How was your summer? Who do you have for homeroom? Are you going to homecoming? Oh my God, I missed you so much! But before we get swept up in sophomore year, let’s review what happened when we last paid a visit to the not-so-sleepy town of Riverdale: Archie and Veronica had sex. Jughead and Betty did not have sex, but they did say, “I love you,” and Jughead ominously accepted a leather jacket from the Southside Serpents. Cheryl Blossom set fire to Thornhill, her family manse. And most important (if least sexily), Fred Andrews was shot at Pop’s Chock’lit Shoppe, and is now Reservoir Dogs–level bleeding in the backseat of his truck as Archie careens his way to Riverdale General.
I know you don’t have a license, my dude, but what about a permit? Have you never played Mario Kart? The hospital’s doctors and nurses are all wearing stylized period costumes that, while fitting for Riverdale’s out-of-time vibe, lead me to worry whether their commitment to an ~aesthetic~ means they’ve also overlooked modern medical tech. A man is dying here.
Suddenly, we flash forward to Archie’s high-school graduation. I guess everything went fine! Fred, beaming, snaps a photo of his son and his buddies. “I didn’t think I’d live to see this day,” he says. “You didn’t,” the kids tell him. Ruh-roh! Fred catches a glimpse of the masked gunman from Pop’s, and next thing we know, he’s back on the operating table.
Fred is still in surgery when Archie’s pals arrive at the hospital. Sheriff Keller shows up to question Archie, who requests that Jughead be present for the interview. (I guess Jughead is his attorney?) Archie tells Keller everything he can remember about the shooter, which isn’t much — dark clothing, homemade hood, five-foot-ten, green eyes. But Archie doesn’t mention that his dad had recently fired all the Serpents on his crew, lest Jughead and F.P. look like suspects. Jug, in turn, enlists the services of the Serpents to drum up information about the shooting.
After leaving the hospital, Veronica accompanies a reluctant Archie home to change his clothes. (Yes, he’s still wearing his blood-stained varsity jacket. Very Jackie Kennedy watching LBJ take the oath of office.) As Archie gets cleaned up — bless you, Riverdale, for not making me wait even a half-hour for a gratuitous shirtless scene — Veronica joins him for some pearls-on, I’m-sorry-your-dad-might-die shower sex. Then Veronica unpacks Fred’s belongings from the hospital, only to find his wallet missing. Archie is distraught, blaming his girlfriend for unpacking the bag in the first place. And he didn’t ask her to come over! He didn’t want to go home! Ugh!!!! She refuses to leave him alone; he breaks down sobbing.
Meanwhile, who should grace the hospital halls but Our Lord and Savior Cheryl Blossom? “There was a terrible fire at Thornhill last night. I might have perished, if not for mommy’s heroics,” she tells Kevin and Betty, with a casual chirpiness that doesn’t exactly befit the fact that her mother is covered in third-degree burns. In reality, of course, Cheryl started the fire on purpose — and Mrs. Blossom only ran in to save a family portrait. The maple syrup slash heroin matriarch wakes up to find her daughter looming glamorously over her hospital bed, scrunching up her oxygen tube in her fist. Here’s how it’s gonna be, mom: You’re going to tell everyone the arson was an accident, or Cheryl will spill the truth about Papa Blossom’s apparent suicide.
Betty and Jughead — who commandeers F.P.’s motorcycle, to his girlfriend’s alarm — head to Pop’s to look for Fred’s missing wallet. There they learn from Pop that no money was taken from the register. Pop has been robbed plenty of times, he says, and he’s sure this guy wasn’t just a thief: “It was like the Angel of Death had come to Riverdale.” Not only has Jughead taken over his dad’s bike, but he plans on continuing to live in his trailer, having convinced his would-be foster family to cover for him. Betty is worried about Jug and his ever-closer ties to the Serpents. He tries to convince her it’s no big deal, and that it all helps him feel closer to his dad, who’ll be stuck behind bars for the foreseeable future.
Archie finally explains to Jughead why he’s so upset about the wallet. For one thing, he’s ashamed: After the gun went off, he should have run to his dad or tried to take down the shooter, but he was “paralyzed.” When the shooter held his weapon to Archie’s head, he closed his eyes until he heard him leave — giving the guy ample opportunity to nab the wallet. What if he comes back to finish off the witnesses to his crime, given that he now has all of Fred’s information?
Archie finds Cheryl gently kissing his still-unconscious dad on the forehead, as is customary among no one. “You gave me the kiss of life, Archie Andrews. Now I’ve given it to your dad,” she explains. He sits by his dad’s bedside and tells him how crazy he is about Veronica. That inspires another vision of the future in Fred’s mind: He is at Archie and Veronica’s wedding, but the beautiful ceremony takes on a different cast when the father of the groom spots the late Jason and Clifford Blossom among the guests. The shooter — who didn’t even bother to dress up, rude — marches right down the aisle, and Fred leaps to take a bullet for his son. Just like that, IRL Fred opens his eyes. He’s come back to protect Archie, though Archie believes it’s his duty to protect his dad. Masculinity!
Back at F.P.’s trailer, Jughead is horrified to find two Serpents beating the absolute shit out of some guy. They overheard him saying that Fred Andrews deserved to be shot for letting “Hiram Lodge’s bitch” fire his crew, so they decided to see what else he knew. Turns out he was just talking a big game, but they brought him to Jughead’s house to prove they carried through on their promise. Guess you can’t put on a Serpent jacket without getting your hands dirty after all.
If the green-eyed man didn’t have gang ties, who could have sent him? Well, Veronica has a theory: What if her mother wanted to dispose of her inconvenient boy toy and unwanted business partner before her husband Hiram came home? What if the jealous kingpin did it himself? When Veronica suggests as much, Hermione snaps, “Get back in line with this family, because you are a Lodge before anything else.” The prodigal daughter returns home from the hospital to find her father (hell, yeah, Mark Consuelos!) waiting in shadows, her mother standing at attention at his side. He came home early to surprise her, but the vibe is more displeased mafia don than balloons and confetti.
Archie’s mom (a.k.a. earthbound angel Molly Ringwald) is also back in town, helping Fred recover at home. But Archie’s work isn’t over. He sits up by the door with a baseball bat, keeping watch for the gunman’s potential return. By the way, have you ever noticed that the layout of the foyer of the Andrews house is basically the same as the Dunphy house on Modern Family?
But as Jughead says, in narrator mode, “The Angel of Death was stalking different streets tonight, in the small town of Greendale, just on the other side of Sweetwater River.” Why, it’s our old pal Miss Grundy! She gives a very underage young man a piano lesson, then kisses him good-bye right on her front steps. Are you trying to go to jail, ma’am? Well, the parents of Greendale can rest easy tonight: A masked assailant — with a familiar pair of green eyes — sneaks up behind Miss Grundy and slices her throat.