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“I’ve been showing up all year, Dad. And it hasn’t made one bit of difference. We’re getting our asses kicked.”
In the final episode of the season, Riverdale finally brought Archie to the forefront in a big way, in an episode that also acknowledges that his previously vague support of his friends - friends who are dealing with murder, incest, imprisoned fathers and missing sisters - hasn't been anywhere near enough what they need right now. All of "The Sweet Hereafter" has Archie stepping up: as a boyfriend to Veronica, as a friend to Betty and Jughead, even going so far as to punch his knuckles bloody through the ice of Sweetwater River to save Cheryl's life. And just as we're starting to really like Archie, just when this moment would have the most brutal impact for an audience that's been largely indifferent to this character all season, we're forced to watch him watch his father get shot in the diner.
The location is especially merciless. Pop Tate's Chock'lit Shoppe has been a safe haven for these kids, a place of refuge amid the death and deception of Riverdale. Jughead even says as much in their last happy moments together, after Betty's fearless speech, after Archie's rescue of Cheryl:
We had many milkshakes that night. And we all felt that as dangerous as the world around us had become, here, at least, in this booth, we were safe.
But no, even at Pop Tate's, they're not safe. Jughead - who actually smiled several times this episode, and told Betty he loves her, and even ate a burger! - isn't safe, now that he's part of the Southside Serpents. They look after their own, and Juggie's proven he can handle the rougher crowds at Southside High, but Betty's smart enough to be wary of this new development, and so is FP, who knows that Jughead has a dangerous tendency toward the dark. And just because Clifford Blossom is dead doesn't mean his heroin business is kaput.
Veronica's not safe, with her father coming home and as yet the most likely suspect for the shooting of her boyfriend's beloved dad. Fred refused to sell out to Hiram, and though Hermione tells V that Hiram's "your father, not The Godfather," we already know how powerful he is, and we know that Veronica's scared of him. And as much as Archiekins wants to be Ronnie's soulmate, they're unlikely to recover easily from this blow.
Betty's not safe, with the entire town turning against her, with someone vandalizing her locker with pig's blood and calling her "Serpent's Slut" - a nickname that's probably not going anywhere now that her boyfriend's donned the leather jacket.
Cheryl's not safe. She's given away all of her most precious belongings, attempted suicide and even burned down Thorn Hill, but she still has that rotten Blossom blood in her veins, and her mother is as untrustworthy as her father ever was.
And Archie's not safe - our golden boy, the Jubilee's shining star, the town hero. After holding his father as he bleeds out on the floor, there's no way Archie will be on the sidelines of next season's mystery. What better way to ensure that a show nominally about Archie is actually about Archie next year? And this puts him in the crosshairs in a way he's never been before. He'll be as dangerous a nuisance to the big bad as Betty ever was, but without her savvy.
In spite of all this treachery, the episode wasn't only darkness - two scenes between Betty and Veronica reminded us that B&V are the heart and soul of this show, and that they need twice as many scenes together next season. I love the way Veronica insisted on telling Betty about her and Archie, and I loved Betty's response even more, eliciting that first cute little smile from Juggie. And later, when V asks Betty again, just to make sure:
"Swear on the September issue?"
"And on my copy of Forever by Judy Blume."
I'm in love with these girls, and this episode, and this season, and this show. Riverdale came out of the gate strong and stayed that way, one of the most successful and rewarding first seasons of any show in recent memory. Dark, original, stylish, funny, sexy, heartfelt and feminist, we were looking for a modern update of an Archie comic and got a hell of a lot more. Now it's time to rewatch the entire thing on a loop until Season Two rolls around!
A few other tidbits:
Hot Dog, you guys! HOT DOG.
"My dad said more and more drugs are hitting the streets." "Kevin, relax. This isn’t The Wire." More Juggie/Kevin banter, please.
Betty has a long-lost brother! And Veronica couldn't be more pleased. Dying to see how this shakes out next season.