian family dynamics!)
Jughead, meanwhile, is caught up in a game of psychological warfare, classism, and homoerotic tension with Bret that one could, ostensibly, refer to as dark academia–esque in nature. When the class is faced with the prospect of taking over the Baxter Brothers (Hardy Boys) series from its current author, Jughead quickly realizes that his classmates aim to kill him to secure their place as the new author. The contest to become the new author isn’t just a writing contest—it’s a contest of being able to pull off a murder.
At a Bennington toga party where other three of the Core Four crash, Jughead is attacked by Donna, who then frames Betty for it. We return to the image we saw at the end of season three, of the girls and Archie burning Jughead’s beanie, but now we know that they’re not making a pact to keep quiet about his murder—they’re making a pact to keep quiet that he’s still alive. Jughead stays in the Sex Bunker (an old panic bunker that belonged to Dilton Doiley, a random Boy Scout, that the teens now like to hook up in) recuperating while the rest of the Four, led by his girlfriend Betty, buy enough time to figure out what happened, and ultimately, the Bennington kids get their comeuppance and Jughead gets authorship of the series. He also finds out that the series was originally conceived of by his grandfather, who, like FP, is also an alcoholic deadbeat dad. The cycles! They’re never—ending!
Meanwhile, back at Riverdale High, Cheryl’s feuding with Mr. Honey, the new principal, and having issues with her mother Penelope, who doesn’t want her to go to Highsmith College because she’s convinced Cheryl’s lesbianism will sully the historically women’s college. Sure. Cheryl also is convinced the ghost of her brother is haunting Thistlehouse. Turns out it’s just Penelope, who is living in the walls after what went down at the end of season three, gaslighting her.
On the topic of horrible family members, this season also heralds the arrival of literally the most loathsome character in Riverdale (which is impressive, considering how bad everyone’s parents are), Frank Andrews. The showrunners realized they could not afford Molly Ringwald full time, but, with the tragic passing of Luke Perry, they needed a guardian for Archie, so they made one up. Alice might be the worst mom ever, but at least Mädchen Amick is wildly entertaining. No offense to Uncle Frank’s actor, who is a totally fine actor, but man, is the character a black hole of boring every time he’s on screen. He only gets worse as the seasons go on. When talking about this show with friends, I have only ever referred to him as Uncle Flop.
The cult stuff from last season gets wrapped up with the Coopers, after Polly is forced to nearly suicide bomb them, running the Farmies out of town. Alice shoots Edgar, Evelyn goes to jail, and Betty rocks a very obviously Patty Hearst–inspired outfit. Archie and Mad Dog continue to work at the community center, helping at–risk youths and, at Veronica’s suggestion, spearheading a shirtless car wash to fund the center. This show equal–opportunity objectifies. Veronica finds herself caught between her parents, both of whom are on trial, and starts an illegal rum business about it, because she’s really bad at coping with her problems in a normal way.
Betty joins a junior FBI program because she wants to be part of the FBI; Kevin joins it to hang out with Betty and because he thinks Charles, her older brother and established FBI agent, is hot. Soon after, people start attacking Betty for seemingly no reason. She finds out that it’s because Evelyn, from behind bars, has been implementing a trigger word ("tangerine" said three times) that, when said to people, causes them to try to kill Betty. We also find out later that Charles has been a bad guy this whole time.
Then, because Riverdale wanted me to love it even more, Gina Torres guest stars! She plays a therapist, and each of the Core Four has a session with her. Betty talks about her mommy issues; Veronica talks about her daddy issues; Jughead gets accused of having a persecution complex and, though he’d clearly rather have invasive dental surgery than be in therapy, talks about his daddy issues. Archie does not talk about parental problems, as his parents were/are great. Gina Torres asks if he’s gay and talks about the pressure he feels to help everyone and the fact that he’s once again resorting to vigilantism.
