[This is a review of the Riverdale season 1 finale. There will be SPOILERS.]
Prior to its debut on The CW earlier this year, many didn’t know what to make of Riverdale, the network’s adaptation of Archie Comics’ classic characters that was said to be a teen drama mixed with the vibe of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks. Certainly, with Archie Comics chief creative officer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa on board as showrunner, Riverdale was poised to honor the spirit of the comics on which the show is based – while taking it in an entirely new direction. That came to be the case when Riverdale season 1 premiered with a uniquely compelling mystery concerning the murder of local golden boy Jason Blossom, and all the small town’s dark secrets this crime brought to the surface.
Season 1 of Riverdale has followed the teenage foursome who are Archie Comics’ most iconic characters — Archie Andrews, Jughead Jones, Betty Cooper, and Veronica Lodge — as they investigated the murder of Jason Blossom and dealt with their own secrets, as well as those of their families. Many of those secrets have come to light over the course of season 1, with the most important revelations coming in last week’s penultimate episode, which finally revealed who killed Jason Blossom.
Now, in the Riverdale season 1 finale, ‘The Sweet Hereafter’ — written by Aguirre-Sacasa and directed by Lee Toland Krieger — Archie and his friends must deal with the fallout of learning the identity of Jason’s murderer: Clifford Blossom, who was found after hanging himself in a building on the Blossom’s maple syrup farm. With Jughead’s father FP remaining in jail for his hand in covering up the murder, Veronica’s father coming home from prison, Betty dealing with the revelation of incest in her family lineage, and Archie saying goodbye to his mother again, the gang has plenty going on. Still, Riverdale has more secrets left to be uncovered in the season 1 finale.
For the most part, ‘The Sweet Hereafter’ deals with the fallout from the revelation that Clifford Blossom killed his son, though not in a way fans may have initially expected. In a narrating voiceover from Jughead that has become a staple of Riverdale (with Jughead’s darkly humorous tone evident in his “ultimate cliffhanger” comment), he explains that the police believed Clifford had killed Jason after the younger Blossom discovered his father used the family business to import heroin from Canada to Riverdale, which the South Side Serpents then sold to the town. Overwhelmed by his own actions and the lengths to which he went to cover up his son’s murder, Clifford hung himself.
With the answers to the mystery of Jason’s murder seemingly wrapped up and tied with a bow for the police, they turned their attention to the Serpents’ alleged drug dealing – a shift in Riverdale’s narrative that is somewhat jarring and difficult to believe. However, Betty also takes issue with the town’s police force, and her own parents’, willingness to turn a blind eye to the darkest, most incongruous parts of Riverdale and its inhabitants. Her efforts to defend FP and the Serpents are met with attempts to brush her under the rug, then when she refuses to be silenced, targeted harassment. In her speech at the Riverdale High Jubilee, she uses her voice to implore the town to be more honest, more open – to be better.
It’s a wonderful moment, followed by a scene in which the four teenagers toast each other with milkshakes while tucked safely in a booth at Pop’s. Of course, the town of Riverdale hasn’t quite revealed all its dark secrets just yet. Earlier in the episode, Alice Cooper told Betty about a child she had before Polly, a son she put up for adoption and whose identity is now a mystery. Later, the final moments of the season 1 finale set the stage for what’s to come in Riverdale season 2, with Jughead being accepted by the Serpents – even receiving his own patched leather jacket – and Fred Andrews being shot during what appears to be a holdup at Pop’s. As Jughead’s voiceover reveals with its characteristic semi-omniscience, this is the moment that Riverdale loses the last of its innocence.
Of course, while Jughead’s future with the Serpents, Betty’s brother, and who shot Fred are the most obvious mysteries established for Riverdale season 2, the most dramatic moments of ‘The Sweet Hereafter’ – and perhaps its biggest secrets – surround Cheryl Blossom. Cheryl almost takes a backseat in ‘The Sweet Hereafter’; with everyone else focused on their own drama, they hardly see the signs of potential suicidal thoughts until Cheryl spells it out in a text to Veronica. That text leads Archie to punching his way through the ice on Sweetwater River in order to save Cheryl from killing herself in order to be with Jason.
Still yet even more dramatic is Cheryl’s seemingly sudden decision to burn down Thornhill by dousing her childhood home in gasoline and setting in on fire with a candelabra – an image that references back to Cheryl helping Betty burn the playbook that revealed the beginnings of Jason and Polly’s relationship. But, while Cheryl’s actions seem to be the result of her grief over Jason’s death and her father’s betrayal, as well as her mother’s callous reaction to her, Riverdale has established there’s often more than meets the eye to anything in this town – so what’s really going on with Cheryl? Is it grief, or something more?
All in all, ‘The Sweet Hereafter’ is a compelling conclusion to the end of Riverdale season 1, taking the time to further develop and conclude certain grounded storylines – such as the teens’ respective relationships – while additionally setting the stage for an even darker, and perhaps more riveting, season 2. Riverdale delivered a fresh take on the Archie Comics mythos with a tale of teen drama mixed with murderous intrigue. While it remains to be seen if season 2 will be able to follow up what has been a uniquely entertaining season, Riverdale caps off its its freshman outing by providing a satisfying ending while revealing we’ve only yet seen the tip of the iceberg.
Riverdale will return for season 2 on The CW.