“It was the ultimate Cliff-hanger.”

First of all, I am truly going to miss Riverdale’s very special sense of humor during the hiatus. Secondly, congratulations again to the commenter from last week’s review who got that joke out first. As for the the commenter who said we really should have known there could be no such thing as a “maple syrup empire,” this episode also 100 percent confirms that we really should have known there is no such thing as a “maple syrup empire.” A heroin-trafficking empire, yes. Not a syrup empire of any kind. However, even without explicitly saying it, this revelation finally provides a greater context as to why Clifford Blossom thought Archie Andrews would make the perfect heir to the empire, outside of the obvious red hair: He simply saw how easily Archie could be bought. He believed Archie, a desperate blue collar kid, would do what Jason refused to do and disregard his morals to get ahead. Basically, had Archie actually kept up appearances with the Blossoms, he technically could have cracked the entire case by himself in no time.

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But on a more serious note: Who in Riverdale doesn’t have a death wish?

Considering the way these meddling teenagers so casually attempt to solve murder mysteries, how adults now have no problem crossing known vindictive criminals, and, well, Cheryl Blossom, it looks like the majority of the town is just asking for a reason to be the next victim. The fact that only one youth has died in this town is extremely surprising, given all the opportunities for there to be so many more. You know, since Riverdale’s entire claim to fame is based on a bed of heroin from there to Montreal (and vice versa). The perfection of Riverdale may just be a weak illusion now, but people still want to pretend it’s not as dangerous as it is. For example, one of this episode’s earliest moments perfectly captures just how full of crap Riverdale is, despite folks’ best attempts to hide that. It’s the moment when someone walks across the screen with a “75 YEARS OF PEP!” sign (for the Riverdale Jubilee), right as Mayor McCoy yells nonstop at Sheriff Keller about how much she wants all the corruption in this town “crushed.” In fact, despite her relatively small part in the series, Mayor McCoy manages to put the most effort into trying to get everyone to pretend things are fine in Riverdale—and into making the South Side Serpents the scapegoats in this whole Jason Blossom murder/heroin ring fiasco.

Unfortunately, that’s easier said than done. In the aftermath of “Chapter Twelve,” it appears there’s now a class war brewing in Riverdale, pushing the show even more into Veronica Mars 2.0 territory and making things more complicated for what was supposed to be a quiet little town. Because of this, “Chapter Thirteen: The Sweet Hereafter” feels much less like an epilogue for the rest of the season (as “Chapter Twelve” pretty effectively ended the main story) and more like the conclusion to a prequel to the series’ real story, the second season. The drug and crime epidemic that’s bubbling beneath the surface, the questions about who worked for Clifford and who’s dealing now—this episode all of a sudden makes the mystery of Jason Blossom’s murder feel like the calm before the storm. Riverdale has mentioned how Jason’s death broke the seal on the darkness of Riverdale getting out, but until now, that darkness had always felt more like it came from a soapier place: in moments like the Coopers sending Polly away, or everything to do with Blossoms, or Veronica’s daddy issues. The revelation that Riverdale was built on a seedy underbelly shifts gears, especially since there’s no actual answer when it comes to how far it all goes. That answer supposedly died with Clifford Blossom.

“Kevin, relax. This isn’t The Wire.”

Jughead mocks Kevin when he mentions the possibility of there being a major drug problem in Riverdale, but since Kevin is actually right on that front, what’s next? We know the stakes have to be higher for season two. The Blossom heroin is making its way all around town, the North Siders are attacking the South Siders, and no one is safe. As Betty points out all episode, the only thing that can save this town is the truth, but Riverdale and secrets unfortunately go together like Riverdale and syrup. On the bright side, Betty’s nonstop quest for the truth this season has set her free, transforming her into a strong, confident young woman who gets things done. So if everything changes next season, at least we have Betty Cooper to make things right.

