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Stream It or Skip It?

As Riverdale’s sixth season appears on Netflix, it’s with the news that the popular CW series will return in 2023 for a seventh and final season. And it’s certainly been a wild ride, what with that business of season five literally ending with a bang. But as the sixth season unfolds, everything is seemingly back to normal. Or is it? It’s amazing what the twist of an errant “V” can do to a town and characters you thought you knew. 

Opening Shot: “There’s a town that exists at the borderlands,” A bizarro Jughead Jones (Cole Sprouse) says, doing his best Rod Serling. “A place of nightmares and dreamscapes. A place where folklore and myth carry the weight of fact and truth.” Welcome, folks, to Rivervale.

The Gist: What? Rivervale? That’s right, as “Chapter Ninety-Six” kicks off the sixth season of Riverdale, we’re inside a Twilight Zone-style arc where Archie (KJ Apa) and Betty (Lili Reinhart) live on after the blast that took out his house at the end of last season, Tabitha Tate (Erinn Westbrook) and Jughead have just gotten a place together, Veronica Lodge (Camila Mendes) and Reggie Mantle (Charles Melton) have big plans to open a casino, Toni (Vanessa Morgan) and Fangs (Drew Ray Tanner) are dealing with a colic-y Baby Anthony, and Cheryl (Madelaine Petsch) is the fairy queen of the sacred sovereign nation of Thornhill, which has seceded from Rivervale. When Betty and Archie observe a dead deer on her land, complete with runic symbols scrawled in blood, Cheryl warns them off with the threat of her archers. And if Archie thinks he’s gonna be able to plant maple saplings in the forests of Thornill, he’s got another thing coming.

Archie won’t be warned off as easily as Cheryl would like. He’s presenting a plan to establish new maple trees in Rivervale, which will in turn provide syrup, a plan she says is like trying to steal her maple thunder. Because out at Thornhill, she tells her charges, they use maple syrup to appease the “Maple Maiden,” and that lady’s been hungry lately. Cheryl then puts her powers of potion-making to work, enlisting Toni and Tabitha as allies in the process, while Archie continues to be suspicious of her aims. And in the evidence locker down at the FBI office, Betty discovers a fertility doll that looks very much like the “poppets” Cheryl had her crew fashion and place in the forest. Could all of that business be connected to the ritually sacrificed deer?

Cheryl has a way of making everyone amenable. The entire town turns out at Thornhill for her Maple Harvest Festival, where Archie beats Jughead in a pancake eating contest. That’s 119 hotcakes from Pop’s to Jughead’s 115. Archie also bests Reggie in a bout of shirtless log sawing. But right when he’s about to win it all with a well-placed hatchet to a hay bale target, Betty steps in to be crowned harvest queen. Instead, Archie receives a pie from Cheryl, a very special pie. In fact, it’s a “sin pie,” and Archie will soon discover how instrumental he is to sustaining the life blood of Thornhill and Rivervale.

Riverdale -- "Chapter One Hundred: The Jughead Paradox" -- Image Number: RVD605b_0090r.jpg -- Pictured (L-R): Lili Reinhart as Betty Cooper, KJ Apa as Archie Andrews and Camila Mendes as Veronica Lodge -- Photo: Kailey Schwerman/The CW -- © 2021 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Photo: Kailey Schwerman/The CW

What Shows Will It Remind You Of? With its fine ensemble cast and insular world-building, Riverdale is akin to eminently streamable fare like The Umbrella Academy and 13 Reasons Why. And if you’re just catching up with Riverdale as its sixth season arrives on Netflix, keep in mind that the already-announced seventh season will be its last.

Our Take: Archers? Sovereign nations? A place of folklore and myth? An alternate Jughead Jones who weaves his way through scenes and storylines like an unseen narrator floating in the margins? Don’t ever change, Riverdale writers’ room. But the arc that opens up season six – Rivervale is here to stay for at least five episodes – is also exactly the kind of wacky, turned-on-its-ear kind of thing a show based on comic books should be doing. It keeps things fresh, adding in these layers of mystery and alternate existences; it keeps the audience invested in the story. And don’t worry – it’s all happening inside the Riverdale continuity, as showrunner, writer of “Chapter Ninety-Six” and creative chief of the Archie comics Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa told Decider. So why not mess with the audiences’ heads and expectations?

Moving forward, the schism between Rivervale, represented by the good embodied in characters like Betty, Archie, and his Uncle Frank (Ryan Robbins), and Thornhill, with its air of witchy mystery represented in Cheryl’s power-hungry shenanigans, is certainly the juiciest storyline of Riverdale’s sixth season. But on Veronica’s side of things, her relationship with Reggie feels like it’s suffering some cracks. Sure, they do the deed on a bed piled high with money, and the Jughead narrator calls them “Rivervale’s premiere power couple.” (They even have matching treadmills.) But why did Veronica conspicuously leave an office for Reggie out of her design for the casino they’re supposed to open together? It’s pretty clear there’s something afoot with Veronica.

Sex and Skin: There is the aforementioned moment of camp when Veronica and Reggie get hot and heavy on top of the cash. And later, Betty and Archie take to a tabletop in the hopes of conceiving.

Parting Shot: We’ve rejoined Bizarro Jughead on the outskirts of Rivervale, a place he calls “Riverdale’s shadow town…”

Sleeper Star: We’re gonna go with the dollop of pancake batter dangling from the corner of Jughead’s mouth during the Thornhill Maple Harvest’s feats of strength. It’s a nice detail, because this guy apparently just ate 115 flapjacks, which sounds completely awful.

Most Pilot-y Line: It’s fun watching Madelain Petsch’s Cheryl deliver richly-worded lines like “all that was once fecund is now barren,” and allow for her goofy bad witch side. “I get it,” Cheryl tells Betty. “I’d be obsessed with me, too.”

Our Call: STREAM IT. As the sixth season of Riverdale platforms at Netflix, it’s having a whole lot of fun developing a shadow storyline to exist within its already heady larger narrative.

Johnny Loftus is an independent writer and editor living at large in Chicagoland. His work has appeared in The Village Voice, All Music Guide, Pitchfork Media, and Nicki Swift. Follow him on Twitter: @glennganges

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