“You guys, the episode of ‘Riverdale’ that just aired might be the best television episode of all time,” said TikTok user @watchwithmike, immediately grabbing my attention. In the video, he went on to describe how “Riverdale” had its own multiverse event, rivaling that of even “Spider-Man: No Way Home.” Many commenters had their doubts that this was even true, convinced that he’d made it all up in jest, and considering the show’s history of outlandish plot lines (see: Archie getting mauled by a bear, Cheryl dragging around her brother’s rotting corpse as a companion, Betty stripping at Jughead’s dad’s retirement party, and the list goes on and on), they had good reason to feel this way. One even wrote, “the fact that no one believes him but no one is even slightly willing to watch the show to confirm.” Well, I, always a defender of “Riverdale” no matter how off the rails it goes, watched it, and I am here to confirm that everything he says is completely, 100% true.
However, before we jump into the main multiverse event itself, let’s catch up on a few details, because if you haven’t watched since one of the earlier seasons of this supernatural soap opera, not a lot of what follows will make sense.
In its fifth season, “Riverdale” hit the reset button. Kind of. The show skipped seven years into the future, allowing the characters to grow closer in age to the actors who portray them. While Archie (KJ Apa) and the gang hadn’t been together since graduation, they all banded together to save the town from the nefarious Hiram Lodge (Mark Consuelos), who planned to wipe Riverdale off the map as well as track down the mysterious Lonely Highway Killer. Season 5 ultimately ends with a defeated Hiram being exiled from Riverdale but before he leaves town, he places a bomb under Archie’s bed. It can be heard ticking as Archie and Betty (Lili Reinhart) hook up, their seemingly impending doom looming over them as the credits start to roll. Remember this bomb. It’s going to be VERY important later.
Season 6 began in an entirely different place: Rivervale. “There’s a town that exists at the borderlands. A place of nightmares and dreamscapes. A place where folklore and myth carry the weight of fact and truth. A place where superstition and their laws overshadow the laws of science, and a place where old traditions die hard, if they die at all. The name of this place is Rivervale. And though it might seem familiar to you, like a town you visited before, I can assure you, it is not that same town. Don’t worry, I’ll show you around,” says, Jughead (Cole Sprouse) at the beginning of the episode, except that for the first time ever, he’s speaking directly to the viewer on camera, not in a voice-over. It feels like an homage to “The Twilight Zone,” and the episodes that follow further confirm this.
Things aren’t quite right in Rivervale; each character’s motivations are vastly different than we remember, and each relationship seems to be in a much darker place. Betty aids Cheryl Blossom (Madelaine Petsch) in a pagan-style sacrifice of Archie, where his heart is literally ripped out of his chest as his friends watch. Veronica (Camila Mendes) sells Reggie’s soul to the devil. Characters are killed off left and right. While Riverdale is probably the murder capital of the United States, it’s still shocking to watch leading cast members bite the bullet. As ridiculously high as the body count of “Riverdale” may be, it’s not “Game of Thrones.”
Rivervale also hosts a multitude of visitors beyond the devil himself. La Llorona stops by to terrorize the locals, targeting Toni (Vanessa Morgan) and her son. Sabrina the Teenage Witch (Kiernan Shipka) stops by to help Cheryl cast some spells, despite dying in her own canceled Netflix show.
In the fifth episode of “Rivervale,” the show’s 100th episode overall, we finally get some answers regarding this strange series of events. Archie is back from the dead, and it is revealed that he only dreamed about his own violent sacrifice. The same goes for the events of the last three episodes, which were all dreamed up by Rivervale’s residents. Jughead, however, still senses that something is off — everyone who he knows to be dead is mysteriously alive again and, to make things even more confusing, his dead body appears at the coroner’s despite him being completely alive and well at Rivervale High. Ever the super-sleuth, he sets out to solve his own murder and the mystery of Rivervale itself.
The answer, of course, lies within his own “Riverdale” comic collection, depicting the events of the entire series as well as a shift to Rivervale after Issue #95. He learns that Rivervale was created after Hiram’s bomb exploded, tearing apart the multiverse and causing different realities to bleed into one other. Jughead realizes that he and his friends reside in a parallel universe, as evident in his doppelganger turning up deceased as he walks through town alive. Ethel (Shannon Purser), whom we haven’t seen since Season 4, informs him that only Riverdale can be saved, as it is the primary universe and Rivervale is only a pocket universe fueled by Riverdale and its events.
However, the deceased Jughead, the real resident of Rivervale and our “Twilight Zone”-esque narrator for each of the Rivervale episodes, comes back to life with information on how to maintain both worlds separately. One Jughead must remain locked in a bunker, writing stories to fuel Rivervale, so it can exist on its own. This is what ultimately happens, and the Jugheads are successful, with the 100th episode ending back in Riverdale where Betty gets a call warning her about the bomb under Archie’s bed.
The ending is pretty meta: an entire universe powered by the imagination of Jughead Jones, who is in sole control of the fates and the bizarre happenings of Rivervale. This ending has naturally reminded countless viewers of the writers of “Riverdale,” whose imaginations have taken the show’s cult following on quite a ride throughout its six-season run.
“It’s one of the first times — outside general narration — but one of the first times the show has actually discussed why it is the way it is, which I think is important because this is a cult program, right? It’s really campy, it’s really large, it can be abstract at times … I think this episode does a really awesome job of going, ‘Oh, this is why,’ and finally letting the audience know why — that the show is not stumbling into these narratives blindly, but very consciously putting these things on paper and reacting to that paper in a very specific way,” Sprouse told Entertainment Tonight.
It’s true. While “Riverdale” is often teased for its out-of-this-world plot lines, it has never failed to up the ante with each season. Sure, it’s wacky, but these fantastical scenarios about cults, killer nuns and extraterrestrial beings provide great entertainment, making the show a near-perfect watch for anyone looking for a little escapism. It’s made even better by the fact that no matter how outrageous things may be, the cast manages to sell it every single time. They take the material seriously even when it’s far from it, with their performances continuing to be believable even as the writers take them into the unbelievable.
While some argue that the show has taken a massive departure from its first season, which saw the characters navigating more high school drama, the creator never set out to depict a true-to-life high school experience. Yes, we saw Archie navigate “the trials and tribulations of high school football,” but we also saw him join the rest of the core four to solve a murder. Did you catch a killer when you were 16? I didn’t think so. If anything, it could be viewed as a satire of teen murder mystery dramas like “Pretty Little Liars,” taking these tropes and flipping them on their heads (and then some).
“Riverdale” is far from perfect. Some of its plot lines get convoluted, the dialogue can be cringeworthy and even the “it’s all dream” explanation of the four Rivervale events prior to the 100th episode is a bit disappointing. However, the show is worth watching because nothing is off the table and the main intention is to take viewers where they’ve never been before and make bold narrative choices like opening up a multiverse that will certainly solidify its place as a campy cult classic. What can I say? Sometimes it’s fun to watch them jump the shark again and again and again.