When Riverdale started a seven-year time jump in its fifth season, there was potential to do just about anything. With so many years gone by, Riverdale had the chance to reboot its storylines and character relationships re-creating the series to be something new and exciting.
However, the most significant change Riverdale‘s fifth season offers surrounds the mystery of the Lonely Highway Killer and how that story sadly ends in Polly’s tragic death. Polly’s devastating conclusion is the most significant emotional change Riverdale makes in season 5.
Otherwise, season 5 is a montage of confusing storylines. Although the first few episodes suggest change may be in the air, the idea was squashed quickly with the return of old storylines that included Hiram’s obsessive desire to terrorize Riverdale and Archie Andrews.
While Archie spends most of the season trying to keep Riverdale afloat, single-handedly, the others are spread out, solving murders, opening new businesses, starting illegitimate churches, and more.
Not only has nothing changed in terms of how the stories were told, but there were also at least two episodes that took away all attention from the central plots.
“Chapter Eighty-Eight: Citizen Lodge” is a Hiram-centric episode explaining his backstory and how he became the man he is in the present. As a flashback event, it doesn’t do anything for the grand story as a whole. Instead, the episode explains Hiram’s desire to find Palladium and gives an insight into how he and Hermione got together.
But, while the episode may be meant to explain Hiram’s motives and possibly suggest his desire to finish what his father never could, Riverdale had already exhausted its energy portraying Hiram Lodge as an irredeemable villain. After this episode, nothing about Hiram’s motives suggests his actions have anything to do with his father.
Since Mark Consuelos has left the show as a series regular as of the season 5 finale, what was the point of this storyline if nothing truly came to fruition out of it?
“Chapter Ninety-One: The Return of the Pussycats” works similarly. Josie and her ex-bandmates Valerie and Melody, return for an episode centered on them and their journey to reuniting as a band.
However, this episode disregards every other storyline occurring in the present. At this point in the storyline, Betty is still obsessively searching for the Lonely Highway Killer while Archie struggles with PTSD. However, neither of these plotlines are relevant as Josie takes center stage for the hour.
While it may be interesting to know what Josie has been up to since Katy Keene’s cancellation, the episode doesn’t do much for the season. It becomes more confusing as the final minutes suggest that Josie’s father had been murdered, a detail that never gets answered or acknowledged in any episode of the fifth season afterward.
With Betty and Jughead solving the mystery of the Lonely Highway Killer and the Mothmen two episodes before the series finale, there is only so much left to explore in the following episodes.
The penultimate episode focussed primarily on Alice’s grief about Polly’s death in an event using songs from the Broadway musical, Next To Normal. Given Polly’s passing, it makes sense that Riverdale wanted to take a beat to slow things down and allow Betty and Alice time to grieve and determine how to handle what it means to move forward.
But, Riverdale’s fifth season finale, “Chapter Ninety-Five: RIVERDALE: RIP(?)” also holds plenty of problems. After a season of confusing subplots and separate storylines, Riverdale returns to one of the time jump’s earliest plotlines, Riverdale being stripped of its township. Although the finale succeeds in reincorporating Riverdale, given everything else that occurred throughout the fifth season, the final episode of the season is relatively tame.
There is no monumental shift or massive last-minute mystery that needs to be solved. So instead, the episode stumbles its way through, attempting to explain what is next for Riverdale and why Jughead and Veronica would stay in town.
For all the romances the final episodes of season 5 began, the most significant relationship change comes from Betty and Archie.
For many, Archie and Betty’s romance is a long-time coming. But, in the span of season 5 alone, it is severely underwhelming. Betty and Archie begin the season as friends with benefits, and after mutually deciding to part ways, they spend most of their time in separate storylines.
In Archie’s case, that includes getting back together with Veronica. Archie and Veronica spend much of the season wishing to be together, and they reunite after Veronica’s divorce is final. However, in the penultimate episode, Archie and Veronica’s romance stumbles after they move in together.
Staying in Riverdale five years in the future was not what Veronica had hoped for herself, and discovering that is where Archie sees himself is one of the final moments that leads to their romance ending, along with Veronica feeling that she is beginning to lose herself in her relationship with Archie.
While these may be legitimate reasons for Veronica and Archie to end their relationship, it does not explain how the very next episode, Archie has determined that he wants a real romance with Betty.
Betty and Archie’s romance feels so sudden because of their lack of interaction throughout the fifth season or any natural build-up to them heading in this direction. How did Archie know he wanted a future with Betty so quickly after breaking up with Veronica?
As for cliffhangers and other season endings, the more significant plot twists come from Hiram Lodge and Cheryl Blossom. In Hiram’s case, Veronica and her friends finally have the evidence they need to effectively throw Hiram out of town. However, Hiram does get his moment of revenge in the last minutes of the finale by blowing up Archie’s house.
As for Cheryl, her big moment comes from invoking her ancestor’s curse, which may play a role in what brings Sabrina Spellman to Riverdale in season 6.
Riverdale’s fifth season is several episodes worth of wasted potential, and the season’s storylines feel separate from its result in the finale. While the season attempted to show what life was like seven years later, the season as a whole was not that different from previous years.