Okay before we get into the obviously pertinent question of IS JUGHEAD REALLY DEAD, let’s talk about a very important development shoved in halfway through Riverdale’s “How To Get Away With Murder:” Mary Andrews has a girlfriend!!!!!!!!
Brooke Rivers, a recruiter for the Naval Academy who appeared last season, returns to do Mary a little favor by offering Archie a spot at the school. Mary later informs Archie that this woman is “not just her friend” — a line that caused my girlfriend to fully spin around in her chair and tune in, even though she is seasons behind on the show and was fully working on something else. She, like me, knew what was coming next: Mary declaring Brooke her official girlfriend! A late-in-life queer relationship for Mary Andrews! Molly Ringwald playing queer! A QUEER MOM ON RIVERDALE! I am personally very thankful for this, even though Mary Andrews is without a doubt the most confusingly written parent character on this show and even though I am still holding out for Alice Cooper to also eventually get a girlfriend. In any case, it’s a nice moment! It’s very casual and grounded, and Archie is surprised but supportive. I do love to see it.
It almost makes up for the fact that the show’s only main character who is a lesbian (Cheryl Blossom) doesn’t appear at all in this episode. Ha ha just kidding! I am extremely bitter whenever Cheryl and Toni get shafted! Sure, this is a prime example of an episode where it wouldn’t make much sense for them to be involved and when there’s simply too much happening in the A plot to have a bunch of extraneous side plots going on, but when you zoom out, my larger frustration is with the fact that when Cheryl and Toni DO get storylines on the show, they’re kept in pretty tight boxes! I said it last recap, and I’ll say it again: It increasingly feels like they’re only allowed to be hot or traumatized!
Choni rant aside, this is an extremely good episode of Riverdale. It’s got all the best Riverdale ingredients: camp, horror, psychological fuckery, mystery, immersive stylization, exaggerated stakes, tropes, and a slow-motion dramatic moment set to haunting music (in this case, “Kettering” by The Antlers).
It all begins with that scene that has been foreshadowed ever since the season three finale: “a night in the woods, three friends in their underwear, covered in blood.” The scene is set by Jughead’s narration, which is at the moment the strongest indicator that Jughead is alive. Otherwise, how would he be narrating this story still?
Then again, I’m truly stumped as to how the show could pull off Jughead being alive at this point. We see his lifeless body multiple times, including in an actual morgue. I will say that his his best friends are acting a little too casual considering the fact that he has DIED, seeming more concerned with the fact that they might be being framed with murder than, again, THEIR BEST FRIEND’S ACTUAL DEATH. But they’re also not really acting like they’re up to some scheme together, plotting some sort of elaborate trick on the Stonies. Maybe Jughead is the one playing the trick and didn’t let his best friends in on it in order to really sell his own murder, but if that’s true, they should absolutely stop being friends with him because wtf.
Operating under the assumption that Jughead is really dead, this really is an excellent episode. Psychotic prep school demons crafting some elaborate murder game just for kicks? It seems like the plot to a 90s slasher movie, and I am all in! There has, admittedly, been some wobbly plotting to get to this point, but the payoff is magnificent. Lili Reinhart is a crackling star. The camerawork used to capture Betty’s fractured memory is chef’s kiss. And the stakes are legitimately high throughout!
The episode borrows its name from another television series that — pardon the self-plug — I have written about upwards of 80 times, and that is not an exaggeration. How To Get Away With Murder has, over the years, become less about how to actually get away with murder and more about who gets away with murder as well as the more psychological question of who is capable of murder. Betty spends much of this episode fearing that she really could be capable of murder, and Veronica wonders about her ride-or-die, too. Veronica recalls the Dark Betty of season one, a moment that Betty claims to have no recollection of.
Betty really doesn’t have a history of blacking out. Evelyn and Donna play games with her, but there is no trigger word that could make her kill her boyfriend. Instead, Betty recurrently has to deal with the pathologization of herself by others. She does struggle with mental health issues, but people (including her own mother!) have historically used that to discredit and manipulate her and make her doubt her own self. Donna literally drugs her and then tries to convince her she blacked out. She wants to frame her as “the crazy girlfriend with a history of mental illness.” Evelyn compares Betty to the other locked-up “boyfriend killers.” Betty’s mirror in her bedroom remains cracked. When she looks in it, a distorted version of herself looks back. But it isn’t what’s real.
In this sense, Donna and the other Stonies are, if not the best developed villains, certainly terrifying ones. They were so threatened by an outsider like Jughead disturbing their status quo that they have launched an all out war on his entire circle, framing Betty for murder, potentially getting Veronica kicked out of Barnard before she could even begin. Betty, Archie, and Veronica spend much of the episode playing defense, but the Stonies are always one step ahead, because they really are the ones dictating this game. So Betty throws them for a loop by orchestrating a search party so that FP Jones will find the body that they previously hid.
On that note, Betty’s FBI brother Charles is the one who helped them initially hide the body and cover up the crime which, lol, I have approximately a million questions about! Charles’ moral code seems to be either nonexistent or just kinda change from episode to episode. I don’t care so much that he’s wildly bad at his job. But it’s harder to swallow the fact that I just don’t really understand his motivations at all. He’s literally helping teens cover up a murder, tampering with evidence, and casually performing a hypnosis treatment on his sister, and it’s all just wildly convenient. Charles is mere device, which distracts a bit from an episode that otherwise strongly binds character and plot.
There’s a thrill in watching Betty attempt to outmaneuver the privileged Stonies, on both character and plot levels. Some of the few subplots wedged in, like a tender moment between Veronica and Hiram as they bond in the face of his illness feel precisely like that… wedged-in. (The Mary girlfriend reveal is an exception!) The central questions of whether Betty could kill Jughead and then, since that’s not what happened, what really did happen that night in the woods are more than enough to fuel the fire of this episode. Reinhart is absolutely doing a lot of the heavy-lifting, further solidifying Betty Cooper as the most compelling character on this show.
“How To Get Away With Murder” has a lot of the same story and character holes that have plagued most of this season, but it slaps a huge temporary piece of duct tape on those by way of crafting a genuinely exciting and suspenseful psychological thriller.
At this point… I kinda hope Jughead is really dead????? Is it possible??????? I have almost Googled “is Jughead dead” 17 times today but can’t quite bring myself to actually ask the question because it seems both preposterous that the show would kill off one of its most popular characters but also impossible that it could reasonably pull off a convincing explanation that he’s still alive. A conundrum!
Anyway, Archie Andrews has two moms now.