Graduation episodes are usually an easy pull at the heartstrings for many viewers, as most people either remember their own high school graduation or have felt attached enough to these characters over the years that you cheer for their successes. Riverdale’s Graduation episode is no different and it pulls the right emotional chords in some places, while missing the beat in several others.
There’s a bittersweet sense of finality to the episode in many places, including when the gang is talking about how they know they’re parting ways but will always be together. Riverdale captures the feeling of high school graduation quite well in many aspects, like the seniors cheering as the bell rings on their last day of school. The writers deserve their credit for so effectively evoking the nostalgia card in any viewer who has experienced their own high school graduation here. It’s these little moments that make the town and cast of Riverdale feel so much more real, which is especially needed when the show tends to go off the rails as it does.
Considering the realism of its subject matter, “Graduation” succeeds by keeping things grounded in reality instead of indulging in that now-signature brand of Riverdale insanity. There’s something incredibly somber about seeing Archie graduate in name only, walking across a stage without getting his diploma. There’s also a special moment in which, the show draws attention to the wildness the core cast has faced in the last four years and how that’s affected them. There’s a sad maturity to the way Betty and Jughead discuss never wanting the younger generation to normalize the violence they’ve dealt with, hoping for a more peaceful future for their little town.
It’s that exact sentiment that causes FP Jones to leave the show. When Skeet Ulrich announced he was leaving, many viewers wondered how Jones would leave the show, and the reason they came up with was far less far fetched than Hermione Lodge’s departure. He’s leaving to take care of his daughter, Jellybean, after she was caught making alarming videotapes. FP and Alice Cooper’s goodbye is a good one, and it’s another reminder of how much chemistry these two actors have together. They’re totally the best Jones/Cooper pairing –sorry Jughead and Betty.
This sense of finality and fear of the unknown follows the episode, but is most effective in the case of Cheryl Blossom. Cheryl is a character who often oversteps boundaries or commits heinous deeds without punishment. While her conversation with her mother is kinda hilarious in that Riverdale way, it opens the door for some great Cheryl content. It’s a rare moment of maturity for her, but she gives up going to college with Toni to make amends for the deeds she and her family have done. It’s exactly the move a character like Cheryl needed in order to move forward.
Archie is the other noteworthy character this episode as his graduation rejection opens the doors for yet another impulsive move about his future: joining the military. Archie’s been a bit of a wanderer throughout the first four seasons, drifting between different career paths and passions, but he thinks he’s found his place by joining the army. The uncertainty of their lives distresses his ex-girlfriend, Veronica, and the two share a moment they totally shouldn’t be sharing. Riverdale often has Veronica and Archie act in ways that seem the two have an unhealthy attachment to one another, but the nature of that unhealthiness is never addressed –this is totally one of those moments.
Before Archie breaks the news of his newfound path, he makes the gang make a vow to go back to Pop’s Diner every year and reconvene. Again, props to the Riverdale writers here for accurately capturing this nostalgic sentiment of high school seniors, so sure that friends will always be together and making promises that you know they’ll never keep. It comes with that feeling of being on top of the world while also not wanting to let go of the past entirely. The graduation montage is good for similar reasons, despite the cheesy Green Day song selection.
The most frustrating aspect of “Graduation” is still how the show handles its love triangle. The Betty/Archie hook up from Hedwig seemed like it’d be a turning point for the show, with both characters admitting they had feelings for one another that had been sort of brewing since Season 1’s pilot episode. The Season 5 opener saw this plot blow a hole in Veronica and Archie’s relationship (understandably so), but in many points in this episode, it’s almost like that never happened.
Betty finally comes clean to Jughead about her kiss with Archie, but he couldn’t seem to care less. It’s like this plot was set up to matter and it ultimately didn’t. It’s a curious choice considering the fact that the show has used the love triangle so ineffectively before –what’s the point of repeating it just to have it mean nothing? Several points of this episode could have been infused with so much more character moments and juicy drama if they had leaned into that angle a bit more as it was set up. Riverdale‘s half-commital ventures into the famous Betty/Archie/Veronica love triangle is truly the most disappointing aspect of the show overall, especially since it almost wants to say something about them but doesn’t.
If the show actually had played this as seriously as it was set up, it had the potential to be as engaging as the Brooke/Peyton/Lucas love triangle from One Tree Hill, an aspect of the show that’s still heavily talked about today. Considering the source material for this show, it’s bizarre they haven’t done more there.
The episode ends with Jughead walking into Pop’s Diner six years later. And, just as the viewer expected when Archie made the gang make that vow, no one came to join him. The stage is set for the time skip and, as Jughead notes, everyone is about to change a lot.
Graduation is a good snapshot of a group of young adults’ final days at high school, but it doesn’t stick the landing on a few of its plots. It does, however, serve as great suspense for the upcoming episode and the rest of the season to come.
Riverdale airs Wednesday nights on The CW.
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