Romantic relationships are tense in this season's musical: Hedwig and the Angry Inch. I would love to study the showrunner’s brain to figure out how we leapt from Carrie to Hedwig, and how we’ll end up at American Psycho in two seasons. The homophobic principal won’t let Kevin perform a number from it for the variety show, which understandably upsets Kevin. Bughead and Varchie both have blowout fights, leading to Betty and Archie stealing a cheating kiss during a cover of “The Origin of Love'' that is way better than it has any right being, if we ignore Cole Sprouse’s pronunciation of the word “fire.” Kevin kisses Archie, which is fun—Archie’s second gay kiss on screen (his first is in season one, when Kevin’s boyfriend kisses Archie before stabbing him)! Ultimately, acceptance prevails, with everyone showing up to support Kevin’s performance as Hedwig. It’s a really charming episode.
Things start to wrap themselves up in the back half of the season. This is when the Jughead murder mystery/writing contest plot plays out, and it culminates in him getting an invitation from the University of Iowa to participate in their writing program, which Riverdale is pretending is an undergrad program. Archie continues to have a crisis about what he’ll do after graduation, as he knows he can’t go to college. Betty aims for Yale University, and Veronica turns down a spot at Harvard University after learning her father paid for it. She ends up at Barnard College, and forms a tentatively–okay relationship with her parents, both of whom are out of jail. And homophobic Mr. Honey gets ousted as principal. Yay!
The couples kiss and make up for now, and that’s … pretty much where the season ends. Season four got cut short by COVID–19, so senior year can’t get wrapped up until the start of season five. So for now, we leave Archie at a place we so often find him—at a crossroads, a self–imposed burden weighing him down. We’ll see him in a few months.
Things In Season Four I Didn’t Have Time To Talk About But Are Great And/Or Insane: Veronica having a secret half–sister named Hermosa; the Bennington students trapping Jughead in a coffin; the fact that the prison Hiram gets sent to either at the end of this season or the start of the next is called Shankshaw; Cheryl tricking her relatives into thinking they did cannibalism; Hermosa implying that Veronica and Betty killed Jughead together so that they could run away and have a lesbian love affair; Cheryl giving her brother’s corpse a Viking funeral; Betty (in, admittedly, a reference to Silence of the Lambs) telling Donna, “We have to stop meeting like this. People will say we’re in love.”
And that’s season four of Riverdale!
SEASON FIVE: We spend a few short episodes finishing up senior year. Molly Ringwald is moving back to Chicago and selling the Andrews house. FP goes to Toledo with JB, which is sadly the last we see of Skeet Ulrich. Penelope turns herself into the police. Hermione decides to divorce Hiram for good and become a Real Housewife, which is perhaps the greatest choice Riverdale ever made.
The Riverkids, after burying a time capsule together, end up scattered. Jughead goes to Iowa; Veronica goes to New York; Betty goes to New Haven, Conn.; and Archie joins the military. Kevin goes to Carnegie Mellon University (also the actor’s alma mater!), and Fangs goes to the University of Pittsburgh (the two of them remain the only couple staying together). Cheryl decides to stay in Riverdale and not go to school; Toni goes to Highsmith. Reggie goes to Riverdale Community College. The Core Four vow to meet every year at Pop’s. Our ennui–filled narrator Jughead is, naturally, the only one who ever shows up.
And then we go to seven years in the future. Betty’s in the FBI, Veronica’s in grown–up Gossip Girl, Archie’s in The War (which one? Doesn’t matter.), and Jughead’s in the throes of a debilitating addiction that has developed due to his failure to follow up on the successes of his first book, and also due to a genetic predisposition towards drinking.
For moving–the–plot–forward reasons, the Core Four end up back in Riverdale, where Toni is now a guidance counselor, a social worker, the proprietor of the White Wyrm, and heavily pregnant with a child she’s going to raise along with Fangs and Kevin. She gets the Four to become teachers, as Riverdale and its school have been worn down to hopeless nothingness under Hiram Lodge’s iron rule, and because apparently, at times of educational strife like this, what we need most is Betty Cooper leading a shop class.