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Speaking of changes, remember how the series began with comments about Archie getting hot over the summer? Of course you do. There are plenty of jokes about (and plenty of swooning over) Archie being jacked, but there’s something perfect about such a seemingly shallow character detail like that ultimately becoming an integral part of the season finale and factoring into Archie saving a life. The boy may have broken his hand, but his muscles still saved Cheryl. As luck would have it, Archie’s superhero moment retroactively turns the public relations reason for his spotlight at the Jubilee into a legitimate reason. So when Mayor McCoy calls him a “local hero,” there’s no need to eye roll. (You can still eye roll at Archie being called Riverdale’s “best and brightest,” though.) Nor is there reason to believe that Archie received a spot he didn’t deserve for no reason other than the fact that he’s Archie. Because after witnessing him break his hand to save Cheryl’s life, the boy is every bit the hero the town narrative says he is. He continues his hero’s journey later in the episode when he tries to out-hero his father at Pop’s, as ill-advised a choice as it ultimately is—Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa even calls it his Bruce Wayne/Peter Parker moment. Riverdale has spent the past couple of episodes really hammering home that—just like comics Archie—what Archie lacks in brains and other skills, he makes up for in heart and good intentions. Now while that still doesn’t come across in his original music (where you’d expect his heart to shine through), considering Archie’s character in the first half of the season, this depiction of Archie even sticking at all means a lot, almost as much as Archie’s three friends (Jughead, Betty, and Veronica) being the only people to sign his cast.

However, Archie’s usual brand of Archie-ness also allows Josie to be the first teen show character ever to point out that the entire town isn’t going to care about a song (or a slide show or a speech) all about the main character and his friends. Funnily enough, it’s actually Betty who commits that teen drama sin with her own speech, but at least she’s able to pivot so it ends up applying to the town as a whole, not just all the cool things she and her friends did this year. Despite Luke Perry’s presence, it’s basically the anti-Beverly Hills, 90210 approach to the genre.

When Riverdale wants to stick to tropes though, that’s where Jughead’s sad trombone of a life comes in. As soon as they get the news that Jughead’s accepted his fate, of course Archie, Betty, and Veronica worry about how his life will be on that side of town and at South Side High (which is basically the high school from Save The Last Dance). The thing they don’t ever think about—because they’re worried kids, not seasoned television viewers—is that, while the South Side may be getting more dangerous, the Serpents are still top dogs… and Jughead is the son of a high-ranking Serpent officer. It’s no real surprise he’s treated like royalty, and it’s a bond that’s only made stronger by F.P. not snitching on any of his guys. That doesn’t make the image of Archie, Betty, and Veronica Breakfast Club-sliding their way to Jughead’s “rescue” any less fun, though, especially since their do-good attitudes eventually extend to actually rescuing Cheryl. It’s understandable that the iconic trio is afraid for Jughead when it comes to the dangerous part of town, but 13 episodes of Riverdale have very clearly shown that the “good” part of town is barely a safer place. After all, this episode ends with one of the more “innocent” adult characters on this show—though the 11th hour reveal of his Sad Dad DUI begs to differ—being shot at Pop’s, the one place in this show even resembling a sanctuary for the characters.

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What is surprising, however, is how genuinely happy Jughead looks when he’s invited to join the Serpents. On the one hand, “weird” Jughead being a joiner (in one of the worst possible ways to be a joiner) and being so excited about it is jarring. From the looks of it, Jughead reacts as though this is his way to honor his father, even though everything we know about F.P. and how he feels about his son says he wouldn’t quite see it that way. On the other hand, after being rejected by his own mother, losing his father (for now), and then being taken from his home with his best friend, it’s easy to understand how a sense of family and belonging could mean the absolute world to Jughead. At any cost. But it’s also clearly a blow to Betty, not just because her boyfriend is possibly entering gang life—but because it’s almost his way of saying all their talk of being each other’s home and safe place was a lie, as though everything she tells Jughead in this episode about how life isn’t dealing him a certain deck just means nothing to him. All this immediately after he finally takes his hat off and tells her that he loves her. All this after all the energy Betty put into defending him to her mother. So the question is this: Just how much does Jughead want to belong? Especially since joining a gang doesn’t only mean cool jackets that look really good on you.

I’m talking about crime—crime is involved. I wrote in my “Chapter Eleven” review that, while Archie could easily become his dad, Jughead would probably have a less tragic fate than his father, especially with his support system. I didn’t expect that his opening up and spreading his wings as a result of said support system would eventually lead him down the path to that tragic fate.

