This became longer than I wanted to, but here it goes - my take on the friendship triangle of Archie, Betty and Jughead:
I don’t doubt at all that Betty loves Archie and will always love Archie or that she had this monumental crush on him because he will always represent that comfortable piece of her life when things were easier and simpler and they didn’t have to worry about such things as parental manipulation, sexual abuse, neglect or the general pitfalls of becoming an adult.
Betty probably thought Archie could still fulfill that role of childhood companion into their adolescence and young adult life with the extra benefit of also being a lover, but unfortunately Archie was not there yet. And it is okay. I think the story the show is trying to tell this season, which combined with Archie’s and Jughead’s friendship, is that there is a point in our lives that our friend’s experiences and our own diverge to a point which can result in either the perpetuation of that friendship because we still relate to it all or we end up drifting in opposite directions, becoming a mere fond memory of a increasingly distant childhood. And I repeat, it is natural and it is okay. Betty and Archie’s experience are both still validly difficult (his parents are getting a divorce after all) but vastly different. Archie still has a lot growing up to do while Betty has been navigating a troublesome family with mental health issues for quite some time which he must know about btw but can’t quite relate, just like Betty couldn’t quite relate with Archie’s experience of being a victim of Ms Grundy.
And here is where Jughead comes in. Betty’s and Jughead’s stories fit in a way I don’t think either was actually counting on. It was a nice surprise. They can empathise with each other because they are both struggling with parental abuse: her with overprotection and gaslighting, him with neglect and abandonment. Again, I am not saying Archie’s life doesn’t have valid struggle in it, because it does, but it is a different kind of struggle while Bughead’s is fundamentally similar.
But imagine this: from childhood these three lives went in parallel lines to each other, each their own with different colours and different shapes, but running next to each other and going in the same unavoidable direction that is adulthood. But at some point they start taking different turns. Jughead’s father starts to drink, Betty’s sister runs away from home and Archie’s parent are fighting at home. And this goes on and on and each turn they take their lines sometimes cross each other (Betty promises to marry Archie when they are 18), sometimes move in different direction (Jughead never tells any of them his father is a Serpent), and sometimes they go back to run in parallel (Betty is still Archie’s best friend, who in turn is still Jughead’s best friend).
But at some point in time and space Archie’s line just went one way, while Jughead’s and Betty’s went the other. Archie might have been oblivious, but I believe Betty has been fighting this whole time to try to keep those lines close together while Jughead is also doing the same from his end with his obsession for the Riverdale of old and the “American Dream”, Archie being the archetypical character in his nostalgic dreams (that knife in his back bears so many connotations). In both cases, Archie is still the centre piece.
But then everything that summer comes to a head, Jughead is planning a trip with ‘Archie and Betty finally decides to take their friendship to another level… but both of them fail. Big time. He is snubbed and she is rejected while Archie continued to be clueless about any of the implications.
When Jughead finds out that Archie slighted him for Ms Grundy, I think it really put a fissure in their friendship. The same way I think what really crushed Betty’s expectations of a romantic happy ending with Archie was his “You are so perfect” speech. I think that really broke her heart because how could this boy who lived next door, who was her best friend and knew her their whole life not see her. Truly see her. And it was the first time she realised their paths might not be going in the same direction after all.
They will always be the best of friends, but they are definitely drifting apart and on her way there she found a kindred spirit in Jughead, another cast away of friendship’s tortuous ways, when before she was sure Archie’s was the right path for her. How far will they drift away from each other, and how much will Jughead’s and Betty’s line become intertwined, is what we will have to wait for.