Spoiler warning: this article includes comments from Riverdale’s cast and creator about episodes twelve and thirteen.
Thinking cynically, Riverdale was never going to fail. It’s the ultimate teen drama, that golden mix of arch self-reflexivity and soapy melodrama, with a moody, neon aesthetic that Tumblr has predictably lapped up in gif form. It boasts the hottest young cast this side of Gossip Girl, and for older viewers there’s a lure in having 90s stars like Skeet Ulrich, Mädchen Amick and Luke Perry fill out the parental roles. And this is all without mentioning that the show is executive-produced by godfather of The CW, Greg Berlanti.
It certainly helps, too, that Riverdale is one of the most fun teen dramas to come out of the last few years. The cast has, undoubtedly, been an enticing factor and the characters are larger-than-life yet still capable of nuance.
The mystery element though, is what has kept many viewers rapt. The Twin Peaks meets Dawson’s Creek line that the Internet repeated all the way up until the show aired is accurate in gauging Riverdale’s atmosphere. There’s a charisma and mystique that more heavy-handed teen shows might bungle; and the mystery is as increasingly opaque as the swirling, grey mist that surrounds the town.
In advance of the last two episodes questions abound, chief of which is…
Mystery 1: Who killed Jason Blossom?
The granddaddy of all Riverdale mysteries, we’ve been waiting patiently for weeks to find out who killed Jason Blossom at Sweetwater River. While Jughead may say “I don’t think the question is ‘whodunit’… I think the real question is whether Riverdale is a place of good or a place of darkness and evil” (which seems to be series’ mission statement), we’re still very interested in who killed Jason and how he really died.
The details are pretty hazy; we were initially told he drowned on a boat ride with Cheryl but then his body washed up with a bullet in his head. However, it’s not long now until we get some clarification as the man behind Riverdale, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, has confirmed that we will be finding out Jason’s murderer in season one’s penultimate episode. Now, as for the theories…
Archie was the intended victim
This one is relatively easy and given the show’s none-too-subtle attempts at highlighting the similar appearance of everyone’s favourite redheaded patsy, Archie, and the deceased, a likely theory is that Archie was originally intended to die. This isn’t really watertight because asides from being handsomest dum-dum in town we haven’t been shown enough of Archie’s dark side to consider why someone would want to kill him. He’s a chronic heartbreaker but too naïve to realise he’s causing harm. One possible reason is that the lecherous Miss Grundy’s former husband tracked her down to Riverdale and when realising she was in a relationship he killed her new flame. This one is a bit of a stretch, mind, because then the murderer would be an unnamed character we’ve never met who killed Jason by mistake.
There’s the possibility that the killer could be Miss Grundy herself, returning to the fore after being whisked off to the wings when the writers discovered about four episodes down the line that statutory rape between a teacher and student doesn’t equate to a sexy, torrid forbidden romance. It seemed like Grundy was done for this season and potentially for good given how badly she reportedly went down with test audiences (and the Internet when the pilot aired) but at a screening of Chapter Eleven: To Riverdale And Back Again, Aguirre-Sacasa was asked whether the Archie/Grundy affair would resurface: “It’s a really good question. You’d think it would, right? It’d have to, it’s so big. Stay tuned!” It’s a classic noncommittal showrunner response but definitely not a denial. Might Miss Grundy have another part to play? Given how her storyline fizzled out to nothing (and that may have been unplanned) and how she was there at Sweetwater River, it’s looking likely. But for all our sakes let’s hope not.
It’s difficult to overlook Cheryl Blossom and her fantastic collection of red outfits and venomous one-liners despite how obvious a suspect she seems. The show has already lampshaded her and Jason’s very close relationship as potentially ‘twincest’, so the prospect of that emerging may be closed off. And yet Cheryl is immensely protective of her brother’s legacy and the whole Blossom clan are pretty insidious when it comes to regularly closing ranks. Could she have had a part to play in Jason’s death? Incest may be off the cards but as someone who doted just so much on her brother, Cheryl may not have looked kindly on his blossoming (oy veh) relationship with Polly, and murdered him in a fit of jealousy. In the high camp world of Riverdale, it’s not exactly far-fetched.
