The murder mystery of Jason Blossom came to a sudden, unceremonious end last week with the revelation that the murderer was close to home so far as the Blossoms were concerned. Aside from Jughead’s unfortunate pun about the matter being “the ultimate Cliff-hanger” it seems that all’s well that ends well, right? Not so fast. There’s a sense of dread in this season finale of Riverdale. There’s a rift forming through the town, where on one side there are those well off and on the other there is the underclass. But first, we have to get down to what we all came here to see: hardcore nudity. 

Okay, so this is a CW show and there’s no hardcore nudity, but there were lots of “I love yous” and hot make-out sessions, leading to illicit off-screen teenage sex. To get there though we had to saunter through economic anxiety, parental abandonment, long-buried family secrets, a cry for help, and a musical number. The conclusion sets up the mystery for next season, and leaves a beloved character’s fate in a classic cliffhanger predicament. Honestly though, that last part’s pro forma, but what was really fascinating in this Riverdale finale were the undercurrents. Might Riverdale be using the Archies as something more than fodder for the teen drama mill?

Long story short, the fact that Cliff Blossom killed his son because he was going to ditch the family legacy after finding out that the Blossom maple syrup was sweetened by something not from any tree (it’s heroine) has seemed to roll off the backs of Riverdale’s elite like so much local intrigue. Meanwhile, the axe has fallen on the Southside Serpents, whom Sheriff Keller is presuming was working with Cliff to distribute the heroine in town. Keller wanted F.P. to confess, but Jughead’s dad insists that while the Serpents will get you high, they are strictly an herbal drug dealing motorcycle gang.

But sometimes the appearance of impropriety is all that people need to convict you sight unseen, and its amazing how some people in Riverdale are able to get on their high horse when it comes to the Serpents. The Lodges are vindicated because the presumption of the Sheriff’s office is that the attache case filled with cash was left with the Serpent Mustang as Cliff Blossom’s way of framing the Lodges for being the ones to pull the strings in Jason’s murder. Of course Sheriff Keller doesn’t dig deeper, and thus Hermione and Mayor McCoy skate on their influence peddling and bribery.

Meanwhile, in the Cooper household, everything’s back to normal, which threatens to bring out Dark Betty again who we see digging her nails into her bleeding palms at the breakfast table. Betty can’t handle the hypocrisy of her and Archie being hailed as heroes for getting to the bottom of the Blossom killing, while Jughead and his Capote-esque sleuthing is sidelined because the die is cast on the associative guilt of his father. Eager to stick up for her boyfriend, and stick it to Riverdale’s double standard, Betty posts an article in defense of the town’s south-siders, but anonymous dissenters paint the words, “Got to hell Southside Slut” on her locker.

Riverdale didn’t hammer home the metaphor, but it was hard to ignore the subtext. Betty, for trying to defend a group of people from being universally declared a town threat, is a pariah, while Penelope Blossom, whose husband killed her son to protect the fact his empire is built on trafficking illicit drugs, can go to the town jubilee without anyone looking at her sideways. It’s an old story, and one that still happens, this idea that the fault can always be found in a group of outsiders and not within the vaunted ranks of the so-called pillars of the community. We see it play out in our local and national news everyday.

There’s also a cost on the other side though as we saw. While Penelope Blossom was pretending that everything was normal, Cheryl was issuing a cry for help; she resigns from the River Vixens, apologizes to Jughead by giving him her spider broach, and then she texts Veronica that she’s going to be with Jason. I saw where this was going, but it was understandable why the Veronica and the others might not have since everything Cheryl does is so typically staged in a dinner theatre kind of way, like she’s the star of a Tennessee Williams play about her life. But you can only push Cheryl so far I guess, and in the end, with her father guilty and her mother disinterested in talking about the family’s sins, there was only one person whom Cheryl could turn to, and he was already dead.

I give kudos to director Lee Toland Krieger, who returns to Riverdale for the first time since directing the first three episodes, for the rather frantic scene where Archie, Betty, Jughead and Veronica head to Sweetwater River to stop Cheryl from joining zombie Jason underneath the frozen water. There’s genuine concern there for a minute that Cheryl’s goose was well and truly cooked, and that the season would end with the Blossom family tragedy complete. And then we see Archie, quite graphically, punch his way through the ice in order to save Cheryl in an edge-of-your-seat nail-biter that actually made you say, “Oh no, not Cheryl.” She hasn’t always been the friendliest, but like all great heels, you’d hate to see Cheryl go. 

Fortunately, her dramatic tendencies reasserted themselves in the end when Cheryl goes to Plan B, and burns Thorn Hill to the ground instead. What might Penelope do without the Blossom identity that she was clinging onto so tightly like it were a shield to protect her? That will surely be answered next season, but speaking of the lowering of shields, we learned what Alice Cooper has been hiding, that she, like Polly, got in a family way in high school and gave up her child. Betty has an old brother in his mid-20s that she’s never met, another little detail that will likely be explored further next season.

Another consequential development is Jughead maybe going to the dark side. It was a case of coitus interruptus for Betty and Jughead when the Serpents arrive at the Jones trailer and tell Jughead that they’ve got his back, giving him a Serpents jacket in honour of the fact that F.P. is cooling his heels in prison rather than selling out the gang to the sheriff. It was a very Godfather moment when Jughead put on the jacket as Betty watched from the doorway, but is this what F.P. meant when he warned Archie that he and Betty need to support Jughead and make sure he doesn’t go to a dark place? I think we know the Serpents aren’t all bad (so far as biker gangs go), but it’s pretty clear that from this point on anyone wearing that jacket is going to be persona non grata in Riverdale.

But the final curtain fell not on Thorn Hill, or the trailer park, but on Pops, where Fred and Archie meet the morning after. Archie knows his dad has something important he wants to talk about, breakfast at Pops is how he does it. The Lodges are trying to take control of the drive-in development, and Hermione offers to buy Fred out, which he refuses. Still, Fred has concerns. He knows the Lodges might undermine him, and there’s still the precarious nature of the contracting business, which, let’s face it, is rather cutthroat in Riverdale as we’ve seen before.

In the closing minutes, a masked man comes into Pops and holds up the place at gun point. Archie comes out of the bathroom and feels prone to act, but Fred shakes his head; this was no time for heroes. The masked man is irate, but he seems more intent to yell and scream and cause a ruckus than actually rob the place. We hear a shot, the man runs out of Pops and we cut to Fred on the floor bleeding from a gunshot would. Jughead’s voiceover, recalls that this was when “that last bit of innocence” died in Riverdale, and that the crime was “anything but random.”

And that’s that! The end of Riverdale season one. Admittedly my expectations were not high for this show going in, and when we at Nerd Bastards talked about covering it, I said I’d give it a few episodes and probably ditch it. But no, I was well and truly surprised at how addictive this show was. The cast, for the most part, was great, the storylines were interesting, and I was amazed at how the cast and crew was able to walk the fine line between homage and truly making Riverdale its own corner of the Archies legend. I’m disappointed that season two is going to follow another standard crime store, my heart was set on something more supernatural, but I’ve still got my fingers crossed that at some point we’ll see the transfer student goth chick Sabrina Spellman in this series. Stay tuned.

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