Riverdale season 5 episode 14 recap: “The Night Gallery” shines

Riverdale -- “Chapter Ninety: The Night Gallery” -- Image Number: RVD514fg_0027r -- Pictured: KJ Apa as Archie Andrews -- Photo: The CW -- © 2021 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Riverdale -- “Chapter Ninety: The Night Gallery” -- Image Number: RVD514fg_0027r -- Pictured: KJ Apa as Archie Andrews -- Photo: The CW -- © 2021 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved. /

Riverdale season 5, episode 14 “Chapter Ninety: The Night Gallery” is the standout episode of the season thus far, and it was directed by star Mädchen Amick.

The episode treats viewers to a triptych as told by Cheryl to Minerva. The last we saw of Cheryl’s new girlfriend, she’d hightailed it out of the Blossom’s abode thanks to Nana’s suggestion that she be sacrificed in order to stop the fire blazing in the groves.

Minerva’s return, predicated on Cheryl’s announcement that she had a new series of paintings to show her, leads the audience into three twisting stories starring Archie, Betty, and Jughead. As “Chapter Ninety: The Night Gallery” progresses, we are led from painting to painting starting with Archie resplendent in mining gear, ever our world-weary hero.

The man, who is the town’s jack of all trades at this point, has been tasked with digging up the palladium in the Blossom family maple groves. As he and his construction crew comprised of his Uncle Frank, Eric, Reggie, Kevin, and Fangs complete the job, Archie is shown going in and out of therapy with Dr. Sherry Winters.

At first treatment is working but then Archie takes a turn for the worst and experiences intense PTSD flashbacks while mining. It’s an ordeal that results in Archie scaring the therapist after he bursts into her office unannounced. He accuses her of messing with his mind and that the anti-anxiety pills she gave him were some kind of experimentation.

In an “Allegory of the Cave” like twist, it’s later revealed that his reaction is the result of a carbon monoxide leak in the mines but by then the damage is done. Dr. Winters feels unsafe in Archie’s presence and states that he’s a danger to those around him. Her statement is based on the revelation that Archie didn’t just lose Sergeant Butler aka Bingo in The War. He lost many more, and he’s begun to see them all.

Who’s the real monster? Betty or the killer?

From there, Cheryl takes Minerva through Betty’s story, one she prefaces by questioning whether the real monster is the killer Betty is hunting or Betty herself. Riverdale has been asking this question since season 1 as Betty has a dark side that’s been more than a little trouble over the years.

In the painting, Betty is in a swirl of color while holding a chainsaw. Just like Archie’s story, the episode telegraphs that we’re about to fall into a spiral of unsettling proportions. When we left Betty in “Chapter Eighty-Nine: Reservoir Dogs” she’d captured a killer. It was unclear whether it was the Lonely Highway Killer who abducted Polly, but she was going to get answers come hell or high water.

The sleuth’s version of hell is a makeshift black site in her Riverdale High autoshop reminiscent of Hephaestus in his fiery workshops. As Betty told the trucker, in her domain he has no rights which is presumably due to Riverdale being an unincorporated town meaning that it falls into a jurisdictional grey area. No one has authority.

As Betty interrogates the killer, however, we’re let in on her own emotional state as she becomes increasingly frustrated with his lack of cooperation. It triggers flashbacks to the Trash Bag Killer, a figure that’s been absent from the season for awhile. His return as a point of trauma for Betty only pushes her further into the darkness.

After the trucker sends Betty on a wild goose chase involving the bones of a deceased dog and not the murder victim he said was in the location, Betty reaches out to her mother. She wants to appeal to the trucker’s sense of humanity and believes that if they humanize Polly to him then he’ll feel remorseful enough to tell them the truth of what happened to her.

The plan doesn’t work. Instead, the moment ends with Alice punching the killer repeatedly in the face after he tells her Polly squealed like a pig when he slit her throat. In the most Alice of moves, she gives Betty permission to kill the trucker for what they believe he did to Polly.

