Riverdale’s Legacy Is Tainted by Its Refusal to Commit to Betty and Archie’s Love StoryPhoto Courtesy of The CW TV Features The CW
In addition to the serial killers, murderous board games, and mystical demons, the central focus of The CW’s Riverdale was romance. Specifically, the relationships between the core four characters—Archie (KJ Apa), Betty (Lili Reinhart), Veronica (Camila Mendes), and Jughead (Cole Sprouse). Throughout the series’ seven seasons, what could have become one of television’s best slow-burn romances between Betty and Archie was mishandled by the Riverdale writers at nearly every step of the way. Those in charge simply refused to ever fully commit to telling Betty and Archie’s love story.
For years, Betty and Archie’s romance was repeatedly teased in sparse moments throughout the first four seasons before Riverdale would once again flinch away. In addition, their long-time friendship took a backseat to the series’ prioritization of their respective romances with Jughead and Veronica. The feelings both had for one another when the series began, though it would take Archie quite some time to admit he shared them too, were all but forgotten by the writers (especially in the nightmare that was Season 3).
In the fourth season, as Betty and Archie went behind their partners’ backs and cheated, it once again was incredibly short-lived, not doing justice to their deep feelings and the years of evolution in their relationship that had led them to this. The following season, after the seven-year time jump, Betty and Archie returned to town and finally acted on their lingering feelings for one another… until a couple of episodes later when it suddenly ended in a completely unsatisfying manner. Then, they reunited in the finale before Hiram’s bomb and Cheryl’s spell caused the trip to Rivervale that led to Percival Pickens’ (Chris O’Shea) reign of terror. In short, even when the series did begin to explore Betty and Archie’s romance—which took far too long—the writers couldn’t actually commit to their story. Five seasons of wasted time, wasted opportunity, and almost altogether denying the connection between Betty and Archie that was, by comparison, so much more powerful than anything they ever shared with the other two.
When Archie and Betty did finally get together in Season 6 after the Rivervale event where Archie was dead for a few episodes, the series did criminally little to explore this relationship. (I mean, we didn’t even receive a full season of the two in a relationship.) Throughout their time together, the series couldn’t refrain from bringing up their past relationships, specifically Archie’s with Veronica. Riverdale always catered to fans of those couples, never giving Betty and Archie a chance to just breathe and exist together, unlike the plenty of time granted to their past relationships. But, by the end of the season, this childhood friends-to-lovers bond had blossomed and the two, completely devoted to one another, got engaged as they faced the threat of Bailey’s Comet hitting the town. It was a beautiful moment, and ultimately one of the rare glimpses of their deeply felt love for one another.
Of course, it didn’t last. The series tore them apart as the characters were transported back to the ‘50s in Riverdale Season 7. While it seemed like we were on track in the early episodes, the “emotional memory” of what came before was only a thing for, like, five minutes. Then, most of the final season was spent unraveling their emotional connection and trying to make it seem less significant—like every relationship between them, even Betty and Veronica’s new romance was almost exactly the same in terms of what it meant and offered to the characters. So, by the series finale, the writers had not only destroyed the Betty and Archie we once knew, but also demolished the significance of all of the relationships between the core four. Giving them their memories back to have them become a “quad” and all date each other until they all left Riverdale and moved on did a disservice to every character and member in the core four. (At the very least, it’s clear Betty was always in love with Archie.)
However, even if Betty and Archie had ended up together in the series finale, it wouldn’t have undone the series’ reluctance to explore their relationship or how they consistently screwed them over along the way. This refusal to completely commit to telling a brilliant love story between Betty and Archie, despite the set-up for such a perfect slow-burn romance, will forever taint the legacy of Riverdale. Actually, the refusal to commit to any of the core four couples will. It completely undermines the story from the first six seasons. It sells the characters and relationships short, undoing all of the development and the specifics of each relationship that made them so special and stand apart.
Even preferring Betty and Archie’s love story, I could have (eventually) gotten on board if Varchie and Bughead had been the couples to survive the final episode. At least they were together for a solid portion of the show, and there were certain things in those relationships that worked well. Instead, it feels like so much of the show was wasted on developing these relationships for absolutely no reason. Nobody who was rooting for one of these couples was left happy. (Except maybe Betty and Veronica stans, if any exist, because at least their ship was acknowledged.)
After the series finale, it feels like Riverdale strung fans along and delivered a story with all four of these characters and the dynamics between them that is, ultimately, meaningless. Because, as the series finale shows, there was no direction or plan when developing these relationships throughout the course of the show. In the end, everything between the core four became a gimmick (much like this entire egregious final season), forever spoiling all of the couple combinations by letting none stand out from the others.
Jay Snow is a freelance writer. He has published many places on the internet. For more of his thoughts on television and to see his other work (or to simply watch him gush again and again over his love for the original Charmed) follow him @snowyjay.
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