“Guys, we’re going to be late for the first day of senior year!” Those are the words Veronica Lodge (Camila Mendes) screams in the trailer for Riverdale season 4’s second episode, “Fast Times at Riverdale High.” It’s a jarring sentence to hear out of the mouth of Ronnie, a mob daughter, speakeasy proprietor, and flash-forward evidence destroyer. We’re supposed to believe Veronica — and her Riverdale Core Four pals — really care about school when they’ve been juggling serial killers and criminal enterprises for seasons?
Heck, even their principal, Waldo Weatherbee (Peter Bryant), was seduced by a cult last year. Yet, Ronnie is genuinely worried about making it to school on time — as is her boyfriend Archie Andrews (KJ Apa), her best friend Betty Cooper (Lily Reinhart), and Betty's boyfriend Jughead Jones (Cole Sprouse). Riverdale season 4’s biggest twist is that these kids actually remember they're kids.
This change in heart is all thanks to Riverdale's brand-new mission statement: returning the tense magic of the CW drama's first season to television’s most plot-churning series. We can expect to see that attitude carry far into the new season — just ask Riverdale creator and showrunner Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa.
“A lot of people said season 1 was much more grounded. So we used season 1 a bit as a template,” Aguirre-Sacasa told journalists in Los Angles earlier this month, about 10 episodes into production of the 2019-2020 season. “We definitely have crazy stories. But instead of four crazy stories per episode, we have two crazy stories per episode and two that are more emotional and psychological.”
In the season’s upcoming second episode, that means a moving storyline is ahead between Archie — who is still grieving the death of his dad Fred (Luke Perry) — and his friend Reggie Mantle (Charles Melton). “It’s about Reggie’s father, and therefore it’s about the memory of Fred Andrews as well. It’s a very straightforward coming of age, friendship story,” Aguirre-Sacasa explained of the “lighter” installment, which will pick up two months after the events of the 2019 premiere. “There were things I know the fans missed [about Riverdale] and we missed and are trying to write to now.”
The following episode, “Dog Day Afternoon,” will tackle the hanging thread of Edgar Evernever (Chad Michael Murray) and the missing Farm cult members. In the season 3 finale, it appeared the cult was raptured. But as we see in “In Memoriam,” Betty’s mom Alice Cooper (Mädchen Amick) is actually holed up somewhere where people can get ahold of The Riverdale Register. While recalling the script for “Dog Day,” Aguirre-Sacasa said, “When we turned it in, the network was like, ‘Glad to know that’s still in there. Good to know that’s coming.’ That’s kind of a crazy one.”
Nevertheless, the writer doubts even that cult-heavy episode is as wild as viewers may expect. “There are some really great mysteries,” Aguirre-Sacasa promised of the season. “They are just a little less than when we had two serial killers running around and a killer cult and bear attacks — which is all stuff I stand by and loved.”
There is no greater indicator of Riverdale season 4’s calmer tone than the way its showrunner describes the teen drama’s gothic bon mot generator, Cheryl Blossom (Madelaine Petsch). “In Memorium” confirms Cheryl has the corpse of her murdered brother Jason (Trevor Stines) propped up in a corner of her dilapidated home.
“As heightened and weird and macabre it is to have Jason in the crypt, the truth of that story is: Cheryl loved her brother dearly, she never got a chance to say goodbye to him, and she doesn’t want to,” Aguirre-Sacasa said. “In a weird way, her arc over the first movement of episodes is learning how to finally say goodbye to Jason … In a way, all of the kids, just by the fact that this is their senior year, are growing up and letting go of things that represent their childhood.”
Two upcoming holiday episodes seem emblematic of Riverdale season 4’s tightrope of emotions. “We have a really fun Halloween episode that is both grounded and heightened,” Aguirre-Sacasa teased before delving into the Thanksgiving episode. “It reminds us this is Archie’s first Thanksgiving without his father. It’s Archie and [his mom] Mary shoulder to shoulder. There’s typical craziness that happens, but there’s a real true emotional core there.”