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Ah, Riverdale, the show in which dozens of improbable plotlines merge together to create a lovingly rendered quilt of seemingly unrelated genres, subplots, and tropes. The one series in which teen romance exists seamlessly alongside bear fighting, street gangs, evil parents, baffling drug subplots, and an enchanting queer couple literally becoming cat burglars as an advanced form of foreplay.
Yet if you are a newb to the Riverdale mythos, it can be a little intimidating and a lot confusing to crack into the often truly bizarre plotlines and the intricate character work that has been laid down by a creative team deserving of all the Emmys. If you're just getting your toes wet, here are some of the best Riverdale episodes to get an idea of what this bonkers show even is.
Chapter Five: "Heart of Darkness"
This episode sets the tone of the first season — introducing Archie as the frustrated artist jock, establishing Jughead's crush on Betty, and reinforcing the first season's primary mystery: the death of Jason Blossom.
Besides all that lighthearted fare, "Chapter Five" is full of that great Riverdalian sense of foreboding that we keep coming back for. Cheryl's mom Penelope openly accuses Cheryl of murdering her brother over dinner, Hermione Lodge is almost killed by a snake left in a crate on the floor, the mystery of what became of Betty's sister Polly continues, Archie gets rejected by a potential mentor, and we discover a blood feud between the Blossoms and the Coopers that started over maple syrup. All pretty standard Riverdale stuff!
Chapter Twenty-Two: "Silent Night, Deadly Night"
Since the last time we met up in "Chapter Five," both Bughead and Varchie have expressed their feelings, shared first kisses, and, you know, joined gangs together — a true right of passage for young lovers. They also ever so slightly all broke up with each other in the last episode, so this is the crew learning to reconcile and be friends again.
Of course, it's Riverdale, so that means that Betty gets a severed finger in a gift box, Jughead's dad is being blackmailed into selling drugs, Archie and Betty threaten some nuns, and Veronica steals her mother's credit card in a valiant act of socialism. All in all, a heartwarming holiday romp.
Chapter Thirty: "The Noose Tightens"
Hopefully we've established that all episodes of Riverdale are their own individual journey, but this one quite uniquely showcases Archie adopting a bizarre pro-prison platform as he runs with Veronica for class president. Pro-prison political platforms in high school politics? Definitely sounds like we're in Riverdale.
Meanwhile, over the last few episodes, Cheryl Blossom's mother found out she was a lesbian and sent her to literal conversion therapy. This episode, Toni Topaz teams up with Veronica to free her from the nuns. Cheryl is busy doing fun stuff like moving gigantic bags back and forth around a basement under the order of a particularly sadistic Mother Superior, but she's still extremely stoked to see Ronnie and Toni. Particularly Toni, who she makes out with right smack dab in the middle of conversion therapy, leading to the beginning of the iconic Choni. Riverdale ship canon: Complete.
Chapter Thirty-Four: "Judgment Night"
In the first ten minutes of this episode, Cheryl flees a masked killer, turns the tables and shoots him with an arrow, and calmly explains this to Betty over the phone while Reggie, who has been shot, is rushed to a hospital. Meanwhile, riots are ravaging Riverdale, Reggie is falsely accused of shooting one of the Serpents, and Hermione Lodge puts out a bounty on a killer’s head. In short, this is easily one of the most wild episodes of an already incredibly wild series. The, um, gang war between the Serpents and the Bulldogs is interrupted by a third gang known as the Ghoulies. Toni is kidnapped, and Jughead and Cheryl save her only for Jughead to be beaten within an inch of his life. While all this is going on, the mystery of the Black Hood killer is finally solved by none other than Betty Cooper. This episode is pretty much every plotline that could fit into a single episode, and we are here for it.
Chapter Thirty-Nine: "The Midnight Club"
This is mostly a flashback episode that establishes one important detail: all the parents of Riverdale were once huge nerds. One subplot of Season 3 is that a lot of people get super into a Dungeons & Dragons analog called Griffins & Gargoyles, which is banned by Mayor Hermione Lodge in the first few minutes of this very episode. In the flashback, the parents of the Riverdale crew are all at odds with each other, with the exception of F.P. and Fred, who bond over streaking down the halls of school. Not a typo, this does actually happen.
After being forced into several weeks of detention, engaging in tabletop gaming, and listening to a lot of alt hits of the '80s, they parents bond, then unbond. Via Alice Cooper's narration, we learn a lot about Riverdale history, but let's face it — this one is all about its many endearing The Breakfast Club references.
Chapter Sixty-One: "Halloween"
At the time of this writing, Season 4 has not yet run its course, but it is definitely tripling down on sheer bonkers energy. That brings us to the series' very first Halloween-themed episode. To whit, Jughead almost immediately getting buried alive as part of a hazing ritual at his new prep school. From inside the coffin, he loudly announces, "if you're trying to prove that premature burials are scary, the joke's on you, because I’ve already survived way worse!"
This episode involves way more laugh-out-loud moments than it has any right to, considering its creepy subject matter. Toni trying to rationalize to Cheryl that she needs to bury Jason's corpse rather than leave it sitting in the dining room, prep school kids using literary horror to intimidate Jughead, and Betty going full cinephile and condescendingly explaining who Laurie Strode is to a preteen all make for one of the most delightful (if macabre) episodes this series has ever produced.