|“||So this fun game is called Pincushion Man, where the youngest member of a family takes a pin and sticks it in the pincushion man. Tonight, that man is Glen. [...] If memory serves, Juniper is the youngest member of our family by... three minutes?||”|
— Charles explaining the rules of the game
"Chapter Eighty-Six: The Pincushion Man" is the tenth episode of the fifth season of Riverdale and the eighty-sixth episode of the series overall. It is also the mid-season finale. It premiered on March 31, 2021.
PARENT-TEACHER NIGHT — While preparing for the school’s Parent-Teacher night, Archie is caught off guard when his former Army General shows up in Riverdale with some unexpected news. Cheryl pushes back after hearing that Hiram and Reggie have expressed interest in taking over the Blossom maple groves. Jughead’s unconventional way to get through a case of writer’s block causes Tabitha to be concerned for his safety. Finally, Betty and Alice receive some unexpected visitors.
Jughead and Tabitha wipe down the diner while working the night shift at Pop's, during which time they dance to Hungry Like the Wolf by Duran Duran and even share a kiss, which they both instantly regret. Jughead stammers to explain that he has school tomorrow before abruptly leaving.
Betty has rekindled her romance with Glen, who is staying at the Five Seasons. He hopes to get to know Betty’s family better while he’s in town, but she explains that her mom and the twins are all the family she has left. She then tells Glen she asked Jughead to help them but now that it’s an official FBI investigation, Glen instructs Betty to rescind her invitation to Jughead. As for their investigation into Polly’s disappearance and the Lonely Highway, there’s a lot of ground to cover. Glen already has ten agents searching the area. Betty was hoping she could be canvassing with them, but Glen needs her expertise regarding her father and his days as the Black Hood. Some of the remains date back to when he was still alive and actively killing people. Glen suspects that Hal was one of many killers to dump bodies along the Lonely Highway. He recalls that Betty's father underwent extensive analysis during his time at the Sherwood Asylum and wants to review the tapes.
Archie, Kevin, and Weatherbee prepare for Parent-Teacher night. They need to show the parents that they’re capable of educating and protecting their students at all times, so Weatherbee asks for Archie to join Kevin in giving a tour of the school to the parents. With Toni out on bed rest for pregnancy, they’re short on staff.
Cheryl takes Minerva out into the maple groves to harvest the sap to produce this year's maple syrup, but Cheryl is startled to learn that the trees have not provided. She returns to Thornhill and shares her discovery with Nana Rose, who claims that Cheryl’s happiness is the reason for their lack of sap. The Blossom curse will never allow for it, and now the maple groves will be nothing but a barren burden. Nana Rose intends to pray for deliverance.
Jughead gets a call from Samm, who informs him that Pop Culture Weekly wants to publish an excerpt from his new book, but they want content more sensational than what he’s currently writing. Sam explains that they usually give this slot to Stephen King and recommends that Jughead channel him instead.
Hiram is disappointed with Reggie for having betrayed him at the football game, which sparked life back into Riverdale. Hiram can feel its broken spirit rebuilding, more so with the upcoming Parent-Teacher night at Riverdale High. Reggie asks what he can do to redeem himself. Hiram reveals that he’s been digging for palladium behind his prison walls, but the palladium veins beneath it are completely tapped. Now, they need to move on to the veins underneath the Blossom maple grove. Hiram has a plan involving the prison that will help bring about Riverdale’s ruination. He simply needs Reggie to recover the groves.
Archie receives an unexpected visit from General Taylor, who has nominated him for a Silver Eagle medal for their last mission — for Archie’s act of bravery against overwhelming odds despite the fact that Archie lost ten men in that mission. However, as General Taylor points out, Archie saved Corporal Jackson and carried him 14 miles on his back. Still, Archie is reluctant to accept the award. But he has no choice but to when General Taylor commands it.
Jughead is suffering from a severe case of writer’s block and has yet to begin on his excerpt for Pop Culture Weekly.
Betty and Glen review Hal’s taped Sherwood analysis sessions. On one of the tapes, he notes that he and Alice weren’t in a good place. She wouldn’t touch him or even look at him for that matter. So, he started connecting with women on Ned’s List, which as Betty informs Glen, is how women working the Lonely Highway make their connections.
Smithers delivers Veronica’s mail to her at the shop. What she hopes are the divorce papers are actually photos of her and Archie kissing after the game. Attached to the photo is a sticky note that says: "We should take. In person. — Chad."
Eric and General Taylor sit in on Archie’s class with his cadets. He asks them what they should do when issued an order they don’t necessarily believe in. General Taylor interrupts and says that they follow the orders. No questions asked. Archie replies that anyone is capable of making the wrong call.
