It’s the season five midseason finale Riverdale recap, and every character is just in a show of their own! Five different scary stories to tell in the dark make up “The Pincushion Man,” and I am left wondering what the hell is going on in this cursed town!!!!!
Cheryl Blossom’s Lesbian Gothic Fairytale
After briefly turning against Hiram last episode, Reggie returns with his tail between his legs, eager to prove his worth. Hiram Lodge’s latest scheme? Mining for palladium. And the Blossom maple groves are supposedly full of it.
Cheryl and Minerva skip through the maple groves, and frankly, it’s a tease! We’re made to believe for all of five seconds that Cheryl could just have a nice day with her new art girlfriend, frollicking in some maple groves. Cheryl tells Minerva that they’re going to “harvest our sweet, sweet sap,” and it’s not a euphemism! They’re literally gonna harvest some sap. But turns out the maple trees are running dry, which Nana Rose attributes to the family curse. She claims that Cheryl cannot be happy because then there will not be any maple. Kinda fucked up, Nana! Let Cheryl be happy!
Cheryl is very unhappy, because Reggie has Nana sign over all the maple groves. She figures they’re cursed so might as well sell them Hiram’s way. But Cheryl informs Hiram and Reggie that the contract is null because she had Nana Rose legally declared senile years ago. My favorite part of this is that Cheryl just walks into Hiram’s office with zero introduction and then marches out? Does he leave all of his home’s doors unlocked? Is there no security at all? Isn’t he, like, an organized crime leader?
Reggie’s next plan is to just burn the maple grove down. And he’s nearly successful in taking down all the trees as well as Thornhill, but at the very last moment, Penelope Blossom returns home. Because there has been a prison break! More specifically, Hiram has orchestrated a prison break at his own for-profit prison in order to further his goals of terrorizing Riverdale. So Penelope returns to the Blossom ancestral manor to warn Cheryl that a blaze has been set upon their maple groves and is encroaching upon Thornhill. Nana Rose says it’s the curse at work again, and she suggests that the only way to break it is by “sacrificing the interloper,” as in Minerva, and Cheryl and Penelope look at her like they will absolutely do exactly that, but she gets out of there before anything can happen.
Next, the Blossom women turn to prayer. It’s a whole occult moment as they call upon a higher power to CHANGE THE DIRECTION OF THE WIND? And it works?! While all of this is unfolding, there’s dramatic organ music, red and black silk and lace, candlelit shadows. It’s aesthetically delightful and narratively nonsensical, and even though I do hope that Cheryl can one day just chill out, her V.C. Andrews-ass life is admittedly very entertaining.
Archie Andrews’ War Drama
This is without a doubt the most boring plotline. As a reminder, Archie Andrews is a military recruiter at a low-income high school now, which is fucked-up, but I’m sure he’ll be onto a new hobby/career path any day now. His old commanding officer shows up to tell Archie that he’s nominating him for a war medal, which Archie thinks is weird because his last mission in the military was pretty disastrous and deadly. A call from a reporter confirms that his CO is being investigated for sending Archie’s men on a dirty mission. Archie seeks guidance from reformed mercenary Uncle Frank, who says it sounds like his CO might be using the medal to further a cover-up. Blah blah blah.
Things pick up steam a bit post-prison break when a bunch of inmates show up to destroy the high school. You see, Hiram is not too happy that Riverdale High is hosting a parent-teacher conference, because if there’s one thing Hiram hates, it’s teenagers living their lives. Perhaps some TV villains would merely sabotage the evening by, idk, setting a small fire at the school or messing with the plumbing or something. But NO, Hiram has paid the escaped inmates of his prison to violently attack the high school. Archie and Uncle Frank have to defend the high school from these attackers. It’s just like war! Or something! Archie also stands up to his former CO. Good for him?
Veronica Lodge’s Divorce-Horror Story
Surprise, surprise: Chadwick does not want to sign divorce papers. Veronica decides to fly back to New York after he blackmails her with pictures of her kissing Archie. But she also admits that she wants closure. On the night that their helicopter went down, Veronica had wished that Chad would die. They fought at a party, she secretly wished him dead, and then they almost died in the accident. She felt guilty, so she stayed with him despite the obvious flaws in their marriage. Now that she’s seeking a divorce, he’s getting in the way, but so is her guilt. It’s like Marriage Story but with more generational wealth and helicopter crashes (I have not seen Marriage Story).
Chad attempts to turn up the charm as soon as she arrives in New York. He’s layering it on real thick, staging a romantic candlelit dinner with Chinese takeout, playing their wedding song, reminiscing on the good ol’ days. There is, of course, a catch. He has no intention of signing the divorce papers at all. And he’s armed with much more leverage than the blackmail photos. He made some bad investments and used Veronica’s jewelry shop to do some shady business deals in an attempt to recoup his losses. Yes, to the surprise of literally no one, Chadwick Gekko is an evil finance bro with a big ego and little to no actual skills. Now he’s effectively holding Veronica hostage.
