SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not yet watched “Strange Bedfellows,” the midseason return of “Riverdale” Season 5.
After more than four months, the fifth season of “Riverdale” returned to The CW with a jam-packed hour titled “Strange Bedfellows.” In it, Jughead (Cole Sprouse) opted to leave town, Betty (Lili Reinhart) shared the infamous voicemail message from Jughead that fractured their relationship, and Archie (K.J. Apa) and Veronica (Camila Mendes) agreed to pause their potential reconciliation.
“We’ve been off the air so long, it’s been so weird,” executive producer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa tells Variety. “I’m so excited by this [next] batch of episodes. I think there are some really special, strange unique episodes. I’m really proud of them and excited for the ride.”
Here, Aguirre-Sacasa teases what’s to come — from the complicated, shifting, couple dynamics to more musical episodes.
Jughead is now off on a new adventure to New York. What will he be up to there?
Jughead is definitely on a journey into the heart of darkness. A lot of his season’s story has been about slowly coming to terms with the events of those seven years [that the show jumped ahead] — the trauma that he experienced and survived, that led to him [to] hitting rock bottom [and which] led to him leaving that toxic voicemail for Betty. Things get worse before they get better. But he’s on a quest for the truth about those seven years, and the truth of what he really has to face in what demons, that are obviously much, much darker than, say, Mothman aliens.
The show has always lived in a darker space, but it has gone a little more into the supernatural world this season. What has been the balance like in writing that turn, while still keeping it grounded in the established “Riverdale” world?
We always try to strike the right balance. So, for instance, the Mothman story is a great example. In the “Riverdale” universe, do aliens exist? Maybe, maybe not. But what does exist is people who believe that they’ve had encounters with aliens. What is real is trauma that people transform into stories about aliens. Those ambiguous stories, I think, are in “Riverdale’s” sweet spot. And we just flirt with that. I will say that now in Season 5, I think we allow ourselves to play with the edges of that a little bit more than we did in earlier seasons. But it does feel like as long as we’re finding a grounded and emotional truth to the story, you can get it as outlandish and flirt with the supernatural, in a way that we hadn’t in previous years.
To go back to the voicemail Jughead left for Betty, how will his decision to leave her that message — and their subsequent estrangement — play into their future? Is this something from which they can even recover?
First of all, we will see [the origin of it] in an episode — the events that led to him leaving the message; we will see him actually leaving that message. So, my hope is that we’ll come to understand where Jughead was at that point in his life that he left it. But it does feel like it’s sort of a “past the point of no return” voice message. It’s hard to imagine Jughead and Betty coming back from that. I will say that in an episode — it’s not for a couple of episodes — there’s an incredible scene between Lili and Cole, where they unpack where they’ve been and what those seven years were like for them. And it does feel like they may get to a place where they can rebuild, but it’s pretty scorched earth. And we do play how real that fracture and that betrayal was.
On the flip side, Jughead left a quasi-optimistic voicemail for Tabitha, expressing hope for their future. What’s next for that relationship?
One of the most fun things about [“Strange Bedfellows”] is that you see Jughead’s girlfriends past, present and perhaps future teaming up to help him. And I love that they do that. I would say that Tabitha and Jughead, what’s nice is that we’re slow-burned them. I won’t say whether they get together or not, but I will say that it’s been nice seeing them be friends and care about each other, and develop a relationship, and not immediately fall into something when they’re not ready for it. So it means that if they do get together, maybe it’ll be on more solid footing.
Veronica and Archie are in a similar place, opting to pause their potential recouping until she’s fully split from her husband. How will they be navigating that, especially as they deal with being an adult couple versus what we saw of them as teens?
I love that scene towards the end of the episode where Archie and Veronica are at Pop’s, and it’s so clear how much they care about each other and how much they want to be with each other, and they’re gut-checking, “Do we have to spend this time apart?” I think that speaks to their maturity and Archie trying to protect himself, knowing that Veronica’s still entangled with Chad.
I will say that that decision to delay their ultimate reunion and their ultimate reconciliation until things are finalized with Chad is something we stick to and will have huge repercussion in subsequent episodes.
The show briefly played with the Betty and Archie relationship, but with both of them on seemingly different paths right now, is that something you feel is over? Or is there room for them to pursue that again in any real capacity?
