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Riverdale Creator Explains the Unexpected Villain of the Final Season

Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa explains why the 1950s is the perfect setting for the end of the story

Lauren Piester

[Warning: The following contains spoilers for the Riverdale Season 7 premiere. Read at your own risk!]

How do you do a final season like Riverdale? It may have seemed as if there was no way for the CW drama to top a sixth season in which all of the main characters got superpowers that a witchy Cheryl (Madelaine Petsch) channeled into a weapon against a comet that was hurtling towards the town. And in a way, it's true. There's no topping an action-filled season like that, so the writers decided to go in a different, sort of backward direction towards the original heart of the show where a high schooler named Archie (KJ Apa) struggled to balance his love of singing with his the highs and lows of high school football, all while darkness and corruption threatened to steal his innocence away. (Remember the music teacher who turned out to be a pedophile?) But Riverdale's final season isn't just Archie back in high school. It's Archie back in high school in the 1950s, decked out in the iconic looks from the original comic strip. 

It doesn't really matter how we got here, but the premiere did its best to explain anyway. In short, to prevent everyone from dying when the comet hit, Tabitha (Erinn Westbrook), the town's guardian angel, sent everyone back in time to try and correct the timeline that turned Riverdale into a corrupt mess of gangs, cults, and evildoers. She told Jughead (Cole Sprouse) they all needed to bend towards justice, then erased his memory of their previous lives. Now, he's just a loner teen who lives in an abandoned train car and writes comic books. 

Betty (Lili Reinhart) is dating a closeted Kevin (Casey Cott), while Archie's got hearts in his eyes for Veronica (Camila Mendes), a nepo-baby straight from Hollywood. Cheryl is queen bee of the school again, confused by the fluttering in her stomach caused by gang member Toni (Vanessa Morgan). Cheryl also has a living twin brother named Julian (Nicholas Barasch), while there's no sign of Jason. Reggie (Charles Melton) is MIA, but many of the long-gone classmates are back, including Ethel (Shannon Purser) and Midge (Emilija Baranac). There are many questions to be answered over the course of the season, and TV Guide talked to Riverdale boss Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa to at least answer some of them. Below, he explains a few of our 

Why did it make sense to you to do a final season where everyone's forgotten everything that happened to them before? 
Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa: Well, the first thing I'll say is that the last season is 100 percent in continuity with seasons one through six. Every season, we do a different genre, and we take a very big swing. We wanted to do something special [for the final season], and we talked about what the stories would be if we continued with our characters in their mid to late 20s. It would be things like Betty becomes a therapist, Archie adopts Frank's son and becomes a father, and Tabitha is franchising Pop's. We could have done that, but there was something in the back of our minds that said, "Is that special enough?" How do we make sure that our last season is as iconic as it can be and as meaningful as it can be, so that it doesn't feel like we're running on fumes or coasting to the end. And one of the things that various people have said to me over the last season — executives, partners, fellow producers, and even KJ — [is that they] missed when we were all in high school. Okay, well, we're in the middle of this season with Percival Pickens, and we've got time travel and multiverses, and if we wanted to go back to high school, there's probably a way to do that. 

Then the question became, if we do that, how do we keep those stories from feeling like we're retreading the first four seasons? And as divisive as any one creative choice on Riverdale has been, the thing that that everyone seemed to delight in was any time our actors, either in dream sequences or fantasy sequences, popped up in their iconic comic book outfits. Everyone loved that — the kids loved doing it, the crew loved doing it, our fans loved it. So I thought well, what if we go back to high school in the 1950s? Can we figure out a way to do it in continuity, and in a way that allowed us to tell our typical high school stories with a deeper, more meaningful resonance? 

Riverdale, KJ Apa

Riverdale, KJ Apa

The CW

How does that meaningful resonance work if they've forgotten the first six seasons? Does everything they've gone through before still matter? 
Aguirre-Sacasa: Yeah, absolutely. One of the things that we talked about is this idea that if they don't remember specifics to the Gargoyle King or whatever, their emotional memory of what they've been through would be intact, and that would sort of guide their choices and what the characters did and stood for in the 1950s, in some cases unconsciously and in some cases consciously. And there's nothing to say that at a certain point in the season, characters won't start remembering their lives. So we're setting a foundation that would allow us to explore different versions of getting back to the present, or remembering their past lives. 