If it seems like there are bigger fish to fry than learning how to change a spare, that’s because there are. Gangs run amok, Hiram orchestrates a prison breakout, Archie’s PTSD from The War is worsening by the day, Polly’s missing and presumed dead, and, worst of all, Veronica is married to a Wall Street–er named Chadwick Gekko. (She solves that problem by refusing to become her mother, being trapped in a messed up marriage to a bad man for years, and shooting Chad dead. Good for her!)
In better news, we also get introduced to Tabitha Tate, Pop’s granddaughter. She and Jughead instantly hit it off, and it is a breath of fresh air to have Jughead be in a believable relationship after five seasons of me wanting to claw my eyes out every time Riverdale wanted me to pretend Jughead and Betty felt actual romantic attraction towards each other. Tabitha is a businesswoman from Chicago who came to Riverdale to take over Pop’s, and to capture my heart.
Jughead has a moment of memory loss in which he thinks he sees an alien ship. Tabitha, because she’s both the only sane one and the only non–Riverdalian, tells him that it’s probably just his addiction getting worse, and that he should really get some help. Jughead summarily ignores her, trapping himself in the Sex Bunker to do a lot of drugs and write a manuscript. He also finds out that he’s not crazy—reports of seeing Mothmen span decades. He decides to investigate this mystery.
Archie and Veronica rekindle their romance, and while Cheryl hopes to do the same with Toni, Toni’s not interested. In fact, she and Fangs get together, leaving Kevin alone and back to his high school cruising habit. Betty and Jughead, thankfully, stay firmly apart, falling into a much more entertaining dynamic as weird best friends who mainline true crime together.
Meanwhile, Hiram’s doing what he does best—causing trouble. (And Reggie’s doing what he does best—looking great in a suit while obeying the morally gray whims of a Lodge.) He’s trying to unincorporate Riverdale as a town and mine for palladium underneath it. We also get a fantastic episode called Citizen Lodge where Michael Consuelos, Mark Consuelos’ son, reprises his role as young Hiram Lodge—or, more accurately, young Jaime Luna. We see Jaime’s introduction to the underworld and his remolding of himself into Hiram, playing dirty to get ahead in a system that wants to keep him down.
Betty and Tabitha team up to try and find whoever killed Polly. (They also do shrooms together.) Cheryl gets an art collector girlfriend who is very pretty and whom I do not care about. We learn that Jughead somehow survived symptomatic rabies, which is random. Archie attempts to cope with his PTSD, and Cheryl and Kevin start a cult. Kevin really likes cults. Cheryl also essentially adopts a child named Britta who gets disowned by her parents for being gay. Britta also plays football. I would like to remind everyone about Riverdale former staff writer Britta Lundin and the plot of her second novel.
With Polly’s death being officially confirmed, it’s naturally time for a musical! This season, it’s Next to Normal. It’s great. They miss an opportunity to have the Coopers sing “Superboy and the Invisible Girl,” but Camila Mendes gives it a decent go.
Archie and Veronica break up. Tabitha introduces Jughead to her parents, which goes about as well as introducing Jughead to anyone’s parents would go. We find out that the Mothmen are really a group of illegitimate Blossoms who were the products of and continue to perpetrate incest and who have been living in the woods for generations, because with Riverdale, it really always comes back to cycles of abuse.
Betty moves up in FBI ranks and is still on the hunt for the Trash Bag Killer, a serial killer who severely traumatized her back in her early FBI days. Jughead makes out with a girl after committing arson for the second time this show, this time with Tabitha. Veronica and Reggie get back together, with Reggie deciding that this is the better Lodge, and they plan to start a casino together (I love a classic Veronica–Reggie mess around, by which I mean them being hot and doing something totally illegal).
After a dramatic town hall forum where Cheryl demands reparations for her ancestor being burned at the stake for being a lesbian witch, Riverdale’s government gets restructured. Toni, Tabitha, Alice, and Uncle Frank are put in charge as a council of four. And just as Betty and Archie are about to hook up, a bomb Hiram placed under Archie’s bed goes off, ending the season with—if you’ll permit a pun—a bang.
