Riverdale is heading back to the squeaky-clean 1950s for its final season… but maybe things back then weren’t as squeaky-clean as they seemed.
Wednesday’s Season 7 premiere kicks off with “Rock Around the Clock” playing on the jukebox and Archie and the gang getting Happy Days-style intros, so we’re definitely back in the year 1955. Jughead likes that a hamburger and fries only cost 30 cents, but he doesn’t like that he’s the only one here who remembers they got zapped back in time by that meteor at the end of last season. He and his friends are juniors in high school again, and things get even weirder: Betty is dating Kevin, and Cheryl’s brother is alive and named Julian. (Plus, Reggie is nowhere to be found.) Toni and Tabitha have just returned from Mississippi where Emmett Till’s killers were swiftly acquitted — and when Jughead tries to offer his support, Tabitha barely remembers his name.
Archie’s mom Mary is so shaken up by James Dean’s death that she demands the keys to Archie’s hot rod, forcing him to take his bike to school. His mood lifts, though, when the school gets a new student: Veronica Lodge, a glamour girl fresh from L.A. where her parents star in a hit I Love Lucy-esque sitcom. She has a role in a new film version of Our Town, so she wants to get a feel for small-town life, and everyone oohs and ahhs over her Hollywood stories. (She went skinny-dipping with James Dean, and he “plays both sides of the net.”) A smitten Archie offers to walk her home, but she takes a ride from Julian instead — which means Cheryl has to walk home.
Toni writes a story about the Emmett Till trial for the school paper, and Betty raves about it, but the principal won’t publish it. The school psychiatrist says it’s too violent for the students to read about, and besides, “these sorts of things don’t happen in Riverdale.” Betty’s parents won’t read the story on the local news, either; they don’t want to lose their big sponsor, which is the Blossom family’s maple syrup company. Betty is frustrated that no one seems to care — and Jughead is frustrated to learn that Bailey’s Comet won’t be coming back around for another two years.
He tries to think of a way to jog everyone’s memory and remembers the time capsule they buried when they graduated. He digs it up, and it’s still there… and someone’s watching him from the shadows, too. Jughead has his friends look at what’s inside — his knit beanie is missing, though — and breaks the news: They’re all from 67 years in the future. When he tries to explain smartphones and the Internet to him, they look at him like he’s nuts, and Archie pulls him aside to talk some sense into him. “We sound miserable,” he says when Jughead describes their future, and life is good now, so why mess things up?
Cheryl stews about Veronica’s instant popularity, and she confronts her with a movie magazine that says Natalie Wood got that role in Our Town. Veronica admits she lied: Really, her parents just wanted to get rid of her “because I’m a problem.” They’re so busy with their TV show that she felt neglected and started acting out. Archie reassures her and confesses he’s never had a serious girlfriend because he’s been waiting for the right girl, “until now.” Mary is furious, though, when she discovers Archie snuck out with his hot rod; Archie’s dad died in the Korean War, and she just can’t lose him, too. He gets her to agree to let him drive — if he adjusts his car so it can’t go over 20 miles per hour.
Veronica gets a call from her mother in L.A., who heard she had a boy over, warning her to “fly right” while she’s alone out there, so when Archie and Julian offer her a ride home, she opts to walk home instead. After Betty sees the gruesome photos from Emmett Till’s death, she’s determined to get his story out there, so she convinces Cheryl to let Toni read a Langston Hughes poem about the murder during morning announcements. It’s a powerful poem, and the students are clearly affected. (The principal is annoyed, but they promise to run all future poems by him first.) The poem opens up a dialogue in class about the murder and what they can do to help, and Tabitha decides to join her parents and Emmett Till’s mother on a nationwide tour to advocate for change.
Jughead is in a booth at Pop’s when he’s joined by Tabitha — but it’s not the 1950s Tabitha; it’s the guardian angel Tabitha! She remembers everything about the future and still loves him, but they can’t go home yet. The meteor did land and caused “an extinction-level event,” so she used her powers to send everyone somewhere safe while she works to change the future. It’ll take a while, though, and since she doesn’t want Jughead tortured by his knowledge or messing up any timelines, she wants to make him forget everything about the future and start fresh. He doesn’t want to forget her, but he agrees it’s for the best, and they share one last kiss together before his mind is wiped. As he feels his memories slipping away, he rushes to his typewriter to preserve them, but all he has time to write is: “bend towards justice.” And hey, his old knit beanie is back!
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