A Blast From the Past That Leaves Hope for the Future

Mar 29, 2023

Riverdale returns this week for its seventh and final season, and after six insane years that have featured wild storylines including organ-harvesting cults, multiverses, and the highs and lows of high school football, the series is time-traveling back to the heyday of Archie Comics. When Bailey’s comet hit Riverdale at the end of Season 6, it sent Betty (Lili Reinhart), Archie (KJ Apa), Jughead (Cole Sprouse), Veronica (Camila Mendes), and all their friends back to 1955, with the twist that only Jughead can remember the true timeline. Series showrunner Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa recently explained the writers wanted to do something really special with the final season, and it all came back creating a love letter to the original comics.

The first three episodes of Riverdale Season 7 take us to another Rivervale-esque parallel universe with life in the town with pep picking up in 1955, almost as if the first six seasons of the series never happened. While many of the campy Riverdale trademarks that have made this show a smash hit are certainly still there, the limitations of the time period—and the circumstances of why the characters are stuck there—set the final season off to a rocky start.

Riverdale has always been a show that errs into the “so bad it’s good” category and fans of the series get a kick out of the show’s incredibly campy writing filled with the most bonkers one-liners that you’ve ever heard, and that continues in Season 7 with added 1950s vernacular. Eagle-eyed comics fans will no doubt find plenty to get excited about with the upcoming episodes — including the introduction of Clay Walker (Karl Walcott), the return of Jughead’s beloved Hotdog, and an abundance of interesting relationship dynamics. However, the series may have sacrificed more than it can handle in the pursuit of a retro aesthetic and a fresh start.

Image via The CW

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While Riverdale certainly could’ve ended with its “Graduation” episode, which was initially intended to be the Season 4 finale, in the years since the series has managed to keep viewers coming back for more by exploring some of the comics’ most outlandish storylines—namely the multiverse. These past few seasons have seen several welcome changes to the series including a time jump to bring the characters into adulthood, finally getting Betty and Archie together, and the best post-Season 4 addition, Tabitha Tate (Erinn Westbrook). Unfortunately, because these characters are stuck indefinitely in 1955, many of those big steps forward have been temporarily erased for the foreseeable future. By taking the series back to high school, Riverdale is rehashing the same ground they’ve already covered multiple times over, and, instead of feeling fresh, we’re the ones stuck in a time loop.

Riverdale is well aware that the 1950s, while often packaged as “the good old days,” were hardly the best of times for many people, especially people of color and anyone who falls anywhere on the queer spectrum. Season 7 gets right to that point with the premiere episode centering around Betty, Tabitha, Toni (Vanessa Morgan), and Cheryl (Madelaine Petsch) fighting to bring awareness to the murder of Emmett Till despite pushback from a number of unreasonable adults. It’s admirable that Riverdale is attempting to put topics like this in front of audiences that may not otherwise get the information, especially with conservatives attempting to eradicate education on America’s racist history from the classroom. However, because the rest of the series is often not meant to be taken seriously, when Riverdale delivers very serious subject matter it can seem a little jarring. Having Riverdale Season 7 explore issues like racism and homophobia in a 1950s setting is also a glaring reminder of how little progress has been made in the last 70 years.

Season 7 is a step backward, with its queer characters back in the closet and one of the show’s few Black characters effectively written out for an undetermined number of episodes. Riverdale is also doubling back on old storylines that we thought were long since laid to rest like the Betty/Archie/Veronica love triangle, and Veronica’s painful relationship with her parents. Thankfully, we won’t be spending the entirety of the final outing in 1955, as Aquirre-Sacasa previously told Decider that they’re “nowhere done near writing the season.”

Image via The CW

Riverdale’s blast from the past isn’t a total drag, though; there are some delightful moments in these early episodes and some fantastic performances from the cast who have become seasoned actors over the course of the show’s six-year run on The CW. The series honors the comic books in ways that go beyond costumes and aesthetic, with Archie’s relentless optimism, Betty’s diaries, and a very comic-inspired storyline at the heart of one of the season’s big mysteries.