Things In Season Five I Didn’t Have Time To Talk About But Are Great And/Or Insane: a kid being named Lerman Logan; a Mothman being preserved in a vat of maple syrup; Veronica and Cheryl joining forces to make maple–based rum after Hiram sues Veronica for copyright infringement with her original recipe; Cheryl making money as an art forger; Archie being in a mine collapse and suffering carbon monoxide poisoning which causes him to hallucinate friends from The War; Jughead and Tabitha first meeting when he throws himself at her feet and begs her to help him, a stranger with a terrible mustache who is visibly day–drunk, hide from debt collectors.
And that’s season five of Riverdale!
SEASON SIX: Welcome to Rivervale, a town just like the Riverdale we’ve come to know and love, only … somewhat different. This season tackles folktales and comic books and the literal actual Bible, and, in a manner that somehow feels apt for all of these genres, has our trusty narrator Jughead doing a direct address on camera instead of simply snarking a voiceover. This Jughead is way more Wonka–esque than emo, which I find beyond entertaining, as it is incredibly amusing to watch Cole Sprouse struggle to keep a Jugheadian effect of teenage/young adult angst out of his delivery.
In Rivervale, just like in folktales and comic books and the literal actual Bible, important people don’t stay dead for too long. We see the gang all murder each other violently, and we see them rise from their graves. Jughead, with the help of Ethel Muggs (yay, return of Ethel!), figures out that Dilton Doiley (remember him? Me neither) is causing parallel universes to warp, or something. The actual plot details matter less than Veronica telling Jughead, “Let’s make out to save the world,” and being 100% sincere.
They don’t make out, but the world does get saved—with the caveat that this version of Jughead is confined to the Sex Bunker indefinitely, keeping the world alive as long as he’s writing its story. In the wake of the universe resetting, though, Betty starts seeing auras, Jughead loses his hearing but gains the ability to read minds, Veronica becomes venomous, Cheryl can control fire, Tabitha’s a time–traveler, Archie’s dog Bingo develops healing powers in his saliva, and Archie gets, and I quote, “heavier, denser. Also invulnerable.”
This is a result of the bomb at the central point between Riverdale and Rivervale. Another addition to this world via bomb physics is Percival Pickens, a British asshole. He causes chaos, turning Riverdale against our protagonists, but most notably, and in an incredibly racially motivated way, against Tabitha and Toni, getting them booted from the council that runs the town. He forcibly removes Riverdale’s homeless population, sees to the disbanding of the Serpents as a gang, and mind controls laborers into building a railway that would destroy Pop’s (don’t worry, Archie saves them from mind control by singing “Bread and Roses.”)
If that’s not enough, Kevin’s being a bootlicker, Veronica kills her dad, Betty’s still trying to get closure on TBK, Cheryl’s got a new girlfriend who is a witch, and Fangs and Toni are getting married. Which brings us to our season’s musical episode: a tribute to American Psycho: The Musical, a musical for which Riverdale’s showrunner is credited as a writer.
Is American Psycho a good musical? Not even a little bit. Is it worse than Carrie? Quite possibly! Do I care? Not at all, because American Psycho being in the Riverdale universe implies that Bret Weston Wallis’ parents named him after Bret Easton Ellis, author of the American Psycho book, and that’s incredibly funny to me. Also, Veronica sings a fantastically chaotic rendition of “The Ladies Who Lunch” from Company, so there’s still some good music in the episode.
Betty kills TBK after catching him at a Sandman–style serial killer convention. Jughead’s in the throes of some serious mental illness, cooped up in the Sex Bunker, writing nonstop, hearing voices, summoning Rivervale Jughead, and concerning Tabitha. Cheryl, Kevin, and Cheryl’s New Girlfriend have a plan to break up Toni and Fangs, but when it backfires by causing trouble for Baby Anthony, their baby, they call it off and Kevin gives up his custody battle. He decides to stop being a bootlicker and joins the gang in fighting Percival. They nearly have Percival, but he ends up releasing a series of biblical plagues, culminating in the death of the firstborn.
