The Women of Riverdale: Character Analysis

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Penelope Blossom

Penelope is cunning, devious, calculating, and cruel, a true Blossom through and through. She also was a loving mother toward Jason and a loyal wife to Clifford, as far as we can tell, until he was revealed as the murderer. Even then, she seemed to have divided loyalties between Jason and Clifford.

Jason’s death broke her, but was she broken before that? Why is she so abusive toward Cheryl? Projected self-hatred? Why didn’t she suspect Clifford of Jason’s murder? Did she know about the drugs? It would seem that she did, because she knew that Cliff arranged for Hiram’s arrest.

Cheryl is the only family member she completely despises, which suggests that Cheryl may not actually be her child. The possibility remains that one or both twins were born using a surrogate’s eggs, with Mary Andrews being the most likely candidate. Alternatively, Cheryl may be Clifford’s child from an affair, born around the same time as Jason, and brought home by Cliff to be raised with Jason as his twin. That would explain Penelope’s hatred.

I’m still half convinced that everyone in town is a distant Blossom relation. It would explain a lot. Only the favored branches still own a piece of the syrup/drug business, and there are resentments about old and new slights all over the place. Given that the Blossom men do seem to be cursed to early deaths, the women have to be the ones in the family with the real power. That would leave Penelope at the center of that extended family web, as the new head of the syrup business. I suspect that she has some connection to every Blossom feud, curse, and scandal ever.

Penelope has always seemed like a bit of a dreamy lost soul. She knew Clifford and Jason were at odds over the business, and that Clifford could be ruthless, but she apparently never suspected that her husband was the murderer. That suggests a certain denial of reality.

There’s an emotional fragility that runs in the Blossom family, oddly combined with an ability to be cruel and cutthroat, even within the family. Penelope epitomizes this.

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Cheryl Blossom

Cheryl started the season as an oppressed Gothic heroine, abused in her own home, and the victim of tragedies that only she knew the extent of. Now, her secrets are all out in the open. Her family’s toxic lifestyle has been destroyed, brought down by its own weight and Cheryl’s sense of drama.

She’s made a small start toward becoming real friends with the Scooby gang, but it’s hard to say if that will continue to grow, or if she’ll remain a frenemy. She has no real friends. Her only authentic relationship was with Jason, and he’s gone, after choosing Polly over her. Her father eventually chose her in some small way, since I think he was sincere about making her the Blossom heir, but he didn’t live long enough to fulfill the promise.

Her mother hates her. She seems to have a decent relationship with Nana Rose. It’s likely that Penelope only loathes Cheryl even more now. Cheryl is devoted to Polly’s babies, but what about Polly? And how did the revelation that the Coopers are her cousins affect her? We know that she wanted to be cleansed of her old self by fire, but that’s easier said than done. What will the phoenix that emerges from the fire look like?

Cheryl is fiery, manipulative, dramatic, self-centered, tough, confident, vulnerable, talented, a leader, and a woman who wears a mask most of the time. We’ve only seen her drop the mask completely a few times, so we’re still getting to know the true Cheryl.

Nana Rose

Nana Rose is the Blossom family wild card. She knows more than she lets on, and isn’t as out of it as she lets everyone think. She was Jason and Polly’s patron within the family, full of excitement about their engagement. Cliff, Penelope and Cheryl all seemed to have a lot of affection for her.

She was the first person to reveal that Polly’s pregnant with twins, after doing a Gypsy spell at the baby shower. Cheryl told the group that Nana Rose has Gypsy blood. How did Gypsy blood get into the incestuous Blossom family tree, you have to wonder?

I have a theory that she was involved with the beginning of the Blossom/Cooper feud somehow. Her excitement over Polly and Jason’s Romeo and Juliet situation makes me wonder if there wasn’t also a forbidden romance going on in that generation, and either she was the Juliet, or she’s the child that was born from the romance.

Hopefully somebody pulled her out of the burning mansion, and the Blossom/Cooper feud will get more attention next season, so that her connection can be revealed. Either way, you know that feud isn’t just about money. Putting Betty in the mayor’s office next season means that she’ll have access to the town archives, where she can check records and photos in the course of her investigation into the Blossom’s business and the long term connection between the Lodges and the Blossoms.