Jughead Jones’ Writer’s Block Shroom Trip
Jughead’s agent lets him know that “Pop Culture Weekly” (lol) wants to run an excerpt from his latest project. They usually reserve this honor for authors like Stephen King—to which Jughead says “screw you, Stephen King.” But Jughead hasn’t really been writing so much as thinking about writing. His “alien abduction as metaphor for trauma” premise isn’t exactly fun, sexy fodder for a glossy mag. So he decides to do what he did the last time he experienced writer’s block: psychedelic mushrooms.
More specifically, maple mushrooms? He asks Tabitha, who he shares a kiss with at the very start of the episode, to basically babysit him while he trips, and she’s like “ha ha i think you should maybe not do this?” But he moves forward with it anyway, determined to embrace his inner traumas and then turn it into art? It sounds dicey!
His ex Jess shows up, which makes Tabitha finally agree to keep an eye on Jug while he does the mushrooms, because she figures that’s better than him welcoming his chaotic ex back into his life. Jug’s trip is all fun and games until he’s indeed confronted by the ghosts of girlfriends past. He hallucinates about both Betty and Jess, and it’s clear that he never got over Betty cheating on him and then slowly poisoning their relationship over the course of senior year. His relationship with Jess definitely sounds like it was very far from healthy, hinging on binge-drinking and drama. Jughead supposedly gets some writing down amid all these nightmarish hallucinations, but AT WHAT COST? Because also, Tabitha returns to the bunker to find that he has escaped the handcuffs she put him in in an attempt to get him to actually sit at his desk and write, leaving behind a bunch of blood. We’re made to believe that the mothmen got him once again.
Betty Cooper’s Dysfunctional Family Nightmare
I have saved the absolute most terrifying story for last, because wow is there a lot going on here! Betty’s sorta-boyfriend-sorta-boss (like seriously, what is their deal?) is in town, and things get very disturbing when he casually lets slip that he has been studying Betty and her family and WRITING HIS DISSERTATION about the Coopers because he is simply fascinated by the nurture vs. nature implications of Hal, Charles, Chic, and Betty and the supposed “serial killer gene” that runs in the fam. As a reminder, Chic is not actually related to them. He is Betty’s fake brother, but he is in a romantic relationship with Betty’s real brother Charles. And they are both serial killers.
To make things even creepier, Dagwood and Juniper, whose ninth birthday it is in this episode, have been exhibiting some worrisome behavior. They pushed a classmate down the stairs, and he got badly injured, and when Betty points out to the twins that he could have died, they barely react.
Glen should have, uh, maybe mentioned to Betty that he was writing a dissertation on her literal family before pursuing a personal relationship with her—to say the least!!!!! Also, as Betty points out, teen girls are literally dying in Riverdale, and all he seems to care about is his dissertation! Glen is bad.
But he still doesn’t deserve what ends up happening to him later in the episode. While some of the escaped inmates decided to get the hell out of town and others decided to do Hiram’s bidding, Charles and Chic thought this was the perfect time for a family reunion. They show up at the Cooper household with guns and generally threatening auras. “Let’s just get through whatever this is,” Alice tells Betty, as if this is merely an inconvenient situation where, like, a random uncle going through a midlife crisis shows up uninvited to a family birthday party with his third wife. And not, you know, two actual murderers crashing a children’s party!
Chic and Charles want to get married, right here right now. So the twins’ birthday party quickly becomes a gay wedding? Alice is conveniently already ordained, because she was intending on marrying them at the prison. I am! Losing it! Mid-wedding, Glen shows up, so then the party changes gears once again, as Chic and Charles propose a little game. There really is some Billy Loomis and Stu Macher energy to all these scenes—only instead of homoerotic undertones, it’s all right there at the surface. Chic and Charles introduce the Pincushion Man game, which consists of everyone taking a turn stabbing Glen. Fun stuff! Juniper’s first up as the youngest, and Betty interjects to say that hey maybe asking a nine-year-old to stab a man might cause some permanent damage. Charles agrees, because I guess even these two serial killers have some personal morality rules. In any case, I think Betty only marginally spared Juniper some trauma, because these twins have already been exposed to some very messed-up stuff at THEIR OWN BIRTHDAY PARTY. The kids are not alright!
Betty ends up pulling off a very good horror-action moment where she does indeed stab Glen to go along with Chic and Charles’ deranged game but not enough to kill him and then knifes Chic to death and shoots Charles. RIP to Betty’s fake brother and Betty’s real brother. Long live the serial killer gene.
This is without a doubt the worst and most upsetting family gathering that has ever happened on this show, and I’m including the time Cheryl tricked her family into thinking they had eaten……..a human being. Between the dark-fairytale-esque Blossom curse and the Cooper slasher movie vibes, this episode is indeed steeped in generational trauma and the horror of familial dysfunction. I honestly love when episodes of this show feel like a smashing together of several genres and distinct stories that play around with different aesthetics and vibes. Riverdale’s universe is always its most immersive at its most surreal and campy.