The Riverdale season five premiere, recapped by someone who doesn’t watch Riverdale

VERONICA NO. GO TO COLLEGE. LEAVE YOUR MAYO BOY BEHIND WITH HIS FAILURE TRACKSUITS.

A promotional image for Riverdale featuring, left to right, Cole Sprouse, Lili Reinhart, Camila Mendes and KJ Apa, against a misty forest background.
Who are any of these people? We just don’t know. Credit: Netflix

The main thing I know about Riverdale is that it’s utterly bonkers and, in the words of my friend and The Phase co-founder Jodie: “so much happens that nothing ever happens”. I have seen exactly one episode, the first one, in which Cheryl Blossom’s brother dies (I’m pretty sure she killed him). But I’ve been in strict lockdown since November and have nothing better to do, so I decided to watch the first episode of season five of Riverdale totally cold.

For the sake of clarity, I should say I’ve picked up a few other things over the years, including: 

  • it’s based on Archie Comics and it’s about four teenagers and their enemy (?), Cheryl Blossom, who has a Black girlfriend who doesn’t get to do much
  • Betty is the blonde girl who has a “serial killer gene” and everyone wants her to date Veronica but currently she is dating Jughead, a pretentious dick whose death was recently faked, possibly not for the first time
  • One time Chad Michael Murray played a bad guy who built his own spaceship, and another time everyone played Dungeons and Dragons, which turned out to be real, except it wasn’t magic because this show is somehow not about magic?

Anyway, this episode is titled Climax, which I don’t find surprising. Let’s go.

Netflix forcibly recaps the last season for me by blasting through about 25 plotlines in two minutes but I catch the following: 

  • Archie’s dad has died and to process this he has decided to become Kickass. Veronica does not approve, but I do. 
  • They will be graduating in nine months, which surprises me because I wasn’t aware time was allowed to pass on this show. 
  • Jughead is now at a prep school called Stonewall where somehow nothing gay is happening.
  • Veronica and Cheryl are starting a business venture and maybe fucking, and Jughead is being stalked by the rabbit from Donnie Darko. 
  • Betty is kissing Archie, which seems…right, actually? 
  • There have been anonymous deliveries of spooky videotapes, which is surprising only in that the kids know what they are and have a way to play them. Is Gen Z about to make videotapes cool again?

And NOW we have a “previously on” in which Archie is in love with Betty and somebody is dying and it turns out the video is from someone who’s watching the Archie gang’s houses and also acting out murders wearing masks of their faces. I’m pretty sure it’s the creepy kids from Jughead’s creepy school, so case closed, you can all go home.

1:03 – Okay, here we go! 

1:15 – I get distracted 12 seconds in by Betty’s skirt, which looks a lot like this adorable fox dress from Run & Fly. Sorry! Focus! A cop is asking Jughead “mind breaking this down for me?” at a crime scene like Jughead is another cop, which suggests Jughead does this a lot. This kid needs a hobby aside from saying “within which” out loud.

2:06  – Jughead thinks this has something to do with “that video store and that crypt-keeper, David”. You know, the crypt-keeper! Every small town has one! I honestly have no idea whether this is supposed to ring any bells with the audience.

2:37 – Cut to Archie and Veronica being couple-y in Archie’s bedroom. Is there a rule that at any given point two of this core gang have to be dating the other two? It seems “Archiekins” is going to naval college, which is new, so I assume this is the cover he’s using for being Kickass. He is very embarrassed that Veronica has discovered a song he wrote and then left lying around in the open like he’s never heard of a notebook. The background music booms dramatically every time someone mentions the song. This is NOT a happy song. Lots of bad vibes going on with this song. What, is he writing emo rants about the navy?

3:28 – Archie, her hair and makeup are perfect, she was never getting into any showers with you.

4:36 – At Veronica’s house, her dad announces that he is beating his terminal illness by…also being Kickass. Look, if you want to make a superhero show, go make one! More importantly, Veronica just unironically said “TTFN” to another human being and doesn’t seem at all embarrassed.

5:49 – Jughead is catching up with his cop friend to talk about the investigation and I think Jughead and the cop are banging. It’s the cop show co-leads vibe. Meanwhile, Betty is bullying an old woman and now a traumatised teacher has arrived back at their school instead of transferring to literally any other school where he didn’t get a finger cut off?

6:52 – Archie’s naval college admission has in the space of 30 seconds become contingent on winning a boxing match. Can he box? I’m guessing that doesn’t matter.

Credit: Netflix

7:14 – Jughead’s flannels and beanie look would be incredibly hot on a girl and I keep thinking he IS a girl and it’s very distracting.

