They did it. They managed to make Riverdale even crazier. November 2021 welcomed the introduction of the five-part special Rivervale at the start of the show’s sixth season. Rivervale is the show’s dive into the supernatural, though the show has always been very loosely rooted in reality (The Gargoyle King, anyone?). Riverdale has many, many critics, but everything others hate about the show represents everything I love about it. Where else could I find cheesy teen drama, multiple murder mysteries, musical numbers, and Chad Michael Murray running an organ-harvesting cult all in one show?
Season six spoilers ahead.
We left season five on a cliffhanger, as a bomb supposedly planted by Hiram Lodge is due to detonate under Archie Andrew’s bed. Cue season six, and the bomb is revealed to be just a dream (groan…). What follows is Riverdale’s take on The Twilight Zone, featuring paranormal beings, a visit from the devil himself, and a much-anticipated cameo from Sabrina Spellman.
Welcome to Rivervale
In a slightly altered format to the original series, Jughead in The Twilight Zone fashion is the show’s host and narrator, breaking the fourth wall at the beginning and end of episodes. In the premier, everything is seemingly normal, except the town is called Rivervale. Fangs and Toni’s baby has colic, Jughead and Tabitha move in together, and Betty and Archie continue their 1950s-style relationship (Betty reveals that she has wanted a family with Archie since the sixth grade? Pardon?). Reggie and Veronica are building a casino together and have sex on a bed of money. The narrator even refers to them as a ‘power couple’ if the point hadn’t been driven home enough. Oh, and Cheryl runs a weird all-girls boarding school from her ancestral home. Cheryl Blossom, the woman who hid and spoke to her twin brother’s corpse in her basement for months. Not the person I would want to guide future generations.
Betty discovers an animal sacrifice in the woods before Cheryl arrives dressed as a My Chemical Romance member, followed by eleven teenage girls armed with bows and arrows. The girl-army takes aim at Betty, a literal FBI agent, who leaves and never reports the existence of child soldiers to the authorities. Archie, who has about eight different jobs, intends to make Rivervale self-sufficient by growing maple trees and harvesting their syrup. Cheryl, believing that maple syrup is her birthright, takes great offence to this. Becoming witchier with every scene, she proffers a solution to all the townsfolk’s individual problems, including Betty’s inability to conceive a child with Archie, which is revealed in the final scene. The whole town is dressed in Midsommar style outfits and watch as Cheryl uses Archie as a human sacrifice in order to rid the town of its ills. Season five eventually became a chore to watch but killing off the star of the original comics certainly gave the new season premier shock factor and enough intrigue to continue viewing.
In the second episode, every character continues as normal, not like they had all recently participated in the ritual sacrifice of the town hero. It is revealed that Toni has killed the son of a rival gang member and seems to have completely gotten away with it? She reveals this to a literal social worker; whose only response is ‘have you tried reaching out to her?’ To add insult to injury, Betty enlists Toni’s help in questioning another woman who is facing murder charges for drowning her daughter. So, what laws exist exactly in this inconsistent hellhole? The show dives deeper into the occult as it is revealed that La Llorona, the weeping woman ghost of Mexican folklore, is attacking the children of Rivervale. The ghost even takes Betty’s unborn child. Betty seems entirely unbothered by this even after resorting to MURDERING HER BOYFRIEND to get pregnant in the first place.
This was my least favourite episode of the Rivervale miniseries. The show’s flirtation with horror works best when it embraces campy tropes. The La Llorona plot is too dark to blend well with Riverdale’s ridiculousness. It felt all over the place. Part of me enjoyed Tabitha and Jughead’s plot where they are doomed to repeat the mistakes of their house’s previous tenants, but the plot’s conclusion was just baffling. Periodically influenced by the ghosts of the former inhabitants, Tabitha was seconds from caving Jughead’s head in with a hammer, immediately after which they chuckle about it being one of love’s many tests.