There’s a stupid crossover episode with Chilling Adventures of Sabrina to bring them all back (Jughead’s hearing fully restored) as well as Polly and Jason, Tabitha is canonized as Riverdale’s guardian angel, and we find out that Baby Anthony is immortal. Jughead tells Tabitha his theory that he’s a portal–opener, not a mind–reader; his insanity in the Sex Bunker was due to portal–opening, and that’s what brought the other Jughead through.
Finally, in an interview with Alice, Percival’s plot is revealed: he was one of the original settlers of Rivervale who got ousted for sorcery. He made a deal with the devil to be immortal and spent the next centuries acquiring more knowledge. He made it back to Rivervale as the bomb went off, sending him to Riverdale, where he accrued power and mind–controlled his way to mayor–hood with the ultimate goal of killing the descendants of those who condemned him back in the day (the Coopers, Andrewses, Blossoms, and Joneses) and building a ghost train to wage a war for the soul of Riverdale.
Tabitha ages up Baby Anthony so he can fight Percival, and Jughead and Tabitha go to Rivervale to see if there’s any way to beat Percival. They rebuild Pop’s in Riverdale (with the help of Tabitha’s time powers), as the final battle must take place there. The Core Four plus Cheryl and Reggie beat Percival up outside Pop’s, but he turns their powers against them. Jughead engages in a battle of wits with him, keeping Percival distracted and transporting him to Rivervale while the Rivervale residents grievously injure Percival and get him back to his deal with the devil, where the devil disposes of him.
Everyone is safe, alive, and okay. Until Cheryl and Cheryl’s New Girlfriend tell everyone that a comet is going to destroy Riverdale. Cheryl talks to the entrapped spirit of her lesbian witch ancestor Abigail to get her advice, and Abigail tells her to use her Phoenix Powers to burn the comet up, but the process could kill the people Cheryl resurrected. Cheryl and Toni hook up (as Abigail and Thomasina, Toni’s ancestor and Abigail’s lover), a condition of Abigail giving her help. Archie proposes to Betty, who (somewhat reluctantly) says yes. The gang combines their powers to give to Cheryl, who kisses Veronica (“It’s not queerbaiting, it’s saving the world!”) to act as a dialysis machine for her powers, ensuring that the reanimated don’t have to die again. Ultimately, Cheryl destroys the comet, but Riverdale gets spun back to the place where Archie’s story all began—high school in the '50s.
Things In Season Six I Didn’t Have Time To Talk About But Are Great And/Or Insane: the return of Reggie Prime and a near–clonefucking proposed threesome by Veronica; Betty having lesbian fantasies about fellow FBI Agent Drake; Tabitha trying to prevent the assassination of Dr. King while time traveling; Tabitha drinking a Pop’s milkshake out of the Holy Grail; the entire storyline of Abigail possessing Cheryl’s body and then being exorcized into a doll; Reggie’s consciousness being stored in a puppet; Jughead commissioning a bronze statue of Archie to immortalize him as a local folk hero; Toni becoming La Llorona; Kevin literally selling his soul to the devil for a career in showbiz; and, in one of the sweetest moments in Riverdale, Jughead and Tabitha living their whole lives together in an instant in a time bubble at a booth in Pop’s.
And that’s season six of Riverdale!
SEASON SEVEN: Jughead, the only person who can remember the past six seasons of insanity, introduces us to '50sdale. The gang’s back in junior year of high school, and things are the same but different. Kevin is using Betty as his beard; Cheryl’s twin brother is alive but is Julian, the brother that Penelope told her a few seasons ago she absorbed in the womb; Veronica’s the new girl from LA, not NYC (something that I, an NYC native, find wildly offensive).
Off the bat, I have to say that Riverdale’s iconically off–the–walls dialogue is at its craziest this season, purely because a group of actors with iPhone faces are trying and failing to come across as sincere with their deliveries of '50s slang.
Along with the '50s dialogue, '50sdale throws us right into '50s history. Mary Andrews won’t let Archie ride his car because she’s frightened by the news of James Dean’s death; Veronica’s parents are in Tinseltown, starring in an I Love Lucy rip–off; and, on a much more serious note, the show writes off this timeline’s Tabitha by having her go around the country spreading awareness about the murder of Emmett Till.