Reggie stops by Thornhill to pay Nana Rose a visit. He hands her a bouquet of flowers and explains that he’s come to discuss their grove.
While preparing Juniper and Dagwood’s birthday cakes, Betty and Alice get a call and discover that the twins were involved in an accident at school.
Tabitha apologizes to Jughead for trying to kiss him. He replies that now isn’t the best time for him to jump back into a relationship, especially not after his breakup with Betty, which he never recovered from and his most recent relationship, which was "more toxic than nuclear waste." Him and Jessica, who is also a writer, would drink, party, and often fight. Tabitha understands and suggests that they remain friends. As friends, Jughead asks Tabitha for a favor. With Pop Culture Weekly looking to run an excerpt from his new book, Jughead needs to get past his writer’s block, similar to back when he was in New York writing The Outcast. Back then he consumed maple mushrooms. He took a trip, had some psychedelic visions, and when he came to, he had written 500 pages. Jughead explains that he has personal trauma that he can’t access and he hopes the mushroom will allow him to break through to it. All he needs is someone he trusts to watch over him. However, Tabitha refuses to help, as she doesn’t think it’s a good idea, supervised or otherwise.
Archie questions why Veronica is returning to New York. She explains that she owes Chad. A few years ago, the two of them went to a party at Marsha's Vineyard. They had too much to drink and got into a terrible fight. Veronica was so angry that she wished he would die and put her out of her misery of a marriage. That night, they got into the helicopter to fly back to the city. Chad was at the stick when something malfunctioned. Veronica later woke up at hospital, having barely survived the crash. She feels guilty for wishing Chad dead and must now face him. However, she assures Archie that she’ll be on the first train home the next morning. While there, she’ll be staying with Katy in Washington Heights. Veronica looks to put all this behind them so they can start anew.
Betty and Alice sit down with Juniper and Dagwood, who supposedly pushed one of their classmates down a set of stairs. Dagwood reveals that their classmate, Jerry, said that their mother was dead, so they pushed him. Alice explains that Jerry has a concussion and broke his shoulder. Betty warns the twins that he could’ve died, but they appear unfazed.
Cheryl returns to Thornhill to learn that Nana Rose has sold the groves to Hiram Lodge. Nana Rose argues that the groves are worthless and that she sold the land to Reggie in hopes that they would inherit the curse. Cheryl tears the contract to shreds and exclaims that there is no curse.
Jughead calls his dealer, Speedy, to purchase a batch of maple mushrooms.
Archie gets a call from a reporter with the New York Times. They’re investigating his last tour of duty, specifically General Taylor, who the reporter believes sent Archie on a dirty mission and asks to meet.
Betty has dinner with Glen and reveals that Juniper and Dagwood pushed a kid down a flight of stairs. She’s worried that they’re bad seeds. Glen would like to meet them. Betty asks why. He reveals that he’s writing a dissertation revolving around the Cooper family titled "Family of Darkness. Varying displays of the serial killer gene in the Cooper family tree." Glen explains that the Coopers are the perfect case study for nature vs nurture. Betty and Charles both have the genes. He’s a killer, but she’s not. And Betty’s father didn’t have the genes, but he was a murderer. Betty isn’t interested in his dissertation and even threatens to quit, as she suspects that he’s only in town for his paper. However, Glen doesn’t believe that she actually intends to quit, as she needs him to find Polly. Betty then slaps Glen when he attempts to direct the conversation back to their personal relationship.
Archie visits Uncle Frank at the Lodge Detention Center. He reveals that General Taylor is trying to award him the Silver Eagle medal for his last mission, but then Archie got a call from a reporter at the New Times investigating several of General Taylor’s missions. Archie suspects that Taylor is trying to get ahead of the investigation by making Archie a hero. Frank notes that it’ll definitely prove difficult for a reporter to discredit a mission that’s being honored and that Taylor wouldn’t be the first General to try and buy his soldier’s loyalty with a medal. Frank tells Archie that he must decide if he wants to be the guy to help sell the cover up or be the guy to stand against it. Archie replies that he won’t disrespect the sacrifice his men made. He then asks how Frank is holding up. Frank tells Archie that something is brewing within the prison, like a riot. He can feel it.
Hiram congratulates Reggie on a job well done with securing the grove. In two weeks time, they will begin to dig, but first, they will savor tonight’s fireworks at Hiram’s jail. They are interrupted by Cheryl, who reveals that their contract is null and void, as she had her nana declared legally senile half a decade ago. She has no power. Cheryl tells them to accept the fact that they will never get her grove and storms out. When Reggie tries to explain himself, Hiram replies that he simply needs to fix his mistake.
