When a cast member dies during the production of an ongoing TV series, his character usually gets written off as having died in the story as well, though the means of doing so is often not straightforward. “Riverdale” on The CW found itself having to tackle this delicate situation when Luke Perry, who plays main character Archie Andrews’ dad Fred, died in March this year while work on season 3 was still ongoing. Show-runner Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa decided that a full write-off of Perry’s character (last appearance season 3, episode 19) be done as season 4’s premiere. And in a show that was built on subversion, this death was not subversive.
Variety tells us that there were no real twists and turns regarding the in-universe death of Fred Andrews as related in the premiere of “Riverdale” season 4, “In Memoriam.” This episode does not even touch on the epically twisty season 3 finale last May, a flash-forward which implies that Archie (KJ Apa), Betty Cooper (Lili Reinhart) and Veronica Lodge (Camila Mendes) had murdered Jughead Jones (Cole Sprouse) and were disposing of his body and evidence in the woods. Instead, Archie is informed during Riverdale’s 4th of July prep that his father, who was out of town and on his way back home, was killed in a hit-and-run in another town.
When the Cherry Creek morgue tells Archie that they cannot return Fred until the 4th of July has passed, he and his friends go on a road trip with a rental hearse to transport the body home. Before they head out the gang reminisce on how Fred Andrews has touched their lives at different points in time. When they arrive, Archie travels to the accident site and meets the woman (Shannon Doherty in a guest role) whose life Fred had saved from being hit by a car, costing his own.
Archie and the woman’s conversation highlights the contrast between the atmosphere of “Riverdale” and the outside world, as she frames Fred’s death as heroic while Archie cynically calls it senseless. Following an impromptu tribute, Archie learns the address of the man who ran his dad over and, upon confronting him at his house, discovers he had confessed to cover for his teenaged, unlicensed son, the real culprit. This similarity between them, and Archie and Fred, spurs Archie to let them off. Fred is transported by his son and his gang back to Riverdale, and a 4th of July celebration recalibrated into a town-wide funeral vigil.
Such a straightforward sendoff for Luke Perry, who died from stroke complications, and his character on “Riverdale,” was both heartwarming and dissonant, considering what is to be expected when the show’s season 4 rolls along, every Wednesday on The CW.
Image from Den of Geek