When it came to Archie comics, the eponymous redhead was always dedicatedly average, and rewarded for it immensely. He had loyal friends, a band, and two incredibly beautiful young women vying for his affections. But in 2017’s Riverdale, being the mediocre, entitled white dude isn’t as cool as it was back in the day of malt shoppes and poodle skirts. While Jughead and Betty were investigating the murder of classmate Jason Blossom, and Veronica was dealing with the shame and financial fallout of her dad being arrested for white collar crime, Archie was really interested in music, you guys. But also, he likes football. What a pickle!
It became comical how Riverdale shoved Archie to the sidelines of its central murder plot, having him pop by mostly to look shocked. So as the series went on, I began to suspect that Archie wasn’t a poorly written character whose charisma and drama couldn’t compare to his co-horts. Instead, maybe the Riverdale writers were using this oblivious All-American boy to comment on the privilege. While Archie has had some true trauma this season, he’s mostly been trouble for others. He abandoned Jughead during the summer the crowned kid became homeless. He broke Betty’s heart by rejecting her. He wounded the blossoming friendship between girl-next-door Betty and “Blue Jasmine of Riverdale High” Veronica by making out with the latter at a party. He split up Josie and the Pussycats, then hurt Val by playing faux-boyfriend to Cheryl Blossom. He stormed Polly’s baby shower to cause a scene. And he spilled the beans on Jughead’s birthday, never bothering to consider how his party-averse bestie would be impacted.
That was the real issue over the season for Archie. He never meant to hurt Betty or Veronica or Val or Josie or Jughead. He just never looked beyond his own feelings to consider how his actions would impact anyone else. But finally in this finale, Archie began to look others’ troubles in real way. In “The Sweet Hereafter,” Archie is downright heroic! When he learns that Jughead has conceded to moving the sketchy South Side and its hard high school (complete with metal detectors and security guards), Archie leads Betty and Veronica as they literally RACE out of Riverdale High to rescue him. Turns out he’s fine, but still, it was a genuinely caring gesture.
Immediately thereafter, Veronica gets a suicide-text from Cheryl, and then all four of them rush to the frozen Sweet Water River—a sequence teased in the trailer—where Cheryl, grieving and hopeless, has decided to join her brother. All four go onto the ice after her, while she’s madly beating at it trying to break through to drown in its icy depths. When she falls through, it’s Archie that follows the current, finds where she’s trapped beneath the ice and pummels it until his knuckles are raw, the snow is splattered with his blood, and ice is broken. Sacrificing his “playing hand” right before the big Jubilee performance, Archie saves Cheryl’s life!
He also had smaller moments of decency, like confessing to Betty that he and Veronica “had kissed a couple of times.” Admittedly, it was inelegant and uncomfortable, doing it in front of an audience in the school cafeteria. But at least he cut off Veronica’s tendency for drama (she stood up to make the announcement!), and then he even followed up with Betty privately to be sure she was okay. It got awkward when he tried to apologize for never giving their romance a shot. But yick as that was, it showed Archie genuinely understood how he’d hurt Betty, and wanted to be better. It showed growth! Even his performance at the jubilee wasn’t awful.
Then, in the episode’s final moments that I super hate, Archie comes out of the bathroom of Pop’s Chocklit Shoppe to discover a gun-toting masked man is robbing the place. Because I’m so mad at the potential loss of Luke Perry to the series, I’m tempted to blame Archie for Fred getting shot. But we know from Jughead’s voiceover this was no accident. Fred was targeted. I suspect he would have been shot whether or not Archie rushed out from hiding. But in doing that, Archie showed that he’d risk his own life for his dad. And the show’s creator Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa has already promised this Archie hero arc will continue in season two.
Comparing Archie to other iconic comic characters, Aguirre-Sacase told EW, “I talk a lot about Archie being the hero of our show and, to me, what Archie witnessed in Pops is the equivalent of what Bruce Wayne witnessed when he saw his parents gunned down in that alley or when Peter Parker learned his Uncle Ben had been murdered by a burglar he could have stopped. It’s such a huge mythic moment for Archie.”
This indicates Archie will have a bigger role in season two. And honestly, I’m finally all for that. It’s like once Jon Snow died on Game of Thrones (Shut up about spoilers. It happened ages ago and EVERYONE knows it did.) Once Jon was so idealistic in a world of sinister strategy that he was positively galling. But when he came back and was like, “Fuck this, I died. My watch has ended.” We had new cause to root for him! Because he was reborn, knowing the true darkness of the world around him. And just like that he became interesting. Now, Archie has never been as noble as Jon, but just as oblivious. Even in this episode, he defiantly declares he’s “always” been there for his friends, which was sure to have Riverdale fans spit-taking hard. But with his dad shot, Archie will have no one but his friends (and maybe mom Molly Ringwald) to cling to. And since those “pesky kids” love a good mystery, season two could integrate Archie in a profound and intriguing way as he seeks justice for his dear super hot and hopefully not dead dad.
By my count, Archie still needs to recognize how not there for his friends he actually was. But there’s no denying he showed a lot of growth in Chapter 13. And with his dad no longer around to protect him, he’ll have to own the consequences of his action in a way he hasn’t before. But am I alone here? Do you think Archie’s redeemed for his general doofiness and selfishness? Is Archie forgiven?
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