It’s graduation day at Riverdale High, and you know what that means! Time to largely forget all the emotional baggage of last episode in favor of fan-servicey nostalgia and then a wild time-jump to compensate for the inconvenience of all the main characters leaving town to pursue their dreams separately from one another. Here we go!
Okay, so it’s not like last episode never happened. But tbh Betty is being pretty chill for someone who just discovered yet another member of her family is a serial killer, and it seems to be forgotten ENTIRELY that Cheryl Blossom helped facilitate the mass poisoning of her extended family???? In any case, we came for the built-in nostalgia not for the narrative consistency!
Throughout the episode, we flashback to previous scenes from early seasons Riverdale to show just how far these teens have come and by just how far these teens have come I mean just how many traumas they have experienced. I’m a sucker for all the nostalgia like, yes, emotionally manipulate me Riverdale! The fact that they replay the scene where Mr. Andrews imagines Archie’s graduation—a fantasy sequence from the first time Fred almost died???? Honestly, perfect. RIP Luke Perry. (But also, where was Mary Andrews’ butch gf all episode?!)
So the episode really is like catnip for those of us who emotionally overinvest in teen dramas and have watched Riverdale from the beginning. Hiram giving Veronica a pearl necklace? Instant conjuring of the brilliantly dramatic slow-mo sequence of her ripping them off in season one. They don’t even show that flashback, because it’s already playing in our brains. Riverdale knows that even when it’s often inconsistent about character histories and motives, it has crafted so many big and indelible dramatic character moments that certain things just stick like maple syrup.
But in addition to offering up globs of sentimentality and Graduation Feels, the episode also fully recognizes the horrors these characters have experienced through the years, and I always love when Riverdale acknowledges its characters’ traumas. There is genuine fallout to the reveal that Jellybean was the Auteur at the end of last episode. On a plot level, it means FP is taking her to Toledo and staying to support her, leaving Alice for now. But it also points to something deeper that Betty pieces together in her graduation speech: The younger kids (Jellybean’s age) in Riverdale have never known this town as anything other than the hellscape it has been ever since Jason Blossom’s murder. In a way, this show has always been about how one horrific act of violence can undo a community, collective trauma spurring a whole slew of disorder. A father shoots his son point blank and suddenly a town can no longer pretend to be quiet and quaint.
I kind of love how Riverdale so boldly flies in the face of the lie perpetuated by most film and television that high school marks the best years of one’s lives. I feel like high school being the best years of one’s lives is a distinctly straight person thing to believe, so thank you Riverdale for being like no <3. Listening to Archie sing “Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life)” as they all accept their diplomas is even funnier than most on-the-nose Riverdale music moments, because this has absolutely not been the time of their lives and, frankly, GOOD FUCKING RIDDANCE to Riverdale High.
Betty, Archie, Veronica, Jughead, and all of their classmates have had a pretty straight-up terrible time in high school. There were serial killers; there were haunted role-playing games; there were bear attacks; there were abusive nuns; there were full-town quarantines and a for-profit prison scheme and, like, so many murders! And all along, the adults didn’t do much to protect them. They had to do it all themselves. Betty and Jughead were the town’s only competent detectives. Archie was the only one doing anything about the town’s troubled youths. The excitement all these teens have about graduation is probably doubled by the fact that it means an escape hatch from Riverdale. A chance to seize control of their lives.
There’s a heavy dose of interpersonal drama in the episode, too. Betty tells Jughead about the Archie kiss, and the way it plays out is kind of subtle for Riverdale but incredibly believable. Jughead’s face just sort of breaks at the reveal. He looks SO SAD. But then Betty, eager for some validation, starts kissing him and they have sex. It seems like everything might be okay, but of course it’s not. They drift apart. Betty says she’s going to go to New Haven early, and they both admit they love each other but make no moves to keep the relationship going. Heartbreaking!!!! Unfortunately I’m very invested in these two.
Veronica and Archie say farewell, too. Archie up and decides at the very last-minute to join the Army which, sure, that actually tracks with this character. Veronica’s too sad about him going off to basic to be mad at either him or Betty about the kiss, and they all end up chasing down his Army bus for last hugs, and it’s very, very dramatic. Again, this episode is all about emotionally manipulating viewers, and it’s working! I care!
As has been usual lately, I’m perplexed by the story decisions surrounding Cheryl Blossom. It too often feels like the writers room is just spinning a wheel when it comes to Cheryl’s arc. This episode? We’re going to *spins wheel* …make her break up with Toni and commit to rebuilding Thornhill? I would say it does not track with the character’s history, but at this point, the writers have made such a mess of Cheryl’s motives, choices, and emotional stakes that they’ve made it so they can basically plug her in wherever they want. It’s very frustrating! I don’t really understand why we went through that prom drama and the very sudden conflict between Toni’s relationship and her family only for Toni to then be like no it’s okay my Nana is coming around to things only to THEN have Cheryl suggest they go on a break until she can rehabilitate the Blossom family name?
As a related side note, Penelope literally emerges from the bushes at the end of the graduation ceremony to be like I would never have missed your graduation (okay………this woman literally put Cheryl in conversion therapy okay…….) and also say that she’s going to turn herself over to the authorities. This all did take me out of my cloud of teen soap opera nostalgia and remind me that Riverdale’s chaos is not always fun. Sometimes it’s exhausting!
It does make sense that Cheryl wants to change the perception of the Blossom family name, but to the point where she’s breaking up with her girlfriend and also forgoing college? I know that searching for sense on Riverdale is a wild goose chase, but this doesn’t make sense!!!!! The Cheryl/Toni breakup looks a lot like most of Cheryl and Toni’s relationship…mostly servicing the plot rather than being rooted in compelling character stakes and emotion. Hate to say it, but I had to say it.
Now, Riverdale finds itself faced with the problem all high school-set dramas usually do. High school is a finite period of time. What happens after graduation? Does the show follow the characters to college? That only works if everyone magically decides to go to the same college, and that’s not the case for Riverdale. Veronica is Barnard-bound; Betty got into Yale; Cheryl is supposed to go to the fictitious Sapphic wonderland Highsmith College (both a reference to Smith and also Patricia Highsmith?!) although she has cut those plans short; Archie is Army; Jughead is going to the Iowa Writers Workshop, which is an MFA program but Riverdale has never been one for logic.
No, Riverdale shan’t be derailing these characters’ dreams for the sake of plot convenience. Instead, we’re doing something much MUCH more chaotic, which feels absolutely right for this show. We’re jumping seven full years into the future to these characters being in their mid-20s and having a whole NEW slew of emotional baggage and traumas! Betty joined the FBI; Archie went to war; Jughead is a published author; Veronica is engaged to a man named Chadwick. We’re treated to these little tastes of the future by the trailer for next episode, which promises to reflect on the past seven years while charging ahead full speed. I honestly am super for this narrative choice. We long ago passed the point of believability for these characters actually being teenagers. Let’s drop the pretense and let them do things like own a speakeasy and cohabitate and launch a liquor brand with SOME semblance of credibility! The teens are becoming adults from one episode to the next! I feel like a proud parent eager to see what the future holds for my little broken babies. What fresh horrors will this staggeringly large time-jump bring?