Everything changed in Riverdale, but nothing changed, except everything
In case you haven’t noticed, he’s weird. He’s a weirdo. He doesn’t fit in and he doesn’t want to fit in. That’s Jughead Jones — rogue blogger of Riverdale, dark empath of smalltown America, omniscient narrative conscience of The CW.
As the resident chronicler of Riverdale‘s endless stream of deadly and deceitful events, almost every episode of the show opens with a thematic whistle-blow from the gloomiest ex-goofball, Jughead. These opening monologues are somehow simultaneously the best and worst part of the show; they cover the gamut of elegiac expression, from meticulous descriptions of rotting corpses to generalized anxiety about Christmas, but they all carry one key ingredient: a ceaseless belief that whatever is happening right now in Riverdale is the worst thing to ever happen in Riverdale.
Digesting these opening lines all at once, one realizes just how beautiful Jughead’s leaps of logic can be in any given situation. “Jason Blossom’s body was cold… but so was the weather.” “The Black Hood could strike at any moment… and at the bowling alley, so could Veronica.” It’s like a morbid Sex and the City, punning to extremity over and over in an interminable loop until every adjective describing a dead body has comported with a normal activity in the high school calendar year.
You can’t blame Jughead, of course. He’s just written that way, and Cole Sprouse does a fine job with deadpan delivery contextualizing daily life against the town’s never-ending misery. But as it turns out, the only way Jug’s warnings become even more bonkers is when they’re read out of context. What I’ve assembled below is a curious curation of Jughead’s opening lines so far, which is to say nothing of his closing remarks, which tend to be just a series of increasingly dramatic claims that this, no this, no THIS was the week Riverdale’s innocence was truly lost. Never change, Jughead.
- “Our story is about a town, a small town, and the people who live in the town. From a distance, it presents itself like so many other small towns all over the world: safe, decent, innocent. Get closer, though, and you start seeing the shadows underneath. The name of our town is Riverdale.” (S1, episode 1)
There’s a world in which this is easily the No. 1 opener on this list. This is not that world. So many of the wild behavioral choices that define Riverdale and its characters can, in many regards, be traced all the way back to the very first lines of the series. Jughead’s pilot-episode mantra was a tonal landgrab that didn’t just lay out the show’s sweeping promise of desecrated tranquility, but introduced (and demanded acceptance of) the kind of hyperspecific morose omens which would become Jughead’s most hilariously frustrating habit. Quite literally, once Jughead got his first taste of the euphoria of melodramatic narration, Riverdale would never be the same.
- “People like to say that the death of Jason Blossom changed everything at Riverdale High. But certain things, certain traditions never change. Take Homecoming, for instance.” (S1, episode 11)
Here’s a textbook example of Jughead’s over-the-top formula in season 1. First, mention the phrase “the death of Jason Blossom.” Second, exaggerate its major conceptual effect to quasi-hyperbolic degree (“It changed everything!”). Finally, take a screeching hard left and find a way to equate the tragedy with whatever banal event is happening that week at Riverdale High. Look, I don’t make the rules; this is just how things are done. A second example:
- “It’s been a week since the discovery of Jason Blossom’s body, but his death is not the first nor would it be the last casualty that the town of Riverdale would suffer. The Twilight Drive-In, where I work, my home away from home, a piece of town history, is closing for good. Just when we needed a place to escape to the most.” (S1, episode 4)
A teenager was murdered, but the dilapidated drive-in movie theater Jughead likes is also closing. Why does everything have to happen to him?!
- “Behold, Pop’s Chock’lit Shoppe. For decades, the heart of Riverdale. Now, the latest casualty in the town’s ongoing battle against darkness.” (S2, episode 2)
A trend: It seems one of Jughead’s favorite activities is comparing the plight of buildings to the trauma of being murdered. Technically, this is not just Jughead’s fault, as Fred, Hermione, and Hiram’s storylines all suggest that Riverdale is at its core a serious show about real estate. But yes, Pop’s Chock’lit Shoppe was rudely vandalized after the Black Hood shooting — yet, to say that diner vandalization is offensively in step with murder is absolutely psychotic. If I was murdered and the next day someone vandalized the Chipotle by my apartment and people called it “the latest casualty,” I would haunt, and not in a fun Casper way.
