To the longtime shock of Pop’s diners everywhere, you’ll find none of that narrative hysteria in Riverdale’s season 4 premiere, “In Memoriam.” Instead, this episode stands as an hour-long moving farewell to Fred Andrews, and the man who played him, Luke Perry. Perry died in March 2019 following a massive stroke.
The shroud of grief still hangs over Riverdale and its weepy cast. When Lili Reinhart and Madelaine Petsch sobs during “In Memoriam,” it’s clear neither Riverteen is acting. The show’s 2019 debut is ultimately a hopeful and thoughtful installment in the face of overwhelming sorrow.
The premiere opens in a fairly sunny manner. It’s the Fourth of July holiday and Jughead Jones (Cole Sprouse) assures us via narration that his town has finally settled into some semblance of peace following an alarmingly chaotic period. The Farm mania is over. Gryphons & Gargoyles is already becoming suburban legend. Not one serial killer is mentioned. It is a sign that Riverdale is as poised to hit the reset button as the town for which it is named.
The only creepy thing happening in Riverdale is that Cheryl Blossom (Petsch) is harboring the dead body of her twin brother Jason (Trevor Stines) in her breakfast nook. This is the kind of darkness that was telegraphed in the relatively calm season 1, rather than the baroque circus of seasons 2 and 3.
Then tragedy strikes as Archie Andrews (KJ Apa) gets an unexpected call. His dad, Fred, was coming back from a job upstate. He pulled over in a town called Cherry Creek to help a driver stranded on the road. A car, going way too fast, came upon the pair and hit Fred. Fred died. Those are terrible words to type and hear.
Originally, the Andrews plan to leave Fred’s body in Cherry Creek until after July 4th. But Archie changes his mind after he awakes in the middle of the night to find the ghost of his grandpa waiting downstairs. Grandpa Arty ushers Red into the dining room, where most of the cast of Riverdale is waiting in their funeral best. Archie asks where his dad is. “You were supposed to get him,” Arty says. Archie shoots up in bed, realizing he has just experienced one of the most chilling nightmares of his life. It is his sign he needs to get Fred’s body ASAP.
Within minutes, Betty, Jughead, and Archie’s girlfriend Veronica Lodge (Camila Mendes) agree to go to Cherry Creek with Archiekins. Reggie Mantle (Charles Melton) supplies a Hearse (never ask how Reggie acquires things). The Riverteens are off.
The trip to Cherry Creek gives Riverdale’s core four performers some of their toughest acting challenges to date. Archie’s terror over having to see Fred’s body — and therefore confirm the death of his closest parent — is palpable. When you see Betty and Veronica walk into the room to identify Fred’s body, rather than Archie, your heart breaks. Whatever is left is shattered and ground into a fine powder when the girls grasp each other’s hands, step towards the corpse, and well up with tears. You can tell Reinhart and Camila Mendes are thinking of Luke Perry at this moment.
The sadness of this act continues when the Riverteens head to the scene of Fred’s death to recover his truck. Archie finds a photo of himself and his mom Mary (Molly Ringwald) in the glove compartment. Fred really loved them. Archie's intense emotions over that fact explain why he is so hostile when a stranger drives up to the scene of the crime to place flowers. Archie assumes it’s the person who killed his dad. Instead, it’s a very sad unnamed woman (Shannen Doherty, one of Luke Perry’s closest Beverly Hills, 90210 friends). She is the woman who Fred pulled over to help that night on the side of the road.
She explains that Fred died a hero — he pushed her out of the way when she froze in front of a speeding car, trading his life for hers. She shows her appreciation for Fred’s sacrifice with a roadside prayer that will make you cry.
Archie, who is firmly in the anger stage of grief, takes that beautiful moment and jumps into a rage. The second he learns who supposedly killed his father (a guy named George Augustine), Archie finds the only phone book still in existence, tracks down George’s address, and shows up at his home to punch a hole in a wall. It is your reminder Archie once ran around the Southside with a gun and blew up a car. His emotions often beget violence.
Mercifully, a twist may help Archie grow past his fits of brutality. While at the Augustine home, Archie realizes George isn’t the killer at all — George’s young teenage son is. The boy nicked the family car on the night of Fred’s death for a joyride. Utterly out of his depths behind the wheel, he lost control and accidentally hit Fred. A bloody-knuckled Archie breaks down over his terrible situation, his guilt over nearly hurting an innocent person, and all the ways he has fallen short of his father’s moral compass. Ronnie reminds Archie how much Fred loved his son — and all the ways Red can still live up to his dad’s memory.
So the Core Four load Fred into the Hearse and bring him back to Riverdale. They’re met at the city limits by Fred’s best friend, FP Jones (Skeet Ulrich), who gives them a police escort. In town, they find a parade welcoming Fred home. The scene is a little too joyful, but the Riverdale cast deserves some happiness in this bleakness. Kudos to Cheryl for putting the event together.
Fred’s funeral is held on what we can assume is the next day. Josie McCoy (Ashleigh Murray) returns to sing at the memorial. Everyone cries even more. Archie gives a painfully poignant speech about Fred’s importance in his life and his role as the very bedrock of Riverdale. Betty takes some time to visit her own dad’s gravestone, which is littered with anti-Black Hood graffiti and trash. Despite Betty’s pain over Hal (Lochlyn Munro), she cleans the space off. You realize how upsetting it is that no one has asked Betty how she’s doing after the death of her father. Hal may have been a serial killer, but he was also her dad.
The premiere ends with Jughead’s tear-inducing obituary for Fred and one last showcase for KJ Apa’s greatly improved acting. Archie takes in a backyard celebration of Fred’s life as proof he needs to live up to his father’s legacy every day. Then, Red marches into the garage to think about Fred; the way he insulated the garage so Archie could play his music in there and the time they spent fixing up the jalopy. It is the first time we see Fred in “Memoriam,” as he appears in flashbacks.
This is the way Archie Andrews will always remember his father. Welcome to Riverdale season 4.
— There are still a few moments that made me laugh in “Memoriam.” Chief among them: Archie’s complete shock about being treated as a legal minor at the funeral home — no, 17-year-olds shouldn’t pick up dead bodies without the proper paperwork.
— Hiram Lodge (Mark Consuelos) may have paid for Fred’s funeral, but he also tried to kill Fred multiple times. Don’t forget that.