I don’t feel like necessarily their time has come and gone. When they kind-of got together for those handful of episodes, it did feel like, “Oh, maybe this story isn’t done.” Certainly some of the fans felt that, and I think Lili and K.J. felt that. The truth is, given where the show started, which was Betty longing for Archie and them being next door neighbors and going to homecoming together, it makes me think that there will always be something there. Something will evolve out of that before the end of the season.
Looking ahead, the show is exploring Hiram’s (Mark Consuelos) backstory in the August 18 episode. The show has done flashbacks before, but what made the time right to dig so deeply into his character?
One is we’ve never really given Mark Consuelos [this showcase]. He’s been so amazing as a great villain and he’s just been such a great trouper, like everyone else, this past year because of the pandemic. Mark was in Vancouver, cut off from his wife, cut off from his [kids]. And he’s such an arch villain for us; it felt like the best villains, you understand why they’re villainous. It felt like, let’s do that origin story, like a Lex Luthor or a “Citizen Kane” or “The Godfather” origin story.
When I called Mark and told him that, he was so excited. And this is tells you exactly who he is: he wasn’t just excited for him. The first thing he asked was, “Does that mean that my son is going to play me?” And I said, “That’s what we’re thinking.” And he was so excited to get to do that with his son. And I just love that we were able to provide that for him and make it special for them.
The other thing that I will say about that episode is I don’t want to undersell how good Charles [Melton] is as Reggie in that episode. I consider it to be a Hiram and Reggie episode. Normally, Reggie is more of a comedic character, sort of a troublemaker. But it’s so great to get to the heart of his stuff with his father. It’s just powerful.
Toni has been off-screen as Vanessa Morgan completed her maternity leave. How will on-screen motherhood change the Toni viewers knew?
That baby being born will be a huge paradigm shift for the character of Toni. One of the things that Vanessa and I talked about is — and before I even knew she was pregnant — when we talked about the season, we really wanted to go back and make Toni a bit of a badass and a cool character. And when we knew we were writing Vanessa’s pregnancy into the show and making Toni pregnant, we said, “We’ve got to make sure Toni’s doing more than just taking care of a baby.” So, if anything, what we see is the tension between Toni as mother and Toni as Serpent Queen [and] Toni as an activist with the town, fighting alongside Archie. We see Toni as someone who’s developing a deepening of friendship with Fangs. So we didn’t want Toni to just be a mom; we wanted the full complexity of who she is.
How does her on-off girlfriend Cheryl (Madelaine Petsch) fit in?
That story definitely isn’t finished either. I do think we will see them come into each other’s lives again, and redefine what they were since their big break up in in Episode 8. It wasn’t as scorched earth as Jughead and Betty, but it did feel pretty dark. So they will get into each other’s orbits and address where they were and redefine where they might go.
Josie and the Pussycats are returning in an upcoming episode. What brings them back to town?
I don’t want to say too much right now. I will say that there is a little bit of a mystery to why Josie comes back to Riverdale. The Josie that comes back is not the same Josie that was in high school, nor is it the same Josie that was in “Katy Keene.” It’s a very new chapter for Josie and her career. I will say not just is Ashleigh [Murray]’s Josie front and center, but Hayley [Law] and Asha [Bromfield]’s Valerie and Melody are [too]. It’s a great showcase for the girls. It’s sort of a full-on musical episode — I think there’s something like six or seven musical numbers — and it runs the gamut of emotions. But it is just joyful. I’m really proud of the episode, and I think fans will love it. Ashleigh, Asha, and Hayley, they are all full-on superstars. It’s pretty incredible what they do with the episode.
There’s also the more traditional musical episode coming up. How is the show playing with that format, given they are out of high school and in a more adult world?
I would say that probably “Heathers” and “Carrie” were similar, since they were high school musicals and high school stories and them portraying the musicals. “Hedwig” was a little bit different; it was a variety show. For this musical episode, it is very different from the others we’ve done, even in the DNA of the show and the conceit of the episode. It is, I would say, maybe our most emotional episode of the season. It’s really powerful. I’m really excited for people to see it. It’s very different, but I think it works so well.
“Riverdale” airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on The CW.