Who is one of the only people in town old enough to remember the beginning of the payments between the Lodges and Blossoms? Nana Rose. The other person? Smithers. Have I mentioned that I ship them? Oh, the blackmail material they must have, between the two of them.

Hermione Lodge

Hermione is always very aware of her appearance and the impact it will have on others. She feels that her value is based on her usefulness to men. That starts with being attractive, then continues through being a supportive partner and assisting her man in anyway she can, even if it requires breaking the law. She’s willing to manipulate her men into doing what she wants, if necessary, but she’s usually the one carrying out their wishes. She sees her own value as a person way down the scale as opposed to the other people in her life, and tries to protect her people any way she can. She’s Hiram’s wife or Fred’s girlfriend, Veronica’s mother, and a survivor, but there doesn’t seem to be much of Hermione as a separate person with goals and interests of her own. This suggests abuse from a young age, and continued abuse with Hiram.

She’s tried to shield Veronica from the effects of the abuse, but Veronica’s absorbed some of her father’s tactics, and is now becoming one of his victims herself. We know that Hermione was a mean girl in high school, and didn’t have much money. Did Hiram also come from nothing and build his criminal empire from the ground up? That would explain some of the animosity between the Blossoms and the Lodges, with one clan being handed everything, and the other having to work very hard.

Hermione and Veronica are very close. It’s them against the world, even when they’re fighting. They have established traditions for how long they fight and what peace offerings and rebellious gestures are necessary before forgiveness is achieved.

Hermione spends a lot of time running interference between Veronica and Hiram. Was it always this way, or is this new since Hiram’s arrest? Veronica is very spoiled, so she may have always been complaining every time she didn’t get what she wanted, and Hermione is used to stepping in between Veronica and her more punitive father

Ultimately, Hermione is loyal only to herself and Veronica. She doesn’t go out of her way to help, use or hurt people unless her own needs require it. She keeps to herself, and keeps her own counsel, other than occasionally talking to Veronica or Smithers. She doesn’t seek out revenge, but she will protect what’s hers. We don’t know what she’s capable of if she’s seriously threatened.

She was definitely aware of Hiram’s criminal activities in NYC. It’s strongly implied that she was an accessory who could be arrested and jailed, like everyone else who works for Hiram. She’s definitely involved now, as she has taken over keeping some aspects of business going for him. But she’s also gone against his wishes by trying to make the business more legitimate.

Hermione thought her old high school sweetheart Fred Andrews could help her get herself free from Hiram. But Fred has his own agenda, so she ended up going back to Hiram, who she at least has an honest relationship with. There’s no pretense that Hiram’s a decent man, whereas Fred acted like he cared about her, then turned on her and used her. He continues to use her, but now the situation is more dangerous. She’ll be stuck between Fred and Hiram, each trying to get as much money as possible out of the construction project, while hating each other.

That makes Hermione a suspect in Fred’s shooting. Did she hire someone to shoot him and make it look like an accident, in order to get him out of the way before Hiram gets home? We haven’t seen her go that far yet, but Fred and Hiram are both pushing her to take sides.

When she’s at home, Hermione virtually always has a drink in her hand. Veronica told Archie that she takes pills to help her sleep, as well. Sounds like she’s not too happy with the way her life has turned out, but feels powerless to change it.

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Veronica Lodge

Veronica doesn’t know herself or the world she comes from very well. She thinks she’s a sophisticated New Yorker who’s a more experienced woman of the world than the Riverdale crowd. In fact, she’s led a very sheltered life, in which her father’s money has protected her from almost all of life’s problems, and she asked very few questions about anything outside of her high school world before she came to Riverdale.

Hermione raised Veronica to be innocent and as separated from the family business as possible, which means that now it’s hard for Veronica to understand why her parents are involved in criminal activities. Keeping their secrets isn’t automatic instinct to her. This keeps causing rifts between them. Hermione is reluctantly teaching Veronica how to survive with criminal connections. She’s used to her privileged life, where she’s one of the ones the cops leave alone, and hasn’t caught up to the fact that Riverdale cops might not be the same. She’s also still coming to terms with how dangerous her father can be, vacillating between being angry with him for his cruelty, and not taking the threat that he potentially poses to her and Hermione seriously enough.

