There’s only one way Riverdale could end: with the entire town traveling back to the 1950s after the explosion of a magical comet. Sure, it’s a far, far cry from the teen soap’s original pitch (Twin Peaks meets Archie Comics), but it’s also a perfect culmination of all the craziness that has come before. People love to say that Riverdale has gone off the rails, but that suggests the show wasn’t in on the joke. On the contrary, every unbelievable plotline over the last six years has been a beautifully bonkers gift from one of television’s most diabolical writers’ rooms. With the final season of Riverdale kicking off March 29 (check out our glowing review), let’s attempt the impossible and count down the most out-there and outrageous plots to unfold on the show.
10. Kevin’s tickle videos (season 4)
Poor Kevin Keller (Casey Cott) tended to get the short end of the stick throughout Riverdale’s run, frequently stuck on the sidelines as the gay guy who likes musicals and/or friend most susceptible to joining a cult. Nevertheless, he has some whoppers in his history, like the time he got roped into making tickle fetish videos on the Internet for money. (Actually, this feels related to how Kevin can’t stop joining cults.) Eventually, Kevin and Reggie (Charles Melton) try to start their own tickle fetish video business, which gets Kevin into serious, potentially violent trouble with his original director. The entire football team comes to his defense, but the operation is inevitably shut down by the school principal because the teens have been wearing Riverdale High logos in the inappropriate footage. There was really no rhyme or reason to this one, but it could have been a plot from Euphoria, meaning it’s actually one of the more grounded stories on this list.
9. Jughead lives out The Secret History (season 4)
Would you believe that Riverdale gave us the closest thing we have to an adaptation of Donna Tartt’s The Secret History? In the fourth season, Jughead (Cole Sprouse) transfers to Stonewall Prep, where he’s drawn in by a charismatic professor and shunned by snooty classmates named Donna Sweett (Sarah Desjardins) and Bret Weston Wallis (Sean Depner). (Tartt dedicated her novel to classmate and fellow writer Bret Easton Ellis.) After the class witnesses the abrupt suicide of their teacher, Donna plots Jughead’s murder as a means to get revenge on somebody else for the murder of her grandmother. But Jughead doesn’t perish (this time), and instead fakes his own death in order to catch his classmates and their secretive Quill and Skull society in their schemes. This combines many Riverdale favorites: high-brow references, lots of murder, naming people and things nearly identically to their real-life counterpoints (see also: “Glamazon.com,” “American Excess card,” and “Lerman Logan”). However, Donna was not nearly the most fearsome murderer the murder capital of the world has to offer. Next!
8. The Black Hood (season 2)
Before Riverdale became a town so laden with serial killers that it hosted its own serial killer convention, there was the Black Hood, the first and perhaps most impactful. The cliffhanger shooting of Fred Andrews (Luke Perry) was a moment in the show’s history, a time before everyone and their literal mother had been held at gunpoint by some creepy villain. The Black Hood and his threatening antics is who inured us to those kinds of antics, railing against the sins of the town by committing much greater sins of his own. Remember when he murdered Midge Klump and displayed her corpse in the middle of the high school musical? Iconic! Even more so was his relationship to Betty (Lili Reinhart). First, he seemed to have a creepy fixation on the teen, then it was revealed that he was her actual dad, Hal Cooper (Lochlyn Munro). Growing up with a serial killer father influenced the Darkness inside her, and his eventual death spurred her on a path to becoming a serial killer expert at the FBI. Unfortunately, she still had to contend with inheriting the “serial killer gene” on both sides of the family. (Betty was eventually cured of her serial killer gene when her sister came back from the dead and washed it away via her feet. But that’s another story!)
7. The Sisters Of Quiet Mercy (seasons 1–3)
The Sisters of Quiet Mercy have the distinction of being, perhaps, fiction’s all-time worst nuns (a crowded field, we know) and the instigators behind some of Riverdale’s most heinous crimes. They had their devout hands (or not so devout, since Betty eventually discovered the church disbanded their order during Vatican II!) in just about every crazy plot point on this list. They housed Joseph Svenson, the original Black Hood suspect; they took in both Alice (Mädchen Amick) and Polly Cooper (Tiera Skovbye) during their teen pregnancies; they trapped Cheryl Blossom in their gay conversion therapy program. They smuggled alcohol during prohibition and participated in the local drug trade in the present day. (Betty is forcibly dosed by the nuns during her involuntary stay there.)
