Meet Riverdale’s Legion of Doom.
This recap contains spoilers for Riverdale’s Season 2 finale, episode 22, “Brave New World.”
To say that Riverdale Season 2 has been a mixed bag is perhaps the understatement of the year. After a knockout freshman season that focused on a compelling, character-driven mystery even as it reveled in its own innate ridiculousness, the show collided with the sophomore slump from hell.
Stories began, only to suddenly vanish with no real resolution or explanation. Relationships changed as the story demanded it. Characters disappeared completely for weeks at a time – or made decisions that were wildly divergent to anything we’d seen from them before. And rather than focus on the things that made Season 1 great, such as the series’ core friendships and families, Riverdale told stories about the mob, a local gang war, and a confusing serial murder.
Basically, this season has pretty much been the definition of all over the place.
In many ways, Riverdale’s finale, “Brave New World” is a great time. It’s non-stop insanity, and full of bananas surprises. However, the episode’s frenetic pace can’t completely cover up its flaws. These are all problems that plagued large parts of Season 2, but “Brave New World” seems content to address them by simply plowing through to the end of the story as quickly as possible. Perhaps the Riverdale powers that be don’t see Season 2’s plot holes and messy characterizations as a problem. Or, maybe, they hope we’ll just forget all about them by the time Season 3 rolls around, and we can all start fresh together in the fall.
In all honesty, that may be the best solution for everyone. It largely seems to be the attitude that this episode adopts.
“Brave New World” quickly wraps up several stories that no one really cares about. It re-centers the show around its strongest elements – the friendship between the core four teens, the idea of Archie as a hero, Cheryl doing bizarrely awesome things. Everything else? Surplus to needs. The mayoral and student council campaigns get wrapped up quickly. Hal Cooper is unceremoniously carted off to prison and Betty declares her independence from him and her family history of darkness. Jughead lives. (Like any of us thought he wouldn’t!) And Hiram Lodge is shunted off to the Southside Society of Supervillains, where he takes his rightful place alongside other Riverdale bad seeds like Penelope Blossom and that guy who runs the Ghoulies. (Oh and Hiram’s behind the second Black Hood, because of course he is.)
Talk about a clean up on Aisle 5.
Yet, there’s so much to love about this episode, even if it requires handwaving the fact that Riverdale Season 2 forced us to sit through hours of tedium – and then subsequently asks us to forget half of it – to get there.
Watching Archie, Betty, Veronica and Jughead behave like they’re actually friends again is worth it. When was the last time we saw them all at Pop’s together like this? (I didn’t realize how much I’d really missed this group dynamic until I got it back again.) The same goes for Archie and Jughead’s bromance. The two spent most of this season at odds, thanks to Archie’s side hustle as a mob enforcer and Jughead’s gang lifestyle. Bringing these two back together feels like such a key piece of getting back to the magic of Season 1.
Moreover, the set-up for Season 3’s big mystery puts Archie squarely in the center of the story in a way that makes sense. Hiram Lodge framing his former teen protégé for murder is the kind of ridiculous thing this show does best, and it reminds us that for all his flaws, the goodness of Archie Andrews is a big piece of what holds this town together. What happens – to both Archie and Riverdale – if that goodness is questioned or tarnished? Yes, the idea that a mafia don and a high school teen have this kind of vendetta against one another is eyeroll-inducing, but at the end of the day this has to be better than watching Archie pretend he’s Ray Liotta from Goodfellas.
However, “Brave New World” leaves just enough story dangling out there to leave us feeling uneasy about where Season 3 could go. In the episode’s most ridiculous twist, FP appoints his teenage son the new leader of the Southside Serpents. Of course, this means that the gang and Jughead’s over-the-top obsession with them will continue to be a major plot in Season 3. (Plus side: Cheryl is now apparently an honorary member, which should automatically make everything better.) Veronica gives up her trust fund and status to spite her father and save the safe space that is Pop’s. This promises both interesting things for her character and a parade of awful musical acts in her new speakeasy in the basement. And, of course, there is Hiram, plotting a drug empire and scheming against local teens.
Perhaps it would have been better for all of us had Season 2 wrapped up with Hiram taking a cell next to Hal in the town jail. It’s hard to muster up too much excitement about where this character goes next, since he was responsible for so many of this year’s worst moments. Yet, it’s possible that by so firmly redefining Hiram as an out and out villain and basically giving him his own Legion of Doom, he might actually become kind of fun.
This is Riverdale, after all. Stranger things have happened.