As for who Cheryl will become, who can even say at this point? In a way, Cheryl is the one character who ends this season the same way she started it; from beginning to end, she was a character who always did the absolute most and never had a subtle moment. That doesn’t mean there hasn’t been an evolution of Cheryl Blossom, though, even if it’s been toward a more “Cheryl doesn’t live here anymore” version of herself. And even in that state, she ends up having one of the sweetest moments of this episode when she apologizes to Jughead for assaulting him, by giving him her “iconic spider broach,” promising that the money he’ll make from pawning it is “enough to keep [him] in burgers and ‘S’ T-shirts for years.” Wow. Only on Riverdale. That moment there proves Cheryl could never be like her mother, but that’s only because she’s temporarily in the Riverdale world instead of her natural Thornhill habitat. Because while the rest of Riverdale is steadily growing darker, all things Thornhill (the two Blossoms left) remain the stars of their own separate Gothic tale, where no one can ever behave like a normal human being. (Which should be the official explanation re: Polly drinking those daily milkshakes.) Considering how even Hermione “Bad Mom” Lodge can still have somewhat of a civil conversation with Veronica in this episode, it’s impressive to see just how much Penelope Blossom wants absolutely nothing to do with that sort of emotional or parental maturity when it comes to Cheryl. The woman’s first scene of the episode has her literally tell her daughter, the last remaining member of her immediate family, that Clifford was on the right track and they’d be better off killing themselves. But she still expects Cheryl to go to school instead of mourn in slow motion beside her Sweetwater River memorial dress.

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All of this leads to the moment in this episode of television where Cheryl stands in front of a roaring fire, next to a can of gasoline, holding a candelabra, and says (when asked what the smell in the house is), “Gasoline. It’s the only way we can truly start over. Be purified.”

To get things back into context, it’s not like Cheryl is the only kid in Riverdale with added pressure on top of her life’s problems. Archie has to perform at the town Jubilee with a broken hand. Jughead has to uproot his entire life to a new part of town and join a gang. Betty has to uncover the truth with a giant target on her back. Veronica probably has to sleep with one eye open now, because at this rate, her mother might cut all her hair off in her sleep to teach her a lesson about being a good daughter or something. But Cheryl’s pressure is on a different plane of existence from everyone else in this world. When it comes to Riverdale, it’s like there’s the North Side, there’s the South Side, and then there’s Thornhill—a place possibly outside of space and time, even more so than the rest of Riverdale. The best way to describe every single Cheryl Blossom scene in this episode (including the Jughead scene and possibly since “Chapter Nine”) is “haunting.” This description remains even through the stress of watching her attempt to take her own life (and almost succeed) at Sweetwater River; it remains through the fantastically framed “purified” scene; it remains as she watches her home burn. Early on, Riverdale had a bit of trouble balancing Cheryl’s fun HBIC status with her downright unlikable behavior, but since dialing in on the character’s perpetual pain, she’s been such a dark treat. She’s also a cautionary tale: Betty should probably be more careful when it comes to looking for the truth, because this is what the truth has done to Cheryl.

And while Fred Andrews spends this episode in quite a state over the realization that he knows absolutely nothing about his town, a lack of familiarity also comes in the form of Hermione Lodge’s existence these days. As Alice Cooper spent this entire season becoming more humanized and likable, Hermione managed to absolutely lose her soul somewhere along the line. That’s a major reason why I believed she could have been behind Jason’s murder, and now it’s a major reason why she can eventually end up a real suspect in whatever other mysteries come to Riverdale in the future. Hermione’s “What is she doing here?” about a very visibly upset and unwell Cheryl in her home is just as cold as anything Penelope Blossom would ever say, and it (as well as passing out with Valium, apparently) is her baseline for this entire episode. Plus, the way she constantly reminds Veronica and Fred that Hiram is coming to town ends up sounding like an ominous threat looming over her scenes, like a promise of the boogeyman she summoned as soon as she returned to her true form. But the worst part is how she tries to get Veronica to use Archie to get Fred to sell his share of the company, worse than the forgery and worse than her attempts to get Veronica to make nice with Hiram. This episode completes Hermione’s reveal as the type of person that the first few episodes spent a good portion of time saying she wasn’t. The Hermione who worked at Pop’s to provide for herself and her daughter is unrecognizable from this Hermione, as this version officially achieves worst Riverdale parent status, non-Blossom edition. And it’s kind of amazing.

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To wrap this review and season up, I’d like to say that the Riverdale writers’ decision to never reveal Jason Blossom’s voice or even anything real about his personality is one of the best choices they made all season. (Obviously I’ve spent all these reviews praising the female friendships and the balls-to-the-wall nature, so now it’s time to spread the love.) After everything’s that’s happened, all we really know about Jason is based on what two unreliable narrators—his obsessed sister and pregnant girlfriend/cousin—have to say about him. Yet even with all that praise about the type of guy he was, Cheryl’s dreams about her “soul mate” only ever feature him in zombie form. We talk a lot about Twin Peaks and Veronica Mars as this show’s influences, but Riverdale never really hid the fact that Jason Blossom is certainly no Laura Palmer/Lily Kane. It would unfortunately be less surprising if the victim had been a woman though, especially with the literal and dramatic fridging of the character, so just that specific choice is something special.

