Most of the time, Riverdale is as ridiculous as Jughead’s writing. For the season four premiere, the show stripped everything away to deliver a touching tribute to the late Luke Perry. You could tell this wasn’t a normal day for the cast and crew. They felt every moment of his loss. By the end, you’ll feel it too.
On March 4, Luke Perry, who played Fred Andrews, passed away at 52 years old after a massive stroke. Riverdale showrunner Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa chose not to address his death on the series until the season four premiere, to give them time to build an episode that honored his memory. It couldn’t have been easy. But they did it.
“In Memoriam” opens with the residents of Riverdale struggling to return to normalcy after the whole evil cult thing. But since it’s Riverdale, tensions are already starting to rise once more, with the gang getting forlorn about college and Cheryl Blossom promising to boycott the July 4 parade because it dishonors Jason’s memory. Also, he’s, uh, still totally a corpse in her house.
Everything changes when Archie gets a surprise phone call from his dad’s phone. Only it’s not Fred Andrews on the other end. We find out that Fred was killed in a hit and run accident after stopping to help someone on the side of the road. Everybody immediately puts aside their differences in service of something bigger. For example, Cheryl—who was promising war over that Fourth of July parade—offers her love and support to Archie’s mom, understanding exactly what she’s going through. The episode takes its time to grieve the loss, with characters coming together to share their favorite memories of Fred and mourn his untimely death.
Of course, the character at the center of it all is Archie. KJ Apa has said how close he was with Perry, and you can feel his love and pain in every scene. Archie is angry and desperate for something to come out of Fred’s death. Justice, answers, revenge. It can’t just be an accident, those things don’t happen in Riverdale. It reminded me of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode “The Body,” when Buffy and her friends kept trying to find a supernatural reason behind that major character death. But there is no bigger mystery, no Riverdale-esque reason for it all. Fred was here, and now he’s just...gone.
It’s not easy for any of us to admit, but the one guarantee in all of our lives is that we lose the people we love. Sometimes it happens when you expect it to happen, and other times it seems to come out of nowhere. I can’t imagine what it was like for the cast of Riverdale to lose someone so dear to them, only to then choose to act out their pain so everybody could grieve with them. We even see an appearance from Perry’s Beverly Hills, 90210 co-star Shannen Doherty, who plays the woman Fred helped and saved. She says a prayer for his memory, one she invites Archie, his friends, and, in a way, all of us to share.
When next week comes around, the wheel will keep on turning. Riverdale will go back to being Riverdale again. But for one beautiful, tragic, and show-defining moment, everything stopped. Luke Perry deserves nothing less.
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