She has a good heart, but, like Archie, she often doesn’t think to use it unless some outside influence prompts her to and keeps her motivated. She was a mean girl and bully in her NYC high school, but is trying to be a better person in Riverdale. She tries especially hard not to hurt Betty. She’s mostly succeeded, but her temper and ego get the better of her at times, especially if she feels attacked or humiliated. Then she feels the need to exact revenge, sometimes out of proportion to the slight, sometimes on the wrong person. Cheryl shares this quality, but the narrative tells us that Cheryl is unlikeable, while it tells us that Veronica is amazing for standing up for herself, even when she’s attacking the wrong target.

Veronica tries to be loyal, but once again isn’t the greatest at it. She doubts her mother, while Hermione would sacrifice anything for Veronica. She flirts with Archie, when she knows her new bestie Betty has liked him since they were children. She becomes obsessed with proving that her own father and Jughead’s father worked together to kill Jason, despite a lack of evidence, and doesn’t care who gets hurt as she tries to prove her theory.

She does stick with The Pussycats, and is a talented, charismatic performer. She improves Archie’s performances immensely when she joins him.

She has a better sense of people and how to read them than Archie. She feels bad about her family’s role in Ethel’s family’s troubles, and figures out a way to help Ethel feel better. She’s able to win the cheerleading squad away from Cheryl. She also wins over Alice, who dislikes Veronica on principle early in the season. She doesn’t always understand her own motivations or the implications of what she does, but, like her mother, she knows what image she wants to present to the world and does so flawlessly.

There are undertones that she’s bisexual and interested in Betty, but it’s not clear whether that’s real or the show doing a little queerbaiting. Either way, as soon as she arrived in Riverdale, she decided that she wanted to be friends with Betty, and has done her best to be a good friend, only slipping when her attraction to Archie is involved.

Alice Cooper

Alice starts the season overbearing and overcontrolling, as she tries to keep Betty from making the same mistakes as herself and Polly. It seems at first as if she henpecks her husband, Hal, but then it turns out that, if anything, he quietly controls her. He has the ability to fire her from the newspaper, he’s the one who wants to send Polly away or have her get an abortion, and he tried to force Alice into an abortion in high school. Their marriage has an odd dynamic.

She’s brittle, sarcastic, proud, judgey, confident, nosey, inquisitive, and cutting. She always knows what to say to hit someone where it will hurt. She’s also fiercely intelligent, extremely protective of her daughters, and a reporter who’ll stop at nothing to get to the truth of her story.

She and Hal put up a front that their lives are perfect, which is clearly important to both of them. Important enough that she took him back after they’d separated over Polly. Hal may want the image of perfection to shove in the Blossoms’ faces. Alice may be motivated to prove that she’s escaped from her childhood on the South Side and her teenage years as a Serpent. She’s better than that now.

She keeps close tabs on her girls to try to keep them out of the same kinds of trouble that she got into when she was younger. She had a baby boy in high school that she gave up for adoption, which she still regrets, and kept secret for many years. She seems to have some kind of past with FP Jones. She’s accepting of Jughead, but has told Betty that it would be a relief for Betty to move on from him. It’s not clear that Hal is the father of the baby, especially since he argued strongly for an abortion.

Betty Cooper

Betty has inherited her mom’s need to appear perfect, especially in perfect control. She wants to be in perfect control of her mind, body and appearance. On the inside, she feels dark and alienated, not good enough, and hates when people can only see the perfect image she presents. She is intelligent, even-tempered, compassionate, warm, and has a strong sense of justice, but also represses negative emotions to help maintain her facade of perfect control, leading to accidental self-harm.

She and Jughead understand each other because of the alienation and darkness in each of them, but she tries to keep hers bound up tight under a veil of normalcy, like her mother, while Jughead wears his like armor to keep the world away. Alice sees the darkness and the potential for Betty to lose control, and wants to get rid of it through overcontrolling her. Archie and Veronica are oblivious, assuming they’re the only ones with problems.

She’s a loyal and tenacious friend, having stuck out numerous crises with Jughead, Archie and her other friends, determined to see them through hard times even if they were pushing her away. She stood by both Jughead and FP when they were wrongfully accused of Jason’s murder, and was unwilling to give up on finding out the truth, no matter what potential consequences she faced. She was even willing to stand up to the entire town to remind them that they need to do better.

