By Samantha Highfill
February 03, 2021 at 09:01 PM EST
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I don't know what to expect from the post-time jump Riverdale, but in so many ways, this episode felt like a series finale, which it very much is not. It's the third episode in the fifth season of a show that was just renewed for a sixth. But it was the end of an era as Archie, Jughead, Betty, Veronica, Cheryl, Toni, and everybody said goodbye to high school. And for many of them, that also meant saying goodbye to Riverdale.

The hour starts with Jughead blaming himself for what went down with Jellybean. He and Betty have a conversation about how everything they've experienced in recent years must be affecting the younger generations. And that's exactly why FP thinks it's time to leave. As he tells Alice, Betty, and Jughead, he's going to take Jellybean back to Toledo. And he's going to stay there with her. "She's my little girl," he tells Alice.

FP and Jughead then call on a few friends — and force Hiram to reinstate Tom Keller as sheriff — to round up Jellybean's accomplices. With that story tied up, Betty and Jughead go to bed wondering if they're going to be haunted by this town forever.

Across town, Archie has a dream about his dad attending graduation — a.k.a. the show's way of working Luke Perry into this episode, which I loved — and then wakes up to attend his final day of high school. Well, maybe.

Here's where we get so many great callbacks: Cheryl's brooch as she thinks of Jason, Veronica's new pearl necklace. At school, the seniors open a time capsule from the first graduating class, and inside, there's everything from copies of the newspapers to a Pop's menu to a Red Circle comic book (nice touch), and a photo of four seniors the day before they headed off to war. Considering there's an army recruitment booth in the school hallway, Archie wonders if it's a sign.

With one final lounge hang, they all receive their yearbooks, which have an entire spread dedicated to the Serpents, which I'd like to remind you is a GANG. Only in Riverdale would the yearbook highlight illegal activity by its students.

When Archie and Jughead are called to the principal's office, Jug finds out he's going to graduate! But the same can't be said for Archie. Although Weatherbee will allow him to walk with his friends at graduation, Archie will have to repeat his senior year if he wants to graduate. Oh, but Weatherbee would like him to record the graduation song.

After the bell rings on their last day of high school, they all prepare to say goodbye. Veronica brings Archie a box of his things and when she asks to spend one final night together, he says yes.

Jug tries to convince FP to let him come to Toledo, but FP won't let his son miss out on the college experience. Speaking of which, at graduation, we get a series of sentimental slow-mo moments, from Cheryl — in her crimson robe — leaving Toni and her Nana alone to Archie and his terrible bowtie thinking about his dad.

Betty, who somehow managed to become the class valedictorian while also catching serial killers and defusing bombs with bobby pins, gives a speech all about the Riverdale they used to know, before all the violence. The small town that wasn't plagued by death. She wants everyone to try and remember that place. "Stay young for as long as you can, stay innocent for as long as possible, even if it's only for one more moment," she says, rounding out her short speech and honestly? All valedictorian speeches should take note. They should never exceed 5 minutes.

As Archie sings Green Day's "Time of Your Life," they all walk across the stage and get their diplomas. Well, all except Archie, who can't stop thinking about those four guys who went off to war.

Credit: The CW

Outside after graduation, Penelope sneaks out of the bushes to tell Cheryl that she's going to turn herself in for... some of her crimes. Apparently, Hiram has promised to take care of her in his private jail. But when she mentions Cheryl's college graduation, it's clear Cheryl isn't thinking about college. More on that later.

Then it's time for FP's farewell. After saying goodbye to Jug, he and Alice agree that they hope this isn't the end of their story. She understands why he has to go and she loves him for it. With one final kiss, FP and Jellybean drive off.

Preparing for their own time capsule, Veronica heads to Pop's, where she tells Pop Tate she is signing over full ownership of Pop's Chock'Lit Shoppe back to him. She then meets up with her classmates as they each put something in the capsule. Betty brings newspapers and a bobby pin, you know, in case there's a bomb that needs defusing. Veronica has the Pop's menu and a matchbox from La Bonne Nuit. Kevin has the programs from his musicals and a pair of Josie's cat ears. Cheryl throws in her HBIC shirt — no one was worthy enough to wear it — and Toni gets rid of her Pretty Poisons jacket. She keeps her Serpent jacket, though. As for Jug, he throws in his beanie, and Archie adds a guitar pick and one of Fred's hammers. Together, they bury it.

On the bleachers, the core four make a vow that in a year, no matter what, they'll meet back at Pop's, and it will become a yearly tradition. Archie then tells them all that he snuck away after graduation and joined the army. He leaves for basic training in the morning, and Veronica is not happy about it. She doesn't want to see the guy she loves go off to war, so instead, she storms off.

Okay, now it's time for Cheryl to explain her plan. As she tells Toni, she's not going to Highsmith College, but she wants Toni to go without her. Cheryl is going to stay in Riverdale and try to fix things, rehabilitate the Blossom family legacy. If she can do that, then maybe Toni won't have to choose between Cheryl and her own family. It's the ultimate romantic gesture, but it's one that means they have to part ways for now, though neither of them can bring themselves to say it.

That night, Jughead is hung up on the fact that Veronica didn't know about Archie's choice. He feels like things have been off with them, but he has no idea why. And so, Betty tells him about the kiss. Then, through both their tears, they... sleep together? It's clear they're trying to hold onto what they had, but it's also clear that things have changed.

The next day, things are a little off as Betty heads to Veronica's and Jughead takes Archie to the bus stop. Veronica continues to be the most understanding teen of all time as she tells Betty that she's not mad at her. Today, she's too upset about Archie leaving. And when she regrets not giving Archie one final hug, Betty gets an idea.

At the bus stop, Archie tries to apologize to Jug, but he, too, is freakishly okay with their kiss. He claims that a normal amount of high school angst is good for them? Does cheating count as angst? I'm not sure, but he says they're good.

Veronica and Betty, however, are late. By the time they get the jalopy to the bus station, Archie is on the bus. So, Jug hops in the back and they chase the bus down. Ugh, this is the kind of sentimental stuff I love.

They all wave at Archie and Veronica screams that she loves him. Archie then gets the bus driver to pull the bus over so he can give them each one final hug.

As for Cheryl, she and Nina return to Thornhill, which Cheryl claims she's going to rebuild along with their family's legacy.

As Jughead's voiceover explains, Archie leaving was the moment the glue that held them all together dissolved. Veronica left next, taking some time before college to spend the summer with her mom and Andy Cohen in the Hamptons. And things between Betty and Jughead were never the same. They didn't talk about the kiss, but Betty decided to go to New Haven early. In their last conversation, they say they'll always love each other, but for now, they agree to focus on school.

With everyone gone, Jughead moves into Archie's old house, which is apparently up for sale? Man, when these people leave a town they really LEAVE IT. When the hot water and gas are shut off, he returns to the bunker. Then, with one final burger at Pop's, Jughead leaves, too.

But one year later, he returns! And yet, he's the only one. As he tells us, it'd be six more years before he'd see his friends again, brought together by a new mystery. "But that's another story for another day," he says.

Realistically, that's another story for... next week. But I have to say, this was my favorite episode of Riverdale in a bit. I'm a sucker for sentimentality and for callbacks, and this was an hour all about the relationships these people had built. Plus, it's impossible to watch a show about high school ending and not get emotional about your own experience. I realize this wasn't the series finale, but it had so many aspects of a good one. I'm sad the core four didn't keep in touch, that feels out of character to me, but I'm definitely interested to see what happens once they're all together in that booth again.

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