Jessica arrives at Pop’s with Jughead’s maple mushrooms. She’s speedy’s new runner, and when he told her that Jughead asked for mushrooms, she got nostalgic. She suggests that she and Jughead have one last trip together for old times sake, but Tabitha interrupts, claiming that she’s Jughead’s new girlfriend. Jessica backs down, telling Jughead that he owes her $500 and that he has a week to pay up. When Jessica leaves, Tabitha reluctantly agrees to watch over Jughead while he’s under the influence of the mushrooms, as she now realizes that there’s no talking him out of it.
Veronica arrives at the apartment in New York, where Chad has prepared dinner — Chinese food by candle light, similar to when they first started dating. He wants to reminisce on the good times rather than dwelling on the bad.
Tabitha meets with Jughead in the bunker after cooking the psychedelic mushrooms into a sauce. She waits for the drugs to take effect, but Jughead tells her that she doesn’t have to hover over him, rather check in periodically.
Chad and Veronica drink wine and look through old photos. Their wedding song then begins to play and they share a dance. With them having been through so much, Chad thought they would be together forever. Veronica recalls the night of the accident and asks if Chad crashed on purpose. He questions why she would think this. She replies because then they would be together forever. Chad claims that all he’s ever wanted to do was make Veronica as happy as she makes him. He even signed the divorce papers just before she walked in, he claims. All he wanted with her was one last night. Veronica then kisses him.
A timer ticks down in Hiram’s office. When it reaches 0, the detention center explodes, releasing many of the inmates, Penelope among them.
Reggie sets fire to the Blossom maple grove in hopes that Cheryl will finally agree to sell. He tosses the gas cannister aside and flees in his car as the fire spreads.
As planned, Archie and Kevin give the parents of Parent-Teacher night a tour of the school. General Taylor decides to join them. When the lights suddenly shut off, Archie volunteers to investigate.
While celebrating Juniper and Dagwood’s birthday, the Coopers receive an unexpected visit from Charles and Chic, who were among the prisoners who escaped the Lodge Detention Center. Charles and Chic take a seat next to the twins at the table while Betty and Alice gather the food. Alice reveals to Betty that she’s been secretly visiting Charles over the years. Betty asks Charles why he has come back. He reveals that he and Chic would like to be married with their family present. Charles had Alice get ordained online a while back, so she can officiate.
Archie enters the shop class, where he is attached by a couple escaped inmates from the prison. Archie disarms the men and strikes them down with a crowbar. He heads into the hall, where he spots three more prisoners. He tosses his crowbar on the floor to get the attention of one of the prisoners before attacking. The fight leads from the front office to the corridors, where Archie, after taking a beating, knocks out the prisoner. Meanwhile, Kevin, General Taylor, and the parents are being held at gunpoint by two prisoners. One of the prisoners heads into the hallway with a machete to investigate the noise, where he is ambushed by Archie. Kevin makes an attempt for the prisoner’s gun and fails. Fortunately, Archie manages to sneak up behind him and knock him unconscious. Kevin then gets a text from his dad, who warns him that there was a breakout at Hiram’s prison. General Taylor advises everyone to stay put and fortify, as there could be more prisoners.
Alice officiates Charles and Chic’s marriage in the living room. Not far off stands Betty, Juniper, and Dagwood. Glen stops by unexpectedly with flowers and a present only to be held at gunpoint as he enters. Betty realizes that they must've attended the academy together and concludes this must be the reason behind Glen's dissertation of her family. Since Glen is so interested in what makes a serial killer tick, Charles suggests they play a game.
Archie chains the front entrance to the school shut in hopes of keeping any more prisoners from entering. Frank arrives and reveals that he overheard several inmates talking about how they’re being paid to trash the town, especially the school. Archie surmises that only Hiram would be vindictive enough to enact such a plan. Armed only with a gun loaded with six bullets and more prisoners arriving by the minute, Archie decides that their only option is to slip out the school with the parents through a tunnel behind the boiler. Then, he can lead them to the Sheriff Station.
Charles and Chic decide to play a game called "Pincushion Man," where the youngest member of a family takes a pin and sticks it in the pincushion man, that being Glen in this case. And with Juniper being the youngest member in their family by three minutes, Chic hands her a large kitchen knife and tells her to stick it in the Pincushion Man. Betty begs Charles to show restraint. Juniper is only nine years old and this will scar her for the rest of her life. While they may be lost causes, Juniper and Dagwood still have a chance at normal lives. Charles concedes and says that Betty must take her turn. Betty takes the knife and Alice sends the twins upstairs. Betty whispers for Glen to trust her and stabs him in the stomach. She then throws the knife into Chic's chest whilst Alice wrestles with Charles for control of the gun. The gun suddenly goes off and Charles is wounded.
