In the spring, a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of cheating on his girlfriend with his best friend’s girlfriend. Archie channels his frustration into moodily strumming his guitar for what feels like 10 cumulative hours while Betty reads her old diary entries about chastely falling for her red-haired next-door neighbor as a little girl. I recognize that the scenes of Baby Betty and Baby Archie playing together are, objectively, sweet, but for one thing, they’ve used the same young actress from the Caramel the cat–bludgeoning incident, and I keep wondering how many pets she’s going to mercy-kill as soon as she wanders out of frame. But there’s also this: Kids eat boogers and believe in the Tooth Fairy. I see little romance in leaving the fate of my adult happiness in the hands of my former 6-year-old self, according to whose tastes Fun Dip was a light and refreshing dessert for a sophisticated palate. (That said, I do want some Fun Dip now.)
And so Archie and Betty find themselves lying next to each other on the cot in the bunker (have we gotten more mileage out of any single Riverdale set? God bless you, bunker, you site of teen sex and suicide and cult activity that would look like an absolute Jackson Pollock freak show under a black light), engaging in the horniest innocent hand-holding in human sexual history. Cleanse sin from your hearts with the flames of the 60,000 sexy fire-hazard candles currently burning beside you, children! The next morning, they agree they can’t stop thinking about each other and decide to meet back at the bunker the following night.
While their girlfriend-sister (you know, like, respectively) contemplates an affair, Jughead and Charles team up to track down Riverdale’s camera-toting voyeur, reviewing endless grainy surveillance footage of the video drop-off boxes at the sheriff’s station and local FBI HQ. From approximately three discernible pixels, Jughead improbably recognizes Ethel Muggs — whose deprogramming seems to have gone well, good for her! — but she denies any involvement in the Bughead masked-murderer video.
Hiram and Veronica coolly inform each other that they are expanding their respective rum brands to service every gambling establishment owned by Elio’s Pizza and the Sweetwater Casino Pizzas (him) and college kids (her), with an affordable new bev called Maple Claw — ain’t no laws, baby.
A group of sketchy balding guys in flannel and shearling-lined jackets (it’s a look!) pay a not-so-friendly visit to Veronica and Cheryl at the Maple Club. They’re the Maloy family, the Riverdale metropolitan area’s premiere maple moonshiners. The MaBoys do not appreciate the competition on the college market. Veronica, furious that her dad should apparently interfere with her business by proxy yet again, refuses to back down.
Once Reggie walks in on Kevin and Fangs counting out large stacks of cash, it’s only a matter of time before he, too, makes a starring appearance in a lucrative tickle video. And then it’s only a matter of time before Reggie insists the boys ditch Terry, strike out on their own, and keep 100 percent of the profits from their own paywalled tickling site. And so Kevin cuts ties with Terry, pretending he’s worried about his dad finding out about the tickling. Reggie successfully recruits both the Bulldogs and the Vixens as talent, on Toni’s condition that it’s the girls, not the boys, who do all the touching in the “Tickle Suite.”
On a hunch that their video-making suspect is a cinephile, Jughead and Charles check out the Blue Velvet video store (the title of this episode is “Lynchian” for a reason), a dark and delightfully dingy hole in the wall with flickering lights, a cartoonishly sinister shopkeep, and an overall kitschy creepo energy that I really respond to. I only wish we could have spent more time here! Lo and behold, customer records reveal Ethel has rented Friday the 13th 16 times, a fact that Charles eagerly interprets as evidence of her moral turpitude. Is this how we’re prosecuting people in the United States of America in 2020? If watching Friday the 13th 16 times is a crime, I will throw the handcuffs on myself. Charles believes Ethel — who also happens to be the school’s AV club president — is a prime suspect, but Jughead won’t accept it.
