‘Riverdale’ Ends a Wild Second Season With More Surprises

What was that all about? Such is the mood that lingers after yet another season of the CW’s “Riverdale,” a re-imagining of the “Archie” comics as David Lynch lite meets young adult novel. While season one was more of a gothic affair, season two became a wilder, trashy melodrama that featured a dizzying array of twists in nearly every episode. How a small town can endure so much boggles the mind. But this is television, after all, and the question with this sort of show is if it’s good trash. This has been a season featuring everything from serial killers to mafia schemes to broken marriages. Your taste meter might warn you to look away, but that corner of the brain that enjoys sugar for its own sake might just rank this as a small guilty pleasure. The season finale stays true to the spirit of the whole season. Characters die, crazy secrets come to light and there’s a cliffhanger that shows no mercy.

To describe an episode of “Riverdale” is to cover plot points like a scoreboard. When last we saw our heroes the town was in chaos as the gang the Serpents went on a rampage following the shooting of one of their own. Rival gang the Ghoulies had just been released from prison as part of a scheme by businessman gangster Hiram Lodge (Mark Consuelos) to destroy the town, paving the way for his takeover.  Jughead (Cole Sprouse), son of head Serpent FP Jones (Skeet Ulrich), had given himself over to the Ghoulies, in order to bring some order to the madness. After being nearly beaten to death, Jughead awakens in a hospital at the beginning of the finale, with FP next to him letting him know that the Serpents are virtually obliterated. FP wants them to leave town immediately before it gets worse. Meanwhile Jughead’s girlfriend, Betty (Lili Reinhart) is dealing with the discovery that her father Hal Cooper (Lochlyn Munro), was the notorious Black Hood serial killer who caused so much terror at the beginning of the season. Now Hal is in prison and Betty never wants to see him again. As this goes on Archie (K.J. Apa) finds himself in an effort to save Jughead and surviving Serpents from being kicked out of Riverdale High, which is yet another part of Lodge’s scheme. Archie’s beloved Veronica Lodge (Camila Mendes) is beginning to suspect her father is also scheming with the snarling, evil mother of Cheryl Blossom (Madelaine Petsch), for an even grander criminal plot. And if that wasn’t enough, the town is also gearing up for a mayoral race between Archie’s father, Fred Andrews (Luke Perry) and Veronica’s mother, Hermione Lodge (Marisol Nichols).

“Riverdale” defies believability to such an extreme that it leaves itself no choice than to be wildly entertaining. There’s little you can say in terms of praising its storytelling, it’s literally all over the place. When season two began a serial killer, the Black Hood, stalked the town, making strange phone calls to Betty and giving her clues to capture him. Archie at one point formed his own vigilante force with the school football team (which also moonlights as the north side of town’s major gang, the Bulldogs). Then he found himself working for Hiram Lodge as some kind of gangster in training, creating friction with aspiring journalist Jughead. By the middle of the season the narrative shifted its focus to the Lodges’ schemes for the town and the sudden return of Betty’s long lost, evil brother Chic (Hart Denton), who turned out to be a fraud. Oh, and Cheryl was committed to some kind of asylum by her mother to both silence her and punish her for being gay. One must ask, when do these kids ever actually go to school? Are any of them planning to go to college or pursue anything after graduating? In two seasons this band of friends have faced off serial killer parents, the mob, corrupt cops, multiple assassination attempts and riots. But a reminder, logic does not apply here, you can enjoy this quite a lot if you simply go with the flow. One particularly devilish highlight is the episode where the gang stage a “Carrie” musical which ends with a diabolical murder.

The season finale throws at the audience everything it has left in the arsenal of plot twists and pop culture references (Veronica at one point references “Evita”). Betty goes to see her father and reject his legacy of evil in a scene aping “The Silence of the Lambs.” In just the first five minutes we learn the Serpents are actually not gone but hiding out at the bar The Worm, which of course Hiram Lodge plans to buy. “Riverdale” defines trashy entertainment but interestingly enough, it explores themes about youth without seeming preachy. The division between rich and poor, the struggles involving sexual identity and the corruption of adults are all touched upon, but filtered through a candy-colored soap opera. Maybe its angle is that this is how the world seems through 16-year-old eyes, exaggerated and nuts. Or it just wants to wear its absurdity like a badge of honor.

The big question for fans if Hiram Lodge will indeed get away with taking control of Riverdale to carry out his scheme, which involves building a for profit jail. The set up for the next season is clear as he forms a team of fellow criminal fiends, including Cheryl’s insane mother Penelope (Nathalie Boltt), who warns Hiram she’s been promised “a brothel” in his project. Jughead will apparently not be pursuing his journalistic ambitions as his father FP names him the new “Serpent King,” essentially turning him into a gang leader. To give you a sense of how dizzying this show gets, the ending consists of two final twists: Hermione is elected mayor and Archie is arrested during a school assembly, with Hiram watching menacingly nearby. And this is why “Riverdale” is a guilty addiction. You are more than aware this is all unbelievable, but you will surely tune in come fall for the next chapter.

“Riverdale” has essentially taken what began as a quirky comic book and transformed its characters into buffed, despairing personas trapped in absurd scenarios. But how much more absurd is it than, say, a Marvel movie? Certainly the snobbish may roll their eyes at such a desperate attempt at justifying tuning in for this show. But tune in we shall.

Riverdale” season two finale aired May 16 at 8 p.m. ET on the CW.