chaos magic

We Need to Talk About the Beautiful Chaos That Is Riverdale in 2022

Photo: Colin Bentley/The CW

If you dropped off of Riverdale sometime after the killer board game, organ-harvesting cult, or high-school performance of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, there’s a good chance you won’t recognize the small town with pep. Sure, the comic’s main clique (Archie, Jughead, Betty, Veronica, and Cheryl) is all still here — but now, they have, um, superpowers, an enemy of biblical proportions to thwart, and the ability to time travel. Riverdale writers would be the first to admit it was never the most grounded show, but it always abided by a pretty significant rule of thumb: Things could get weird but not otherworldly. (Those season-five aliens? Not aliens at all — they turned out to be a murderous offshoot of the already effed-up Blossom clan.)

So how did we get here — with a very witchy Sabrina Spellman wielding her magical powers to bring Riverdale residents back from the dead and kissing Jughead in the process?

If you haven’t been watching, here’s your crash course on all of the chaos that is Riverdale.

Why are things so unhinged on Riverdale right now?

Riverdale always teetered on the edge of the supernatural, but season six did something wildly different. At the end of season five, Hiram Lodge had a bomb planted under Archie’s bed as his final act of revenge against his longtime comic-book enemy — and that bomb pushed the characters of Riverdale into the world of “Rivervale,” a parallel universe where the supernatural is just sort of a thing.

Think of the Rivervale episodes (five in total) as an anthology series within the world of Riverdale: Events reset, new supernatural entities wreak havoc each week, and characters are the darkest version of themselves. Cheryl, for example, is even more chaotic than usual. In one episode, she sacrifices Archie under the blood moon, while in another, she’s revealed to be an immortal witch and swaps bodies with her grandmother.

At the end of the Rivervale episodes, Jughead realizes that they are all in an alternate dimension fueled by a different version of himself writing Rivervale comics in a heaven-like version of Pop’s Diner. Through a bunch of parallel-universe hijinks, Jughead is able to rewire the universe and return to Riverdale proper.

Rivervale, however, doesn’t seem done with Riverdale. Throughout the rest of season six, characters experience fleeting flashbacks to their Rivervale lives. Moments that occur in the season-six episodes that take place in the town of Riverdale almost appear to be remixed from the Rivervale episodes, and because of that, characters experience a lot of déjà vu. Plus the supernatural has bled into the main timeline of Riverdale, suggesting that Rivervale has some strange influence over the town. Answers appear to be on the way: The July 20 episode is titled “Return to Rivervale.”

Superpowers, you say?

The CW has a whole slate of superhero content already, so are we surprised that Riverdale would get in on the action?

Exactly how their powers came to be is murky, but the gang theorizes that it has to do with the energy created from Hiram’s explosion and Cheryl’s curse. (She cursed the town as retribution for her witch-ancestor Abigail, who was burned at the stake hundreds of years earlier, and she feels pretty bad about it, especially since Abigail briefly took over her body to try to murder Cheryl’s friends.) Now Archie has super strength, Jughead can read minds, Tabitha (the newest main cast member and Pop Tate’s granddaughter) can time travel, Cheryl can set things (and people) on fire, Betty can read auras, and Veronica has a literally deadly kiss. No matter how these powers came to be, they conveniently make the characters better equipped to take down Percival Pickens in the ultimate battle of good versus evil.

I’m lost again. Percival Pickens? What happened to Hiram Lodge?

Sorry to break the news, but Hiram Lodge is dead. His beloved daughter, Veronica, put a hit out on him after the bombing and was too late to call it off when the guilt finally set in. Whether Hiram is really dead or will arrive back in town at the worst possible time for the main crew remains to be seen — but Riverdale’s new Big Bad makes Hiram’s scheming look like child’s play.

If the name Pickens sounds familiar (it only will to the most loyal Riverdale viewer), that’s because Percival is a descendant of General Pickens, who, once upon a time, slaughtered members of Riverdale’s Uktena tribe and stole their land. Think of this Pickens as the English embodiment of evil. With Hiram dead (Veronica put a hit on him! And it all happened off-screen!), it was a real “out of the frying pan into the fire” situation, as Percival is the worst villain this gang has ever faced. Not only is Percival a union-busting racist with a dark past (He wanted to keep Riverdale a sundown town!), he’s an immortal being hellbent on knocking down Pop’s Chock’lit Shoppe to build a ghost train.