A theory that holds even more water is that it was all three of the surviving Blossoms – Penelope, Clifford and Cheryl. It just seems so unlikely that one member of the Blossoms would do something like kill one of their own without first holding a family meeting. The parents of Riverdale are getting shadier by the episode and the Blossoms are standing out as the most suspicious. Then again, it’s incredibly difficult to suspect anyone because Riverdale just makes every single character (except Archie) seem so dubious that it’s hard to know who to suspect. Of all the families in Riverdale, the Blossoms are the ones possessing the most secrets – so it’s great that they’ve got a colossal country pile in the form of Thornhill to store them in – and a finale partly dedicated to unpacking them all seems feasible. Besides, the more Cheryl the better.
Certainly, if I were a betting man this is who I’d be putting my money on. Kevin has remained on the periphery of all the drama in Riverdale, occasionally reminding us of his presence by reeling off a line from his grab-bag of inch-perfect quips. However, despite gaining a boyfriend in Joaquin, a snake by name and a snake by nature, he hasn’t really had much impact on anyone’s storyline or, crucially, the mystery around Jason Blossom’s demise. Throw in the repeated references to flicks like The Talented Mr. Ripley along with the fact he found the body and he’s the sheriff’s son and so has the access to any handy tools to help cover up a murder, it seems pretty likely. As for motive, it’s difficult to say, but one theory being bandied about the Internet is that Kevin was infatuated with Jason and whilst it’s plausible the show would be voluntarily embroiling itself in controversy, as Kevin is pretty much the show’s only LGBT+ character. But he seems, to me, the likeliest killer (Casey Cott’s technically a recurring player in the same vein as the Pussycats yet he’s been plastered across Riverdale social media and is effectively the fifth member of the gang) and Cott hasn’t had much to do on the show; he’s shown he’s great at executing a cool one-liner so a performance high on melodrama post-unmasking sounds like a great way to finish the series.
Mystery 2: Who planted the gun in F.P.’s trailer?
It’s clear that whoever set up F.P. had to have done it between Archie and Veronica raiding his trailer and F.P. turning up not long after. Thinking practically about it, neither Jughead or Betty could have done it because the former’s dad dropped them off at the dance whilst Alice Cooper and Cheryl were already there, and the triple date of Fred, Mary and Hermione rocked up at the same time. Crossing off minor characters like Ethel and Reggie, the only key players that could have planted the gun are Polly, Kevin, Joaquin or Hal at a stretch. Polly seems unlikely because the mother of Jason’s child had been drugged by the Blossoms and was out for the count. Tying in with my killer theory, Kevin looks like he had the window to do it, only being shown at the dance once Veronica and Archie turn up. As I say, if I were a betting man he’s where I’d be parting with my cash.
An outsider theory is that either Archie and Veronica could have done it and it’s something that doesn’t seem to have been considered by many. Archie is just so guileless it’s difficult to suspect him but might the writing be hiding the character’s true, villainous side? It would be a dramatic 360 turn for the character and, like Casey Cott, it’d be great to see KJ Apa play the role as a villain, but Archie’s naiveté doesn’t seem wholly deliberate, he’s more of an accidental simpleton. Veronica is a more likely candidate, though it’s hard to see her work solo – perhaps a mother/daughter scheme?
All these theories could be upended if the killer had a partner in crime but that could be applied to everything on this list. And it would be pretty unfair – unfair but not implausible, unfortunately.
Mystery 3: Who’s next to die?
This one’s not so much a lingering question in need of an answer, because unless you’ve been obsessively checking the web for Riverdale updates there’s no indication that anyone else is going to follow Jason Blossom to the grave. It’s been a gradually building rumour and Collider floated it to Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa where he confirmed that, in fact, someone would bite the dust.
To further whet our interests, KJ Apa told a panel at the Paley Centre for Media: “I don’t even really care about the Jason Blossom murder anymore because something happens in our very last episode that is the craziest, most mind-blowing thing. It involves Archie…”. It may not be Apa’s show but as so much of Riverdale pivots around him it’s unlikely that Archie himself will die (and it’s important that Aguirre-Sacasa confirmed it was a death, not a serious injury so some kind of cop-out cliffhanger is out of the question). Seeing as Veronica, Jughead and Betty are also Riverdale’s darlings it won’t be them either; Tumblr, after all, would riot. Fred Andrews seems like a fair guess and perhaps even more so is Mary, Archie’s mother whom he’s just gotten acquainted with again. One big plot point dangling after this week’s episode is whether Archie will concede to her plea that he returns with her to Chicago and given how happy he is at reconnecting with his mum it looks likely. Couple that with the fact Mary is played by none other than Molly Ringwald and it seems like it could be curtains for Archie’s mum. It would give KJ Apa something to do in season two but at the expense of one of the show’s female characters, and Molly Ringwald no less. Throwing away a guest spot by Molly Ringwald is as silly as burning money, but Riverdale has confidence in buckets and at this stage it’s difficult to put anything past this show.