The Sisters were the ones who invented the Gryphons & Gargoyles game that eventually terrorized the town, and had an unholy alliance with Hiram Lodge (Mark Consuelos). Eventually, the Sisters’ schemes caught up with them, and they seemingly committed group suicide via cyanide capsules. Of course, that mass death event turned out to be another murder at the hands of head nun Sister Agatha Woodhouse, who also raised Penelope Blossom (Nathalie Boltt) and taught the latter her extensive knowledge of poisons before Penelope was adopted by the Blossoms. The nasty nunnery was quietly (pun intended) one of Riverdale’s most outrageous institutions, and there were quite a few!
6. Archie vs. Hiram Lodge (seasons 2–5)
Riverdale’s longest-standing feud is short on serial killers or supernatural elements, but it was nevertheless responsible for some wild moments. It all boils down to Hiram (Mark Consuelos) being bothered that Fred Andrews (Luke Perry) had a romance with Hermione Lodge (Marisol Nichols), and Archie (KJ Apa) drove a wedge between Hiram and Veronica (Camila Mendes). Because of that, Hiram spent years torturing Archie and the town at large. He framed Archie for murder and got him sent to jail (a storyline that includes an illegal prison fight club, the infamous “Epic Highs And Lows Of Football” speech, and Archie escaping from prison, going on the run, and getting mauled by a bear).
Sometimes they would physically fight, like in the third season’s vicious boxing match, while other times their battles happened by proxy, like when Archie gathered his friends to begin teaching at Riverdale High so Hiram couldn’t shut it down during his plot to unincorporate the town. On multiple occasions, Hiram tried to have Archie killed, whether by setting fire to his house, encouraging someone else to murder him, or by planting a bomb at Archie’s place of work. The feud finally comes to an end when Archie and Veronica, accompanied by half of Riverdale’s citizens, convince Hiram to leave town under threat of a surprising variety of weapons. Hiram is later killed when Veronica puts a hit out on him, but not before he leaves one last bomb under Archie’s bed that ends up splitting open the multiverse. But more on that later.
5. Betty and Jughead’s half-brother (seasons 2–6)
The unfortunate story of Charles (Wyatt Nash), the result of a teenage union between Alice Cooper and FP Jones (Skeet Ulrich) and therefore the half-brother to both halves of the beloved couple Bughead, loomed large over many seasons of Riverdale. He was born under the care of the Sisters Of Quiet Mercy and adopted, later seeming to resurface under the guise of Chic (Hart Denton), who lived with the Coopers for a time. Except Chic turned out to be a murderous runaway drifter who was actually the real Charles’ lover. As it happens, real Charles is an FBI agent who is also—you guessed it—a serial killer. (Shoutout to the serial killer gene.) Real Charles and fake Charles eventually reunite while locked up at Shankshaw Prison. (Yep.)
During a convenient prison break, a sadly frequent occurrence in Riverdale, they returned to the Coopers’ house and tried to force Alice to marry them at gunpoint. Betty eventually foils their plot, but she makes up with her half-brother later when he is diagnosed with leukemia and sent back to the Coopers’ house. Betty even manages to cure his cancer via an experimental procedure using Veronica’s supernaturally enhanced toxic blood. He then helps Betty capture her longtime nemesis, the Trash Bag Killer. Serial killing or capturing serial killers: That’s the Cooper family way.
4. The Gargoyle King (season 3)
The Gargoyle King story includes threads of many of the plots on this list, a mystery that references everything from Dungeons & Dragons to True Detective. The Gargoyle King is one freaky-looking villain, and he stalks the town, particularly players of the game Gryphons and Gargoyles. He provokes said players into creepy rituals and even into making sacrifices and, in one case, committing suicide. The villain turns out to be deeply connected to Riverdale’s latest drug craze, Fizzle Rocks, which students have been consuming while playing the game. Hiram and his gang of dealers were in cahoots with the King, but they weren’t the main villain. The true King turned out to be Chic, Betty and Jughead’s not-brother, who was acting under the direction of Hal Cooper/The Black Hood and Penelope Blossom, who both had their own reasons for wanting to inflict horrors on the town. Penelope sends Archie and the gang on a twisted, lethal, real-life version of a Gryphons and Gargoyles quest. The teens survive her game, but the Black Hood does not, thus closing one of the many serial-killer chapters of Riverdale history. Penelope, meanwhile, continues a long career as the town’s most notorious Madam, a prolific murderess, and sometimes sort-of cult leader.