Peak Riverdale ridiculousness. The devil is in town, and he’s English. Louis Cypher (Lou Cypher, Lucifer, get it?) is here to harvest souls and …buy the town diner? Reggie had promised Veronica’s soul in exchange for an investment in the casino, telling her he only did so ‘because I knew you’d figure a way out.’ Boyfriend of the year, everyone. Veronica responds to this totally normal conundrum in a totally normal way, by performing a Lady Gaga song at the casino in a sparkly leotard. She manages to worm her way out of it by sacrificing Reggie’s soul instead, as well as that of Nick St. Clair, the slimy worm of previous seasons, who has somehow managed to become a US Senator in his mid-twenties. Considering she is one of the main four characters, Veronica deserves much better writing. She’s arguably the least likeable, with the highest concentration of cringeworthy lines and little character development, forever playing the role of Sexy Girlboss.
Betty’s plot seems quite muddled. She has been tasked by the FBI to interview TBK, or ‘Trash Bag Killer’, a serial killer with whom she has unfinished business. At no point in the interrogation does she remove this man’s mask, or think it is weird that he is handcuffed in the FBI office all alone. Later, it is implied that the devil has taken over the body of her former FBI partner, Glen, in order to imitate TBK and goad Betty into killing him. Betty is horrified that she has unintentionally murdered Glen. Still completely at peace with her role in Archie’s murder, though. I know many tire of Riverdale’s ludicrous plots and dialogue but, for me, the more outrageous the better. ‘Mr. Cypher’ hit the mark.
The Witching Hour(s)
After no Cheryl appearance in the previous episode, Madelaine Petsch plays three Blossom women in three different eras in ‘The Witching Hour(s)’. 19th century Abigail Blossom, Poppy Blossom in the 1950s, and present-day Cheryl. I loved the styling of Poppy’s era, and her storyline, where is imprisoned for being a lesbian communist, was probably the most interesting. Sabrina’s much-hyped appearance in the last five minutes felt kind of meaningless, only there to reveal the big, weird plot twist. As Abigail Blossom was a witch cursed with immortality, Poppy and later Cheryl were merely personas she created in order to avoid detection by mere mortals. Abigail/Poppy/Cheryl then swaps bodies with Cheryl’s dying grandma so that she may live out her youth again, and Abigail is reunited with her former lover beyond the grave. The final scene was quite sweet, but the big reveal was an entirely unsatisfactory conclusion.
The Jughead Paradox
In the 100th episode special and final chapter (?) of the Rivervale series, the show borrows heavily from Dark, with references to explosions and alternate universes. It was entirely outlandish yet amusing, with plenty of jaw-dropping moments. ‘The Jughead Paradox’ finally addresses the intersection between the two towns of Riverdale and Rivervale. In the opening scenes, we are shown Jughead’s lifeless body on an empty road. Meanwhile, it is revealed that Archie is alive and that his sacrifice was supposedly just a bad dream. I mean, seriously? Again? It makes it feel as though the last four episodes were pointless.
Our ‘meta’ Jughead discovers the existence of the parallel universes, and that the realities of both towns, Riverdale and Rivervale, are colliding. He sees characters who have been long since dead and finds comics based upon his own life. He’s even called into the morgue to identify what appears to be his own corpse. Conveniently, he convinces Veronica and Betty that the only way to save the universe is to get off with him until the narrator Jughead appears as his own distinct character to reveal the true solution. The Rivervale iteration of Jughead must spend eternity sealed in a bunker, writing out the future of Rivervale or it will cease to exist. Though it probably won’t be winning any Hugo awards, the venture into sci-fi was fun, chaotic, and thoroughly entertaining. The show truly embraced its comic book roots. There were some amusing moments as the show pokes fun at itself; Reggie’s original actor returns as his alternate universe self. It took 100 episodes, but Jason finally got his first line. Good for you, Jason. Jughead’s diner-in-the-sky scene as he visits heaven is a highlight of the entire Rivervale special. Also, in an unexpected turn, KJ Apa was great as psychotic serial-killer Archie. Yes, there were times where I barely understood what was happening. Yes, there were some cringe-inducing lines that have become synonymous with Riverdale, “Let’s do it. Let’s make out to save the world.” As always, though, Riverdale is best served with a pinch of salt. Some episodes fell flat, but others, namely ‘Mr. Cypher’ and ‘The Jughead Paradox’ possessed that utterly bonkers charm that keeps me coming back to Riverdale.