- “You know how there are just some towns where bad things always seem to happen? Well, Riverdale has become one of those towns. The most recent horror? The school janitor turned out to be a serial killer. But we were putting him away along with our Christmas decorations.” (S2, episode 10)
Riverdale High could lose a basketball game and Jughead would find a way to say that the town never recovered from the loss — but here, after the second season’s winter hiatus, Jughead deviates from form and announces that the string of tragic murders from the first half of the season is actually behind them. A surprise twist! Shake it up!
- “Everyone’s afraid to say it, so let me be the first. There is a serial killer amongst us. San Francisco had the Zodiac. New Orleans had the Axeman. Texarkana, Texas, had the Phantom Killer. The list goes on and on. Add to their ranks Riverdale’s very own psychopath, the Black Hood.” (S2, episode 4)
Your town is fictional, babe, but nice try!
- “The Mayor’s Jubilee was supposed to change everything, be a new start. But when we woke up the next morning, Riverdale was still, at its heart, a haunted town. Meanwhile, Archie Andrews, who doesn’t even have a driver’s license yet, was at this very moment careening down the streets of Riverdale trying to outrace death.” (S2, episode 1)
There’s a wonderful implication here, in the season 2 premiere, that perhaps the townspeople of Riverdale have been reading Jughead’s blog and have subscribed to a wide consensus that the Mayor’s Jubilee was actually going to change everything and wash away all the disastrous turmoil of the previous year. If that’s not the case, then Jughead has accidentally revealed himself to be… an optimist! Surely this must be an isolated fever dream brought on by the sheer trauma of not having Riverdale on all summer.
- “Weekdays, from 8:25 a.m. to 3:01 p.m., we adhere to a strict regimen. Everything in our lives is controlled. But then something like the murder of Jason Blossom happens, and you realize there is no such thing as control. There is only chaos.” (S1, episode 10)
Jughead loves when he can squeeze messy drama out of something. Case in point: describing basic school hours like an oppressive mandate in a totalitarian dystopia. Yes, Jason Blossom’s death shook up Riverdale in many ways, but can we all agree that the school’s bell schedule sliding into anarchy was not one of them? This is so dramatic it should hold auditions after school.
- “Used to be, in ye olden days, every December, a Lord of Misrule presided over the winter holidays, called, back then, the Feast of Fools. So Christmas was happening, even though this year’s Lord of Misrule was none other than the Black Hood.” (S2, episode 9)
Credit where it’s due: Jughead actually did a solid job this week thematically linking Riverdale’s serial killer to a misbehaving Yule legend. It’s a fair comparison, and the bloggers of Whoville could only dream of making such a connection.
- “One week after Riverdale High’s absorption of its Southside counterpart and everything was the same. And nothing was the same.” (S2, episode 11)
And sometimes Jughead just gets lazy and goes back to his flawed version of this general summary. Everything is the same! Nothing is the same! Commit!
- “In Riverdale, everyone wears a mask, not just the Black Hood. But every so often, the mask slips and our true selves are laid bare for all the world to see. So we scramble to put it back on, like a kid in a cheap Halloween costume, but it’s too late. People have already seen what’s underneath. And it’s terrifying.” (S2, episode 6)
Similes and metaphors have never been Jughead’s strong suit, but I appreciate his efforts in trying to make a meaningful pseudo-poetic point.
- “Like the Red Death showing up in an Edgar Allan Poe story, the Black Hood had come to Riverdale. With that grimmest of reapers looming over us, how did we cope? In the case of Archie and Veronica, it was through carnal defiance. With every kiss and embrace, they seemed to be saying, ‘You have no power over me, Death.’ In fact, ‘Varchie’ became the opposite of death. In Archie’s bedroom. In his garage. Even in the Pembrooke.” (S2, episode 8)
What a journey this is, honestly, to go from referencing Poe, the master of the romantic macabre, to listing the places where Archie and Veronica are having uncontrollable sex, as if that was the one thing that was always truly missing from The Cask of Amontillado. While reckless coitus is certainly a good demonstration of joie de vivre, proclaiming it “the opposite of death” would be more accurate if Veronica and Archie, say, quit school to travel the world and open a bed-and-breakfast in St. Barts. (Also, as a movie buff, surely Jughead should know better than anyone that if there’s anything a serial killer likes more than killing teenagers, it’s killing teenagers who were too preoccupied having sex.)