3. The Farm (seasons 3–4)
Riverdale saw its fair share of shadowy secret groups and nefarious yet charismatic leaders, but the prize for Best Cult goes to The Farm. Our early, intriguing impression of The Farm’s strange rituals occurred when Betty witnessed her mom and sister tossing Polly’s babies into a fire. This turned out to be a giant red herring and pure hallucination on Betty’s part, but what an introduction! Betty butted heads a lot with the Farmies, primarily Evelyn Evernever (Zoé de Grand’Maison), the fake daughter/actual wife of cult leader Edgar Evernever (Chad Michael Murray). After a lengthy investigation, Betty discovers that Edgar has been hypnotizing his followers and stealing their organs; the whole cult was a front for an organ-harvesting operation! The entire cult “ascends” in order to escape (which turns out to just mean they run away), but thanks to undercover work from Alice, the FBI is able to take the Farm down. Edgar, dressed for some reason in Evel Knievel gear, attempts to escape in a rocket, but Alice confronts and kills him. And thus ended The Farm’s reign of terror in Riverdale.
2. The gothic horror that is the Blossom Family (seasons 1–6)
Even amid steep competition, the Blossoms are far and away the most twisted family in all of Riverdale. (Their main competition, the Coopers, are actually related to them.) Their family home, Thornhill, is a scary gothic mansion, and their business, selling maple syrup, is more bloodthirsty than you could ever imagine. The weirdo behavior goes back generations (there’s a whole clan of Blossom bastard cast-offs living outside of town who terrorize outsiders while dressed as moth men). However, this generation is plenty whacked out: As we already mentioned, Penelope was adopted by the Blossoms and raised to be a child bride for Clifford (Barclay Hope), who killed his own son Jason (Trevor Stines) to preserve his drug business. After Clifford killed himself, his twin brother Claudius showed up, had an affair with Penelope, and helped her force Cheryl into conversion therapy and take over the drug smuggling biz before his own untimely death.
Cheryl tries to chart a new course for the Blossoms, but she’s often hampered by their legacy and her grief for her twin brother. For a time, she keeps Jason’s corpse around the house and talks to it; later she starts a supernatural cult dedicated to worshiping him. The house is also haunted by not one but two creepy dolls, one that contains the soul of her ancestor Abigail who was burned as a witch hundreds of years ago, and one that is supposedly the manifestation of the triplet she consumed in the womb. (Julian, the erstwhile triplet, returns as a Real Boy in the upcoming seventh season!) Not to mention Nana Blossom (Barbara Wallace), always hovering around making ominous proclamations and doling out positively macabre family history. Riverdale wouldn’t be half so interesting without the Blossoms and their freakish ways.
1. The final battle of good and evil (season 6)
The wildest Riverdale plotline, of course, is the entirety of the sixth season, during which the series’ biggest fans and worst haters all agreed the plot had gone completely off the rails. (But some of us like that sort of thing!) Due to a splintering of the Riverdale multiverse, the immortal villain Percival Pickens (Chris O’Shea) was able to cross into Riverdale to enact his dastardly revenge for a centuries-old grudge that originated in a different universe (the somehow even weirder Rivervale). In order for Archie and the gang to respond, they were bestowed with superpowers to combat Percival’s plot to take over the town via mind control. This was somehow elevated into the final battle of good vs. evil and would end with the apocalypse if the heroes didn’t prevail.
Defeating Percival involved unionizing, thwarting the construction of something called the “ghost train,” resurrecting a bunch of deceased (and some decapitated) Riverdale residents, aging up one couple’s immortal baby, identifying a hellmouth under Pop’s Chock’lit Shoppe, and ultimately sending Percival’s soul back to the literal devil. Unfortunately, they weren’t able to prevent the “extinction-level event” comet that Percival directed at the town, and concentrating all of their superpowers into one person (Cheryl) to stop the comet managed to send the entire town back in time. Here’s hoping that the 1950s-set final season manages to top all of these plots for bravado and bonkersness!