Riverdale has repeatedly gone well out of its way to assure viewers that nothing is off-limits. From entire seasons in which actors straight-faced discussed the dangers of a drug called “jingle-jangle,” to Archie joining an underground prison boxing ring, to Cheryl joining a cult, to—well, you get the point, this series has always been delightfully off-the-rails and there’s no end in sight.
This is to say, it might not come as a huge surprise to loyal viewers that after the time jump of season five, Riverdale’s sixth season has fully leaned into the weird by switching the name to Rivervale, showcasing Jughead Jones as a Rod Serling style announcer, and kicked things off by unceremoniously murdering Archie Andrews in a ritual fertility sacrifice. With all of that packed into the first episode, this season promises to be extra weird, even by Riverdale standards.
Episode one opened on Jughead Jones introducing the audience to Rivervale, assuring us that whatever happens over the next many episodes will not necessarily be congruent to previous or following seasons. The narration updates us as to where we left off in the season five finale, with Archie and Betty a couple, Jughead moving in with his girlfriend Tabitha Tate, Toni serving as Fangs’ surrogate mother, and Veronica and Reggie acting as Riverdale’s resident power couple.
Thankfully, this season has thus far leaned away from Archie as the central protagonist, instead focusing on the way other cast members interact with him. Most of his role in the first episode is to lean into his dreams of having a family with Betty, who is told by a doctor that she is unable to conceive. While he engages in a petty battle of the wills with Cheryl over maple saplings, Betty seeks out Cheryl’s help with her infertility issues. This leads to a truly bizarre end for episode one in which Archie is apparently put to death in a scene that harkens to the visual themes of Midsommar.
Meanwhile, Cheryl has declared her family’s estate Thornhill a sovereign state, which is fine. She leads a group of young girls who are trained archers in learning “the old ways” and offering up sacrifices to an earth goddess in hopes of returning fertility to Rivervale.
Jughead and Tabitha seem relatively happy together as they move into their new apartment, but over the first two episodes, we see that the place is haunted by the couple that lived there previously, who died in a murder-suicide pact. With questions of his attachment to Betty, his substance abuse issues, and his lack of writing hanging over her, Tabitha becomes (understandably) angry with him, and (less understandably) nearly bludgeons him with a hammer.
This turmoil serves to strengthen their relationship as they realize it was the influence of the spirits that drove her to such extremes. The focus has been primarily on Tabitha and her feelings, which has offered a welcome respite from Jughead’s hold on the narrative and a welcome fleshing out of her character.
The second episode saw a continuation of the surreal infertility subplot with a bonafide appearance by La Llorona. When Toni Topaz’s baby (she volunteered to be the surrogate and live-in mom for Fangs and Kevin) seems especially miserable, Toni gets involved and tries to crack the case of why mothers are being tormented. Enter the ghastly, veiled La Llorona, who has been sicced on Toni after she accidentally shot and killed recurring villain Darla’s son. Always quick to take responsibility for her mistakes, Toni heroically volunteered to take La Llorona’s place to save her child, making her Rivervale’s second casualty.
Though this episode saw the (we assume temporary) death of Toni, it also gave us one of her most compelling stories to date. At times placed in a secondary position in her relationship with Cheryl, this season has gone to some lengths to show the tenderness that remains between them, as Toni repeatedly depends on Cheryl to help her during times of stress, while allowing Toni the space to establish herself as a heroic character in her own right. Another character might have fought La Llorona – Toni’s solution was to become her in hopes of minimizing pain for all parties involved.
Though the genre-bending format of the series has often drawn criticism since it kicked off back in 2017, it has also drawn in a dedicated fanbase due to its ability to try new things and to keep the audience on its toes. In the tradition of massively successful comic book outings like Afterlife With Archie and The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, this extra spooky season is shaking up the status quo in the best possible ways.
Season six is off to a weird, rocky, and wild start, but that’s a good thing. By refusing to fall into a rut and following its spooky, horror-themed whims wherever they may lead, the series has become more captivating than ever.
Sara is a horror writer, a critic, a reporter, a filmmaker, and an artist that has written for many publications and platforms. She is the co-host of the Bitches On Comics podcast as well as the co-founder and editor of the Decoded Pride anthology which focuses on works of queer speculative fiction.