When Riverdale first flashed forward in the Season 3 finale to “Spring Break, Senior Year,” we launched a huge mystery that strongly implied that Jughead Jones (Cole Sprouse) was dead, and somehow Archie Andrews (KJ Apa), Veronica Luna (Camila Mendes) and Betty Cooper (Lili Reinhart) were responsible. Which seemed impossible, but with every new flash-forward scene in Season 4, the clues have seemed incontrovertible that not only is Jughead dead on Riverdale, but that somehow the other three members of the Core Four are responsible. Theories have flown fast and furious, but as of the Riverdale midseason finale it sure looks damning. But did Betty really kill Jughead on Riverdale???
Spoilers for Riverdale Season 4, Episode 9 “Chapter Sixty-Six: Tangerine” past this point.
I mean, I don’t know why I put up that spoiler warning there since it’s sort of spoiled in the first paragraph — but despite appearances, I’m still extremely dubious as to what our eyes are showing us is what really is happening. No, I don’t think Betty killed Jughead on Riverdale, I don’t think Jughead is dying on Riverdale at all, and I don’t think Cole Sprouse is leaving Riverdale. Before we get to the theories, though, let’s lay out what we know so far.
Back in the Season 3 finale, Archie, Veronica and Betty were gathered around a bonfire in their underwear, splattered with blood. They burned their clothing, including Jughead’s iconic beanie, and swore they would never talk about what happened — and would part ways after Senior Year. In Season 4, we’ve seen the whole town searching for Jughead, the reveal of Jughead’s corpse lying on a slab in the coroner’s office, the remaining trio getting arrested in school by Jughead’s father, town sheriff FP Jones (Skeet Ulrich) for “the cold blooded murder of my son, Jughead Jones,” and a line-up of the trio being identified as Jughead’s murderers by his fellow Stonewall Prep students Bret Weston Wallace (Sean Depner) and Donna Sweett (Sarah Desjardins).
…and then there’s the midseason finale, “Tangerine,” which flashes forward to “Four Weeks Later.” There we see Jughead lying on the ground, blood on his head clearly from some sort of wound. Archie leans down and tests his pulse. “He’s dead. What did you do, Betty?” says Archie angrily. We cut to Betty, who is holding a rock in one hand, covered in blood, her other hand also covered in blood as Veronica looks on horrified.
The important other bit of context here (and don’t worry, we’ll get back to this moment in a second, as well as explaining the full timeline) is that during the episode Betty discovers that during her time with cult The Farm, their leader Edgar Evernever (Chad Michael Murray) implanted a trigger in his followers — specifically Betty’s mother Alice Smith (Mädchen Amick), her sister Polly Cooper (Tiera Skovbye) and Betty herself — that if someone says the word “tangerine” three times in a row, they’re thrown into a hypnotic state. In that state, they think they are Betty Cooper, and attempt to kill “Dark Betty,” i.e. the bad side of Betty who thinks she has a serial killer gene and could potentially kill someone some day.
By the end of the episode, she thinks she’s purged the dark side of herself and removed the “tangerine” trigger; but she also said it to herself in the mirror and seemingly broke that mirror without even realizing, i.e., smashing her own face… So whatever it is, the Manchurian Candidate-esque trigger seems to very much still be operational.
That all out of the way, the evidence seems to be mounting that in four weeks time — which most likely means four more episodes of Riverdale, not January 8 — the teens will go on Spring Break, Betty’s trigger will be activated, and she’ll somehow kill Jughead thinking he is Dark Betty. Then Archie, Betty and Veronica will burn their clothes in a bonfire, thinking they are alone — while actually being observed by Donna and Bret — and cover up his murder. Then they’ll tell everyone he’s missing, search for him in the woods, find the body… And after Donna and Bret confess what they saw, FP will arrest the teens, after which the Stonewall Prep kids will identify them. Then they’ll be thrown in jail for the rest of their lives, and the next season of Riverdale is basically Orange is the New Black.