7:24 – Ah, Cheryl! With an “obsessively running for prom queen” storyline. Toni doesn’t get it (right there with you, Toni) and for a second even alludes to having a different thing to care about but eventually assures her white girlfriend: “If it’s important to you, it’s important to me.”

8:28 – Just…Cheryl is…I mean, obviously insane, but not even in an entertaining Sharpay Evans kind of way where at least starring in a musical was an acknowledgement of her talents. Maybe this is a cultural translation failure but does anyone in real life care about being prom queen half this much? Has anyone at all cared since Carrie? Go join Jughead in getting a hobby! This better be going somewhere!

8:33 – WE’VE ONLY JUST HIT THE TITLE CREDITS.

9:30 – Archie puffs up and tells his boxing rival KO Kelly, nonsensically, “I’m bigger than I look, bro.” Side note, Archie and KO Kelly? Also banging. Veronica, purring “Archie has graciously agreed to let you stay with him”, is embarrassing herself. Sweetheart, these boys have been getting it on for years while you were none the wiser.

10:10 – Jughead is talking to a guy in jail for his investigation and it’s already a lot when he solemnly name-drops a guy called “Warbaby” but then he goes on to say “preppies” and I am gone. It is 2006 and I’m living inside My Immortal, the fanfiction masterpiece.

10:44 – I’m catapulted back to the present when finding out more about the spooky video means Betty and Jughead are going to have to go to an “underground immersive screening”. Who knew this episode’s target would turn out to be Secret Cinema?

11:52 – “He’s gonna cream me tomorrow night.” Archie is very worried about his fight/excited about getting laid. It’s hard to have two whole feelings at once, so he challenges KO to a gratuitously sweaty workout montage. (I personally am not gratified. My sexuality, as mentioned, is Jughead’s flannel shirts.)

12:57 – I blinked and now they’re making a snuff film.

13:36 – Betty and Jughead ask Cheryl to act in their (fake) snuff film so they can get into Secret Cinema, so I guess nobody minds that she killed her brother. Or maybe with a snuff film that’s a plus. (It’s beyond me how these actors manage to go on set every day and say lines like “I don’t want anyone to recognise me by my signature red mane” with a straight face. Are these, in fact, the greatest actors of our time?)

14:34 – As everybody gathers at the speakeasy, Veronica and her cleavage prepare to embarrass themselves once again! She has stolen Archie’s song to sing it to him in public and now he’ll be mad at her for exposing his innermost vulnerable thoughts and there will be DRAMA.

14:57 – OH NO IT WAS A SONG HE WROTE FOR BETTY. DRAMAAAAAAAAA. (I have been very cynical thus far but I love a good love triangle and it is, as far as I’m aware, the whole point of Archie.)

15:33 – Everybody’s getting it on without Veronica knowing. I feel bad for her. She’s just told KO and Archie “Now it’s straight to bed, my burly boys” and KO is making this face:

Zane Holtz, as KO Kelly, makes a face like he's trying not to laugh
Credit: Netflix

16:41 – Meanwhile, Toni is Happiest Season-ing Cheryl and asking her to pretend they’re not dating at graduation! Even though Toni is already out to her grandparents! Are we actually going to grapple with an issue here?

16:56 – Okay y’all I need to take a minute and ask WHAT has happened to the Kickass thing? I was promised Archie running around like a berk in a tracksuit and he is so far being disappointingly clean-cut.

18:35 – Plot twist! Toni’s nanna just hates Cheryl’s family for unclear historical reasons (racism? Could this be a twofer on the issue front?) and all right, they got me with the Blossomphobia bait and switch, I laughed. Slow clap.

20:33 – Obviously, Betty and Jughead’s snuff film made with equipment from the AV club at school fails to convince the video store guy, so Betty instantly pulls out a very real video of her serial killer father as a child which she had the whole time. So…they made a whole movie pretending to kill Cheryl as a red herring to get this guy’s guard down? When do they have time to get their homework done?

22:01 – Betty and Jughead are off to Secret Cinema while Archie fights the boxing match that will determine his entire future and Betty’s leather jacket is a lot. A Lot. I don’t even know who’s winning, I can see nothing but the cute blonde with a pixie cut in the spectator stands and Betty’s jacket.

24:45 – A dude in an owl mask appears at Secret Cinema! Everyone is either terrified or on drugs! And a small girl called Jellybean has arrived because some friend of hers “heard there was a party”, despite Betty and Jughead having to submit two entire snuff films to get an invite to this thing. Jughead is very worried about her, but he needn’t be: clearly Jellybean is in with a much cooler crowd.