Before she resorts to an avenging murder, Betty decides to try one more tactic: fear. She tells the killer that she’s accepted that her sister is dead, all she wants is the truth, bar that she’ll accept his suffering. Her weapon of choice? A chainsaw she intends to use to dismember him slowly.

Her threat prompts the trucker to give detailed information about Polly confirming that he did know her. The revelation causes Betty to snap and triggers another TBK flashback where it’s clear the speech she’d given the trucker was the same one that the Trash Bag Killer gave her.

Angry and frustrated, Betty grabs the chainsaw off the wall but when she returns to the trucker he’s already dead. He killed himself, cutting off any ability for her to get answers about Polly from him. Betty, however, did find out that there’s likely to be a family of killers out there somewhere as the trucker had let it slip that he hunts with his family.

Jughead and the delusion of the Rat King

Cheryl’s third painting returns us to Jughead’s story which we left back in “Chapter Eighty-Seven: Strange Bedfellows” when it appeared that the writer had gotten into the Lonely Highway Killer’s truck. Turns out he did not or, if he did, he managed to escape because he did not fit the trucker’s M.O.

In any case, his portrait shows him as a king of rats, but as we’re led into the next leg of his tale, it becomes clear that Cheryl didn’t mean that negatively but rather demonstratively as Jughead fell into a sewer-like pit of despair. We’ve waited most of the season to find out what happened to Jughead in the seven years between graduation and the man we know him as today and this story didn’t disappoint.

It’s no secret that Jughead has abandonment issues a mile wide and that he struggles to let go of the people important to him once he’s become a part of their lives. He’s also not great at making friends or getting outside of his own head. So, it should come as no surprise that leaving for the Iowa Workshop did not result in a Jughead with a friend unit.

He shares this with the Alcoholic Anonymous group he attends, speaking candidly and honestly about his developing drinking problem that was spiraling out of control. The one bright spot he had, outside of finding an agent in Sam Panksy and being well on his way to being a published author, was Betty.

Despite parting ways romantically, the two remained in contact over the years via text message and phone calls. Though it’s apparent early on that Jughead was putting too much emotional weight on his relationship with Betty. One person cannot sustain the emotional stability of someone else, and that becomes abundantly clear to Jughead the moment Betty lets him down.

He left Iowa and moved to New York after he signed his deal with Pansky. Jughead even got into a relationship with Jessica but, unfortunately, it was a destructive one. Drinking, doing drugs, fighting, it was the way of their bond. It’d even led to his debut YA novel, The Outcasts.

But it wasn’t Jessica that Jughead rested his hopes on and sense of self. It was Betty, and when she canceled on him at the last minute regarding his book release party, Jughead lost it. In a drunken haze, he left the now infamous toxic phone call to Betty and completely destroyed what was left of their relationship.

He then proceeded to fall into a sink hole, a literal rock bottom where he met the Rat King. Eventually, he’d realize that the rodent monarch was a figment of his imagination but at the time he believed him to be real. It led him to want to stay down in the sewer with the man, reading him stories, that is until a halo’d Betty Cooper made an appearance.

She reminded Jughead that the city floods the sewers, and he could drown if he stayed down in the pits with the Rat King. At her urging, Jughead made his way back up to the surface while also comparing the two of them to the Greek lovers Orpheus and Eurydice, though he didn’t turn back and lose her like in the myth.

As Jughead tells his AA group, it wasn’t until he went back to New York that he got the full story of what happened to him. He’d been brought to the hospital with rabies because, when he’d fallen into the sink hole, he’d been covered in rats. He was the rat king, he was the man left alone in the dark with no one to miss him or worry after him.

Finding this out made Jughead realize that he needed to get his drinking under control hence why he’s reaching out for help in AA.

And so ends the triptych that Cheryl shares with Minerva, but she has one more painting to show her. It’s of the two them depicted as Greek gods in the famous scene of Psyche reviving Cupid with a kiss. Painted with bright pinks and complementary hues, it’s a sharp contrast to the other portraits and the opening for a reunion between Cheryl and Minerva. A bright and hopeful ending to these dark tales.

Next. Is Polly dead in Riverdale?. dark

New episodes of Riverdale season 5 on Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET on The CW.