[Warning: The following contains spoilers ahead for the spring premiere of Riverdale Season 6. Read at your own risk!]
Riverdale has returned, but it's looking a little different these days. After the extreme departure that was the five-episode event series Rivervale, Riverdale is taking things in a new direction. A supernatural direction, in fact, with superpowers and an ancient witch returning for a few shenanigans. Plus, the big bad Hiram Lodge (Mark Consuelos) is presumed dead while a mysterious new villain is lurking in town, trying to buy people's houses. It's Riverdale as usual but with a bit of a twist, and according to creator Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, we'll have to wait to understand what's really happening. But more on that in a second!
First, let's run down what happened as Archie (KJ Apa), Betty (Lili Reinhart), and Jughead (Cole Sprouse) escaped the explosion that half-destroyed the Andrews house. As was teased in the last episode, Jughead's hearing is severely damaged, and it continued to get worse as the episode continued. That seems like a pretty typical side effect of having been in an explosion, but Archie and Betty's side effects are a bit different. Archie now appears to be indestructible and Betty can now see evil auras, and neither of those developments really seems to freak them out all that much. Betty used her new powers to take down a murderous hospital orderly and fend off Glen (Greyston Holt) trying to assault her, while Archie continued to be ever so Archie with his newfound abilities. He also decided to use his savings to buy his house from his mom, after a mysterious man tried to buy it first.
And over in Blossom land, Cheryl (Madelaine Petsch) tried to banish her ancestor Abigail after all that curse business last season, but Nana Blossom had other plans. She wanted to bring Abigail back, so guess who's now taking over Cheryl's body! And elsewhere, Veronica (Camila Mendes) ordered a hit on her father, and the hit appears to have been carried out. Betty's ex Glen also seems to be no more, thanks to a mysterious masked man.
Before the magic-filled alt-universe insanity of Rivervale, Riverdale had only ever hinted at connections with the supernatural. Now, it's going full-on spooky. As Aguirre-Sacasa tells TV Guide, "Our brand is sort of to zig when everyone expects us to zag."
Of course, the show changes genre regularly. They've chased serial killers and dealt with the mob and put on musicals and played cult-like board games, and now they're taking on something brand new.
"We knew we couldn't sustain that level of all-out supernatural, but there's actually a really hilarious sort of tradition in Archie Comics, like Jughead's Time Police, Archie's Weird Mysteries, and Archie's Madhouse that are kind of more supernatural and bonkers stories," Aguirre-Sacasa, who is also Chief Creative Officer at Archie Comics, explains. "So we thought, well, why don't we do that? Let's imagine that Stephen King or M. Night Shyamalan were in the writers room and we could allow the supernatural from Rivervale to sort of creep in and out suddenly at the edges of our storylines."
Aguirre-Sacasa is a particular fan of King's The Stand and the way the supernatural "seeps into everyone's lives" amidst a conflict between good and evil. So that's sort of where Riverdale is going this season as the ever-growing battle for the soul of the town continues.
Below, Aguirre-Sacasa teases Archie and Betty have these new powers, what's up with Jughead's hearing, and what's at stake in Riverdale as season six continues.
These new abilities that Archie and Betty have seem very thematic for them, which makes me even more worried about what Archie's going to do now that he's actually indestructible…
Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa: Exactly. It's funny. When we were talking about this, we wanted to pick up on abilities the characters had already sort of displayed or manifested. We always joke that Archie's unkillable, and with Betty, we've made a big deal in the past that she's been able to identify serial killers by looking in their eyes and having this sort of sixth sense about it. So that's how we started talking about these gifts, if they're gifts, or curses, if they're curses.
So where does that take them this season? What are they going to do with these new abilities?
Aguirre-Sacasa: Well, I think what we'll discover is that sort of a big battle is brewing in Riverdale. We talked about it in the past, about the heart of Riverdale or the soul of Riverdale being at stake. This season, we're finding out that that is more literal than we've ever meant before. So they don't know it yet, but they're manifesting powers for a very specific reason.
So then what does that mean for Jughead? Losing your hearing is a pretty typical thing that might happen after an explosion, but is this also a sort of gift for him?
Aguirre-Sacasa: That's interesting. I will say that Jughead's journey is just beginning, and it does seem like, unlike Archie and Betty, Jughead wasn't granted a special ability. That said, he was a little further away from the nexus of the blast. So stay tuned and see what happens with Jughead. This is only the beginning of his journey, not the endpoint of his journey.
At one point, in one of the early drafts of the Riverdale pilot that got circulated, Jughead was deaf from the beginning, right?
Aguirre-Sacasa: God, that's such a deep cut. I completely forgot about it. Yeah, in one of the early drafts–not the original, but I would say probably in the third draft of the Riverdale pilot, he was, but then he went back to not being deaf. But it was something we talked about way back when.
So do you now get to explore some of those ideas you had back then?
Aguirre-Sacasa: Yeah, I'll be totally honest with you, I didn't even consciously set out to do that. You know, I guess in a weird way…Obviously, we're playing with genre and different comic book tropes, and that's why comics were such a big part of Rivervale. Without giving too much spoilers, it's sort of a version of the Daredevil story where someone loses a sense that is so important to them, and then other things start to happen to fill in that missing sense. So that's our genre take on this story, but stay tuned. A lot happens with Jughead in the next episode.
Can you talk about Cheryl as Abigail and what kind of nonsense she'll be getting up to?
Aguirre-Sacasa: I mean, Cheryl has always always always always been a character who lives, even for Riverdale, in a more heightened Gothic space. Obviously in Rivervale, she was in her element. When we were picking back up with Riverdale, we wanted to pick up directly with the thread from the finale of Season 5 where it was revealed that Abigail was burned at the stake by Archie, Betty, and Jughead. Obviously it's kind of a classic trope of supernatural stories–hauntings, reincarnations–and it felt like that might be a fun sort of challenge for Madelaine to play. Though I do feel like I must assure you that it is not going to be Abigail for the whole rest of the season.
As far as Veronica is concerned, is Hiram actually dead? What does that mean for her now?
Aguirre-Sacasa: Yes, Hiram certainly seems dead in Riverdale. When we talked about this story, it did feel like he was such a titanic presence in her life, but while the town banishing Hiram was such a big storyline in the finale, it didn't feel that personal with Veronica. So we wanted a very personal, emotional, almost intimate story between her and Hiram and we felt like this is the best [way to do it]. We often said that they were engaged in a dance of death, and Veronica once was told that the only way this is going to end is with one of you dead. We realized that this is Veronica's story. This is what she'll be wrestling with, the shadows cast by Hiram not just in life, but even in death. So we're going to see Veronica wrestling with the new status quo in her life, which is to say this absence of this giant presence.
So with Hiram gone, what is the big threat in Riverdale? Why are they fighting for its soul?
Aguirre-Sacasa: Well, I don't want to give away too many spoilers, but you got a whiff of him in the character of Percival Pickens, who has arrived. He's our main antagonist. He is a very different antagonist from Hiram, very different tactics. He is much more of a villain like something out of a Stephen King story. We talk about the villain Randall Flagg from The Stand a lot when we talk about Percival Pickens. So I don't want to say too much more than that, but very different from Hiram.
My favorite part of Rivervale was that final episode, that gave us the idea of Jughead writing all of these stories in a bunker somewhere, which explains some of the things happening. Will you play with that more now, or is that something you're keeping in mind going forward?
Aguirre-Sacasa: That's a very good question, I will say that. Stay tuned. But you're right, that is happening. That is still happening. Absolutely.
Riverdale airs Sundays at 8/7c on The CW.