If you need a recap of last season, you can try to make sense of this. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, and I wrote it. The short version is this: All the Riverdale characters had superpowers, there was a bad guy named Percival who was defeated, but the season ended when Bailey’s Comet hit Riverdale and caused an extinction-level event.
… except that Tabitha — whose superpower is time travel — used the last bit of her powers to transport the Riverdale characters back into 1955, in what I think is an alternate universe. They are all juniors in high school again (never mind that Cole Sprouse is 30 IRL). The only character who realizes he’s from the present is Jughead, and in an effort to trigger memories from their original universe, he digs up a time capsule they buried in the future (what?), but the items inside do not elicit any recollection. In fact, the other characters think that Jughead is crazy, particularly after he suggests that Betty and Archie need to hook up and someone needs to set off a bomb in the bunker beneath them so that the explosion will send them back to the original timeline (that’s a callback to last season).
At the end of the episode, the time-traveling Tabitha (and not the Tabitha that exists in 1955), lets Jughead know what’s going on, namely that she sent them back in time to avoid Bailey’s Comet. In the meantime, time travel Tabitha has to untangle a lot of timelines and figure out how to prevent the extinction-level event. While she’s doing that, it’s Jughead’s job to “bend the arc of the moral universe toward justice” so that, once Riverdale finally reaches 2023, it’s not morally depraved. The catch, however, is that Tabitha has to erase Jughead’s memory so that he doesn’t go insane with knowledge from the future. Before he forgets everything, Jughead manages to type “arc bend justice” with his typewriter.
In other words: Riverdale has completely reset to high school in 1955. In this timeline, Archie’s father was killed in the Korean War and his overprotective mother doesn’t want him to drive his hotrod because of what happened to James Dean. Veronica’s parents are TV stars who banished Veronica to live by herself in Riverdale because she was in the caravan to see James Dean. Archie has a crush on Veronica. Cheryl’s brother, who died in the OG Riverdale, is alive, but he is a different person with a different name in 1955. He also has a crush on Veronica.
Elsewhere, Betty and Kevin, who was gay in OG Riverdale, are an item in 1955. Betty runs the school newspaper. Toni and 1955 Tabitha were in attendance for the Emmett Till trial in Mississippi. Tabitha decides afterward to go with her parents to help raise awareness. Toni, meanwhile, writes a fantastic piece about Till, but the school refuses to allow Betty to run it. Cheryl, whose family basically owns Riverdale, does an end around and reads a Langston Hughes poem about Till, “Mississippi—1955,” over the loudspeaker during morning announcements. It stirs the entire school.
This, it appears, is one step toward bending the arc of the universe toward justice. My guess is that Riverdale is going to take up 1955 social issues for at least part of the final season. Riverdale will go full Afterschool Special.
One down, 19 episodes to go. I am praying that Bailey’s Comet will save me from the rest of the season.