Look at us. Hey, look at us. Who would have thought? We’ve made it to yet another Riverdale season finale, although this one comes, objectively, too soon. What aired this week was originally intended to be the 19th episode, to be followed by a dramatic conclusion at prom, but production was stopped due to the pandemic before shooting could be completed. I’d like to imagine some intrepid media studies Ph.D. student stumbling across this recap in ten years as she researches the effect that COVID-19 had on contemporary pop culture for her thesis. Hello to you, ma’am! Yes, the coronavirus is happening right now, and the rumors are true, it’s pretty shitty.
Mr. Honey rushed Betty into single-handedly assembling the entire school yearbook in a matter of days, but now refuses to approve her work before the printer’s deadline. This, after Riverdale High’s resident villain wouldn’t let Archie walk at graduation. And after the principal banned pretty much all their friends from prom — for starting a porn-adjacent tickling-based media company, for cheating on a quiz show, for locking the cheerleading coach in a closet, blah, blah, blah, normal high-school stuff — except for Archie and Jughead. (Buy low and tattoo “Jarchie” on your body now, just in case.)
Jug, meanwhile, has been conditionally accepted to the University of Iowa (as he learns from an admissions coordinator named “Deena Lunham” — Jug really is a voice of his generation), but he needs to submit another writing sample first. Betty suggests her boyfriend write a “monster story” about their principal. From here on out, we follow two timelines: the first being real life, and another that constitutes the plot of the aforementioned story, hereafter referred to as Jughead’s Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.
So his story begins: In an attempt to scare Mr. Honey out of town, Our Gang (disguised in bunny masks and Stonewall Prep jackets) abduct him as he’s leaving school late one night, stuff him in the back of Reggie’s car, and hold him captive at the Lodges’ cabin in Fox Forest. There, blindfolded and taped to a chair, Honey — whose glasses got lost somewhere between here and the trunk — is maple-boarded like it’s Sunday brunch at the Cheney house. If he doesn’t leave Riverdale, Betty warns, they’ll kill him. But Reggie pretty much immediately removes his mask, confirming his and all of their identities like the hot, dumb dummy that he is, and repeatedly punches Mr. Honey in the face, like the hot, dumb, violent dummy that he is.
The kids agree to take turns watching Honey, and Cheryl is up first. (I don’t remember what the rest of them are so busy doing — like, homework?) He tries to persuade her to call the police and confess that their prank has gone horribly awry; she tries to persuade him to record a video promising that the kids can go to prom, and that they’ll never be punished for this, or anything, forever, demonstrating a keen understanding of the law. Neither budges.
In real life, Reggie — abetted by Archie and Kevin — pulls off a more traditional, nonfatal senior prank, gluing Mr. Honey’s butt to his office chair and his hand to his phone. Unless the perpetrators reveal themselves, the principal declares prom officially canceled. This seems like … not that big a deal, given that virtually no one we care about was going to be allowed to attend, and the kids seem to hold a gala at the Le La Bon Bonne Nuit on a biweekly basis anyway, but apparently Cheryl had her heart set on crashing the prom.
Meanwhile, another horrifying murder-re-creation video, also based on a snuff film found at Blue Velvet, shows up on poor Mrs. Klump’s doorstep: a masked version of Midge, dead on stage during Carrie.
Back in Jughead’s Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Archie and Veronica find Honey collapsed on the floor, still tied to the chair. V checks the man’s pulse — he’s dead. Encouraged by Betty, it takes little time for the kids to decide that this unfortunate incident isn’t worth throwing away all their futures. “Who has experience in getting rid of a dead body?” Veronica asks, and everyone but Reggie raises their hand. I love nothing more than when Riverdale acknowledges how fucked up it is.
With Honey hastily buried in the forest, the kids return to school the next day and play it cool. For the most part. Reggie, our hot, dumb, violent but sweet dumb dummy, is racked with guilt and paranoia — particularly when he learns that Adventure Scouts discovered the missing Mr. Honey’s glasses in the woods, and that a search party is already being assembled. Reggie can’t stop talking about Honey being dead, in a way that is completely suspicious, and to which Archie responds by screaming at Reggie to shut up and slamming him into a locker, which is somehow even more suspicious.
