To quote Forsythe “Jughead” Pendleton Jones III, “Life’s not an Agatha Christie novel, it’s a lot messier,” which is the show’s way of saying what we all knew: JUGHEAD ISN’T REALLY DEAD. Because you know what Agatha Christie novels did? Killed people.
After a season’s worth of build-up, Riverdale finally revealed the truth about Jughead, and as we all expected, he faked his death as part of a plan to get the Stonewall Prep kids to crack. Did it work? Sort of. Is he prepared to deal with the consequences of faking his own death? Maybe not. Let’s start at the beginning.
Alice has decided to waste NO time in making a documentary about Jughead’s death. In fact, she’s not even waiting until the cops have found the killer!! Nope, she’s making her documentary — titled Murder in a Small Town — right now, and for her very first interview, she proves her terrible movie-making skills when she interviews Betty in front of a mirror. Ugh, Alice, we can see you in the mirror WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!
After her interview, Betty heads to Pop’s, where she comes face-to-face with Cheryl. Cheryl, the other “teen queen of tragedy,” decides that Betty should be put on suicide watch, which means Cheryl is going to be her “constant shadow” for the foreseeable future, an important detail that Betty will use to her advantage later on.
While Hermosa threatens to look into why Barnard lists Veronica as “under investigation,” Alice heads to talk to FP, where the Serpent proves yet again why he’s a terrible sheriff as he gives out information about an active investigation. (In the end, it’s all fake so what does it matter but I feel like FP would do this for any case.)
After an anonymous tip leads FP to Donna’s dorm room, Donna flips the script and tells the sheriff that she and Bret saw Betty, Veronica, and Archie standing over Jughead’s dead body that night. So, FP arrests what’s left of the core four … at least until the rock comes back from the lab and he discovers it was covered in corn syrup and nothing more. And here’s where Donna starts to crack and we find out that it was Jonathan who smeared Jug’s blood on that rock. So now we know Betty really didn’t do it.
Donna, however, has decided that Jug isn’t really dead. (Maybe that prep school education is actually paying off.) And when she latches onto a theory, there’s no turning her away. So when Betty throws a funeral, Donna tries to get Bret to throw open the casket to prove that Jug’s actually alive. (Sweet Pea is there to stop him.) I’m telling you, when Donna cracks, she CRACKS.
And here’s where Betty brings things home: Knowing that Cheryl, her shadow, is always nearby, she arranges for Archie to meet her at the diner, where she breaks down about how everyone doubting Jug’s death is making all this harder. So, when she arrives at school the next day, Cheryl has arranged a memorial at Jughead’s locker. Betty, overcome with emotion, runs to the music room, and when Archie follows her, she decides to go full Monster’s Ball and talk about how she just wants to feel good again. Then, Betty kisses Archie while Cheryl snaps a photo and sends it to the entire school. (Not exactly the kind of thing a nice, supportive shadow should do, but once a Blossom, always a Blossom.)
Veronica then blows up at Betty and Archie in front of the whole school, and this is when the end of this story couldn’t be more obvious. While Kevin breaks down what it means to be a closeted Barchie shipper, Betty sneaks out to Dilton’s bunker, knowing full well that Donna will follow her. And when Donna does, she catches Betty making out with Archie. And that’s where the plan ends and Jug’s fate is revealed.
After Betty tells her mom the truth — which FP and a number of others were in on — we catch up with the main couples of the core four: Archie vows to Veronica that she’s the only girl for him while Betty reassures a very much alive Jughead — who was hiding under the cot during the make-out Donna witnessed — that he’s the only man for her. Furthermore, Betty gives Jughead a new beanie. After all, he can never be without one now that we know it helped save his life. (It cushioned the blow, apparently.)
But here’s the unexpected consequence of Betty’s master plan: Despite both Archie and Betty declaring their love for their significant other just minutes before, they end the episode with some flirty texting. Betty tells the boy next door that she hopes she wasn’t a bad kisser, and Archie has to stop himself from responding by saying he’s happy to kiss her “any time.” As the lyrics of the song playing in the background say, “You still care for me and I still care for you,” it’s clear that those closeted Barchie shippers might get their moment after all.
In the end, Donna fully cracks, even slapping Bret when he tells her to move on from it all. And it seems that, thanks to Hermosa’s help, the core four got the final thing they needed to take Donna down. We just don’t know what that is yet.
I have to say, I’m less disappointed that Jughead is alive than I thought I would be. I still firmly believe that if you’re going to build your season around a mystery, you should have the guts to follow through on it. But I’m not nearly as angry as I thought I’d be. And I am very intrigued as to what this Betty-Archie flirtation could mean moving forward.