I can’t really explain my love for Riverdale in simple sentences. But I’m about to try. Because Riverdale is that rarest of shows. It’s utterly ridiculous, and I eat up every last morsel as if entranced. The CW series defies logic, or purpose, or any sense of reality. And that’s exactly what makes it so intoxicating. It’s a show about teenagers dealing with extreme issues: serial killer dads, running a speakeasy, drug-peddling cults, secret literary societies, the soul of a child trapped in a doll. You know, normal high school stuff.
And that’s all in the first four seasons. But season five, well… Season five is where things truly entered another realm of WTF. A few episodes into the season, Riverdale jumped seven years into the future. And the time jump was really just an excuse to go balls-to-the-wall bananas. The show is longer concerned with literally anything. Nothing is off limits. Those pop culture references we love? Now there are even more, and they’re more obscure and therefore more delicious. There are random pregnancies, extravagant musical numbers, and a lot of nods to Succession. Oh, and there are aliens.
If you’re of the same breed as me, I implore you to catch up on Riverdale. The season just went on hiatus until July, so it’s the perfect time to binge. But if you have no intention of doing so, and want to know what the hell is happening on the show this year, please read on. Though I’m warning you in advance: you’re about to see some things you’ll never again unsee.
Time jump shenanigans
Riverdale shut down production before completing season four due to the pandemic. So they had some loose threads to tie at the start of season five. Namely, the writers had to wrap up the whole “mysterious video tape” storyline. They did so swiftly (it was Jughead’s sister, Jelly Bean), and still had time to attend prom and graduate. With that pesky high school stuff out of the way, the show was ready for the time jump. Not only was it a clever way to catch the actors up to their real ages, but it proved the perfect vehicle for pure, unhinged storytelling opportunities.
So what’s going on in the town of Riverdale, seven years in the future? Archie returns to his hometown after fighting in a war. (The show never specifies which war, and the only footage we see is a dream sequence where it looks… like he’s fighting in WWII?) Upon his return, he learns the town’s speakeasy La Bonne Nuit is now the Whyte Wyrm, and that a mysteriously pregnant Toni Topaz is the owner and lead entertainer. Toni now lives with Kevin and Sweet Pea (in an apartment on Cloverfield Lane, perhaps my favorite dumb reference of the series); they’re the only members of their friend group still living in the town, besides Cheryl, who’s become a recluse.
As Archie quickly learns, Veronica’s dad Hiram Lodge is still up to no good. This time, he’s trying to clear out the town to his own benefit. Archie decides to round up his old friends Veronica, Betty, and Jughead to help take back the town.
We then play catch up with all three characters and see what they’ve been up to during the seven-year hiatus. Betty became an FBI trainee at Quantico, a storyline that borrows heavily from The Silence of the Lambs. A serial murderer known as the Trash Bag Killer kidnapped her, but she escaped and now suffers PTSD-style flashbacks from the incident. Veronica married some jerk named Chad and works in the diamond district, which paved the way for one of the show’s biggest chef’s kiss references: a whole scene dedicated to the Safdie Brothers’ Uncut Gems.
Jughead also landed in a pretty predictable place. He wrote a novel about his experiences in Riverdale and became a part of an elite literary brat pack in New York. But despite this apparent success, he isn’t doing so hot. He’s in a lot of debt, which collectors literally coming to his door and threatening his life. His new girlfriend dumps him and he’s struggling to write his follow-up book. Already down in the dumps, he answers Archie’s call and heads back to his hometown.
So yeah, the core four come back to town. And they all become teachers at Riverdale High? Oh, and Betty and Archie start hooking up. For a while? Then Archie and Veronica rekindle things again. Some things never really change on Riverdale.
The Black Hood returns?
This may not sound too wild just yet, but I promise you, the devil is in the details. Baked into this whole “return to save Riverdale” plot is something far more nefarious. Someone is kidnapping young women in the outskirts of town, including a Pop’s waitress named Lynette “Squeaky” Fields (a nod to real-life Manson girl and wannabe assassin Lynette Fromme) and Betty’s sister Polly. And it might all have ties to the Black Hood. Who, if you don’t remember, was Betty and Polly’s serial killer father from a few seasons back.
It would take about five separate articles to explain everything going on with the Cooper family. Betty’s lineage is all messed up thanks to a literal serial killer gene that infected her father, resides within her, and shows up in Polly’s twins, Juniper and Dagwood. Her mom Alice also has an illegitimate son named Charles who escapes from prison this season with his lover Chic, who once posed as the real Charles. (This happens after Hiram blows up the Riverdale prison for purely chaotic reasons I don’t understand.) Ordained minister Alice marries Charles and Chic, still dressed in their prison smocks, in the Cooper family household. It’s all very romantic. We love an adorable little murder family.
This ties into a few other plotlines. Namely, Polly’s disappearance and presumed murder. Betty’s fellow FBI trainee Glen arrives in town and hints that the Black Hood has something to do with the kidnappings. Glen also tells Betty he’s writing a dissertation about her kooky family, called Family of Darkness: Varying Displays of Serial Killer Genes in the Cooper Family Tree. He also shows up after Charles and Chic’s wedding, causes a ruckus, and Betty stabs him during an extremely misguided family game? She also throws a knife at Chic. And then Alice shoots Charles? Just normal family things!
This all happens in the last episode of the season before the hiatus, so I’m not sure how things will turn out. Or how the Black Hood will factor into the rest of this year’s episodes. All I know is that I love the Coopers and what they bring to this show.
I used to joke that the only thing left for Riverdale to tackle was aliens. And then this season… there’s an alien storyline. Be careful what you joke about, folks! While Archie tries to save the city, and Betty investigates her sister’s disappearance, Jughead gets wrapped up in a local legend about creatures known as Moth Men. If this sounds familiar, it’s a reference to the real-life Mothman conspiracy theory. Only on Riverdale, the Moth Men are aliens who live in the woods off the Lonely Highway. Jughead falls down a rabbit hole, trying to get to the bottom of this whole Moth Men thing. He teams up with Pop’s waitress and new fling Tabitha to investigate.
Tabitha learns that Cheryl’s grandmother, Nana Rose, has the body of a Moth Man preserved in maple syrup. Around the time they learn of this body, Jughead also sees bright lights in the sky and his mind goes blank. Jughead also, for some reason, convinces himself that he needs to take “magic maple mushrooms” to unlock his trauma and help him write his next novel. He does so, under Tabitha’s supervision, hallucinates aliens, and then disappears after seeing another set of flashing lights. That’s where the current run of episodes ends.
This is only about half of what’s actually happening on Riverdale this season. There’s more to do with Veronica and her bad marriage, and Cheryl and her fractured relationship with Toni, and Kevin and Sweet Pea, and Hiram, and Archie’s savior complex. And even though I just cycled through most of the big things, I still beg you to catch up during this hiatus. Even knowing what happens can’t prepare you for watching it actually happen. And during this strange and surreal time, the best entertainment—in my opinion—is something even more strange and surreal. Just to make us feel relatively normal by comparison.