Mystery 4: Will Betty and Jughead’s relationship survive season 1?
Riverdale’s decision to eschew the newly-canonised clarification of Jughead’s asexuality generated a lot of heat when the show landed back in January. It was a missed opportunity for further LGBT+ representation, which Riverdale is certainly lacking in (compounded by the fact TV is not exactly swimming in asexual characters), and the show continued down the route of Jughead romancing Betty. Their love is the most stable relationship on the show – and despite initial appearances Archie has floundered in this area – but just in time for the last two episodes, Chapter Eleven: To Riverdale and Back Again threw a spanner in the works. Archie, Veronica and Alice’s suspicions about F.P., seemingly confirmed by the latter’s arrest, led Jughead to vanish but not before he could express her hurt over Betty betraying him (of course, she hadn’t but the show would be over in about 20 minutes if anyone actually communicated). F.P. and Jughead were apparently set to move to Toledo and join Jellybean and her mother but Jughead was passing on it to stay with Betty.
The temporary disintegration of Jughead could easily be written off as a way of ramping up the drama for the first season’s final two episodes, but Betty dropping the word ‘love’ might be the death knell for the pair’s relationship. Actual love – not novelty shipping (#Spaleb) or headline-grabbing dynamics like Archie and Miss Grundy – in teen dramas is a dangerous thing because either someone’s for the chop or the relationship is irreparably doomed. Given how Riverdale are more likely to trigger a zombie apocalypse than kill off Jughead, the former is unlikely, but breaking off the show’s biggest ship as season one concludes seems like a canny move to keep people waiting until the show returns next year. Of course, the first half of season two would then see the pair building to an eventual reconciliation, but this is an opportunity for Riverdale to increase its representation of minorities and Cole Sprouse has shown that the show is willing to listen, so there is an alternative path it can take. Riverdale would certainly earn itself some more Internet brownie points if it went down this route and actually cement its status as a truly self-aware teen drama.
Mystery 5: Will Jughead ever eat a hamburger?
Fans of the Archie comics – and I’m not going out on a limb by saying there are probably more in the US than here in the UK – know Jughead to never be without his trademark crown on his head and a burger in his hand. Riverdale may have given us the supremely fan-pleasing retro dream sequence where Jughead finally wore his crown, but he has not yet eaten a burger.
Cole Sprouse has confirmed that he will eat a burger at some point but it’s been too long coming. Riverdale has done a lot right but they had better hurry up on this point.
Mystery 6: Is there going to be a zombie apocalypse in Riverdale?
Honestly, this is nothing like as far-fetched as it sounds. Riverdale could just completely go the whole hog and murder everyone only to revive them as zombies. The seeds have been sown, according the surprising amount of people who buy into this theory, and the evidence is solid. Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa is the creator of an Archie comic book called Afterlife With Archie; in it, Jughead’s dog, Hot Dog (soon to make his first appearance according to those involved) is accidentally killed and when Jughead asks Sabrina the Teenage Witch (again, someone confirmed to pop up in the finale, although unfortunately not played by Melissa Joan Hart) to bring his beloved pooch back to life she obliges. However, when Hot Dog is brought back he’s reanimated as a zombie so he promptly infects Jughead and sets in motion a very dark version of the Archie timeline
That Aguirre-Sacasa is the proponent of this alternative timeline is the topmost reason why Riverdale might do it, but there are also some other pretty significant hints. Cheryl’s hallucination of Jason as a zombie could easily be a simple piece of foreshadowing whilst Dilton Doiley and the scouts’ survivalist training could come in handy if a zombie were to show up. For a show that’s ridiculous and fun and willing to embrace the absurd, Riverdale could easily do it. Perhaps it won’t opt for a blanket massacre and have the whole cast save for a few return as zombies but particularly with the appearance of Sabrina Spellman, it’s not fanciful to imagine Riverdale dabbling with the supernatural.
So those are our theories. Now, over to you…