“I’m going to show you a video of Clifford Blossom shooting Jason,” Betty very casually tells Toni before proceeding to indeed show her a video of Toni’s girlfriend’s dead dad shooting her dead brother in the head. It’s an unhinged thing to do in the middle of a school day in the middle of the school paper’s offices, and Betty makes an even more unhinged request: She asks Toni to show the video to Cheryl in order to remind her that her brother is dead and that her father killed him. This will, Betty reckons, snap Cheryl out of her farmy funk. In the same vein, Betty stages a whole ass cemetery plot to look like it belongs to Charles, Alice’s dead son. She takes Alice to the plot hoping that she’ll snap back to reality, too. Edgar Evernever has his followers believing they can see dead people. Well, Betty thinks they just need to be reminded that they’re really, truly dead.
Betty’s approach is absurd. Exposing people who are being severely manipulated to the most traumatizing memories of their lives is, uh, not exactly a therapist-backed solution to “brainwashing.” But from a story perspective, it ends up unearthing some really compelling character work for Betty, Alice, Cheryl, and Toni. In an interesting twist, Betty’s manipulations don’t even work. Alice and Cheryl are so desperate to connect with their lost loved ones—a testament to the all-consuming power of grief—that they are immune to her attempts.
In fact, Betty further isolates Alice, who figures out Betty staged the gravestone. “I love you Betty, but you’re going to have to let me go,” she says. Mädchen Amick and Lili Reinhart do incredible work here. Yes, the fact that Betty chloroforms and abducts her own mother, locking her in a bunker to keep her away from the farm cult she joined is…ridiculous in a specifically Riverdalean way. But there’s also some very honest, complicated emotional storytelling happening here. When it comes to both Alice/Betty and Cheryl/Toni, “Jawbreaker” is a solid example of Riverdale delving into familial drama and trauma in a sharp way.
“There’s been so much pain,” Alice laments to Betty, and there’s a clear connection here between this mother and daughter who have been through so much together. But they’re grappling with it in different ways, which happens. Not everyone processes the same way even if they experience trauma together. Alice and Betty are on entirely different pages of different books. Again, Reinhart and Amick play this connection/disconnection magnificently.
In another disturbing development between Betty and her mother, she learns that Alice associates her with her father. Alice thinks there’s a darkness in Betty, an uncontrollable force that will drive her to violence like her serial killer father. Betty has long struggled with this question of whether evil can be inherited, and it’s a fascinating part of her arc that sadly gets dropped a lot because of how much is going on in the Riverdale universe. In “Jawbreaker,” it returns in these scenes, touching on compelling themes of blood and darkness. Betty shares blood with the Black Hood, but what does that really mean? Is her darkness really an indelible part of her? How will it manifest? Is it a force that will spring forth without warning?
On the Cheryl/Toni side of things, Toni is similarly desperate to get Cheryl out of the farm. She even tries to distract her with sex, telling Cheryl she wants her mind, body, and soul…“but mostly body” and effectively seducing her to the point where Cheryl skips a farm meeting. But the thing about cults is they’re pretty good at identifying when someone might be susceptible to defecting and stopping that from happening. Sure enough, after Toni’s hot attempt to get Cheryl to ignore her farm duties, Evelyn delivers an ultimatum: Cheryl has to choose between Toni and between the farm, which in Cheryl’s eyes means a choice between Toni and her dead brother Jason. Again, like Alice, Cheryl is so desperate to hold onto someone who is gone that she isn’t able to see clearly in front of her. “I’m right here,” Toni pleads. But it doesn’t matter. The farm offers Cheryl a chance to connect with someone she thought was gone forever. Of course Cheryl is easily suddenly convinced that the footage of Clifford shooting Jason was faked. That’s much easier to accept than the reality of her dad killing her brother. The only way to take care of Cheryl, Toni realizes, is to join the farm herself. And hey, at least that gives us the gift of Vanessa Morgan in a white bodysuit, white tight pants, and a white sweatband.
Meanwhile, Jughead and FP are busy tracking down the source of a bad batch of fizzle rocks that has everyone violently lashing out and experiencing psychosis. As for Archie, his storyline can be summed up with this one absurd piece of dialogue: “Tomorrow when we fight, we fight for him, for Baby Teeth.”