How long did it take you to map out what guardian angel Tabitha would explain to Jughead, especially right off the bat? 
Aguirre-Sacasa: I'm not gonna say we landed on it in five minutes. I think we did many versions of that scene, but usually, in any given season, we introduce a big villain, someone like Hiram Lodge or Percival, some villain that all of our characters are uniting against. This time, we landed on the idea that if they go back to the 1950s, the tension of sending our characters back to this repressive, conformist, not squeaky clean, not innocent, not wholesome, not the greatest decade that we've known as humanity…the 1950s themselves and the strictures of the 1950s would be the villains, and our characters' struggles wouldn't be against an interdimensional time traveling wizard, but their struggles would be about how do we live our fullest, most authentic, most truthful, most open lives in a time period where that was just not allowed. How do we do that? That would be everyone's challenge and struggle. 

One of the best parts of the kids in high school was Archie's relationship with his dad. Obviously, Luke Perry is gone, so how did you figure out how to work around that while still honoring Luke and Fred? 
Aguirre-Sacasa: One thing we decided early on was that when we did the soft reset of Riverdale in the 1950s, the one thing we weren't going to do is bring in a new Fred or a new father figure for Archie. Luke is so sacrosanct on the show and in our hearts, so it felt like that was one thing we weren't going to mess with. When we pick up with Riverdale, it's 1955. The Korean War had just ended, and we talked about Fred having gone to Korea and not come home from that, which was a way to tell stories about Archie missing his father, but it wasn't as raw or as traumatizing as when we did it the first go around. We did those stories. Again, it was like how can we tell different versions of that story, and thread the needle of having fun in the 1950s while swimming in the more turbulent, more emotional waters? 

It also felt like this premiere dealt with current events more than Riverdale ever has before, with the Korean War, and the death of Emmett Till happening around the same time as James Dean's death. Why did you want to get so specific with this premiere?
Yeah, I think that the biggest conversation we had when we landed on the 50s was what is the version of the 1950s that we are presenting? Is it a fantasy version of the 50s where everything's great and everyone's accepted and everyone is thriving and living their best lives? The reality of the 1950s was that it was illegal to be gay. It was illegal in some states for there to be interracial marriage. It was a time of huge racial strife. It was a time of entrenched panic against gay people, and it felt like it would be disingenuous of us to pretend and to erase the real struggles that people went through. And when we landed on the fact that the season was going to start around the time of James Dean's death, we did a lot of research and realized that James Dean's death was within weeks of the trial of Emmett Till's murderers. It felt to us that if we were saying Riverdale High was recently integrated, it felt like our characters of color, especially Toni and Tabitha, wouldn't be talking about James Dean. They would be talking about what happened at that trial. It felt like there was a juxtaposition between the death of James Dean, which was covered by all the mainstream press, and something like the trial of Emmett Till's murderers, which the mainstream press didn't want to cover. It felt like it would set the stage for the deeper explorations that we were hoping to do with the season. 

Lili Reinhart, Riverdale

Lili Reinhart, Riverdale

The CW

Can you talk about the little mysteries set up in this premiere, like why haven't we seen Reggie, and where did Julian come from?
Aguirre-Sacasa: I will say with Julian, in the writers room, we were always obsessed with the secret history of the Blossoms, which is that they were always possibly triplets and that Julian was absorbed by either Cheryl or Jason. We were always obsessed with that, and we loved that. And there was iconically the Julian doll, but our big frustration with the Julian doll was that we couldn't write stories for Julian because Julian was a doll. So that was one liberty we did take when we went back to the 1950s. We gave Cheryl, instead of her brother Jason, her brother Julian. 

Regarding Reggie, Reggie absolutely comes roaring back. He gets a real hero's entrance later in the season. One of the movies that we referenced a lot is the 1950s basketball movie Hoosiers, starring Gene Hackman. We wanted to tell a little bit of a Hoosiers story with Reggie, so we had to wait for basketball season to start. But trust he's on his way. 

Cheryl's relationship with Jason was such a huge part of her character at the beginning, when they were in high school. How does that change things for her? She clearly doesn't have the same relationship with Julian.
Aguirre-Sacasa: Exactly. They're more like bickering siblings. I think that was another thing. We wanted a fresher dynamic in the Blossom household, and we wanted a little bit of a bully, a representative of all the bad things in the 1950s, and it felt like Julian could do that. Again, that doesn't mean we've seen the last of Jason, though. But it felt like a fun dynamic to kick off with. 

Riverdale airs Wednesdays on The CW. Seasons 1-6 are now available on Netflix.