Then again, maybe it was all just a ploy to make real life zombie Jason reveal even more of a surprise. Time will tell.

Stray observations

  • Riverdale Roulette: I’m ready to rewatch this whole season, how about you?
  • The pieces were all put together with last week’s ending, but it’s twistedly funny to think Jason would still be alive to creep us all out if the maple syrup business were actually legit. The fact that a teenage boy is honestly willing to take a “maple syrup empire” and only tells his father, “I don’t want your life!” once he learns it’s a front is one of those weird little Riverdale things.
  • As Alice Cooper feeds her “perfect” family huge stacks of pancakes, I can only imagine that the syrup had never tasted sweeter before that morning.
  • I wondered why F.P.’s intense belief that no Serpents (besides the now deceased Mustang) were involved in Clifford Blossom’s heroin ring felt so familiar. Then I realized, it’s similar to Veronica Mars season two, when (spoilers, if you haven’t seen it) the PCHers turned on Weevil to go into business with the Fitzpatricks. So while F.P. knows his crew doesn’t do that, there is a possibility.
  • This probably won’t end up being one of Riverdale’s mysteries, but when it comes to the vandalism of Betty’s locker, it most likely had to be Chuck, right? He’s literally the only person I can think of who’d have any sort of stake in taking Betty down, especially since that entire attack comes off like the type of thing where you really have to have personal investment in the situation to do it. Pigs’ blood and a hanging voodoo doll of Betty. That’s not just some random mean girl.
  • What exactly is the proper Girl Code for this moment? Josie finally lets Archie front The Pussycats because of his heroic save of her girl Cheryl, even though there’s no way her actual best friend, Valerie, approves of it. Especially since Valerie is visibly the only one not amused by the Veronica/Archie makeout session. (However, it is a Classic Archie moment for Archie to awkwardly laugh here instead of feel bad about making things awkward for Valerie.)
  • I’m torn between believing that Archie is honestly envious of what Betty/Jughead have (and wants to have it with Veronica) or believing that simply an excuse he came up with while chickening out of breaking things off with Veronica.
  • Mayor McCoy’s pissed off look at Betty’s speech—when everyone else at the Jubilee is giving it a standard ovation—is such a good moment. Yes, Betty, it’s great you got the town to see that they’re lying to themselves, but that’s not great for PR reasons, girl!
  • Veronica: “There are some dark goings on at Thornhill.” I honestly thought Thornhill was going to have a more Rebecca-esque ending, with Penelope getting caught in the fire and going out in a blaze of fury. Instead, we have our last Afterlife With Archie reference of the season, as Cheryl basically becomes “Blaze,” literally. Now, on top of being the girl who had some questionable feelings about her twin brother, Cheryl is now the girl who attempted suicide and burned down her family’s home. Yikes. But I have one question: Where is Nana Blossom, and did she make it out of the fire? My assumption is that Penelope put her in a home the day of Clifford’s funeral, but who even knows with this family?
  • Hot Dog! Apparently he’s the mascot of the South Side Serpents, which is somehow more adorable than just being Jughead’s dog? It definitely goes with the Serpents’ whole The Outsiders aesthetic (the lunch room scene goes pretty hard with that, except for the Serpent with the blond dreads), as “Hot Dog” could definitely be a rejected character name from that book/film.
  • Fred acknowledging Archie’s night of sex: “Hey, Casanova.” Eww. Also, while there might be more of a conspiracy behind it, it’s reasonable to assume the person who robbed Pop’s and shot Fred is a disgruntled Serpent, right? Hermione letting all those Serpents go from the construction crew could definitely have consequences other than a pissed-off Fred.
  • Even though Hal and Alice argued all those years ago because he wanted her to get an abortion, we now know she instead put the child up for adoption (after a stay at the Sisters Of Quiet Mercy). So which member of The CW’s stable of boys do we think will play Betty and Polly’s older brother? I’d say Matt Barr, but he just got his own CW series.
  • Oh, I almost forgot. Here’s our Sabrina cameo, courtesy of F.P.’s jailhouse reading material:

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