I’m sorry — a ghost train?

As we learn from one of the ghosts residing in Pop’s, it’s a train that grants “great power and dominion over the realm of the living and the dead.” It’s not clear what the ghost train will look like or how it will operate, but it will help usher in the end of the world. Since Tabitha is a time traveler now, she can see the apocalyptic future in which Percival defeats the Riverdale gang — the ghost train is just one tool in his toolbox to make that happen.

The end of the world…

Yes, the end of the world. Literally.

As Tabitha tells her friends when she returns home from one of her time-traveling excursions, Percival isn’t trying to take over Riverdale because of something normal like greed. He wants to destroy everything — like I said, he’s the embodiment of evil. His main target appears to be Toni and Fangs’s baby, Anthony, who is a symbol of hope for the future of Riverdale.

Percival wants to kill Toni and Fangs’s baby? Also — they have a baby?

Don’t worry, the baby is fine — and will be fine, as Tabitha just revealed that he’s immortal. As for everything else: Toni originally planned on raising a baby with Fangs and Kevin, who were previously a couple. Now, Toni and Fangs are married and raising baby Anthony together (much to Cheryl’s horror and dismay). Thanks to Percival’s powers of persuasion, Kevin went full-on crazy for a season — he even tried to get custody of Anthony despite not being his biological father — but now he’s back to normal. He’s even dating Moose again, a real treat for people who shipped them from the pilot episode.

I want to know why Jughead is kissing Sabrina. Isn’t he with Betty? What’s going on?

Oh man, you really haven’t caught up, have you? First of all, Betty and Jughead are so not a thing anymore. Betty cheated on Jughead senior year of high school with Archie, irrevocably damaging their romance and sinking the Bughead ship. (For now at least.) Post time-jump, Archie and Betty are very much in love and living together while Jughead is dating beloved new character Tabitha.

But if you scroll Twitter to find a GIF of Jughead kissing our favorite teen witch — it’s not what you think. Sabrina (of Netflix’s canceled-too-soon Chilling Adventures of Sabrina) comes to Riverdale after Percival’s plague kills many of Riverdale’s firstborn children at Toni and Fangs’s wedding. (I told you it’s biblical.) The temporarily dead include Toni, Fangs, Archie, and Jughead — and they need everyone back for that final battle of good and evil.

As a necromancer, Sabrina is tasked with helping members of the group bring their loved ones back from their personal heaven — but when she finds Jughead eating burgers and writing comic books at a heavenly version of Pop’s, she can’t convince him to return to the land of the living. Instead, she temporarily borrows his body to bring back the soul of Nick Scratch, her boyfriend who died at the end of CHAOS. (While Sabrina also died at the end of the show, she explains in Riverdale that she was brought back from the dead while Nick had to stay behind in the afterlife.) Sabrina gets a few hours with Nick in Jughead’s body before all the souls are restored to their rightful bodies — including Jughead’s.

So, uh, what’s going to happen next?

Exactly what this battle of good versus evil entails is unclear, but presumably it’s going to be something akin to Thanos versus the Avengers. Tabitha says that there’s only one scenario in which the Riverdale gang defeats Percival and that Jughead dies during it. This would be a bit scarier if there weren’t multiple versions of Jughead running around thanks to that whole parallel-universe thing. After all, who did Tabitha see die? Maybe it was a Jughead, not the Jughead. Just saying.

Look, I’m just here for the ships. What can you tell me about them?

No ships are set in stone. Tabitha tells Veronica that, in all her time traveling, she and Archie end up together about half of the time across different timelines. (Of course, the same thing can be said for Betty, whom Archie is currently dating.) While Cheryl is dating her former middle-school crush, Heather, she doesn’t exactly seem over Toni. As for Betty and Jughead, well, anything is possible — especially if Veronica and Archie end up as an endgame.

Anything else weird going on that I should know about?

If you watched season one of Riverdale, you know that Jason Blossom’s murder unlocked something very dark in this town. Well, all’s well that ends well — Cheryl just brought her twin back from the dead along with Betty’s murdered sister, Polly. Nothing bad can happen with that, right? Certainly not a zombie apocalypse!

We Need to Talk About the Beautiful Chaos That Is Riverdale