Congratulations to Jughead, the newest Baxter Brothers writer! DuPont announces this major development more than a little abruptly, in the middle of their seminar, because this is the mid-season finale, people, and we need to keep shit moving. That also means it has taken no less than half a season for it to occur to Jughead that Charles, a living, breathing FBI agent, might have a better shot at tracking down their mutual MIA grandfather than what I imagine has been his personal campaign of half-heartedly Googling “where is forsythe pendleton i he is my grandpa does anyone know where he is.”
And so Jughead finds himself face to face with the wild-haired, shotgun-toting man he inherited the meh-est quarter of his DNA from, living deep in the woods in a converted bus. You know, it’s oddly cozy, in a “Jason’s cabin from Friday the 13th Part 2 kind of way.
FP OG informs Jughead that whatever FP said about his horrible parenting is “probably true” and that his hunch about the Baxter Brothers’ true authorship was right. Sort of. He reveals that he did in fact write the first book, but that DuPont bought the story from him, fair and square, for $5,000—an increasingly depressing sum in light of the book series’ unbelievable success. Hence the bitterness, alcoholism, abuse, etc. Or at least that’s his excuse.
In another rousing success for law enforcement, FP has allowed himself the 10 seconds of critical thinking required to puzzle out that Riverdale’s vigilante at large is none other than Archie Andrews. The sheriff becomes the second adult in as many episodes to warn Archie that he’s going to get himself killed. After two kids from the community center take it upon themselves to track down Dodger and company and get beaten up for their efforts, they come to a deal: FP will help Archie deal with the Dickinsons, once and for all, if he agrees to put his mask away.
And so FP, back in his Serpents jacket, joins Archie in tracking down Dodger’s brothers and… repeatedly punching them. I don’t know, I just thought they had more of a “plan” plan, but that’ll do it, I guess. FP and Archie’s post-violence celebration over pie at Pop’s is interrupted when a mysterious hooded figure (if this is the Black Hood, or anything remotely having to do with the Black Hood, I swear to god) shoots FP. Yes, shoots him, with a gun. Major characters are being shot and we’re not even halfway through the episode. Also, why would anyone ever eat at Pop’s ever again at this point? How many local dads have to almost die there?
Anyway, he’s fine, but not so fine he doesn’t still need to go to the hospital. Archie, drunk on rage, runs off despite FP’s protests to exact vengeance on the man he assumes is responsible, despite the fact that the Dickinsons are already packing up to leave town.
Betty is horrified to learn that Polly “mutilated” a nurse — a nurse named Betty, oddly enough. Betty visits her sister to find her restrained on her bed, distraught, and insisting she didn’t do it. She doesn’t even remember it happening.
Back at the Cooper-Jones residence, Alice answers the phone, hangs up without a word, and removes a knife from her drawer. Her face blank, she raises an arm to stab Betty — until Betty literally snaps her fingers and Alice figuratively snaps out of it. Awfully convenient that that worked, huh? Alice comes to with no memory of why she’s holding a knife, no memory of anything at all since the phone rang.
Charles traces both this call and one Polly received before her incident to Shankshaw Prison, where who else but our good pal Evelyn Evernever is an inmate! She explains to Betty through the plate glass of the visitation room that she mind-controlled her family members via a hypnosis trigger that, when activated, leads them to believe they are Betty — and so they feel compelled to kill Dark Betty, i.e., Actual Betty. “Elegant, isn’t it?” Evelyn asks. Actually, not really, no. I think it would have vastly more elegant if the subconscious directive was just, like, I don’t know, “Kill Betty.”
The trigger word is “tangerine,” repeated three times in a row. Betty refuses to listen to Evelyn say the phrase in full, but agrees to let Charles try it out on her, as a test. Nothing happens. But when she arrives back home, Betty enters a trance. She sees her younger self, who asks if Betty has come to kill her — Little Betty herself has just fatally bludgeoned Caramel the cat.
Back in real life, Betty surmises that Caramel’s death marked Dark Betty’s birth. Charles suggests Betty go on some kind of mind-soul-metaphysical journey to stop her shadowy alter ego from ever forming. He says “tangerine, tangerine, tangerine” (this episode is beginning to feel like a gambit by the powerful citrus lobby to get me to type “tangerine” as many times as possible in the course of this recap, you’re welcome for the FREE ADVERTISING) yet again, sending her back into a fugue state, wherein she sees her younger self petting Caramel (poor Caramel, justice for Caramel), the not-yet-bloody rock at her side. Big Betty takes the rock and tells Little Betty to go play. That’s it. Betty wakes up. Sure, yup, got it.
