Warning: This contains spoilers for Episode 13. Not seen Riverdale? Catch up with spoiler-free review of the first three episodes.
“People will look back at this as the exact moment that last bit of Riverdale’s innocence finally died and darkness won.”
That’s Jughead (Cole Sprouse) in the Riverdale Season 1 finale, setting the tone as suitably ominous and melodramatic. But for those hoping for zombies, the afterlife or something similarly that supernatural, the world-ending happening we were all awaiting turns out to be something far more normal. The ordinary blown up to apocalyptic proportions? Riverdale’s Season 1 finale is an unavoidable anticlimax, after 12 episodes that have nodded to horror and teased eerie secrets lurking beneath the surface. Surface over substance, though, has always been part of Riverdale’s motto.
One thing that hasn’t let us down is Riverdale’s pacing. Ever since its opening episodes, it’s crammed a lot into each hour, blasting through that duff storyline about Miss Grundy just quickly enough for it to be forgotten 12 episodes later. That may mean Archie’s inappropriate teacher doesn’t return for the finale, as many expected – or maybe even hoped, if only to do better justice to the Archie Comics character – but it also means that the show wastes no time in wrapping up the cliffhanger of the penultimate chapter, which saw Clifford and his wig collection depart our fair, neon-lit town for the world beyond the pale. In fact, it does so in double-time, answering almost every lingering question in a single opening montage.
Narrated by Jughead, writing on his tablet in Pop’s, it’s a barrage of exposition that any other show might fail to pull off so efficiently or stylishly. In seconds, we learn that all that maple syrup business was just a front for a drug smuggling ring, as Cliff carted in the white stuff from Canada in those innocuous Blossom barrels – and we don’t meant snow. Suddenly, the blood feud, brotherly killings and Southside Serpents make much more sense, and the Sheriff promptly pounces on FP – not for Jason’s murder, but to find out who Clifford’s contacts shifting the product inside the town were. FP, naturally, refuses to talk, claiming the Serpents have nothing to do with it (they only sell weed at worst, he says – this is Archie Comics we’re talking about, after all), but all that means is that FP’s facing two decades behind bars.
That’s the one illogical thing in a set-up that now feels highly logical. The only problem is that logic is a bit of a disappointment, when you’ve been building up the kind of atmosphere worthy of American Gods for three months. Even Hal has moved back in with the Coopers – or the Cooper-Blossoms, as we should probably call them. The Clossoms? The Bloopers? – as Betty’s parents seem intent on pretending that everything is fine and normal again.
Of course, they’re not: Betty’s locker is covered in the words “GO TO HELL SERPENT SLUT” in pig’s blood (line of the episode: “Where do you even get pig’s blood?”), and a straw effigy of her is hanging nearby. That still seems pretty mundane next to the dramatic fallout going on at the Blossom mansion of doom – even the discovery that Alice and Hal’s hush-hush backstory is that Alice was secretly pregnant years ago and had a child who was adopted, meaning that Betty has a secret brother, is only really of interest in terms of him presumably being introduced in Season 2.
All these routine storylines extend to Mayor McCoy, who asks Betty to speak at the town’s 75th Jubilee celebration… and also asks Archie to perform a song. A speech from the perfect head girl and some wannabe Ed Sheehan? Riverdale’s idea of a climax couldn’t be more beige if it tried. Sure enough, Betty goes full moral lecture, all too happy to ruin the happy mood by reminding everyone that the town needs to stick together, that everyone is part of it, including Cliff and FP. Jughead, who is now facing being adopted by another family on the Southside and therefore moving schools, is on hand to start the clapping at the back of room. Because of course he is. That subplot, too, seems pretty dramatic, but by the time Archie, Veronica and Betty rush to find Juggy in his new school and tell him to come back, he seems to be settling in with the other Southsiders just fine.
Where’s a bit of fiery Cheryl melodrama when you need it? Fortunately, it’s not long until we see her and her mother dealing with Clifford’s death. After a heated exchange, things get even hotter, as Cheryl decides to set fire to the house that Bram Stoker built, giving their family a clean slate, a fresh chance, plus an opportunity for Madeleine Petsch to stand in front of an inferno looking seriously fetch. Is she part of the drug conspiracy too? It seems unlikely, after her reaction to discovering her dad killed her brother to stop the whole thing being exposed. But maybe she’s destroying evidence? Who knows?