- “The Coopers. The Stepfords of Riverdale. High school sweethearts who got married and had two beautiful daughters, Polly and Betty. Until Jason Blossom happened.” (S1, episode 8)
Short, simple, and fully loaded — Jughead at his best.
- “Every fairy tale comes with the same warning: Good children should never go into the woods alone. Stray from the path and who knows what you’ll encounter. A hungry wolf. A handsome devil. Or maybe something worse.” (S2, episode 3)
This is exactly the kind of content we like to see from Riverdale’s so-extra town crier: rich, unrelated imagery built on an appropriate-for-all-ages moral foundation with strong undercurrents of Sondheim throughout.
- “What makes a place feel like home? Is it warmth and familiarity? Some idealized, make-believe version of the American Dream? Is it love and acceptance? Or is it simple safety? Or, it’s none of those things, and it’s a place where the captain of the football team is murdered. Or maybe it’s just a forgotten closet under a well-trod staircase, where it’s just you and the mice and the spiders, like an extra in a Wes Craven movie.” (S1, episode 7)
The cold open of episode 7 instantly gave us one of Riverdale’s best moments, with the cast serving full ‘50s fantasy while Jughead served his brand of anxious postmodern definitivism. Thought you’d get to see Archie and friends dress up in comic costumes without any of Riverdale’s constant dread? Nope! Here, Jughead gives a little “what’s life really about?,” a little “remember murder?,” and a finishing note of mice and spiders. All-around A effort.
- “Thicker than blood. More precious than oil. Riverdale’s big business is maple syrup. Since the town’s founding, one family has controlled its lucrative syrup trade — the Blossoms. They were a part of the fabric of our daily lives. Rich or poor, old or young, we consumed Blossom syrup by the bucket. That sickly, sweet smell was inescapable.” (S1, episode 9)
When the entire Blossom family descended on the town for a truly outrageous group discussion of maple syrup, Jughead’s narration over what was basically a syrup version of “cotton—the fabric of our lives!” ended up being the least insane part of the whole episode.
- “Every town has one: the spooky house that all the kids avoid. Ours was Thornhill, the Blossom family’s mansion, with its very own graveyard. And, trapped within its walls like some gothic heroine, was Cheryl Blossom. Still grieving for her beloved brother, Jason. Linked in death, even as they were in life.” (S1, episode 5)
Iconic, really. The show’s spookiest-ever opening follows Cheryl’s candelabra-led tour of Thornhill, punctuated by an appearance from zombie Jason and enough dramatic pauses to make you question whether your DVR actually recorded the episode fully.
- “Fear. It’s the most basic, the most human emotion. As kids, we’re afraid of everything. The dark. The boogeyman under the bed. And we pray for morning. For those monsters to go away. Though they never do. Not really. Just ask Jason Blossom.” (S1, episode 6)
You might think Jughead defines the word “fear” every episode, but it’s only happened once. For proof of how pervasive the underlying sentiment is, though, try this fun little exercise: Add “Fear—it’s the most basic, the most human emotion” to the beginning of every monologue on this list, and just see if it doesn’t give you that same perfect gleeful kick as that fortune cookie “in bed” thing.
- “I think many of us, maybe the entire town, had been hoping against hope that somehow Jason Blossom hadn’t drowned on July 4, that we’d come to school Monday morning and there Jason would be, or that we’d see him and Cheryl in a booth at Pop’s. But that was before the undeniable, irrevocable fact of his bloated, waterlogged body, a corpse with a bullethole in its forehead and terrible secrets that could only be revealed by the cold, steel blade of a coroner’s autopsy scalpel or the telltale beating of a guilty heart.” (S1, episode 2)
Get that AP Lit credit!
- “Guilt, innocence. Good, evil. Life, death. As the shadows around Riverdale deepened, the lines that separated these polar opposites blurred and distorted. “I’m guilty,” Cheryl said in biology class. But of what?” (S1, episode 3)
Who can say!?!?!?
- “It was the ultimate cliffhanger: Clifford Blossom had killed himself.” (S1, episode 13)
There’s a small part of me that still can’t believe this scorching burn actually happened, but here we are. Atop the list, Jughead closed out season 1 with an evisceration of Jason Blossom’s father-slash-assailant. Clifford Blossom: A twice-dead man, killed first by his own hand and second by Riverdale’s angry freelancer.