She is a defender of other women, stopping at nothing to find Polly and help her, and to help Ethel and the other girls from the sexual conquest book. When Chuck returned to school, Betty was the only one who got up to defend Ethel from him, just as she was there to defend all of the affected girls in the jacuzzi scene (unlike Veronica, who was done once she had her revenge). Betty tries to take care of her people, starting with her family, but expanding out to the town.

She’s also ambitious professionally, having spent last summer in LA doing an internship, and spending the school year working hard on the Blue & Gold, plus other extracurriculars, like cheerleading and chairing the Homecoming Dance committee, along with keeping up her grades. She has the respect of the town’s leaders, who seem to be grooming her to follow in their footsteps, or who’ve decided to keep her close so that they can keep an eye on her.

She’s a stalwart friend, but also practical, and doesn’t put up with a lot of crap. She now sees Archie more clearly. She’s always seen some of Veronica’s flaws, but I’m not sure she realizes how selfish Veronica can be. She tends to overlook the implications of Veronica’s mean girl side when it comes out, maybe because of Betty’s experiences with her own mother, or maybe because she’s living vicariously through Veronica during those moments.

Betty has learned to stand up to her mother over the course of the season and demand respect, which Alice fought at first, but then became grateful for, when she realized it meant that she could lean on Betty after she threw Hal out. They became an amazing mother-daughter team for a few minutes, until Alice decided she needed to go too far to the dark investigative side, and turned to Archie and Veronica instead, then back to Hal so that they could reinstate the image of the perfect family.

Betty was frustrated enough with her family’s backsliding into unhealthy coping mechanisms, and has matured enough this season that her mother felt comfortable confiding one of her deepest, darkest secrets to Betty by the end of the season.

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Polly Cooper

Polly has a childlike quality that can make her seem more naive and stupid than she is. In fine Gothic tradition, she lost touch with reality for a bit when she lost Jason, and she was introduced as Ophelia from Hamlet, after all. When the series began, her character was little more than a ghost, who was whispered about for weeks before we finally met her in the flesh. Then we found she was stashed away in a nunnery that could just have easily have been an insane asylum as a home for unwed mothers, one just as anachronistic as the other.

But she also pulled herself out of her depression so that she could take on a serious, dangerous role in the murder investigation, going undercover to live with the Blossoms. It sounds like she had a very good guess about who the murderer was, she just didn’t have definitive proof yet. She kept herself close to Clifford, peaking into his room and evesdropping on his conversations, while publicly playing the ineffective fool.

She is the sweetest of the Coopers, with the potential to become one of Tennessee Williams’ cynical, faded heroines, used up and tossed aside, not quite having the mental and emotional strength to save herself. Perhaps, like Blanche DuBois, she can depend on the kindness of strangers, as she appeared to choose when she went to the Blossoms, and as she was forced to do at the Sisters of Quiet Mercy. They even gave us the image of her as the Southern Gothic madwoman in the Coopers’ attic, briefly, after she’d escaped from the Sisters.

But she also has the potential to continue to develop her strength and power once she has her babies. She could become another Williams archetype, the strong matriarch, who understands the power of motherhood and family bonds, and wields it with an iron fist covered by a velvet glove, even over the Big Daddy who’s supposedly in charge. Polly has already shown signs of that strength, as she’s clearly understood who she could trust and who she couldn’t on each side of her family, and was able to subtly manipulate each of the Blossoms while they underestimated her. She’s currently a matriarch in training, like Maggie in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

(If you haven’t seen Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, go watch it! In fact, go watch anything by Tennessee Williams that you can get your hands on, especially A Streetcar Named Desire. He wrote some of the best female characters of the 20th century. Riverdale draws heavily from Williams’ themes and characters, and will probably continue to do so, unless they drop the Noir and Gothic tone completely. Tennessee Williams captures an oppressive mid-20th century Southern Gothic atmosphere in a way that shows its tragedies, but also vibrates with life, with complex, layered characters.)

Mrs. Jones (Jughead’s Mom)

Mrs. Jones is one of the most mysterious characters on the show. We haven’t met her yet, but she’s influenced Jughead and FP’s lives immensely. We know that she took Jellybean and went to live with her parents at some point in the last year or so. She is a high school drop out who’s working on getting her GED so that she can support herself and Jelly Bean on her own.

