In the interest of not spending every week for the rest of my life/the remainder of Riverdale Season 4 writing and rewriting the same article about whether Jughead Jones (Cole Sprouse) is dead on Riverdale, and whether Cole Sprouse is leaving Riverdale, and whatever else everyone has been searching for since the Season 3 finale: no, Jughead is not going to die on Riverdale.
However, they are doing their absolute best to make us think Jughead is going to die on Riverdale, and as of this week’s episode, “Witness for the Prosecution,” they just revealed a big clue about where this whole plotline is going. At least, where I think it’s going. And when it comes to Riverdale, predicting plotlines is always a big mistake, so read this with a huge grain of salt. A salt lick, even.
Spoilers for Riverdale Season 4, Episode 5, “Chapter Sixty-Two: Witness For The Prosecution” past this point.
This whole thing started back in the Season 3 finale with a flash-forward to Spring Break, Senior Year. There, we saw Archie Andrews (KJ Apa), Betty Cooper (Lili Reinhart), and Veronica Lodge (Camila Mendes) standing around a bonfire in their skivvies, covered in blood, burning Jughead’s clothes. Since then, we’ve gotten a few other flash-forwards in Season 4: a scene of the whole town searching for Jughead in the woods at night; a scene of Jughead seemingly dead on a slab in the coroner’s office; and now, one more, as of this week’s episode.
In the final scene of the hour, we flash forward once again, this time to “Biology Class, Spring Semester.” Archie, Veronica and Betty are sitting together at a lab table studying, a skeleton next to them (and no, unless Jughead had the world’s tiniest skeleton, it’s not his). Reggie Mantle (Charles Melton) and Munroe “Mad Dog” Moore (Eli Goree) are at another table, and as we find out later, Kevin Keller (Casey Cott) is in the class, too.
Suddenly, Jughead’s father and Riverdale sheriff, FP Jones (Skeet Ulrich) bursts into the class with a group of armed officers. He loudly declares that Archie, Betty and Veronica are all being arrested for the “cold blooded murder” of his son, Jughead Jones. Everyone looks stunned. End of episode.
Except, none of the kids yell “no, we didn’t do it!” or protest in any way. Granted, Riverdale is always campy and over-the-top, but the whole scene, down to the classroom arrest (though this is far from the first time someone has been dragged out of Riverdale High in cuffs) seems staged.
That’s because — to throw a theory out there — the whole thing is staged.
Last week we speculated a bit about Jughead’s “dead” body at the coroners, and there are several ways that could have been faked. This week, we get a pretty plausible reason — two, actually — as to why Jughead might be setting up this whole scenario.
In the present day, Jughead is attending elite private school Stonewall Prep, along with several other writers including his snooty rival, Bret Weston Wallis (Sean Depner). Though Jughead and Bret have clashed before, and last week they sort of buried Jughead alive (it was just a coffin in the middle of the school, calm down), this week their rivalry gets a focus, a purpose.
It turns out that their teacher, Mr. Chipping (Sam Witwer) is the ghost writer of the Baxter Brothers series, psuedo-Hardy Boys mysteries that Jughead loved as a kid, and still loves. Even better, he meets the original writer of the Baxter Brothers books, Francis J. Dupont, who writes under the pseudonym Franklin P. Paxton (a reference to Hardy Boys “author” Franklin W. Dixon) who was a classmate of his grandfather, Forsythe Pendleton Jones I (Timothy Webber). It turns out that Mr. Chipping is stepping down as writer, and is looking for a new writer from the ranks of his class — including Jughead, and Bret.
But first, he throws a little wine and cheese book launch for his last Baxter Brothers book, complete with a game of “Murder.” In it, Jughead pulls a “murderer” card, and has to go around revealing his identity to his classmates. Once that happens, they have to “die.” It comes down to Bret and Jughead, with the O.G. Baxter Brothers writer calling it that Jughead won the game. Surprisingly, nobody dies for real, but I guess that’s for later, right?
After that, the whole class decides to go after the writing job. Their assignment? Write three chapters, and an outline for a Baxter Brothers book, on the theme… The perfect murder.
So, dear reader, you’re not dumb. You’re very smart, in fact. And you can probably put the clues together from there. But to spell things out, it sure seems like Jughead’s “demise” is one of two options: either it’s a game of Murder that’s gotten a little of control, and Jughead is trying to get out of the killer’s sights; or he’s proving he’s the right man for the job by setting up the perfect murder, with himself as the victim.
The question really is how dark this season of Riverdale wants to go. Despite a plotline this episode involving Betty exploring her serial killer gene, and beginning to suspect that her new-found half-brother Charles Smith (Wyatt Nash) is an actual serial killer (he also shares the gene), Archie becoming a CW style vigilante, and Veronica’s father getting away with literal murder, Season 4 has been surprisingly bright and hopeful. It’s not quite the level of earnestness the show had in Season 1, but it’s also not the sheer, dark insanity of Season 3.
To repeat: Jughead is not dead on Riverdale; Cole Sprouse is not leaving Riverdale. But pretty soon, someone at Stonewall Prep will die, and it seems like the real game of Murder may begin. Good luck, players.
Riverdale airs Wednesdays at 8/7c on The CW.
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