…Except, of course not. One theory that was seemingly wiped out this episode was that we weren’t seeing Jughead’s body at all, it was actually a story he was writing. That’s still a slim possibility, but that story, all about the perfect murder, was turned into three chapters of a Baxter Brothers mystery (the show’s Hardy Boys style novels) which led to Jughead winning the opportunity to be the next ghost writer for the Baxter Brothers series. So sure, this could be him working out a story — after all, his winning story was all about a “boy in the river” that was clearly the Jason Blossom (Trevor Stines) murder from Riverdale Season 1 so he’s not afraid to pull from his own life. But more likely whatever is happening is actually happening, not part of a novel.
Far more likely is that this is some sort of ruse to throw off the students of Stonewall. Jughead began attended the school earlier this year, and has suspected for a while that something strange was happening. But at every turn, he’s encountered a reasonable explanation. When Moose Mason (Cody Kearsley), his roommate, disappeared overnight, Donna showed Jughead texts from Moose explaining that he was just fine. After accusing Francis DuPont (Malcolm Stewart) of stealing the first Baxter Brother novel from his grandfather, former Stonewall student Forsythe Pendleton Jones I (Timothy Webber), Jughead’s ally Mr. Chipping (Sam Witwer) jumped out a window. That — according to Donna — was because they had been in an extramarital relationship, and he became aggressive and abusive. When she threatened to expose him, he killed himself instead. And Forsythe revealed this week that the first book was sold to DuPont legally for $5,000. Frustrating, but no big plot or dark doings involved.
So if the Stonewall kids are clean, why suspect them? Well, listen: this is Riverdale, and nobody is clean. But more importantly, at the end of the episode Jughead was inducted into the school’s secret society, the Skull & Quill. In order to enter, Jughead had to smash a skull with a rock… Sound familiar to the circumstances surrounding a certain flash-forward? And who in their right mind is going to think that a secret society of sketchy teenagers on Riverdale won’t turn out to be actually evil? Add in that Forsythe Pendleton also left town without a trace like Moose — Jughead believed it was because he was scared to reconnect with his family, but come on — and you have a weird pattern of disappearances around Stonewall.
There’s also “The Secret History” to think about. The real novel, by Donna Tartt (the model for Donna Sweett), is about a tight knit group of kids at an elite school who murder one of their own and cover it up. The murder is revealed at the beginning, and then we flash back to see how we got to that point. At one point, the kids even join in a search party to try and find the friend they secretly murdered. Add in that Bret Weston Wallace is modeled on author Bret Easton Ellis, who wrote another novel about a messed up group of school kids, “Rules of Attraction,” and you clearly have a recipe for some dastardly doings.
Could Jughead and company be faking his own death to escape or reveal the Quill & Skull society? Could the Quill & Skulls have gotten Betty’s trigger, and to throw them off the scent set up this scenario to make Donna and Brett think things had gone too far? Whatever is really going on, even with a trigger, her killing Jughead thinking he’s Dark Betty doesn’t make a lot of sense when you start pulling at the strings. Add in that when Chipping killed himself, it seemed a lot more like some sort of hypnosis than remorse over a relationship gone wrong, the fact that Betty’s brother Charles Smith (Wyatt Nash), who provided all the info on the trigger and activated her once himself is in league with a former adversary of Betty’s named Chic (Hart Denton), and someone has been delivering creepy video footage of everyone’s front door, and there are too many strange things going on for the mystery to be solved with “oh, Betty accidentally killed Jughead.”
Additionally: the show is never going to kill Jughead. And Betty is not going to kill him. It would break both of the characters, and that’s just something the show isn’t going to do, though they’re certainly putting in the work to make us think it’s happening.
Regardless of what’s really going on, one thing is clear… It’s going to be a long wait over Winter Break until the show returns. Tangerine. Tangerine. Tanger–
Riverdale returns in 2020.