Riverdale’s fourth season opens with an uncharacteristically straightforward, emotional episode. It’s a tribute to the beloved star Luke Perry, who died earlier this year following a massive stroke, and it’s also a tribute to the actor’s similarly adored character Fred Andrews, father to Archie (KJ Apa) and all-around good guy.
Perry passed just weeks before the third season was scheduled to wrap, so had filmed most of his scenes already. Rather than shoehorn in a plot to write out the character then, creator Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa said he and his writers wanted some time to think about how to properly honor their fallen friend.
“We didn’t want to rush it. We didn’t want to sandwich it in between all the other plot lines. And we just wanted to take our time and think about it,” he told Rotten Tomatoes and a small group of reporters after a screening of the season premiere. Taking time, he said, “allowed us to absorb what had happened and really think about what kind of story we wanted to tell. That that’s how we started — by not thinking about it for a while.”
But although the tragedy turns into a beautiful tribute in the standalone episode that starts off the season, business in Riverdale is just as nutty as usual. Archie will be grieving his father throughout the season, but he’ll also have to contend with plenty of deranged criminals and other figures who involve high school students in their shady business dealings way more than adults should. Put simply, Riverdale’s insane storylines are not going away.
Here’s what else to expect from season 4 of the often-mental series.
The Riverdale writers hadn’t really begun to brainstorm what would happen in season 4 before Perry’s death, so there’s no alternate path the character could’ve taken. Instead, the season will see the redhead figure out what life looks like without his role model and main parental figure.
“When this happened, it did suggest a path for Archie, which is about growing up a little more quickly than he would have and giving senior year this almost melancholy feel,” Aguirre-Sacasa said.
While the season premiere takes place over the July 4 Independence Day holiday, the second episode picks up a few months later, in September. That time gap allows the characters time to have grieved off-screen, but they will have in no way moved on from Fred’s death.
“The shadow Fred’s death cast is on episode two. And honestly, we’re about 10 episodes into the season and we’re still feeling that. The truth is something like that, Archie will be wrestling with that for the rest of his life, other characters less so,” he said. “I think one of the things that’s been interesting is when a tragedy like that happens, everyone grieves and then people move on at different points. But for the person who’s at the core of it, they live with it every day. So we don’t pretend it didn’t happen. It’s still very much permeating Archie’s story.”
Though the season opener is front-to-back emotional — watch with tissues handy or risk soaking your shirt with tears — episode 2 opens on “a little bit of a lighter note.” The main gang is back in high school, and storylines this season are going to focus (at least a little bit) on their adventures as normal high school students — well, normal for Riverdale at least.
As Aguirre-Sacasa said on the show’s San Diego Comic-Con panel back in July, “This year, the kids are seniors. They’ve always been too busy hunting serial killers. We haven’t dug deep into the high school world. We’re really playing the senior year.”
Former guest star Molly Ringwald returns “more or less” full time, as Aguirre-Sacasa announced at Comic-Con, as Archie’s mother, Mary. Coming from Chicago, she’s “not quite aware of what a rough town Riverdale is so we’re having some fun with that,” the creator said last week.
“I think that it’s really great that Archie has Mary there for him, and I think Mary loves being able to be there for her son. I do still think there’s no replacing his dad, but Mary’s doing great, and I’d really be worried for Archie if not for Mary,” he said.
Mary will of course be supporting Archie first and foremost, but she’ll get her own storylines too. Aguirre-Sacasa is particularly proud of the season’s Thanksgiving episode that “reminds us that this is Archie’s first Thanksgiving without his father. It’s kind of Mary and Archie shoulder to shoulder. There’s typical craziness that happens, but I think there’s a real, true emotional core there as well.”
Balancing the craziness of the series with its more grounded plots has always been the “high-wire act” Aguirre-Sacasa and his writing team contended with, and in the past two seasons the crazy maybe has overwhelmed the grounded. But in season 4, the balance will be a little more even.
“A lot of people said, ‘Oh, season 1 was much more grounded’ and all that stuff. So we’ve used season 1 a little bit as a template. We definitely still have crazy stories. But instead of let’s say four crazy stories per episode, we have two crazy stories per episode two that are a little more emotional or psychological or real,” he said. “In episode two, we have this great story with Archie and Reggie, and it’s about Reggie’s father, and therefore it’s about the memory of Fred as well, but it feels like a very straightforward coming-of-age friendship story. So I think we’re finding our way back to some of the stuff in season 1. You know, the truth is you can never go back, but there were things that I know the fans missed and that we missed and are trying to write to.”
Still, that trademark Riverdale insanity remains. Episode three, in particular, will bring a particular brand of nuts to the series.
“That’s the resolution of the of the Farm storyline, and I remember when we turned it in the network was like, yep good to know that’s still in there. That’s kind of a crazy one,” Aguirre-Sacasa said. “We have a really fun Halloween episode that is both grounded and heightened, I would say. And the Blossoms can always be counted on for some craziness. There are some really great mysteries in there, they’re just a little less — I mean, we had, like, two serial killers running around and the killer cult and bear attacks. By the way, all stuff I stand by and loved. It’s still out there. It’s still out there for sure. Episode 3, it’s as crazy as we’ve gotten.”
Cheryl Blossom (Madelaine Petsch) is bringing the wacky in a storyline that’s both touching and completely mental as she continues to keep her dead twin brother’s corpse around to communicate with.
“As heightened and weird and macabre as it is to have Jason in the crypt, I think the truth of that story is she loved her brother dearly,” Aguirre-Sacasa said. “She never got a chance to say goodbye to him and she doesn’t want to. In a weird way her arc over the first movement of episodes is learning how to finally say goodbye to Jason and it’s quite moving.”
First up for Betty is the fallout of her friendship with Kevin (Casey Cott) over his Farm ties. Aguirre-Sacasa also noted that Betty will also have to deal with her and Jughead’s half-brother Charles Smith (Wyatt Nash), who was the undercover FBI agent at the Farm and is the offspring of Betty’s mom, Alice (Mädchen Amick), and Jughead’s dad, FP (Skeet Ulrich). (Got that?)
“Kevin was a big part of the Farm. He dragged her by her ankles into the lobotomy room or whatever, so we kind of try to pick up the pieces of their friendship,” Aguirre-Sacasa said, adding that “Charles is very much a part of the first chunk of the season.”
Veronica will deal with the knowledge that maybe her father Hiram (Mark Consuelos) isn’t completely evil thanks to his kind gesture paying for Fred’s funeral.
“[That’s] a gesture that mafiosos do,” the creator said. “Even amongst mobsters, there’s a sense of honor. I think that’s a hint that Hiram isn’t all bad. He’s a villain, but underneath that he’s also a human being and her father. I think Veronica and her father, they’ll always be in conflict. But I do believe that underneath all that stuff there is a bond and a love there and that’s a hint to that.”
And Jughead’s main storyline will involve his new school, a fancy Gossip Girl–esque private school that, as Sprouse revealed on the Comic-Con panel, will provide the backdrop for the flash-forward from the season 3 finale that saw Archie, Betty, and Veronica covered in blood and burning their clothes.
Said Aguirre-Sacasa on that panel, “That’s one of our big mysteries, obviously, what happened to Jughead and the kids that night, and we are building up [to] it. Our midseason finale is going to be that night depicted in the flash-forward. And in episodes leading up to it we’re going to flash forward to other events from that night and immediately after that night, so you’ll start to piece it together, I think.”
Riverdale season 4 premieres on Wednesday, October 9 at 8 p.m. on The CW.