Jughead, meanwhile, is trying to make his buddies remember they’re from the future—to no avail. Angel! Tabby tells him she sent them all into the past to save them, as the comet did end up destroying Riverdale. The gang has to stick it out in the present while she works her universe magic and tries to get them back to a healthy, happy, present–day Riverdale. But first, she has to erase Jughead’s memory of the future.
Season seven feels, at first, like a return to season one in a lot of ways. Aside from the season one murder mystery, it was all very high school. Season seven is, too. We’re back to worrying about school dances and who has a crush on whom and getting home before curfew. Until, of course, Ethel stumbles into the school dance covered in her parents’ blood, Jughead suspects that crimes are being committed inspired by comic book stories, and I remember that I’m watching Riverdale.
Riverdale has been on a glorious campaign of making more and more characters gay throughout the years, which means that life in the '50s sure is interesting for our favorite sexually liberated totally–not–thirty–something–year–olds. Cheryl, to avoid people thinking she’s a lesbian, says she and Archie slept together; their families force them into an engagement because of this. Betty has a crisis when she sees Kevin slow–dancing with newcomer Clay Walker after she dumps him for not wanting to go all the way with her. And sex problems aren’t confined just to gay people—Midge (who is back, and recast) is pregnant with Fangs’ baby.
In a kind of random turn of events, Veronica and Jughead have a thing. And I honestly love it. (They end up breaking up after a really fun filler episode where Jughead narrates a series of incredibly, wonderfully stylized comics with unfortunately conservative central values that Veronica disagrees with. Oh well.) Cheryl breaks up with Archie, and the two turn their focus towards Toni and Betty respectively. Ethel gets sent to the Sisters of Quiet Mercy (no!), and Uncle Frank shows up at Archie’s house (NOOO!).
Meanwhile, a moral panic is brewing, because when is it not in Riverdale? Comic books are deemed corrupting smut, and Jughead (who writes them) and Ethel (who illustrates them) are under fire. Jughead acquires mentorship from Brad Rayberry, which falls apart when Rayberry allegedly kills himself. Jughead and Ethel smell foul play, and they investigate. Turns out he was killed by the same person who killed Ethel’s parents—a serial killer called the Milkman. Riverdale tells us that the emblems of a suburban “simpler time” are dangerous fallacies. It is a legitimately good show.
Veronica, despite her parents trying to interfere, runs a movie theater. Toni and Clay start a literary magazine for Riverdale’s Black students. Archie tries to decide between basketball and poetry (really, this again?). And Cheryl can no longer keep herself repressed, kissing Toni and admitting to herself that she’s a lesbian.
Where’s Reggie in all this? Being a farm boy nearby. He gets brought to Riverdale to help their basketball team do better. Most of the team, particularly Cheryl’s twin Julian, treats him horribly because he’s Korean American. Archie is optimistic that once everyone sees how talented he is, they’ll stop being racist, but this, predictably and unfortunately, is not the case.
Archie is also optimistic that Betty’s parents will be normal about the fact that she’s starting to develop an interest in sex. Once again, he’s wrong. Betty starts fantasizing about most of the boys around her. And about Veronica. She and Archie do a window peep show for each other, but she’s caught right as she’s about to fully disrobe.
Betty being under fire for her blossoming bisexuality goes hand in hand with the Red Scare coming to Riverdale. Cheryl refuses to testify against her fellow gay classmates. (We also later find out her parents are Russians, which is … a lot.) Jughead and Ethel refuse to back down from making comics. And Betty refuses to stop spreading the good word about how sex is pretty great, particularly when she gets her hands on a book about human sexuality written by Dr. Kingsley.
In classic Riverdalian fashion, it’s time for a musical episode right after some seriously messed–up shit goes down (in this case, the Red Scare reaching its peak in town). Kevin wants to put on an original musical about all–American Archie. Some of the songs in this are pretty good! Some are not. Some are really not.