Jughead describes the house he grew up in as dysfunctional and chaotic, but he blames his dad for that. He rarely talks about his mother. FP seemed to think that she’d take him back if he and Jughead moved to Toledo and he got a job, but Mrs. Jones told Jughead that he couldn’t come live with her.

So, who is she? The loving parent who kept the family together as best she could, for as long as possible, despite being in a difficult marriage, with little money? Or the negligent mother who abandoned half of her family to take care of herself and her youngest child at the expense of her son and a husband who struggles with addiction, but clearly loves her and the kids?

I had sympathy for her situation until she turned Jughead down in his hour of need without even asking him why he suddenly wanted to move to Toledo. No matter how much she and FP might love each other, a partner with an uncontrolled addiction is difficult to live with, and his illness was hurting the kids.

But, aside from the alcoholism, how much has she been involved in the creation or continuation of the other problems? Has she always been distant, maybe even negligent? Was FP the one who shouldered most of the burden of raising the kids, even with his other issues? Does Mrs. Jones have issues of her own, like a drug addiction, severe disability, chronic illness, or mental illness, that distracted her from fully participating in family life, and possibly put the family under more financial stress? Or was she a great parent who had finally reached her breaking point? But why abandon Jughead, then?

It’s hard to imagine a caring mother allowing Jughead to hang up the way he did, when he was in so much pain, without at least trying to keep him on the phone and find out what was wrong or if there was anything that she could do to help. She could have called a friend in Riverdale to come get Jughead and give him a place to stay for a day or two, or just listened to him talk and let him know that she still loved him, at the very least.

We don’t know how much contact Mrs. Jones has had recently with Jughead and FP, but it’s strange that she’s stayed away while her husband is in jail, first accused of murder, and still being threatened with significant jail time. You’d think she’d at least want to check in on both her husband and son. She and FP are separated, not divorced, and she’s still Jughead’s mother.

Who is Mrs. Jones? How did she fit into the town’s relationships?

Jellybean Jones

According her brother, Jelly Bean is the coolest 10 year old ever. We haven’t met her yet, but so far she sounds spunky and spirited, with a mind of her own. Jughead clearly adores and misses her, which suggests they were close. He says that she wants to be called JB and listens to Pink Floyd on vinyl. Being called by her initials would be emulating her father, FP. It’s likely that she’s also emulating her father by listening to classic rock like Pink Floyd. It sounds like she loves and misses her dad, and was probably close to FP, just like Jughead.

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Mayor Sierra McCoy

Mayor McCoy is ambitious, opportunistic, duplicitous, perceptive, intelligent, a loving mother, and an unhappy wife. She’s a working mother who’s trying to raise her daughter on her own while her musician husband spends most of his time on the road, touring with his band. When he comes home, he’s condescending and disdainful almost to the point of abuse to both the mayor and Josie. But the mayor remains focussed, being a bit of a stage mom, who pressures Josie to be her best onstage and to aim her music in a direction that Sierra thinks will lead to commercial success. She doesn’t push Josie past what Josie can handle though, unlike Miles, and can tell when her daughter is upset and needs comfort. She tries to be an involved, attentive mother.

As mayor, I think she tries to do what’s best for Riverdale, sometimes, but she also has no choice but to bow to the overwhelming political pressures placed on her by the wealthy families who really run the town, the Blossoms and the Lodges. The other two main town leaders, the sheriff and the high school principal, do the same thing, allowing the wealthy families to control the town. Riverdale became unsafe partially because of the turf war that broke out between the Blossoms and the Lodges, which promises to worsen next season. The mayor has no problem accepting bribes or other forms of influence, and appears to be available to the highest bidder. We don’t know why this is, though, whether she’s greedy, needs the money to pay bills, or has been threatened into working with Riverdale’s crime lords.

She’s taken an interest in Betty, so we may see more of her next season. The question is, what does she want with Betty? Is she trying to groom a successor? Keep track of Betty’s investigations? Is it just an honest offer to a promising student?

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Josie McCoy

Josie is a proud, talented artist. She’s confident, vivacious, image-conscious, intelligent, strong, and no-nonsense. She has demanding parents, and tries to live up to their demands. Since she refuses to let anyone see her weaknesses, this can come off as her being a diva.

