Casting Perry as the perpetually furrow-browed father of Archie was a stroke of good fortune, both for the actor and for Riverdale, which is dedicating all future episodes to its late cast member. On the one hand, Perry snagged a high-profile gig on a series that was born amid intense buzz. The show, on the other hand, benefited from a seasoned pro with a built-in allure, especially to middle-aged viewers who still saw the sex appeal in Perry’s grizzled beard and the life-worn wisdom of his performance. Perry’s habitation of Fred Andrews was subtle yet powerful: In a town overflowing with neon lights, noir vibes, and dark machinations, Fred served as a moral compass for Archie, and for the morality-challenged Riverdale as a whole. If Riverdale is an admittedly melodramatic microcosm of America today—and it’s not a stretch to say it is—Fred was the peacemaker, the healer, a beacon of generosity, empathy, and integrity who, naturally, seemed to harbor some unsavory secrets of his own. How the showrunner Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa will handle the sudden absence of one of Riverdale’s most beloved characters now that Season 3 is under way is unclear, though there’s reason to hope that Fred’s story line will find a satisfying end.
Perry did far more for the show than turn in a solid, veteran-actor performance. Warmly nuanced and effortlessly charismatic, he anchored a stable of quirky characters and wild story lines—from the mysterious death of a football star to the protracted hunt for a serial killer to an intra-city gang war. As the backstory of Riverdale’s citizens has unfurled, and as the episodes have become more character-driven, the show has taken on a vast air of tragedy—and even mythology. But world building on the ambitious scale of Riverdale doesn’t work without a grounding force. And Fred’s steadfast refusal to fight dirty—especially in the Riverdale mayoral election, when he was pitted against his own ex-fling Hermione—helped define the poles of right and wrong in a setting that’s almost Shakespearean in its moral ambiguity. Riverdale, in many ways, can be seen as a post-truth Hamlet, with its endless cycles of revenge and redemption.
The series has also been favorably compared to Twin Peaks (the two shows even share an actor). Wednesday’s episode, “Fire Walk With Me,” went so far as to take its name from David Lynch’s feature-length prequel to the original run of Twin Peaks. There are a couple of fun references to Lynch’s show—including a sultry torch-song performance delivered by Gina Gershon as the mother of Archie’s best friend, Jughead—but the highlight of the episode is Perry’s scene. Rushing to Archie’s aid once again, after Archie has once again become an almost mortal victim of his own heroic generosity, Fred tells him, “You’re not an idiot, son. You’ve just got a big heart.” Like father, like son.