Riverdale Season One Finale: ‘Chapter Thirteen: The Sweet Hereafter’
Archie (KJ Apa), Betty (Lili Reinhart), Veronica (Camila Mendes), and Jughead (Cole Sprouse) all deal with the fallout of their murder investigation and Clifford Blossom’s subsequent suicide. Cheryl (Madelaine Petsch) goes off the deep end.
We’ve spent nearly a full season of Riverdale watching the sleepy little town’s dark secrets bubble to the surface. To the show’s kids, it was the sort of thing that irrevocably changes your perception of the town you grew up in. Yet now that the murder investigation has wrapped up and Clifford Blossom’s heroin smuggling operation has been exposed, the town seems determined to simply forget it all ever happened and go back to the way things were. Of course, none of our main characters are having any of it, and they all deal with the fallout in their own ways. It’s a good opportunity to catch our breath and see where everything stands after the intensity of last episode, and it makes for a fairly emotional finale for the season.
Archie, as ever, is the kid with the least going on in the show. Things genuinely are pretty much back to normal for him, aside from how everything affects his friends, a fact he does at least acknowledge early on, so there isn’t as much for him to process as the others. Still, as ill-defined and occasionally self-centered as his character has been this season, there’s still been a glimmer of the kind, moral, even heroic ideal that Archie is meant to represent every once in a while, and it’s that Archie who gets to shine this episode.
After all, how much more heroic can you get than punching your hand bloody breaking up a frozen river to save someone’s life? The scene of the gang saving Cheryl from her suicide attempt is the most surprising and tense of the episode, and it allows Riverdale to show Archie at his best in a way we’ve rarely seen so far. If season 2 has more of this and less of the burgeoning love triangle between him, Veronica, and Betty (which, despite being the focus of the comics, already gives every sign of being insufferable in the show), Archie just might get to be as interesting as his friends.
Speaking of Archie’s now official new paramour, Veronica has had a pretty rough time of things. When she first came to Riverdale she had a loving relationship with her mother and fiercely defended her father from the snide remarks of others. But as she learned more about her father’s crimes, she’s come to dread his impending return home, and even her relationship with her complicit mother has begun to deteriorate. Hermione (Marisol Nichols) fell on the “good parent” side of Riverdale‘s parenting scale for a long time, but as she became more tangled up in her husband’s web of illicit activities that distinction became a lot blurrier.
Her seeming indifference to Veronica’s sarcastic suggestion of sexually manipulating Archie into getting his dad to sell his share of their joint business venture frankly feels out of character for the genuinely caring mother, but it does at least highlight how such manipulations have really come between the mother and daughter pair. Veronica finds the solace she needs in her friends and new boyfriend, but as Fred (Luke Perry) puts it, her mother stands at a crossroads. We’ll have to wait until Season 2 to see which way she ends up going.
If Hermione has made a surprising swerve away from good parenting, even more shocking has been FP’s (Skeet Ulrich) turn towards it. Normally murder accusations and taking part in cover-ups don’t make someone a better parent, but on a soapy show like this anything goes. Besides, given everything we know about FP, it’s believable that as much of a screw-up as he’s been, he would be willing to take the fall for a murder to protect his son. Unfortunately, while he may have repaired their relationship, he’s still headed to jail for his part in Jason’s murder, leaving Jughead without a guardian.
Poor Jughead, only just having found a place for himself with his friends and girlfriends, is forced to transfer to a new school on Riverdale’s south side (which continues to be hilariously run-down compared to squeaky clean Riverdale, further raising questions of how nice a place you could consider the town to begin with). But despite his dramatic gestures of leaving for his new school without a word, there’s never any real doubt that his friends won’t abandon him and he won’t push them away. He and Betty have been through this before, and it’ll take more than this to make it come crashing down. Compared to where the lonely and isolated Jughead was at the start of the season, things look pretty bright for him.
When it comes to characters who have come a long way, though, Betty is easily the one who stands out. At the start of the season she meekly accepted the domination of her mother Alice (Mädchen Amick) and desperately needed Veronica’s help to learn to stand up for herself. Now she’s the most resolute figure standing against Riverdale’s efforts to forget what just happened, publishing scathing op-eds, taking the subsequent abuse in stride, and staring down her mother when she tries to control her again.
The easy forgiveness of Alice for her cruel behavior towards her own children was a little grating earlier this season, especially as she showed little evidence of really changing that much, but the tearful conversation she has with Betty about her teenage pregnancy and the son she gave up for adoption goes a long way towards humanizing her and establishing a much healthier relationship with her daughter. And in the end, it’s Betty who gives the rousing speech at the town’s jubilee about how they need to face up to what the town is if they want to become better to rousing applause. In many ways, Betty has become the show’s core character, so seeing how far she’s come really puts an emotional capstone on the season.
After the revelations and lightning-paced intensity of last episode, this slower, more amiable denouement is exactly what the show needed. The actual murder investigation and the answer of who killed Jason was never really what mattered, or what the show was interested in. The real meat of Riverdale came in how it affected the characters and the town, so an episode that focuses on those questions after the investigation is finally settled is precisely what the show should have done.
And there really has been a lot of change. Betty was the most obvious example, but really every character is dramatically different from how they started, except maybe Archie (unless you count the change of having a dad who hasn’t been shot to having a dad who has been, as we see in the requisite soap opera season-ending cliffhanger).
So whatever plot they come up with to drive Season 2 is an interesting question, but also to some extent an irrelevant one. They’ve already set up all the character relationships and conflicts that will really drive that season in this episode, and that’s more than enough to keep me interested in this cheesy thrill ride of a show.
Rating: 9 out of 10
P.S. Jughead finally ate a burger! Personally, I was looking forward to seeing how long they could drag that one out, but a season finale is as good a time as any to drop that particular shoe. Just gotta hope the love triangle shoe never falls now…