Just when you thought Riverdale couldn’t get any weirder, it delivered its most deliriously off-the-wall episode ever. The finale of the parallel universe “Rivervale” event was more of a fever dream than Archie hallucinating after a bear attack, more chaotically absurd than Edgar Evernever’s homemade rocketship, and more nonsensical than Betty being hypnotized to respond to the word “tangerine.” Honestly, it’s probably impossible to fully wrap your head around the dimension-jumping, universe-colliding events of the episode, but here’s my best attempt at an explanation of the finale episode of “Rivervale.”
Spoiler alert: Don’t read on if you haven’t watched Riverdale Season 6, Episode 5, “The Jughead Paradox.” The fifth and final “Rivervale” episode hit the ground running by basically nullifying everything that happened in the previous four episodes. Each the horror-inspired episodes centered on a specific character and ended in a gutting loss... except it was apparently all a dream. Archie woke up from a nightmare of being ritually sacrificed by the town, Toni arose from her sleep as herself and not the ghostly La Llorona, Veronica selling Reggie’s soul to the devil was just a disturbing dream for the couple, and Cheryl’s body-swap spell with Nana Rose was also just a bit of fantasy.
That may all not have been real, but the town of Rivervale still is, even if Jughead is starting to see some cracks in his reality. While at school, Jughead noticed the Season 1 versions of his friends roaming the halls, including a throwback version of himself. On top of that, murdered classmates like Ben Button, Jason Blossom, and Dilton Doiley were somehow alive and well. After poring over his comic books, Jughead realized Rivervale is a parallel universe to Riverdale — a warped reflection in which events are somewhat similar, but darkly different.
With some help from his comics and Dilton (who’s a metaphysics expert in this universe), Jughead pinpointed the creation of Rivervale to the bomb that exploded in Archie’s room. It was then that Dilton revealed the two universes were becoming increasingly unstable the longer they coexisted, leading to their mutually assured destruction. This instability was why multiple versions of the same person began popping up around town, and it was likely also why all the recently murdered people in town somehow spontaneously resurrected.
Oh, right — on that note, there’s also a serial strangler on the loose, who is shockingly revealed to be none other than Archie. Because he knew about the resurrection properties of Rivervale, Archie went on a murder spree hoping that somehow his dad would also rise from his grave to be with him for his wedding to Betty.
Not wanting his universe destroyed before finding a way to bring back his dad, Archie attempted to murder Jughead before he could enact his plan to recreate the explosion that created Rivervale in hopes of reversing its effects. Betty saved the day by shooting her would-be husband in the head, setting the stage for some serious Bughead fan service as the exes reunited on Archie’s bed to recreate the moment the bomb went off. According to Jughead’s plan, setting off the bomb in these exact conditions would destroy only the Rivervale universe, which never should have existed, and re-stabilize the Riverdale world.
But before the bomb exploded, Betty and Jughead were interrupted... by another Jughead. This was the Jughead who has served as the “Rivervale” narrator throughout the event, and he laid out a plan to save Riverdale without having to blow up Rivervale. Jughead would need to lock himself away in Dilton’s bunker and eternally generate new stories for the Rivervale universe, acting as a “living battery” of imagination that would keep Rivervale existing as a separate entity from Riverdale.
So, in the end, Rivervale gets to continue to exist without overlapping into Riverdale thanks to Jughead’s sacrifice. However, there’s still the issue of the bomb in the Riverdale universe. The parallel world was created because of this bomb, so it obviously can’t detonate like it did before, or else the same issues would arise all over again. The locked-away Jughead seemed to hint that he found a solution to the bomb problem in the final moments of the episode, and a glimpse back into the Riverdale world revealed Betty received a mysterious phone call warning her to leave Archie’s room before the bomb went off.
Phew, got all that? Me neither. There’s really no explaining how a bomb going off can create a whole new universe, or why blowing up another bomb could un-create it. And obviously solving the whole mess with the power of imagination feels like a big joke, but who cares! The ridiculousness is the fun of Riverdale, and there clearly had to be a few logical leaps to wrap things up in Rivervale. The main takeaway is that this alternate world still exists thanks to a perpetually isolated Jughead typing away, so the show has the option to return some day in the future if that’s in the cards.
For now, though, it’s finally time to go back to Riverdale, where Betty and Archie were somehow saved from the bomb at the last minute. New episodes of Riverdale Season 6 will begin airing on The CW on Sunday, March 6, at 8 p.m. ET.