Tabitha returns to the bunker to find Jughead under the full effect of the mushrooms. He has already completed the first part of his excerpt and asks Tabitha to dance with him. When she turns him down, he tells her not to be such a Betty and killjoy. Tabitha enacts her contingency plan and handcuffs Jughead to the table before leaving. Jughead hallucinates Jessica and Betty, who uncuff him from the chair and guides him to the bed, where they proceed to kiss. However, Jughead suddenly finds himself haunted by visions of Mothmen.
Penelope arrives at Thornhill to find Cheryl and Minerva dancing in the den. Penelope explains that she’s escaped from prison and that flames are encroaching on Thornhill from the groves. Nana Rose suspects that it’s the curse. The curse of their ancestors demands that all living Blossoms must die unless they sacrifice the interloper, i.e. Minerva. Cheryl and Penelope briefly consider the notion, which is more than enough cause for Minerva to flee. With no other choice, the Blossoms pray for wind to divert the fire. And as if they willed it into existence, a sudden wind comes blowing into Riverdale, diverting the flames and saving Thornhill from another fiery death.
The following morning, Veronica discovers that Chad lied about signing the divorce papers. He reveals that he recently got involved in an investment scheme. It was supposed to be an easy way to get them out of debt, which Chad got them into with bad investments. Chad figured out a way to get them out the hole, but it meant borrowing from other investors, and he had to make the investments in the name of an existing company, that being Veronica’s new jewelry store. She is distraught and demands that he sign the divorce papers immediately. However, Chad reminds Veronica that them divorcing would mean he could testify against her in court. And no one would believe that the "She-Wolf of Wall Street" didn’t know about the dirty dealings within her own business. He promises Veronica that he’ll make it all back with a little bit of time and her help.
Archie calls General Taylor over and tells him that he won’t be accepting his commendation. Had he trusted his instinct over General Taylor’s orders, Archie’s men might still be alive. He then tells General Taylor that he knows about the cover up. General Taylor tells Archie that he had two choices: either play along and be the hero or be the scapegoat. Archie replies that he’s already made his decision and that he’s willing to take the stand if necessary.
Jughead awakens in nothing but his underwear, still in the bunker but otherwise free of his restraints. He looks down on the table and sees his latest work titled "Episode 4: The Transubstantiation." A light then suddenly shines down into the bunker, garnering Jughead’s attention.
Eric joins Archie and Frank in the kitchen. Frank intends to stay with them for the time being while Archie’s mom talks to the parole board about how Frank helped them during the escape. If all goes well, he may be released. Archie then gets a call from Veronica, who informs him that she’s staying in New York to sort out her business, though she claims it’s only for a few days.
Reggie reports to Hiram that Thornhill didn’t burn because of the freak wind storm but a lot of the grove did. He suspects that Cheryl will come begging for them to buy the grove. And with how Hiram’s inmates left Riverdale High, it won’t reopen for weeks, if ever. Hiram tells Reggie that he’s done well and that good things await.
Betty gets off the phone with Glen, who’s recovering from his flesh wound, as Betty intended. As for Charles, he’s still in the ICU at Shankshaw, but it seems like he’s going to make it. Betty then reveals that the FBI have decided to relocate the Lonely Highway case upstate, closer to their northern office, but she’s not going to stop looking for Polly. So that night, Betty loads her gun and goes undercover as a trucker.
Tabitha returns to the bunker to find Jughead gone and a trail of blood leading to the handcuffs he somehow managed to break out of.
- The Prefab Messiahs - Gellow Mold
- Scene: Jughead is feeling the effects of his psychedelic "maple mushrooms" cheeseburger.
- Betsy Brye - Sleep Walk
- The episode title comes from Ub Iwerks's character from the 1935 animated film Balloon Land.
- This is the last episode before Riverdale goes on hiatus until July 7, 2021.
- Sam Pansky makes several references:
- Pop Culture Weekly — a podcast hosted by Kyle McMahon covering entertainment.
- Stephen King — an American author described as "King of Horror".
- Later, Betty states the Lonely Highway case is being moved to Derry. Derry is a fictional town in Maine created by Stephen King, which has been mentioned in a few of his works.
- Raymond Carver — an American short story writer and poet.
- Jughead's last work, "Episode 4: The Transubstantiation", is a reference to Transubstantiation, the change of the whole substance into something holy.