It’s not always clear when Josie is being demanding because this is something she wants, and when it’s to make her parents happy. Her father will only respect her if she becomes a serious musician, and doesn’t seem to think she has the talent to become more than a shallow pop star. Her mother would love for her to become a pop star, because that’s where the money is. Sierra’s carefully guiding Josie to craft an image for herself so that Josie’s prepared when she hits it big.

All of this focus on Josie as a commodity, rather than a child, has hardened her and made her cynical. She is perceptive about people, and can be a good friend when she meets someone who she thinks will understand her situation, as with Veronica. They are both women of color who come from privileged but dysfunctional families, with the child put in the middle of a tug-of-war. Josie has dealt with the strain by becoming controlled and controlling, as her mother expects. She doesn’t seem to have any close friends, since the other two girls in the band, Val and Melody, are potential competition for the spotlight, and Val is competition for her father’s approval. Early in the season, we were told that Cheryl and Josie were friends, but that seems to be a business relationship, as much as a friendship.

Val Brown

Val knows who she is and what she’s about, and she isn’t going to let anyone push her around. Maintaining her integrity is very important to her. She’s calm and even-tempered, caring, thoughtful and the most musically talented in the group, according to Josie’s dad, Miles. She’s patient and understanding with her friend Josie, but only to a point. She’s the main song arranger for the Pussycats, and one of the main songwriters. She also wrote songs with Archie, but is very loyal to Josie and to the Pussycats. It’s difficult for her to turn her back on the Pussycats, even when she feels she’s being treated unfairly.

She stood her ground with Archie when they were dating, though, refusing to let him walk all over her or to accept his twisted versions of events as the truth. That’s better than Hermione Lodge, an adult woman, has done in her dealings with Archie’s dad, Fred Andrews, when Fred tries the same tactics.

We know very little about Val’s home life or background, other than that she has a younger brother, Trev, who’s a decent guy who left the football team over the sexual conquest scandal. Hopefully we’ll get a chance to find out how she developed such a strong sense of self and the confidence to believe in herself instead of bowing to peer pressure.

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Melody Valentine

Melody is a quiet person so far, but has strong opinions, which she makes known with her expressive face. She’s a loyal Pussycat, and tolerates all of the politics that go on within the group. She’s popular enough with the rest of the high school girls to have attended Polly’s baby shower, which Josie skipped.

Ethel Muggs

Ethel is kindhearted and forgiving, but she’s also strong, and willing to stand up for herself and what she believes in. She looks at people as individuals and doesn’t hold the actions of their friends or families against them. She’s generous, and tries to take care of the people around her, wanting them to feel comfortable and at ease.

The possibility of tragedy seems to hover around Ethel. So far, the worst hasn’t happened, but she’s been the target of bullies at school, and her father was a victim of Hiram Lodge, leaving the family financially ruined and her father in the hospital after a suicide attempt. With Chuck Clayton back at school, and Hiram Lodge returning to Riverdale, you have to wonder how much worse things can get for Ethel.

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Mary Andrews

Mary, like Fred, is an odd combination of appearing good, but not actually doing much good. She does care about Archie and want him to live with her in Chicago to keep him safe (she must not have paid attention to Chicago’s crime statistics), and she did look at FP’s case files for him. But she gave out bad legal advice all over the place, and seemed oddly emotionally detached. It’s also not clear if she sends Fred child support payments, since he complains about his finances so much.

On the other hand, she was admirably laid back about Hermione and Fred dating, and rolled with Alice’s insinuations of polyamory or cheating, then teased Fred about it later. At the very least, she’s completely over Fred romantically. I feel like they might be subtly pointing toward her having realized that she is a lesbian, given Fred’s overall resentment toward her, and women in general. Archie most likely gets his easy going nature from her.

She may have moved to Chicago to escape her past in Riverdale, or her family. In reality, we know very little that’s concrete about Mary. She’s Fred’s wife, Archie’s mother, and an attorney. We don’t know if she’s related to anyone else in town, where she gets her red hair from, how she and Fred got together, why they split up, or why she moved all the way to Chicago afterwards. We don’t know why she only comes back for very brief visits, then scoots quickly back to Chicago. Is she avoiding an enemy or bad memories? Being blackmailed to stay away? Having a passionate affair she wants to get back to? Or is Molly Ringwald too expensive for the show to use more than a few times a season?

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