Apa in particular stands out as he gets to lean completely into the wide-eyed innocence of the Archie of days gone by. He also somehow delivers the most convincing 1950s performance among an ensemble cast that can’t really hide the fact that they all absolutely know what the internet is. That’s not to say any of the cast does a bad job, in fact, the anachronisms up the show’s campiest qualities for the better. Petsch is a real highlight as always, and her performance as Cheryl Blossom is more nuanced than ever while sacrificing none of the character’s outrageousness. Reinhart’s Betty Cooper has returned to her girl-next-door roots, allowing her to play a little more into Betty’s softer side than she has in quite a while. Her performance is both delicate and bold, and it’ll have you rooting for Betty to get her happy ending once and for all.

The most unchanged character is definitely Morgan’s Toni Topaz, and having her be so brazenly herself is definitely a breath of fresh air in the Riverdale of 1955. Toni is still very queer, she’s still a member of the Serpents, and she still only has eyes for Cheryl. Morgan is captivatingly confident in every scene, and her storylines are easily one of the best parts of the first three episodes of Season 7. Mendes finally gets some fresh material to work with in Veronica’s new Hollywood roots, despite her storyline still being heavily rooted in her love/hate relationship with her parents. Parentdale also makes an appearance in the first three episodes, and while all of their storylines are a little bit lacking, Mädchen Amick, Molly Ringwald, and Nathalie Boltt are all having fun with the goofiness of the 1955 versions of their characters, stealing every scene that they’re in.

Image via The CW

Aguirre-Sacasa recently spoke about wanting to mix up the relationship dynamics for the show’s final season, and with new pairings teased in the Season 7 trailer, we’re in for some interesting combinations, with Betty dating Kevin (Casey Cott), Archie and Cheryl hearing wedding bells, and even some potential Veronica/Jughead action in the books. While these pairings are definitely a little frustrating for longtime viewers, especially at face value, it’s clear that none of them are truly meant to last the full season. Riverdale has had more than its fair share of will-they-won’t-they moments and love triangles, and while those elements are still present in Season 7, the endgame for these characters is pretty clear from the jump.

As a queer person it’s particularly difficult to watch Cheryl and Kevin pushed back into the closet, both struggling with their identities in different ways and clinging to the safety of heteronormativity. However, Choni is definitely exemplifying the soulmate trope, and it’s my personal favorite part of Season 7 so far. Season 6 established that Cheryl and Toni’s relationship transcends time and space, and now Season 7 is extending that to the multiverse, and it’s honestly a joy to watch them fall in love over and over again. Kevin also has romantic aspirations beyond his lavender relationship with Betty, and the introduction of Wallcott’s Clay Walker sets him up for a happy ending if they can find each other in the future — Clay Walker is Kevin’s husband in Archie Comics.

While Riverdale is still dabbling in its original love triangle to an extent, the endgame pairings for the core four also have a fairly strong foundation in these first episodes. The most defined duo at this point is definitely Barchie, complete with buzzy music cues and a true sense of inevitability. Betty and Archie are inescapably drawn to each other, and Riverdale looks to be setting these two up for the perfect “it was always you” moment. While Westbrook’s Tabitha Tate is absent from the second and third episodes of Season 7, she and Jughead share a truly beautiful moment in the season premiere that sets them up to find their way back to each other. Veronica’s romantic future is the most uncertain, but Charles Melton’s Reggie Mantle has yet to make an appearance in Season 7, so it’s possible that when he does, we’ll get a similar “meant to be” vibe.

While Riverdale Season 7 is far from perfect television, the series has never been that, and it’s not about to start pretending it is in the eleventh hour. We love Riverdale because it’s ridiculous, campy, and absolutely hilarious in its outrageousness. If you don’t make the mistake of taking the show too seriously, you’ll find joy in this final ride in the jalopy.

Rating: B

Riverdale returns for Season 7 on March 29 at 9 PM ET, with the series finale set to air on August 23.

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