Unfortunately, Riverdale’s season finale fails to match the winningly bizarre penultimate episode, given that it’s more concerned with tying up loose ends and setting up future story lines than, you know, unraveling the mystery behind the murder at the show’s heart. But hey, that’s okay — at least we have future story lines to look forward to. Until then, don’t change, keep in touch, love you like a sister, have a great summer!
So, Blossom Maple Farms wasn’t what it seemed, to put it mildly. The family business was really a front for the late Clifford Blossom, noted son-killer, to smuggle heroin from Canada. Now, Sheriff Keller demands that F.P. Jones tell him who, exactly, was selling Blossom’s drugs. But Jughead’s dad denies the Southside Serpents had anything to do with it. He refuses to name names — not even for a lesser sentence — despite facing 20 years in prison.
Life at the Cooper house is seemingly back to normal, with both Hal and Polly living at home once again, but Betty doesn’t buy this act for a second. How can her parents pretend everything is fine? Well, they aren’t the only ones. Mayor McCoy, who’s eager to blame all this inconvenient unpleasantness on the Serpents, is fixated on Riverdale’s upcoming Jubilee celebration of the town’s 75th anniversary. She invites Archie to perform with the Pussycats and Betty to deliver a speech.
But Betty, in full Holden Caulfield mode, is more interested in writing an article excoriating the town’s grown-ups for refusing to acknowledge that anything has changed. When her parents refuse to print her piece in The Register — they’re afraid she’ll become a target for the Riverdale citizenry’s anger towardsthe Serpents — she goes ahead and publishes it her damn self in the school paper.
Veronica’s terrified to tell Betty about her “budding romance” with Archie (or, as he puts it, the fact that they’ve “kissed a couple of times”), but her gal pal isn’t bothered in the slightest. Why would she be? She’s happy with Jughead! Archie doesn’t believe that Betty is really 100 percent okay, but in reality, it’s more like like he’s not 100 percent okay that she’s 100 percent okay. Young love! Veronica eventually confronts Archie for staring “wistfully” at Betty and Jughead, but he insists he only likes Betty as a friend. It’s just that he wants to have what they have, that whole “soul mates” thing. This statement registers to me, an admitted old person, as bullshit, but registers to Veronica as a terribly romantic thing to say. Young love!
The elder members of the Lodge and Andrews families also face their fair share of tension. Fred is upset that Hermione fired the Serpents and hired a new construction crew, despite their loyalty — but her top priority is ensuring that Hiram, due home from prison at the end of the month, won’t have to get his hands dirty when he returns. And while we’re on the subject anyway, she and her husband want to buy Fred out.
Meanwhile, Penelope Blossom is coping with the loss of her husband as only Penelope Blossom could. “Maybe your father had the right idea: Just end it,” she tells Cheryl. “Better the sweet hereafter than this awful limbo.” Sounds like someone should write a parenting book! Melodrama is nothing out of the ordinary for Mother Blossom, but something is seriously wrong with Cheryl. She abdicates as head cheerleader of the River Vixens, graciously handing Veronica her “HBIC” tee and her title. Cheryl even apologizes to Jughead for giving him a beatdown, then gifts him her “iconic” (she’s not wrong) spider brooch as a gesture of goodwill. Giving away all her worldly possessions? Wearing 60 percent less lipstick than usual? Do we have a 13 Reasons Why situation on our hands? Because, I’m sorry, I can’t. Again: Protect Cheryl Blossom at all costs.
Hal and Alice were right to worry about their daughter’s story. Someone plasters Betty’s locker with copies of The Blue & Gold, scrawled with “GO TO HELL SERPENT SLUT” in pigs’ blood. A straw effigy of Betty (really, a hopelessly generic straw effigy of any blonde woman — do better, vandals of Riverdale) hangs nearby. Back home, Alice finally, tearfully reveals the secret that F.P. had overheard her and Hal fighting about way back at their own homecoming. Alice was pregnant. She went away to the Sisters of Quiet Mercy, just like Polly. There she had a son, who was adopted. That’s right: Betty has a brother. He must be in his mid-20s now. (Please mail your casting suggestions to the CW, 123 Television Street, Hollywood.)
A social worker tells Jughead that, in his dad’s absence, a Southside family has offered to foster him. But that means he’d be in a different school district. Despite Betty’s assurances that he does belong in Riverdale, Jughead takes it upon himself to enroll at Southside High. We gather from its many metal detectors, flickering fluorescent lights, and one inexplicable payphone that this is a Bad School. Betty, Veronica, and Archie dash into the building (didn’t we just see that this Southside High had ridiculously intense security?) to “rescue” Jughead, but find him happily holding court at a table in the cafeteria.
When Cheryl shoots Veronica a troubling text (“Thanks for trying. I’m going to be with Jason now.”), the whole gang rushes to the snow-covered shores of the Sweetwater River. There they find the twinless twin pounding her fists against the ice until she plunges through. Bloodying the hell out of his hand in the process (and actually breaking his hand!), Archie manages to successfully punch through the thick ice and pull Cheryl out. It’s not only the very best scene in the finale, but it’s the very first useful thing Archie has done in 13 episodes.
In deference to Archie’s heroic rescue of Cheryl, Josie agrees to sing one of his original compositions at the Jubilee. It’s a generic little ditty written for his friends that, watch, may very well be No. 1 on iTunes by sunrise. Betty’s speech implores the town to face up to the ugly truths many would prefer to bury. For this, she’s met with a standing ovation that is somehow even harder to believe than adult woman Alice Cooper being permitted to write for the school paper.
Fred ultimately declines to sell his business to Hermione, because she, like the town of Riverdale, is at a “crossroads.” Yes, Hiram is coming back, but would this really be what’s best for her, wink-wink? This sure seems an elaborate and expensive method of flirting.
Penelope returns home to find Cheryl, having permanently retired her Ophelia impression, standing at their roaring fireplace. She tosses a burning candelabra on the carpet, which she’s doused in gasoline. This is the only way for them to be “purified,” apparently. Having made it safely outside, a satisfied Cheryl — restored to her former heights of lipstick glory — and Penelope (who is really having a rough couple of weeks, huh?) watch Thornhill go up in flames.
The kids toast with milkshakes at Pop’s, the first of “many” that night — a detail that, to me, an old person who is also a semi-lactose-intolerant person, casts the following events in a different light. Jughead and Betty retreat to F.P.’s newly spiffed-up trailer. They swear their love for one another, then make out. Meanwhile, Archie and Veronica sneak into her apartment for their own teen sex romp, or at least ambiguously sex-adjacent romp. It’s what the MPAA would surely label a Sexual Situation. But Betty and Jughead are interrupted by a loud knock at the trailer door. It’s the Serpents. They heard F.P. didn’t snitch, and they want Jughead to know they’ll have his back while his dad is away. They even offer him a Serpents jacket of his own (it looks great on him, not that anyone should join a gang because #fashion), as Betty looks on in dismay.
Archie, having spent the night at Veronica’s, meets his dad at Pop’s for breakfast. He returns from the men’s room to find an armed robbery in progress. (In real life, when you go to the bathroom at a restaurant, your food will often be waiting when you come out. In movies and TV, when you go the bathroom at a restaurant, someone often gets killed when you come out. Okay, I may just be thinking of The Godfather.)
Although Archie runs between the gun and his father, he can’t stop the masked man from shooting Fred right in the gut. We’ll have to wait till next season to learn if he lives or dies, who’s responsible, and exactly why Jughead’s narration calls this “an act of violence that was anything but random.”
Now, will you sign my yearbook or what?