Riverdale‘s five episode event, titled Rivervale, is only one episode in, but we’ve already seen a weird, dark vision of a town that already had some bonkers plotlines roll out. It’s a twisted alternate reality that will somehow tie into the rest of the season in ways that aren’t apparent… But the answer to what’s going on in Rivervale might be in an otherwise throwaway line in the premiere: is Jughead Jones’ (Cole Sprouse) comic book collection the key to the mystery of Rivervale?
In the hour, which picks up after the Season 5 ending cliffhanger that saw Archie Andrews (KJ Apa) and Betty Cooper (Lili Reinhart) seemingly blown up by a bomb under Archie’s bed, Betty and Archie are very much alive, very much in love, and trying to have a baby. That’s not the only strangeness, given we last saw them watching a cartoon bundle of dynamite almost exploding. There’s also little details like Archie’s dog Vegas seemingly being alive, after we discovered he died during the Season 5 time jump. Or Julian, the sailor doll that Cheryl Blossom (Madelaine Petsch) thought was inhabited by the spirit of the triplet she ate in the womb and then burned, was back and whole in the final scene of the episode.
(And as a side note, is Rivervale really that much crazier than Riverdale? Really? Anyway.)
And of course there’s the wild swing at the end of the episode, as the whole town gets together to solve their collective and individual problems, ranging from a bug infestation in Jughead and Tabitha Tate’s (Erinn Westbrook) new apartment, to all the maple trees dying, by trussing up Archie, painting him with runes, placing an antler crown on his head, and then cutting his heart out while everyone else dances. RIP, Archie. You know, little things like that.
So what is going on in Rivervale? Most fans assumed this was a coma-dream via Archie after the bomb exploded, but Archie dying at the end of the premiere — as well as Riverdale boss Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa actively denying the theory — puts the kibosh on that. It could still be Betty’s coma dream, or someone else’s. Perhaps Kevin Keller (Casey Cott) bonked his head on the way out of town after deciding to pursue a Broadway career in the Season 5 finale? But it’s more likely something else is going on here, particularly since Aguirre-Sacasa has also noted that not only is Rivervale serialized, but the events will continue to be serialized throughout the rest of Season 6, even when they show has left “Rivervale.”
That preface out of the way, let’s get back to the premise: is Jughead Jones’ comic book collection the biggest clue to what’s going on here?
In the premiere, there’s a weird exchange between Archie and Jughead while the former helps the latter move in with Tabitha. Carting a bunch of large boxes, Archie asks how many more comic books Jughead has. “This is just a fraction,” says Jughead. “The rest is still in storage.”
“I’ll be honest with you Jug,” Archie says. “I didn’t know you were that into comics.”
“What can I say, Archie, I contain multitudes,” Jughead answers.
Just a throwaway joke from a guy who likes to use five-dollar words, right? Maybe. Or, it’s possible that Jughead’s comic books might be the key to understanding exactly what’s going on, on the show. The first piece of evidence? Those comics aren’t going away. In a promo for the season’s second episode, Jughead is leafing through a comic book — specifically the Archie Comics book The Adventures of the All-New Mighty Crusaders #2, which was published back in 1983. There aren’t a lot of clues in that issue, necessarily, it’s a revival of Archie’s version of the Justice League (i.e., a bunch of heroes teaming up to fight evil), and there have definitely been Easter eggs and references to Archie’s Red Circle line of superhero comics on Riverdale before.
But more importantly, the script cover for the series’ hundredth episode, which also ends the Rivervale event, seems to have Francesco Francavilla’s variant cover art from Jughead’s Time Police #1 on it, based on some Instagram posts from the crew. In that book, written by Sina Grace, Jughead messes up the timeline and ends up on a jaunt not just through time, but also the multiverse, ultimately meeting multiple versions of himself.
It’s pretty clear that the multiverse is all the rage right now, from Marvel kicking things off in Loki and continuing them with Spider-Man: No Way Home and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, to DC’s upcoming The Flash movie. So what if Jughead saying “I contain multitudes” was actually a hint that what we’re seeing here is an exploration of not just a dark, alternate Riverdale, but a journey into the greater Archie Comics multiverse?
That might help explain the fact that there almost seems to be two Jugheads in the premiere: the one dealing with a bug infestation; and the one narrating the episode, who is aware of not just Rivervale, but Riverdale as well. It might also help explain how Sabrina Spellman (Kiernan Shipka) is showing up later on this season, despite Chilling Adventures of Sabrina often dropping Easter eggs that included characters in the neighboring Greendale reading Archie Comics that contain the main Archie characters (Archie, Betty, Jughead, Veronica, etc.), or Sabrina holding a mug with the cartoon version of The Archies printed on the side.