Earlier this year, Luke Perry — or, as he was known within the Riverdale universe, Fred Andrews, Archie’s father — passed away at just 52, following a stroke. The widely beloved Beverly Hills, 90210 star made his last appearance on Riverdale in April, but this week, in the fourth-season premiere, the show finally says good-bye to Fred and to Luke. I want to begin by saying that, in light of the subject matter, this recap will largely not be very funny (or at least what normally passes for funny in my idiot brain). We will return to our regularly scheduled programming of my making stupid jokes about sex bunkers and the Sweetwater Pizzas next week. Thank you.
After the Gargoyle King, after the Black Hood, after more municipality-wide trauma than the already exhausted first half of this sentence could bear my listing, Riverdale is finally back to normal. As normal as Riverdale gets, anyway. The upcoming Independence Day parade is a source of excitement to everyone but Cheryl, who is outraged that anyone would do anything on the Fourth of July — the anniversary of the day Jason died — other than donning their most-complicated-to-button Victorian mourning ensemble or solemnly dying every follicle of their body hair red in his memory. (Cheryl is also keeping her deceased twin as a houseguest in a marginally less upsetting — please think carefully about whether you really want to throw yourself down the Wikipedia hole I’m about to open to you — Carl Tanzler situation. I look forward to our discussing this more in the future.)
But other than, you know, that, everything’s been good. Really good, actually.
Then Archie gets a phone call.
F.P. breaks the tragic news to him and Mary: Fred was traveling upstate and pulled over to help the driver of a stalled car when he was killed in a hit-and-run. All three of these people crying — even Vegas is whining by the front door — feels real and raw, and it occurs to me how difficult it must have been to shoot this episode.
Archie’s friends (including Reggie, who seems to be handling Varchie’s reunion with Nobel Prize–worthy levels of maturity, and Kevin, who I dearly hope has invested in some top-of-the-line deprogramming) gather to share memories of the good times with Fred, their collective surrogate dad — especially when their own weren’t up to the task and/or were otherwise occupied with their time-consuming hobby of serial murders.
The funeral home won’t be able to transport Fred’s body back from Cherry Creek for a few days, until after the holiday. Archie has a nightmare: Just about everyone he knows, including his late Grandpa Artie, is waiting around the kitchen table. But where’s Fred? “You were supposed to get him,” his dad’s dad scolds him. Archie wakes with a start. He knows he needs to bring Fred home, now.
So the Core Four assemble in a hearse borrowed from Reggie’s used-car lot and hit the road. In Cherry Creek, it takes just a brief phone conversation with Mary and her combined, equally intimidating powers of lawyer and mom to convince the funeral director to release Fred to underage Archie.
While the body is prepared for transit, the kids visit the site of the accident, where Fred’s truck is still parked by the side of the road. A woman (Shannen Doherty, Perry’s friend and 90210 costar) pulls up behind them, bearing a bouquet of flowers. Archie confronts her — is this his father’s killer returning to the scene of the crime? — and is surprised to discover she knows his name. She explains that she’s the driver Fred had helped with a blown tire, that he told her all about Archie, and that he pushed her out of the way of the oncoming car, saving her life.
F.P. calls Archie to let him know that the hit-and-run driver, contrite, had turned himself in but then made bail. It takes less time for Archie to look this guy up in the phone book, storm his house, and slam him into a wall than it would for you or me to speak the sentence “Gee, was it wise for F.P. to tell Archie the driver’s name?”
But the tone of this violent encounter changes dramatically when a distraught kid pipes up from the other room; it’s the man’s teenage son, who tearfully confesses to killing Fred. He took the car out without permission, without even a license, and his father took the blame. It’s not lost on Archie that he could have been this boy — and that covering for him is exactly what Fred would have done. It’s heartbreaking.
Exorcised of his urge for vengeance, Archie drives the hearse home to Riverdale. There, he finds F.P. waiting at the city limits to give his old friend a police escort home. Today is the Fourth of July, and the entire town is on hand to give Fred Andrews a hero’s welcome. This parade doesn’t need floats: Throngs of friends and neighbors cheer the cars as they pass, waving flags and holding signs in Fred’s honor with messages like “We Will Never Forget You.” This is one of several moments in the episode that made me cry, because inside my rib cage there is only a soft lump of yogurt.
Fred’s funeral gives the very real sense that this is a remembrance of both a fictional character and a real man. A choked-up Archie delivers the eulogy for the “greatest man [he’s] ever known” and to whom he never got to say good-bye. Jughead’s obituary memorializes someone who “left Riverdale better than when he found it” and, in a way, someone who left Riverdale better than when he found it.
We take a brief interlude to consider a couple of less-excellent fathers. Veronica is surprised to learn that Hiram, who is living his Goodfellas prison best life, beat her to paying for Fred’s funeral arrangements. Betty cleans the trash off Hal’s graffitied headstone. Well, some of the trash. Okay, an extremely insignificant portion of the trash. Seems about right.
Archie, Mary, and the whole gang gather in the Andrews’ backyard for their own private fireworks show — a gift Fred once gave Archie on a rainy Fourth — care of Cheryl.
“Imagine if everyone was even half as good as my dad was,” Archie says to Veronica.
“You already are,” she tells him.
I hope making this episode was a cathartic and healing experience for everyone involved. It is certainly a fitting tribute.