13 Wild Moments That Made ‘Riverdale’ TV’s Weirdest Teen Drama
In case you haven’t noticed, Riverdale is weird. It’s a weird show. It doesn’t fit in, and much like its protagonist Jughead Jones, it doesn’t wanna fit in. The show’s seventh and final season, which premieres Wednesday on the CW, will take the mind-bending teen series to the 1950s. At this point, that’s hardly a shock; we’ve already watched Archie Andrews and the gang battle criminals, the Jingle Jangle drug trade, cults, bears, Mothmen, their parents, and, of course, themselves. Some characters have even picked up a few superpowers along the way. (If you tuned out a few seasons ago, you’ve missed a lot.)
Given how quickly Riverdale burns through plot, many of these shocking moments came, went, and might already be forgotten. A few, however, have been so ingeniously ridiculous, so brilliantly absurd, that they’ve come to define the series and its brand of “weirdo” energy. For instance: Remember the time we found out that Cheryl Blossom was having tea parties with her dead brother’s preserved corpse? Here, for your perusal, are the bizarre story arcs, plot details, and twists that have made Riverdale “Riverdale.”
Archie Dates Miss Grundy
When Riverdale first premiered, its promotion centered around how dark the teen show would be; early descriptions teased parallels to Twin Peaks. Among the more provocative story lines in Season 1 was Archie’s relationship with Miss Grundy. In the comics, Miss Grundy was an elderly homeroom teacher; in the series, she’s a music teacher and Archie’s tutor, and the two have a sexual relationship. The series never contended with the more serious implications of Archie’s relationship with Grundy, which in the real world might not even be legal, depending on the age of consent—an oversight that disappointed some viewers. Nevertheless, the choice was foundational to Riverdale’s future brand—and its tendency, especially in earlier seasons, to sexualize its teen characters.
Betty Cooper’s BDSM-inspired alter ego—identifiable by her black hair and penchant for walking around in a lacy black bra—made her first debut in the third episode of Season 1 and returned in Season 2, when Betty was role-playing with Jughead. Alongside Season 2’s “Dark Betty” encore came a controversial episode in which Betty performs a strip tease to “Mad World” in front of her boyfriend, her mother, and a bar full of Serpents to gain acceptance into the gang. (Why? That’s a great question, and a lot of viewers asked it at the time.)
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Cooper’s character has since taken a different turn. In 2018, ahead of the show’s third season, Reinhart told Teen Vogue that she’d requested that the show do away with “Dark Betty” in the future. “I think it kind of became a mockery of itself,” she said. “It was supposed to be this dark side of her that she wasn’t able to express otherwise, and it just became this weird sexual thing that people didn’t really understand.”
Archie Starts a Vigilante Group
This was one for the books: After Archie watched his father, Fred Andrews, get shot by Season 2’s major villain, the Black Hood, Archie—underwhelmed by town sheriff Thomas Keller’s efforts—went full-on fascist and founded a vigilante group of teens to hunt the serial killer down. Archie’s Red Circle became enemies with Jughead’s gang, the Southside Serpents, and eventually disbanded by order of Principal Weatherbee. (The group later reformed as the Dark Circle, to act as underlings for Veronica Lodge’s father, Hiram.) A lightly topical arc that mostly felt ridiculous, the Red Circle plot solidified Archie’s goober status and tweaked the show’s tonal landscape.
Betty’s Dad Becomes Hannibal Lecter
Riverdale loves its cinematic Easter eggs, and once the show unmasked Betty Cooper’s father as the Black Hood, all bets were off. In staging Betty’s visits with her father in jail, the series re-created the stone set-up seen in Silence of the Lambs, which finds Jodie Foster’s character, Clarice Starling, interviewing Anthony Hopkins’ jailed cannibal through a thick glass partition. More ridiculous than the staging, however, was the subsequent revelation that Betty might have her father’s “serial killer genes.”
Riverdale Does a Musical Episode
Although Riverdale’s sophomore season was not its strongest, we did get one lasting and very welcome addition to the show’s alchemy: musical episodes! It’s a perfect fit for a series that occasionally forgets it’s not Glee and revels in letting its stars belt to their hearts’ content. We started with an excellent Carrie episode in Season 2, followed by Heathers in Season 3, Hedwig and the Angry Inch in Season 4, and Next to Normal in Season 5. Each of these episodes slots into the series thematically, but Hedwig takes the cake, thanks to a rousing performance of “Midnight Radio.”
Archie Goes to Jail, and Veronica Organizes a Cheer Squad
Perhaps the most ridiculous thing Riverdale has ever done, Archie’s jail plot finds poor Archie arrested for a crime he didn’t commit. (His adult nemesis, Hiram Lodge, set him up.) Archie joins a fight club against his will, and the season hits peak absurdity when Veronica rolls up to the Leopold and Loeb Juvenile Detention Center with the River Vixens to boost his spirits. The arc concludes, naturally, with Veronica and friends breaking Archie out of jail before he’s forced to fight to his death. Just another normal day in Riverdale!