What we do know is that Mama Blossom isn’t doing well, either. “Better the sweet hereafter than this limbo,” she remarks to her daughter. Cheryl’s efforts to get out of that limbo are also noticeable at school: before Cheryl goes to torch the family mansion, she hands over the cheerleading squad to Veronica, apologises to Jughead, gives him her spider brooch (“iconic”) as a peace offering and disappears, telling Veronica that she’s “going to be with Jason”. What follows is the best moment of the episode – and one of the best of the season – as the Scooby gang race to Sweetwater River to stop her doing anything drastic. There, she’s out on the frozen lake, attempting to plunge into the waters below. It’s a spectacular little scene and what ensues is equally epic, as Archie runs out on to the lake and punches the ice repeatedly until he actually breaks through and pulls her out. It’s heroic, it’s selfless, it’s bloody – and it’s the most interesting thing Archie Andrews has ever done. KJ Apa, whose job so far has mostly been to look vaguely hot while being incredibly vapid, finally gets a chance to develop some depth in this final episode – and it’s not a moment too soon, as he also finds himself fully embracing his feelings with Veronica.
Yes, Veronichie (Archonica?) is now officially a thing: Ronnie tells Betty that she and Archie have “kissed a couple of times”, but Betty says she’s totally ok with it, because she and Jughead are totally a thing too. And what better way to celebrate that than a Steamy Sex Montage? Because that’s exactly what Riverdale serves up, as both Bughead and Archonica make like Marvin Gaye and get it on. It’s no surprise that Archonica’s scene is the steamier of the two, but where that has the giggling fun of them sneaking into Veronica’s apartment without Hermione Lodge noticing, Bughead’s has the double bonus of Cole Sprouse – we’ll give you a minute – and the interruption of their romantic encounter with a knock on the trailer door: it’s the Southside Serpents, who are there to reassure Jughead that they’ve got his back. And, as if to prove it, they give him a Serpent’s leather jacket, which he puts with all the bad-ass attitude you could wish for – and all the lip-biting worry you could expect from Betty. That means Season 2 will not only have a new storyline for them as a couple – perhaps a rival love interest among the Serpents? – but also will have lots of shots of Cole Sprouse in a leather jacket, so it’s all good.
Archie, meanwhile, still looks at Betty in a way that suggests the old love triangle with Veronica is on the cards. And, just to drive another potential wedge between them, there’s the looming prospect of Hiram Lodge returning to Riverdale – we can tell he’s about to, because Hermione says so at least 50 times – which means that Hermione wants to buy Fred’s share of the building project out and keep things simple. She even asks Veronica to ask Archie to persuade his dad, in case you didn’t think Hermione was evil enough yet.
Speaking of Fred, let’s talk about the dramatic cliffhanger that closes out Riverdale’s first season: after his hot night with Veronica, Archie swaggers into Pop’s diner for breakfast with his dad, something that’s only saved for important father-son conversations and bad news. Archie makes a wisecrack about going to wash his hands – which we presume is a strange Andrews innuendo for having had sex – and pops into the bathroom. When he comes out, though, he sees something completely unexpected: no, not a zombie apocalypse (even if Cheryl’s vision of Jason under the ice was pretty convincing), but a masked man holding Pop at gunpoint. Fred, being Fred, stands up to intervene and ends up getting shot – and it’s here that we leave the town for a year, as Archie tries to save his dad.
It’s an ending that leaves all kinds of mysterious up in the air. What was Fred going to tell Archie? Who was the masked man? Why was he in the diner? And what about Grandma Blossom? Did she get out of the mansion safely when Cheryl torched it?
The mystery of who shot Fred looks all set to be the centre of Season 2, and there are already several options – they might have been someone hired by Hermione to get him out of the way before Hiram’s return. They might be someone connected with Clifford’s drug dealings. It might have been a completely random incident. What we do know is that it’s unlikely that Riverdale’s about to bump off 90s heartthrob Luke Perry, who’s been one of the highlights of the whole show. (Ditto for Skeet Ulrich as FP, who will no doubt pop up again behind bars.) The one inevitable certainty is that Jughead will turn whatever happens into a melodramatic voiceover.
“People will look back at this as the exact moment that last bit of Riverdale’s innocence finally died and darkness won,” he says of the shooting. And while it’s a shocking moment, you can’t help but feel Riverdale’s over-egging it a bit, after piling up portentous omens throughout the season surrounding the similarly tragic death of Jason, which was also apparently a moment the town lost its innocence.
But wait: the ordinary blown up to apocalyptic proportions? Twin Peaks meets Gossip Girl is what we were sold, but if Season 1 of Riverdale has turned out more Gossip Girl than Twin Peaks, well, that’s only really apt for a teen soap opera, a format that dives into the current of naive expectations to be buffeted by reality along the road to adulthood. The worry is that Fred’s shooting will only lead to more building up of an eerie, seemingly extraordinary conspiracy that will end up being all too ordinary. But given that we actually have some sympathy for Fred, compared to Jason, and with Cheryl now (rightly) positioned as the only important Blossom left standing, Season 2 of Riverdale is already starting off at an advantage. All it needs is more Josie and the Pussycats.
Riverdale is available exclusively on Netflix UK, as part of £7.49 monthly subscription.
Photos: The CW Network