This piece contains spoilers for Riverdale.
Ah Riverdale, the little town with pep. First introduced in 1941's appropriately titled Pep Comics #22, the quiet and cute American enclave was for years the home of Betty Cooper, Archie Andrews, Betty Cooper, Jughead Jones, and a sense of smalltown safety and nostalgia. That was until the arrival of Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, who reimagined the sweet spot of Riverdale as a horrifying landscape for the nightmarishly brilliant comic series Afterlife With Archie, and then evolved that reinterpretation into The CW's wonderfully ridiculous Archie series, Riverdale, which begins its fifth season this week.
In case you haven't watched the series, let me use the words of a comic book article from the late '80s to describe it: this isn't your father's Riverdale. This is a seedy Twin Peaks inspired twisted suburb where children run illicit gambling halls under diners. There are multiple serial killers on the loose, numerous cults, and predators of every kind waiting behind each perfectly manicured hedge. Riverdale began its very first episode with a murder, so it shouldn't surprise us that death is part of its DNA. But what might cause a little shock is just how high the death count of the little town with pep actually is.
Between the pilot and the final episode of the fourth season, 68 people have died, been killed, murdered, sacrificed, or otherwise dispatched (both on and off screen) in the idyllic slice of Americana. That puts the show's kill count way above the murders of Leatherface, Hannibal Lecter, and Norman Bates. It's nearly double the deaths in all eight original Freddy Krueger movies, and almost a full ten souls above Pinhead and the entire Hellraiser franchise. In that way, the town of Riverdale itself is as much the killer as anyone who lives in it. This is a town with so many murders and deaths that the cheerleading squad has funeral specific uniforms! A place that breeds violence and strangeness; the ultimate example of nature versus nurture except that Riverdale seemingly only nurtures twisted killers, criminals, and hot (adult) teens.
On a bigger picture level we can thank the horror-loving Riverdale creator Aguirre-Sacasa for this impressive spate of killings. He's never shied from how much the genre has shaped him and showing his love for it. Episodes are often named after famed genre hits like When a Stranger Calls, The Town That Dreaded Sundown, Tales from the Darkside, The Hills Have Eyes, and more. With influences like that we probably shouldn't be surprised that the show began with a teenage boy, Jason Blossom--very much the Laura Palmer of Riverdale--being shot in the head by a killer who was later revealed to be his own father. That murder mystery setup immediately established a very different tone for an Archie story, even from Aguirre-Sacasa's own Afterlife With Archie.
Speaking of Archie Andrews (KJ Apa), there's a reason he hasn't been mentioned until now. As much as we all think of the ginger lothario as the center of the comics, Riverdale is very much an ensemble piece. But that doesn't mean Archie doesn't get in on some of the good death-centric action. Not only was Archie charged with murder in season two but he almost died after fighting a bear (...iconic!) and is often at the center of the many, many murder investigations that the core group of teens have to solve. And after a music teacher who groomed him (one of the worst parts of the series) was murdered with her own violin bow, Archie also started a sexy shirtless vigilante group called the Red Circle whose only purpose was to kill the serial killer known as the Black Hood.
Riverdale's resident morally driven serial killer, the Black Hood (Lochlyn Munro), had many victims and his inventiveness was never ending. His most grotesque and also painful killing was that of Midge Klump (Emilija Baranac), who honestly deserved so much better. The sweet-hearted kid was killed during the school's version of Carrie the Musical, where she was found stabbed on stage by numerous sharp objects. Because she has the worst luck in the series of anyone still alive, it was revealed that the killer was Betty Cooper's (Lili Reinheart) own dad. In one of the show's most iconic and outrageous moments she later learned she had "the serial killer gene." While this is based on a real and very controversial bit of medical theory, in the context of Riverdale it was just another completely silly serial killer themed addition to the Cooper canon.
Whether or not Betty "really" had the killer gene was questionable, though, as she was told by her mother Alice (Madchen Amick) who was at the time under the control of organ-harvesting cult leader, Edgar Evernever (Chad Michael Murray). Yep, a cult called the Farm came to Riverdale and began to brainwash the children and parents of the town into a scheme that resembled a Twilight Zone episode written on DMT. Using sound-based hypnosis and his crew of cronies, Evernever has been tricking the townspeople into following him by reconnecting them with their dead loved ones. His reasoning for this? To help them through their trauma which he would then relieve by operating on them and chopping trauma out. But he was really stealing their organs! Sadly, during an inspired escape attempt that included trying to shoot himself out of a rocket into the sun, Edgar was killed by Alice with a simple, uninspired gunshot.
As you might have begun to realize, it's not just the amount of murders that happen in Riverdale that make it stand out but the ingenuity and oddness with which most of them are committed. An incredible 11 people in Riverdale died from drinking a purposefully poisoned Kool-Aid knockoff. While you might be expecting an ill thought out Jonestown riff here, it's actually far less offensive but also completely wild. See, there is a historical group of tabletop gamers who are obsessed with the DnD knockoff Gryphons and Gargoyles. Inspiring a cult-like devotion, the game has taken out two different generations of Riverdalians who have wanted to "ascend" by drinking the cyanide laced soft drink... just perfect TV to be honest. And this was a core plot of season three as the teens hunted down the mysterious leader of the group, the Gargoyle King, who was of course revealed to be related to Betty and Alice Cooper and their house of horrors.
How does so much crime occur in Riverdale? Well, the sheriff is alway corrupt, and as we get into later seasons the sheriff is in fact replaced by one time Southside Serpents gang leader and unrepentant hot dad, FP Jones (Skeet Ulrich). So that gives you a little insight into the criminal justice system in the town. Speaking of which, the local prison is mostly used to run illegal fights between muscled boys and local gangster, Hiram Lodge (Mark Consuelos), who had a plan to essentially turn Riverdale into a private prison complex. During that nefarious scheme he had the entirety of the town put under quarantine, cutting it off from society. It quickly descended into an Escape From LA style dystopian hellhole. Basically, it's the perfect place to commit a lot of murders and crimes with little to no recrimination or adult supervision.
With Riverdale returning for a fifth season that includes an already confirmed time jump, our biggest questions are: who will survive and what will be left of them? This is a show that has no qualms about killing off beloved characters, surprise deaths, and even unexpected resurrections. So with the kids going into the future, we're hoping to add some more kills to Riverdale's count. After all, the series only has to kill off six more people to catch up with Chucky, but has a way to go before we hit the heady heights of Jason Vorhees at 151. We believe in you, Roberto! Before Riverdale is over it can become the most death-filled franchise!
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