After the MaBoys ransack the Maple Club, Veronica confronts her dad about his apparent meddling. Rather than confessing, Hiram is horrified to hear these “dangerous” thugs are giving her trouble. She declines his offer to intervene on her behalf, but Hiram don’t give a fuck. He accosts a MaBoy in a back alley and pulls a gun on him but lets the man go when he swears he’ll leave Veronica alone. That’s … nice? My wholesomeness meter is broken. But no even semi-good deed goes unpunished: The MaBoy catches up to Hiram and beats him very, very badly. At the Pembroke, Veronica finds Hiram in terrible shape and bleeding all over their nice, impossible-to-clean décor. She tends lovingly to shirtless Mark Consuelos’s wounds, and for just a moment I have to sternly remind myself this is a father-daughter scene and that I’m disgusting.
Terry and his goons ambush Kevin at Pop’s, demanding 40 percent of the profits from his already successful new videos or else they’ll snap his fingers. But Reggie has a plan. Summoned to a room at the Five Seasons, Terry & Co. find a locker room of football players (like “murder” for crows, “locker room” is the proper collective noun for football players) waiting for them, threatening a degree of violence in which finger-snapping is only the beginning. Teamwork!
But then Honey summons Kevin, Fangs, Reggie, and Toni to his office: He knows about the tickling ring. And he is not, shall we say, tickled, given that their videos prominently feature Bulldogs and Vixens uniforms and therefore constitute copyright violations. The tickling jig may be up, but the future is nevertheless at least a little bright: Kevin is off to Carnegie Mellon and Fangs to the University of Pittsburgh, two learning institutions that, they acknowledge, are within let’s-have-a-relationship distance of one another.
Also very much in let’s-have-a-relationship distance are Archie and Betty, their hearts pounding and palms sweating down in the bunker of death-love. He plays her a song he wrote for her, but she tearfully stops him partway through. She loves Jughead, he loves Veronica — they can’t do this. It’s over. Back home, Archie — who seemed, frankly, like he was prepared to dive in with Betty and neuralyze Veronica right out of his brain forever, have a good life, thanks for all the mysteriously sourced Magnolia Cupcakes — tells his mom he’s ready for a “fresh start” at the Naval Academy. Betty burns her childhood diaries in the living room fireplace, inhaling an untold volume of pink-plastic fumes in the process, but then decides to hold on to just one, at Alice’s suggestion. (Maybe true love Barches on after all …)
Charles searched Ethel’s house and made a disturbing discovery: Betty and Jughead’s sex tape. Confronted by Jug, Ethel says she stumbled on it in the “Scarlet Suite” (how many “suites” are in this episode, anyway? You might say it’s … a Suite Life, isn’t that right, Cole?) in the back of the video store, home to a weird, dark selection including sex tapes and possibly even snuff films. Betty and Jughead’s tape was labeled, upsettingly, “Ponytail Playmate.” Ethel swears she stopped watching once she realized what it was and only held on to it to make sure no one else would see.
And so the FBI raids the mysterious curtained-off, adults-only Scarlet Suite, which we know is scandalous because it has a neon sign that reads “XXX.” There they turn up, among other disturbing oddities, a tape of Clifford Blossom shooting his son.
Cheryl has sipped too deeply from the dark goblet that is the maple rum business, and so she and Veronica dissolve their partnership in the traditional way, via a business hug. To no one’s surprise more than Hiram — though, okay, also to the surprise of anyone who has been keeping even the loosest tabs on the Lodge patriarch’s misdeeds as extensively documented over the last several seasons of this television program — Veronica asks him for the money to buy Cheryl out. That he spared that MaBoy is proof he’s changed for the better, she says. What V doesn’t know is that Hiram has already exacted his revenge by shooting another MaBoy. Or possibly the same MaBoy. Do the MaBoys themselves even know for sure?
Terry may not have leaked the tickling site to Honey after all. Who but our school principal himself should arrive at the Blue Velvet video store and express his displeasure that the Scarlet Suite is closed by order of law enforcement? I knew this dude was weird as hell.
Bughead, back in action, are called to Thistlehouse, where Cheryl has received another disturbing tape: This one also features live actors in uncanny Archie Comics masks, but this time it’s Jason’s murder they’re reenacting.