IRL, Betty discovers that Honey has canceled prom at every single school where he’s worked. The kids run home to complain to their parents (and Nana Rose — love you, Nana Rose) about this grave injustice — it’s actually kind of fun to have Riverdale feature a problem so relatively small in scope that it could be solved just by … talking to your mother.
The Riverdale Hot Dads Brigade — and more importantly, the Hot Moms Auxiliary Service — brings hellfire down on Mr. Honey. Mary cites legal precedent, Hiram threatens to call the governor, and as PTA president, Alice demands a vote on the matter. It’s that easy: Prom is back on, to great celebration.
But excuse me, hold it, Mr. Honey found something — another videotape! This one begins with a static shot of the façade of Riverdale High, followed by hours of footage showing every room inside. Sure seems like a “threat,” Honey says, so he better put the school on “high alert” and cancel prom again! Okay, bye!
But why, Bughead wonder, would their voyeur, who’s recently escalated to masked re-creations of deaths, revert to the style of his boring early work? That’s so several episodes ago. Could this be a copycat? Betty reviews the footage carefully — and finds Mr. Honey himself momentarily visible in a reflection, holding a camera. J’accuse!
JBDTF: Pore Reg is daid. It may have looked like an accident to the rest of the world, but the kids cut his brakes, to keep him quiet for all eternity. Now Cheryl is losing it; Veronica is furious with Bughead and Archie for their monstrous behavior. “We’re all monsters in this town,” Jug argues. Side note: I really, dearly hope that Jughead remembers to change everyone’s name before he submits this thing, given the rate that people get murdered in Riverdale, else he might have just written an accidental confession.
IRL: Mr. Honey, unsurprisingly, gets fired, but remains unrepentant. “Everything that I have done is to make this school better, safer, for you and your classmates,” he tells the Core However Many They Are in Total. He’s off to Stonewall Prep, where he’ll serve as their new headmaster at triple his current salary.
It’s face-turn o’clock! Ms. Bell conveniently appears to inform the children in her delightfully unplaceable mid-Atlantic accent that Mr. Honey was in fact the best principal the school ever had throughout her 50-year tenure as secretary. He quietly arranged full scholarships to college for low-income students, raised the average GPA, and more impressively, allowed exactly zero kids to die under his watch. She hands Jughead an envelope that Honey had told her to mail, addressed to the University of Iowa. What he finds inside — an unexpected glowing letter of recommendation on his behalf — inspires him to rewrite his story.
JBDTF: We return to the moment that Archie and Veronica discovered their hostage on the floor. But this time, Archie calls 911 and Veronica administers CPR. Their friends are horrified, their lives may be ruined, but they did the right thing.
Back in real life, Jughead vows he’s done “reveling” in the town’s sickness. But that doesn’t mean he can escape it — another video has found its way to the Smith-Cooper doorstep. (I generally think these things are creepy, but at this point, wouldn’t the entire municipality of Riverdale be the perfect use case for those smart doorbell cameras?) The video shows what Jughead (somehow) recognizes as the cabin where Hermione killed Sheriff Minetta, and so he and Betty waste no time in driving out there. The cabin is littered with trash. There’s a bare mattress. A tattered bed sheet hanging on a wall, a rickety projector without film. I find this atmosphere genuinely very unsettling, so well done, Riverdale.
Also waiting for them is a TV and VCR with a tape ready to be played.
This video is yet another masked re-creation — but now, it’s Bughead and all their friends, surrounding a thrashing, tied-up Mr. Honey. They jointly stab him to death.
On the one hand: I love the weird-ass horror imagery we’ve decided to lean into in this scene. But … what? This feels like a cliffhanger, but I’m not exactly sure what cliff it is I’m hanging off. Are we supposed to believe that’s actually Mr. Honey getting stabbed under that mask? I think we can safely say that it wasn’t really Bughead, the Blossoms, or Midge featured in any of the voyeur’s previous videos. I’m also not sure there’s reason yet to believe that this “Honey,” whoever he is, is in fact dead. And it was one thing, logistically, when these videos involved a couple of masked actors at a time — this one required the population of an entire drama class.
All of that said: Ignore me. Who cares? Given that this was never supposed to be the finale, it doesn’t feel right to pick at it too much. I think Riverdale did the best it could, given the situation. And one day, when it’s safe for TV to TV again, we’ll all get to go to prom together. In the meantime, please stay safe, and don’t forget to pick out the perfect corsage for me.