25:39 – Hey, the fight’s over, did we win? I guess we didn’t. NOW is he going to get out the tracksuit? 

26:42 – Veronica is shocked, shocked, that pinning her boyfriend’s future on a boxing match did not go as planned. Veronica, darling, please stop trying to do things.

29:25 – Toni has shown up to take Cheryl to the prom anyway! No time for your fam dramz, Toni, it’s battle of the prom outfits! Cheryl is so overdressed in her everyday life that there’s nowhere to go when she’s going black tie, but I’m very into Toni’s crop top ensemble.

29:59 – Archie has come down with a terrible case of straight white man and been offered the job of deputy mayor, so at least something about this show is realistic.

30:09 – I’m sorry, but Veronica saying “Archiekins” will never not sound like “our chickens”. “Well, our chickens? What do you think? Am I dazzling?”

30:42 -I don’t get Veronica’s whole meringue thing but BETTY’S DRESS WINS. So elegant. And while Jughead is slowly growing on me, I would drop any boyfriend who tried to wear his disgusting unwashed beanie with a tux.

32:08 – Awwww, there are two boys dancing at the prom. Have y’all seen The Prom? So cute, right? Even James Corden failed to ruin it for me and that’s saying a lot.

32:13 – So has Toni just…had the fight with her nanna and won? I suspect we will never know because Cheryl is all that matters round here.

33:16 – Veronica told her dad to give Archie the deputy mayor job and now she’s going to defer college for a year to stay in this madhouse town and help her useless boyfriend figure out his dreams. VERONICA NO. GO TO COLLEGE. LEAVE YOUR MAYO BOY BEHIND WITH HIS FAILURE TRACKSUITS. This overwhelms Archie with guilt so he tells Veronica about the Betty song!!! (The song he wrote for Betty, not the Taylor Swift song ‘Betty’. Which, incidentally, seems like it should have inspired a mountain of Riverdale fanfiction but there is not one post tagged “Taylor Swift” in the Riverdale section of AO3!)

34:43 – Cheryl putting her hands right on Toni’s butt as they start their prom queen dance is the first moment of real chemistry they’ve had, sorry not sorry. I guess being the first gay prom queens at your school is a big deal, if you’re into that, but Cheryl didn’t give a shit about breaking barriers or whatever until she got her tiara so it’s just a very boring prom queen subplot. And maybe that’s fine! Maybe that’s what the lesbians need.

36:19 – The prom is OBVIOUSLY interrupted by the surprise screening of another murder video, this time set in the video store, so Betty and Jughead are off to catch murderers in their glad rags. I’ve watched too much Buffy in my time to believe this isn’t a trap.

37:31 – Toni gets to keep her fam dramz after all! She took Cheryl to the prom to give her one last night together and now she might be disowned if they keep seeing each other! I don’t know that this is the best possible way to treat your only lesbian couple but I’m glad for Toni that she is, at last, doing something.

37:48 – PLEASE TELL ME THIS IS A V&A BREAK-UP. BREAK UP BREAK UPPPPPPPP. Oh thank god.

39:22 – It’s…not a trap? No one is there! I’m still very worried for B&J’s safety until they get out of Murder Blockbuster.

40:34 – Everybody except Betty (the best character) is sobbing in their prom dresses and it’s all just begging for another Taylor Swift song. Judging by Veronica’s dad’s face, we can expect a Kickass v Kickass showdown next episode.

41:47 – And finally, another spooky tape lands! Archie’s getting shot in this one! Oh no!

And credits. I feel like I’ve just run a marathon. I’m going to spend the whole evening describing my hair as “signature chestnut tresses”. I do need to say that I’ve revised my opinion of Jughead: he was much less pretentious than anticipated and he and Betty are a fun and attractive crime-fighting duo! However, if I missed an important part of the recap where Archie renounces his superhero dreams, don’t tell me. I’m in no mental state to deal with that knowledge. I need to believe that Archie the wanker in joggers is out there somewhere, rescuing old ladies, feeling exactly one emotion at a time.

Author: Ellie Wilson

I’m a features and lifestyle journalist of six years’ experience. I spent 18 months in 2017-18 writing profiles of businessmen and I haven’t written about a single man since. Thanks to formative obsessions with both Lord of the Rings and Anne of Green Gables, I like my entertainment wholesome, gay and overly invested in trees. I am white, cis?, middle-class and have no diagnosed disabilities, pronouns she/her. You can see my work at thephasemag.com and elliewilsonwrites.com, and find me on Twitter @writative.

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