The last episode of Riverdale has left us with Jughead Jones bloody and seemingly lifeless in FP’s arms. This raises the stakes coming into the season 2 finale, episode 222 called “Brave New World,” which airs tonight. There’s so much to be resolved in one episode, but judging from its hefty title alone, you could already tell it will attempt to do so in true Riverdale fashion — unpacking everything all at once.
The second season has danced around the idea of the real Black Hood not being dead, but didn’t really get into it until later in the season, when Betty Cooper sends her not-brother Chic, the season’s central plot device, straight into the vigilante killer’s arms.
Season 2 promised to be darker than the first, and it did just that, mainly by cutting back on the song numbers and cheer dancing, which we miss badly. There was the kind of indulgent Carrie-inspired musical though, but we all know how that went. Midge Klump was killed, triggering a war between the Serpents and the Bulldogs. On top of that, the Ghoulies have returned and threated to once again take over the South Side, forcing Jughead to throw himself out of the snake pit and into the fire to prevent an all-out war.
In the season finale, the serpents seek asylum on the North Side with the Ghoulies continuing to threaten them even after Jughead offered himself as a human sacrifice. Betty continues to struggle with her own “darkness” in the wake of her dad’s revelation about the Cooper family tree, while trying to keep her mom Alice sane. Veronica deals with her own daddy issues with her thus-far under-established business skills, while trying to peel the blinders off her mother’s eyes. Archie finally comes to his senses and picks Fred Andrews’ side, for once.
And then there’s Cheryl, the show’s underused wildcard, who stars in what could be the finale’s fan service “moment” that turns out to be oddly gratifying.
All these take place while the results of the two elections (student body president and mayor) come in and while Hiram carries on with his scheming right under everyone’s noses, his true plans revealed in one scene, but not his motivations.
Here’s one gripe I have with Riverdale. Character motivations are always unsatisfying upon their big reveal. Why is Mr. Cooper the Black Hood? Because his father was. Why did Cheryl suddenly go all Katniss Everdeen? Because she has an archery set? Why does Veronica think taking off her clothes will solve all of Archie’s problems? We’ll never know.
Also, are we just supposed to forget that Betty and Momma Cooper killed somebody now that Chic is gone? With Riverdale, nothing is ever tied up nicely. It thrives on momentum and viewers’ curiosity, and it is exciting. But let’s not forget that the best whodunnits have a solid foundation of why’s, and I am willing to bet that the show can do better without trying to be Broadchurch. We need more of the core four sitting around at Pop’s. We miss the relationships and the highschool-ness of it. Make us feel comfortable and then put them in danger. For a show that prides itself in “going there,” it seems afraid to really go where it matters. Let’s hope the show gives us more to watch and digest next seasons — and no, killing off characters we never really knew doesn’t count.
Thanks to that season-ending cliffhanger alone, we’ll be watching. We’re weak like that, and we’ve never felt more guilty watching a guilty pleasure.