Ah yes, the moment is finally here. The moment I’ve been waiting for all my life. And by all my life I mean the past week. One week ago, however, does feel like a lifetime ago. Both for the usual pandemic-fucked time continuum reasons but also because I have spent most waking minutes of the past week obsessing over Riverdale’s latest chaotic choice. Perhaps its most chaotic to date?
In “Purgatory,” we meet our characters seven years after graduation. They’re all in their mid-20s now, the traumas of their high school years replaced with fresh new adult traumas. They haven’t seen each other in nearly a decade, and you know what, I commend Riverdale for acknowledging the reality of people not really staying in touch with their high school friends. I mean maybe you have the same friend group now as you did when you were 16, and good for you! But I simply cannot relate.
Still, short of just rebooting with fresh new faces entirely, Riverdale must press on and find a way to keep the narrative going even though these characters have drifted so far apart. I thought that their reunion might be sparked by, well, DEATH. That would seem very Riverdale wouldn’t it? And the show actually playfully leans into those expectations with a cliffhanger that closes out its cold open, making it seem like Pop Tate may have become Riverdale’s latest fallen townmember. But alas, Pop is alive and well. Thank god! Who would feed the children of Riverdale without him?! He’s just retiring. So Archie, back in town after seven years in army, rallies the troops (army!) to return to Riverdale to give Pop a big sendoff. But of course, he wants more than just that from them. The town is in shambles, gutted by Hiram Lodge and looking like a ghost town slash post-apocalyptic society. And Archie, being Archie, believes it’s up to him and his “friends” who he hasn’t seen in s e v e n years to FIX IT.
Honestly? The premise works for me! This almost feels like watching a pilot for a new show entirely, and I tend to embrace whatever the hell Riverdale throws my way, so I say sure, let’s start over.
Since this is not your typical episode, this will be an atypical recap. Much of the episode just brings us up to speed on what the characters have all been doing for the past 2,555 days (I did the actual math!), so let’s go one-by-one shall we?
As previously mentioned, Archie went to war. And the episode all begins with his surreal nightmare, which places him in combat on his former high school football field. Chilling! He wakes up to his actual life, which is also sorta a nightmare, although it has been much worse. At least he doesn’t have to fight a bear! He wants to keep doing war stuff, but a superior officer says Nope—perhaps because Archie is showing VERY CLEAR signs of PTSD as well as survivor’s guilt. Instead, he’s homeward bound, set to take over Riverdale’s ROTC program. From what I can tell, the attempts to make Archie “age” appear to just be a lil bit of a haircut.
Archie comes home to a very changed Riverdale, wanders into Pops where no one knows who he is, and then makes his way to the speakeasy formerly owned by a teenage Veronica Lodge but now collectively owned by the Southside Serpents, the local gang consisting of—at least in my perception through the years—half teens and half elderly folks. And this brings me to…
Toni is once again the Serpent Queen, an accomplishment she hoped for last episode at graduation! We love the foreshadowing. But she’s more than a gang leader! She’s also a performer at the speakeasy, a graduate of the fictional Highsmith College, Riverdale High’s new guidance counselor, and PREGNANT. Archie rather rudely asks who the father is, but Toni is gracious and says it’s a secret……for now. In any case, Vanessa Morgan, who plays Toni, really was pregnant during filming, and instead of going the route too many TV shows go when an actor gets pregnant and filming them at weird angles or giving them fewer scenes, it actually seems like Toni’s role on the show is INCREASING post-time jump! Finally/hopefully! I welcome it! She’s living with the still-dating Fangs and Kevin (on, I kid you not, CLOVERFIELD LANE), and Kevin’s the drama teacher at Riverdale High now. It’s pretty cute! Less cute…her run-ins with her ex-girlfriend Cheryl Blossom.
Cheryl, another one of the characters who has stayed in Riverdale this whole time, has gone full Sarah Winchester, the real-life heiress whose endless construction of the Winchester House is one of the finest true story haunted house tales there is. If you’re unfamiliar with the Winchester Mystery House (I happen to know a lot, because my girlfriend is obsessed), the show uses Cheryl as a mouthpiece to summarize Sarah’s wikipedia page. My summary of her summary: Sarah Winchester believed she had to continue construction on her house forever, so she turned it into a puzzling house of architectural horror. Cheryl’s doing the same thing, obsessed with rehabilitating Thornhill to the point of rarely leaving it. I’m…more worried about Cheryl than usual! Toni basically tells her that her family no longer associates Cheryl with the horrors perpetrated by her family, suggesting that they could finally be together if they want to, and Cheryl is just sort of like “hmmm no I’m dating my easel.” Because, yes, Cheryl is back to making her art, and this time it’s very large paintings. And maybe she’s going to start forging famous paintings as some scheme cooked up by Nana Rose???? Like I said: worried! I think laying Choni to rest for now is the right move, because that relationship was making less and less sense the more it went on. But what’s going on with Cheryl! Where is the chaotic lesbian who has an absurd one-liner for every situation? Someone please get her out of this house! It feels like Cheryl is trapped in a sultry candlelit lesbian gothic, and I’m not necessarily mad at that. Bring on the Sapphic horror!
