To find inspiration for Riverdale‘s future, the show’s writers looked back to the past.
When the CW drama returns for its seventh and final season this Wednesday (9/8c), it’ll take its boldest storytelling leap yet (and that’s saying something): Archie and the gang have been zapped back to the gee-whiz 1950s and are juniors in high school again, with no one having any memory of their former lives. (Well, no one except Jughead.) It brings Riverdale back to the world of the classic Archie comics, with jukeboxes and sock hops, and it allows the long-running series to go out with a bang, showrunner Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa tells TVLine.
When he and the writers learned Season 7 would be their last, “we all kind of hunkered down and thought: ‘What can we do that is really, really special? What stories can we tell that will be fresh and meaningful?’” They knew that fans loved seeing the characters in retro 1950s costumes, and some were missing the days when the show’s teen characters were still in high school. So “it was like, ‘OK, how can we go back to high school without repeating all of the stories, or it feeling too much like the first four seasons?’” Then they hit upon the idea of time-warping back to the 1950s, and “it just felt so right for our final season,” Aguirre-Sacasa recalls.
But the 1950s weren’t a blast for everyone, of course, and Riverdale‘s final season is very conscious of that, the EP notes: “It would be disingenuous to erase the real struggles and hardships that certain types of people faced in the 1950s. Specifically, in our case, our characters of color and our queer characters… You just could not be out. In some states, it was illegal for there to be interracial marriage. That was the reality.” So essentially, Season 7’s Big Bad is “the conformity of the 1950s, the repressiveness of the 1950s, the racism of the 1950s, the sexism of the 1950s, the homophobia of the 1950s.”
The time jump has given Riverdale‘s characters a new lease on life, most notably KJ Apa’s Archie, who’s more happy-go-lucky than we’ve ever seen him. “Archie has been, over the years, a pretty dark character,” Aguirre-Sacasa concedes, adding that “KJ himself said, ‘I wouldn’t mind having a little bit of fun in our last season.’” So the Archie we meet in Season 7 is “much more of an innocent,” the EP hints, comparing him to Richie Cunningham on Happy Days. “He is much less battered and bruised than his present-day counterpart.”
Riverdale‘s romantic pairings have also gotten a refresh in the shift to the 1950s: Betty is dating Kevin (though he’s still repressing hidden desires), and Archie and Cheryl couple up at one point, too. “You don’t want to go back and then immediately just land in the same dynamics,” Aguirre-Sacasa points out, teasing that “there is fun and dramatic irony in us knowing that Kevin is gay but he’s in a relationship with Betty… There is fun to seeing Archie and Veronica first discovering themselves again, as opposed to knowing they had this deep history. So it felt like it would be a missed opportunity to not do a little bit of scrambling.”
But we do still see some lingering glances between Archie and Betty and between Cheryl and Toni that make us think some romantic connections can survive even a 70-year time jump. “Even if characters don’t remember all of the specifics about the Black Hood and the Gargoyle King and Gryphons and Gargoyles, there would be an emotional memory that the multiverse and the time shift would not erase,” Aguirre-Sacasa says. “Characters who had feelings for each other would still feel that and be drawn towards each other,” although some pairs reconnect “more quickly than others, some more successfully than others.”
Well, the 1950s fashions are fun and all, but can Riverdale fans expect to get the gang back to the original timeline before the series wraps up for good in August? Aguirre-Sacasa’s coy reply: “Yes, I can say that it is good to expect that.”
Riverdale fans, grab a booth in the comments and tell us what you’re hoping to see in the final season.