In the words of Jughead, “And with that, whatever innocence Riverdale had left, died,” on the first season finale of RIVERDALE, “Chapter Thirteen: The Sweet Hereafter.” Oh. My. Golly-Gee. If you read last week’s review you’ll know that I wasn’t sure what this season finale would entail. It didn’t seem like you could really top the mystery solve for Jason’s murder – shoutout to that Scooby-Doo reference. But bless my soul and call me a dunce, they did it. There was so much happening in this episode I found myself sitting on the edge of my couch, clutching my imaginary pearls by the end of it.
Coolest tidbits of the episode: Archie punching a hole in some rock-solid river ice – ouch! Cheryl watching Thornhill burn like a villain out of a Batman movie watching Gotham burn – my inner monologue was going off,”yes, yes, let it burn, buuurrn!” That scene after Jughead puts on the serpents jacket and then looks back at Betty, like he’s seeing her for the first time – oh, my heart. And of course, that final moment of silent communication between Archie and his dad before – well, we’ll get to that, because I don’t want to spoil everything.
There’s a lot to unpack in the episode, and at first it seems like there’s no real villain here, just a lot societal problems that hit maybe a little too close to home to really be entertaining. But if there’s one thing this show has made clear, it’s that it is, most definitely at its core, a show about class and social structure. Despite the murders, despite the drugs, Riverdale’s real problem is its absolute refusal to see itself wholly. That’s what Betty’s speech is about, after all, isn’t? I mean, if that wasn’t clear in any of the previous episodes, it most certainly should be now, if not for Betty’s speech, then for the fact that we discover a whole other high school on the southside of town (thus implying that the “south side” is not just a small slum-y part of Riverdale, but an entire functioning part – possibly half – of the entire town). Holy cow.
In a lot of ways, though, this invisible villain is actually better than some looming, mysterious Blossom-murderer. It’s more realistic and harder to deal with in a finite way. It also calls for a dynamic change in our main characters that we have yet to see in anyone except for Jughead, who, despite his somewhat self-destructive behavior, seems to be the only one who can truly view both sides of the same coin with clear (though rather innocent) eyes. Even Betty, who has remained the most grounded and logical of our characters so far, goes running to ‘rescue’ Jughead when she finds out he’s transferred to Southside High, as though going to school on the rougher side of town is the equivalent of going to juvie.
This isn’t to say there aren’t tangible villains to chase – the season finale made sure to include plenty of that for season two. Between drugs and an uptick in violent crime, there’ll be a lot to deal with when the second season begins, especially as Riverdale continues to morph from the quietly disturbed town we knew at the beginning of season one into one filled with dark secrets and violent outbursts. In fact, this is what we’re left with to ponder as the show goes on summer hiatus – what will become of Riverdale and our characters? How will the changing town change them? We’ve already seen some of it happening – Hermione Lodge is turning back into the manipulative rich wife of the husband she’s preparing to welcome home after his stint in jail. The undertones of an abusive relationship are strong here. The Coopers have reverted to their weird, sugary secrets and lies, and Mrs. Cooper has welcomed Mr. Cooper back into their home. Even Mr. Andrews sees that he and Archie are not out from underneath the thumb of Riverdale’s violence. And Cheryl is struggling with keeping her emotional and mental health in tack.
In fact, though the last five minutes of this season finale of Riverdale are something else entirely, it’s Cheryl’s arc in this episode that is the most stunning, and nerve-wracking to watch. Riverdale, unlike other unnamed recent teen dramas, handles itself with care as it treads into Cheryl’s inner emotional turmoil. The tell-tale signs are there: she tries to make a connection with her mother, but her mother freezes her out. She starts giving away her possessions and her coveted title as leader of the cheer squad. She makes amends. She tries reaching out to her mother again, this time in the hopes of shutting herself inward, staying home and not putting on a front at school. Again, her mother freezes her out, so she sends one goodbye text to Veronica, as a cry for help, and then retreats to the frozen lake where she plans to greet death. The gang doesn’t pick up on the signs until Veronica gets Cheryl’s text, but luckily they’re able to rescue her. Still, they aren’t versed in how to truly help Cheryl – Veronica takes her back to the Lodge home, instead of a hospital (what? It’s snowing and she’s definitely got to have hypothermia) and no one is addressing the actual decision to commit the act with her. That girl needs therapy like a fish needs water. But it’s at least a start. Veronica has bridged a bond between the two of them, and perhaps Cheryl will learn to open up more in the coming season.
Now to address the big whoppers of the episode: first, Jughead has joined the Serpents. On the one hand, it’s nice – the Serpents come to him in gratitude for his father not giving up any names. They offer Jughead a jacket – only if he wants it – and let him know they take care of their own. Jughead only too eagerly accepts the jacket. Mostly likely out of a need to feel as though he belongs to a family, in one sense of the word, but also probably because the Serpents have so far been the only consistently true thing in Riverdale. Everyone and everything else in town has, in one way or another, failed to live up to Jughead’s expectations or trust. Even Betty to some degree has failed in this manner. It’s a sad truth that when society pegs you in a certain hole, you often conform to said hole. In many ways, this is how Riverdale has failed Jughead.
And finally, the biggest, saddest moment: Archie’s dad, Fred Andrews. We don’t know for sure that he’s dead, but he’s most definitely shot, and he looks dead. Really dead. If he’s not dead, I’d be more surprised. Archie goes to meet his dad for breakfast at Pops, and as he’s in the bathroom washing his hands, a masked burglar comes in to rob the place at gunpoint. Fred, caught in the crosshairs tells Archie to stay hidden, but as the burglar points his gun at Fred and tells him to give up his wallet, Archie does the Archie thing and throws himself in front of his dad. The surprise makes the burglar pull the trigger, and Fred ends up shot despite Archie’s attempts at heroics.
So what will happen next? Who shot Fred Andrews? Who is behind the drug dealing in Riverdale? Is Fred dead? What does this mean for Archie and his pals? A lot of questions await season two.
Season 1, Episode 13 (S01E13)
Riverdale airs Thursdays at 9PM on The CW
Tasha is a freelance writer currently based in Los Angeles. Originally from Kansas, when she’s not writing about or watching TV, Tasha is searching for the best BBQ place in LA to fill the KC BBQ hole in her stomach.
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Tasha Cerny | Contributor