Archie Makes the SATs After Getting Mauled by a Bear
Unfortunately, things did not get any easier for Archiekins once he got out of jail. In perhaps its goofiest cliffhanger to date, Season 3 ended its midseason premiere with Archie getting mauled by a bear. An episode later, however, he was back in school, apparently unharmed and fretting about his SATs. At least, Archie is okay physically; as evidenced by his darker hair upon his return to school, poor Archie has been psychologically scarred by his brush with death. (Read: He becomes even angstier.) While the bear did not influence Riverdale’s plot in a particularly robust way, it did expand the limits of just how silly—and apparently inconsequential!—its twists could be.
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Betty’s Half Brother, Chic, Revealed as the Che Diaz of Riverdale
No season finale has landed on its face quite like Season 3’s Gargoyle King reveal—a Scooby-Doo-like moment in which the serial killer was unmasked, and revealed to be… Betty’s annoying half-brother?!
Chic showed up in Season 2, as Betty and friends searched for the Black Hood. He was, frankly, always kind of annoying and pointless, and the time he spent on screen usually felt like time wasted. Viewers had been led to believe that Betty’s father, the Black Hood, killed Chic toward the end of Season 2, but it turns out that Cheryl’s mother, Penelope Blossom, took Chic under their wing and trained him to be a killer. (It also turns out later that Chic is not actually Chic, but an impostor—but that’s a story for another time.)
Thinking about Chic now, and particularly that killer reveal, conjures up the same feeling as many And Just Like That viewers might feel toward Che Diaz—another character who always seems to show up everywhere—especially when you least expect or want them.
Betty’s Mom Joins Chad Michael Murray’s Cult
Remember the time we thought Alice Cooper had been enraptured by a cult leader played by Chad Michael Murray, but it turned out that she had been an informant the whole time? But even more important: Do you remember how that organ-harvesting cult leader, Edgar Evernever, tried to escape on a homemade rocket while wearing a very well executed Evil Knievel suit? Once again, Riverdale really went there—and so did former teen star Murray. Speaking about his role in 2019, Murray, a former teen actor, said he relished the chance to play such a seedy character. “As an actor, it’s kind of on that list of things like, ‘You want to play a cult leader?’ The answer is always yes.”
Cheryl Blossom Is Hanging Out with Her Brother’s Corpse
No Riverdale twist will ever top this one. In Season 4, viewers discovered that Cheryl Blossom has been keeping her dead brother Jason Blossom’s corpse in her family chapel, where he “speaks” to her. From the show’s immaculately grotesque Jason dummy to actress Madelaine Petsch’s typically campy performance, the Jason reveal feels bound to stand the test of time as Riverdale’s weirdest, most emblematic plot device.
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Betty Cooper Becomes the New “Agent Cooper”
In Season 4, Betty joins the Junior FBI, and in Season 5, she becomes a full-fledged agent—although her relationship with the bureau is, like most Riverdale relationships, a bit unstable. This is even more important, however, because by achieving this title, Betty is now Agent Cooper—a name shared by a certain Twin Peaks protagonist. Given Riverdale’s long-standing fascination with Twin Peaks, it’s hard to read this as anything but a very cheeky gag. It’s been years in the making, and it was worth it.
The Gang Finds an Alien Preserved in Maple Syrup
Well, okay, not quite. For a while in Season 5, it seemed that an extraterrestrial species called “Mothmen” might’ve been terrorizing Riverdale. At one point Penelope’s grandmother, Nana Rose, hands over a barrel of maple syrup with supposed preserved alien remains inside. It later turns out that the remains were from her disfigured cousin, Timothy, and that the “Mothmen” story was created by illegitimate Blossom progeny who live out in the woods. The scary story was designed to keep strangers away, and the Blossom family embraced it. Still, for a good portion of Season 5, it seemed possible that aliens might be afoot—yet another twist on the show’s original mystery formula.
“Welp, There’s Time Travel on Riverdale Now! ... And Also Super Powers! ... And Also a Multiverse?!”
Yup. In Season 6, we waded into an alternate dimension called “Rivervale,” an alternate dimension created by a different version of Jughead, who has been writing comics in a sort of interdimensional Pop’s Chock’lit Shoppe. He show also granted Archie and Betty superpowers—an absolutely bananas twist that does, in fairness, have its origins in the original comics. Kiernan Shipka’s Sabrina shows up, and eventually, it’s up to Cheryl—apparently the Riverdale’s Scarlet Witch—to save everyone after a magical villain named Percival traps everyone inside the town with a forcefield as a comet approaches. (As I type all of this, I ask myself once more, for the eighty thousandth time, What the hell is this show?!)
We might have only one season of Riverdale left, but this devoutly wild series has already given us more than enough wild twists and cheeky references to last a lifetime. It’s never quite fit in, and thank God, it’s also never tried.
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