Hiram can give, but Hiram can also take away. Hiram is in fact especially good at taking away. Veronica is unpleasantly surprised to receive a rejection letter from Dartmouth, her safety school, and to learn that Pop’s liquor license is to be revoked by the mayor’s office. Undeterred, Veronica enlists her grandmother to sneak her the secret family rum recipe, and also to slap her son in the face. She even hosts a blowout party on the last night before the Le La Bon Bonne Nuit must legally cease serving booze — and who should attend but a very special surprise guest, invited by Daddy? It’s the recruiter for Columbia, V’s last, best shot at college admission. Also, by the way, Hiram patented the family rum recipe so she can’t use it, okay, bye!
Before she can sit down for an interview, Veronica must perform “Saturday Night’s Alright,” intercut with her boyfriend very nearly murdering Dodger with his bare hands in front of the man’s mother, who remains, mysteriously, the same age as him. Archie’s bloodlust backfires painfully when he realizes that a group of kids from the center saw the whole thing.
For the record, Hiram’s attempt at educational sabotage was clearly idiotic; if I were an admissions officer I would gladly sign off on the teenage speakeasy operator slash cabaret performer slash aspiring bootlegger, if only because she is a welcome break from the 5,000 essays on my desk about the service trip on which the applicant realized poor people exist.
Families are hard! FP III visits his recovering dad and brings news of his grandfather, but when he returns to summon the seemingly repentant FP I to come see his son in the hopes of making amends, he finds that his dad’s dad, a forever deadbeat, has skipped town. Well, skipped forest.
The moment he signs his ghostwriting contract, someone slips a note under Jughead’s door: It reads “North Woods A.S.A.P.” There, Jughead finds Brett, Donna, and various other weirdos in Hogwarts-y robes approaching him menacingly with a skull and a rock. Lo and behold, this is Quill and Skull initiation: At the others’ encouragement, Jug smashes the skull open and finds a tie pin off his very own inside.
In a fakeout suicide attempt that did not, narratively, in any way need to be a fakeout suicide attempt, I’m just saying, Riverdale, Cheryl sets off a supposedly lethal arsenal of roach bombs in Thistlehouse before donning a stylish red gas mask (remember, come 2030 or so, that she was apocalypse-core before any of the rest of us) — and drives Penelope, choking and stumbling, out of her hiding place within the walls.
Why has Madame Blossom — who, I have to say, looks awfully chic in that green velvet blazer for someone who’s been hiding out like a lunatic between sheets of asbestos for the last however many weeks — been tormenting her daughter? Why, jealousy over Jason, of course. “How can I live knowing that you are happy with my dead son?” Penelope cries. “You don’t get what I can’t have.” She does understand that he is not alive anymore, though, right? It’s a corpse. He dead. Just to clarify!
After a healthy helping of chloroform, Penelope wakes up a prisoner in — where else? — the underground sex bunker. There, she will have access to food, electricity, and plumbing, but will be forever haunted by the unmistakable odors (and stains) left behind by fumbling, amorous teenagers. A fate worse than death, if not quite worse than death followed by being toted around by your still-alive sibling as she works her way through Kübler-Ross’s Weekend at Bernie’s stage of grief.
But Cheryl is finally ready to say goodbye to Jason. (What’s going on with Julian? Are we just going to drop him off at Goodwill and hope for the best?) The Core Four, who seem impressively chill about the whole thing, join Cheryl and Toni for a viking funeral. Cheryl has laid her beloved My Decomposing Dress-Up Twin™ doll out on a small boat laden with roses, which she sets aflame and the boys push out onto the water.
I do not mean to deflate this emotional moment, but I took exactly one Forensic Anthropology class in college and the No. 1 thing I learned is that it is extremely hard to cremate a body—you’re going to need sustained temperatures of well over 1,000 degrees. A half-assed aquatic campfire on a chilly afternoon ain’t gonna cut it. Jason’s body is going to wash ashore, lightly scorched, three quarters of a mile downstream and permanently traumatize some hikers; I guarantee it.
Families are hard, chapter two! A stranger rolls up to the community center and introduces himself to Archie as Frank: Fred’s brother. We haven’t had a surprise uncle arrive on Riverdale for at least a week now, so I’m glad we’ve course-corrected.
Despite the seeming success of Betty’s sober DMT trip, she persists in acting like a total creep, tangerining herself in her mirror and then smashing its glass.
Cut to four weeks later. Archie, Veronica, and Betty stand over Jughead’s body in the woods — he’s got a bloody head wound and no pulse. “What did you do, Betty?” Archie asks in horror, and Betty seemingly realizes only then that she’s clutching a rock.
I’m sorry, but I do not believe for a fraction of one second that this television program has killed, or will ever kill, Jughead Jones. Let’s talk when you’re ready to air Surgeon Simulator-style POV footage of his autopsy. And even then…