Archie is torn, as always. He doesn’t know what he wants with his life, and, in a truly beautiful analogy about cotton candy and onion rings, we start to suspect that basketball and poetry aren’t the only two things he feels conflicted about liking at the same time. I guess Azimio of fellow high school satire Glee fame said it best: “Being a jock and being in the Glee Club does not make you versatile, it makes you bisexual," because Archie gives some pretty heated looks to Jughead and Reggie while singing about trying to make up his mind. (As a former varsity athlete, eternal theater kid, and bisexual person myself, I find this absolutely incredible.)
Betty and Veronica, during their song, transcend from their bodies and kiss on the astral plane. For real. And speaking of season one callback, we have the return of Josie McCoy! In '50sdale, she’s a Hollywood star, and she speaks in a truly wild transatlantic accent.
Uncle Frank is homophobic towards Archie for wanting to write poetry. Tom Keller is homophobic towards Kevin for being gay. Uncle Frank and Tom Keller are secretly in a relationship. Not the representation I personally want, but okay.
And Uncle Frank isn’t wrong about Archie’s proclivities. After he and Reggie watch gay porn together, they have a threesome with a sex worker and exchange "I love you"s. After seven beautiful seasons, Roberto Aguirre–Sacasa finally fulfills his ultimate goal of having Archie Andrews like men, and I really couldn’t be happier.
Finally, the last two episodes of Riverdale. In 7x19, "The Golden Age of Television," Archie forgoes basketball camp to work on the farm in Reggie’s place (and write poetry in his downtime), letting Reggie go to basketball camp instead. Cheryl comes out and remains head of the cheerleading squad. Betty publishes a book on teen girl sexuality. Jughead publishes a comic based on a book Tabitha gave him, and Veronica and Clay decide to turn the story of the publishing company he worked for into a movie. And angel!Tabby from the original timeline returns, telling everyone they can choose to remember all the memories, or just the good ones. Most people choose just the good ones. Our resident weirdo and nightmare from next door, Jughead and Betty, naturally take the bad, too.
7x20, "Goodbye, Riverdale," brings us to the present day, where a young Jughead–as–narrator guides a now–old Betty through everyone’s lives. Alice divorced Hal and became a stewardess, and then a pilot. Polly raised the twins happily. Fangs was almost a successful rock star before dying in a bus crash, but he made enough for Midge and their kid to be well off for their whole lives. Kevin and Clay stayed together, with Kevin founding an off–Broadway theater and Clay becoming a Columbia professor. Reggie went pro in basketball. Cheryl and Toni stayed together, with Cheryl becoming a successful painter and Toni publishing Black Athena, her literary magazine.
As for the Core Four? Well, with the girls hooking up with both boys and with each other, they get into a lesbian–centric polyamorous relationship for senior year. That can’t last forever, unfortunately, and they splinter apart. Veronica becomes a star, her handprint forever outside of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. Archie settles down with a girl in Modesto and works construction, like his dad, while also being a writer. Jughead founds a satire magazine—Jughead’s Madhouse Magazine. And Betty has a fruitful career of feminist publishing, from her previously mentioned debut, The Teenage Mystique, to her founding of She Says Magazine. She never marries. She raises a girl, and she raises her well. Betty is nothing like her parents.
Finally, Betty passes, at peace, and goes to the great Chock’lit Shoppe in the sky. The Pop’s sign flashes a neon red in the dark night, and the screen fades to black.
Things In Season Seven I Didn’t Have Time To Talk About But Are Great And/Or Insane: a random lesbian biker named Lizzo being really into Toni; the girls all competing in a beauty pageant; Ethel being Hal Cooper’s biological child; Evelyn showing up again literally only to be homophobic; and in true Riverdale fashion, I have to end with perhaps the most unhinged thing the show ever did, which was to have Chic, the gay serial killer who impersonated Jughead’s and Betty’s shared half–brother, murder Uncle Frank and Tom Keller, the two homophobes in a secret gay relationship.
And that’s all seven seasons of Riverdale!