Veronica Lodge’s life is also a horror story in that she has been married for a year to a man named CHADWICK who works on WALL STREET. They share a very large apartment on the Upper East Side together, and Chadwick is basically a miniature Hiram, because we all know Veronica has serious daddy issues! Chadwick doesn’t want Veronica working because of an ominous accident they both experienced that they keep referring to as THE ACCIDENT. What was the accident you might ask? THEIR HELICOPTER CRASHED ON THE WAY TO MARTHA’S VINEYARD. Veronica’s secretly working at a jewelry store, flexing her business mogul muscles, and when Chadwick finds out he’s like no it will cause you stress REMEMBER THE ACCIDENT? Veronica seeks some advice from her mother, who has been a Real Housewife of New York for the past seven years, which means she must have made a good impression in her first season, because as we Housewives watchers (Bravo Dykes, unite!) know, if you don’t make magic in your first season, you’re out of there. Hermione says a bunch of bullshit about how Veronica being better at Chadwick’s job than him probably made him a whiny little baby, and instead of Veronica being like you know what you’re right mom I should go dump his ass, Veronica instead returns home and says look I’m gonna work and you’re gonna let me. Low bar for this marriage imo. Veronica says two absolutely absurd things during her segment of the episode: First, she says that the year is 2021. WHAT! This means that prior to now, Riverdale has taken place 7 years behind the current time. This may not seem like that big of a deal/time is irrelevant/this is an obvious retcon much like Cheryl’s grade in school suddenly changed between season one and two but for some reason it is COMPLETELY THROWING ME OFF????? What IS time indeed!!!! The second wild thing Veronica says is that sex with Chadwick used to be AMAZING. Sure, Ronnie.
Jughead is a certified asshole!!!!!!!!!!! Now, I’m not sure if this opinion is going to be popular or not, and I hope that any fervent Jughead Heads do not come for me, but I kind of love where they’re going here? Jughead is basically a self-righteous, self-aggrandizing, self-pitying writer bro who says it’s fine to drink a bunch because a bunch of other writer bros in the past did it and whose first novel did well but whose second novel has hit a big ol’ obstacle known as writers’ block. He’s got a cute writer girlfriend who he takes for granted and who leaves his ass because, hey, she has had writer’s block, too, but she doesn’t take it out on him like he does to her! He’s also got debt collectors knocking on his door, an over-the-top literary agent who is trying to light a fire under his ass to write this next book, an apartment that looks like a dim, damp den where people gather to jack off to Jack Kerouac, and seemingly zero friends. His life is a mess, and he’s absolutely a monster!!!!! Riverdale is speaking a truth here: Sometimes brooding white boys who think they’re smarter than everyone else in high school turn out to be, well, published authors, sure, but also PUBLISHED ASSHOLES. Jug’s ego has gotten the best of him, and I’m living for this arc and also for the noir-esque humor of his segment…in which he hooks up with a pretty grad student because she approaches him at a lonely bar to tell him she loved his book. Like I said, textbook writer bro ASSHOLE! The next morning, she reveals she only hooked up with him so she could ask him to read her manuscript. I was seriously cracking up at all the Jughead scenes. They’re over-the-top and yet TOO REAL.
Betty is fully a Fed now which, ugh, but I do gotta say that Betty Cooper as a run-down, smart but impulsive, determined and slightly unhinged loner serial killer chaser is WORKING. Much like Jughead, this is the perfect trajectory for this character, who reminds us right away that she has been catching serial killers SINCE HIGH SCHOOL. She tells this to a therapist, and hey, good for her for being one of the only characters in some semblance of therapy. But she’s also lying to that therapist, saying that she’s no longer having nightmares and is good to keep doing her job instead of working cold cases even though she is very much so having incredibly violent and realistic nightmares, one of which we’re plunged into. You see, not too long ago, Betty was tracking down a the Trash Bag Killer (aka TBK), a murderer who appears to have chopped up his victims and placed them in trash bags. She got a lead, charged forward instead of waiting for backup, and then was held in captivity by TBK for TWO WEEKS!!!! She got away, but so did he. And he’s definitely her white whale now. Also, I guess the therapy isn’t working because she’s sleeping with her boss (bad in and of itself) and also telling him she’s hanging out with friends when really she’s staying home alone to assemble a murder conspiracy board with her cat and takeout (also not great!). They have made Betty look “older” by having her wear her hair down at shoulders in a soft wave instead of in her signature ponytail.
So, the whole reason Riverdale as a town is a mess (moreso than usual) is because Hiram is running it into the ground in order to bolster SoDale, a high-end development just a ways down from Riverdale following what has become known as The Lonely Highway. Yes, we’re back to exploring the evils of gentrification/exploitative urban planning/real estate empires/etc. Honestly, I love when Riverdale goes here, because so much about this show is about how individual actions can poison a community, and when it shows this on a more grounded level than, say, through a souped-up murder version of Dungeons & Dragons it’s quite effective! Reggie is Hiram’s new right-hand-man. Stonewall Prep is still in play, because SoDale will feed into it while Riverdale High continues to lose funding.
At the very last second, the episode also introduces a character named…Squeaky*…who arrived in Riverdale hoping for a fresh start in life and then leaves when she doesn’t find it. Published Asshole Jughead tells us this in narration (is this his next book?????) and then teases that something terrible happens to Squeaky along the Lonely Highway. So yes, in case you were worried, Riverdale is still the same as it ever was in the sense that the murder rate is alarmingly high for such a small town.
I honestly think this episode is Peak Riverdale in terms of its humor and blending together of noir, mystery, suspense, gothic, etc! While much of the story is just filling in blanks for where these characters have been for seven whole ass years, their arcs have me hooked. Riverdale hasn’t been a high school drama for a very long time, so I’m glad we’re done pretending with all that. Let’s embrace the slightly surreal dark fairytale vibe.
*Squeaky is technically a nickname, but I stand by my belief that most names in the Archieverse are the product of some strange booze-fueled game.
Support Independent Queer Media
We’re raising funds to make it through the end of July. 99% of the people who read this site don’t support. Will you be one of the ones who do? Joining A+ is one of the best ways to support Autostraddle — plus you get access to bonus content while keeping the site 99% free for everyone. Will you join today?