Ever since Betty (Lili Reinhart) and Jughead (Cole Sprouse) unofficially broke up back on Riverdale “Chapter Seventy-Nine: Graduation,” fans of the couple, called Bughead, have been begging the show to bring them back, or at least have them interact in any significant, caring way. And they finally did with a big flashback in this week’s episode, “Chapter Ninety: The Night Gallery” — but of course, there was a Riverdale style twist.
Spoilers for Riverdale Season 5, Episode 14 past this point, but in the (excellent) hour directed by series star Mädchen Amick, the viewing audience is treated to three twisted stories courtesy of Cheryl Blossom (Madelaine Petsch). The first one is all about Archie (KJ Apa) dealing with PTSD from his time at war, while hallucinating aliens/CHUDs. The second finds Betty torturing a trucker who may or may not have killed her sister, while flashing back to her time in captivity with a monster called the Trash Bag Killer.
It’s the third story we’re most concerned with here, though, as Jughead regales his Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) group with the near-complete story of his time in the metaphorical wilderness, from graduating high school right up until “now.” The short version is that Jughead went to the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, didn’t make any friends, so spent most of his nights drinking and writing. After nabbing a top literary agent, Samm Pansky (Peter Kelamis), and selling his first book, things rapidly went downhill thanks to copious amounts of more drinking, drugs, and some serious writer’s block.
Jughead hit rock bottom on the night of his book release party, leaving a nasty voicemail for Betty when she didn’t show up and, as we learn this week, promptly falling in a sinkhole (“Yeah it’s rare, but I guess it happens,” Jughead casually explains). Trapped in the sewers, he forms himself a makeshift bedroom and hallucinates Samm as someone called The Rat King, who cajoles him into writing stories. Ultimately, he’s saved by none other than the angelic figure of High School Betty, who leads him to safety. He’s picked up by the cops, taken to a hospital, and represses the whole incident up until now.
Oh, and it turns out none of that actually happened! But he was covered in a writhing pile of rats for a night, something that again Jughead kind of casually tosses off.
Anyway, rats, blah, blah, blah, the point here is Bughead, and in my relatively brief description of the episode, I skipped over the most crucial part: during the time between when Jughead and Betty graduated high school, and the time she ditched his book release party (more on that in a moment), they kept in touch.
I know. Mind blown, right? Except for ‘shippers of the couple, this is a huge deal because up until now the implication had been that the duo didn’t talk for seven years. Which is also part of the reason Betty ditching the book release party, and Jughead leaving her a “toxic” voicemail was so confusing: if they hadn’t spoken (or rarely, at that), why was there any expectation she would show up?
Turns out, the seeming breakup moment at the end of “Graduation,” when the two said goodbye to each other while Betty headed off to college, might not have been as final as fans thought. Instead, it’s clear that Betty and Jughead kept in regular touch, and were even still friends with each other, if not something a little more. The iciness on display in the closing minutes of “Graduation” seems to have melted a bit, at least from Jughead’s perspective (more on that in a moment, too). She’s happy for him when he tells her about his book deal, and she clearly seems to want to come to his book party. Even though he’s moved on with a new woman, Jessica (Phoebe Miu), he still thinks about Betty constantly. And regardless of whether you ‘ship Bughead or not, hearing the iconic theme music playing behind their scenes is sure to tug on your heartstrings.
But — and this is a big “but” — this isn’t about Bughead; it’s about Jughead. This entire story is from his perspective, not Betty’s. Even assuming we’re seeing things that actually happened in the real world of Riverdale, the only scenes we get with Reinhart are pretty much one-liners from Betty telling him how proud she is of him. We don’t see much in terms of context (in one scene we know she’s been sexiled from her dorm room, but that’s it), and we certainly don’t find out anything about her time in college, concurrent with Jughead’s. And the eventual Dream Betty who shows up to “save” Jughead is his conception of her from high school, not who she is now — or even back in college. It’s also the same vision of Betty, an idyllic angel who saves him from his lowest points, he’s held onto since high school.
Like most of what he’s telling to his AA group, and how he’s lived most of his life, it’s a fictionalized version of the truth. And as we’ve seen in this season, Jughead is still holding onto that Dream Betty: he once again hallucinated her while high on maple mushrooms in the town’s all-purpose sex bunker, before once again hitting rock bottom on skid row.
So despite having the Bughead theme playing in the background, despite the touches of Bughead littered throughout this part of the episode, what we’re missing here is Betty’s perspective, and Betty’s emotional journey. The purpose of this storyline is not to put Jughead’s eventual healing on Betty Cooper, but instead to move the onus for that back onto Mr. Jones. AA pretty famously has a 12 step program for recovery, and while we won’t list all of them here, the first seven steps are all about admitting you have a problem, then searching inside yourself to own the mistakes caused by that problem. The next steps are all about making a list of who you’ve harmed, and then making amends where possible.
That’s where Jughead is right now, about to make the crucial jump into the amends stage, and that starts (but does not end) with Betty Cooper. It’s not on Betty to walk him through his issues, or become this magical being who heals him; that’s only going to happen with time and effort on his part, something that will take the rest of this fictional character’s life. But talking to Betty, and discovering her perspective is going to be pivotal to moving forward. Jughead needs to understand the reality of what Betty went through; not the fiction.
And though this is only a hunch, that reality most likely ties into the trauma that Betty has suffered. Perhaps the reason she never showed up to Jughead’s book release party wasn’t because she’s “a cold, fake, duplicitous bitch,” like Jughead said in that voicemail, but because she was being held captive in a well by a killer? We don’t know the exact timeline of when Betty was taken hostage, but it certainly would make sense — and once Jughead finds out where she was, will probably have a better understanding of how the Betty in his head, and the Betty in “real” life, just don’t match up.
Where that leads Jughead next, romantically or otherwise, is an open question. But for now, all we know is Jughead has made the first big step towards not just healing, but also growing up past the high school vision he has of himself and his friends. And that all starts with Riverdale’s resident author realizing that he’s been ignoring another character’s perspective. We’ve heard from Jughead; now it’s time to hear from Betty.
Riverdale airs Wednesdays at 8/7c on The CW.
Originally published at https://decider.com/2021/09/01/riverdale-bughead-the-night-gallery-spoilers/ on .