Hello and welcome back to Riverdale, the show in a game of chicken with the news to see which one will give up being relentlessly dreary first! (My money is on the world erupting into atomic warfare before either of them cheer the fuck up.)
This episode, I am sorry to say, chiefly concerns The Black Hood, and the uniformly awful tactics various parties employ to fight him (and when I say “him,” I mean Betty’s parents.)
We begin with Jughead’s narration informing us that the town of Riverdale has now joined the ranks of great American cities who can claim their very own serial killer. Jughead tries not to sound inappropriately excited about this, but this is clearly his equivalent to the town getting an NBA team.
he town is divided as to how to combat this masked menace, but they are agreed on one things: Archie’s Red Circle video was INCREDIBLY STUPID.
TALK ABOUT ROTTEN TOMATOES.
Even Principal Weatherby, who supported the Red Circle when it billed itself as a “neighborhood watch,” objects to its new “find you, hunt you, end you” mission statement, and he disbands the football team until they agree to apologize for that video. This is enough to scare the rest of the Circle off, but Archie remains undeterred in his mission to take down The Black Hood (which, it just occurred to me, is a bit of a shameless rip-off of Pretty Little Liars’s “black hoodie.”)
SARTORIAL SIMILARITIES ASIDE, I ALSO DON’T CARE WHO EITHER OF THEM ARE!
Betty Cooper is also on the case, and she receives a mysterious letter from the Hood himself, who reveals that his entire murder spree was inspired by her “let’s face up to our flaws” speech at the town Jubilee! Along with the letter, he includes an encoded message, which he says that only Betty can solve. The whole thing is strongly redolent of John Hinckley Jr., who shot Ronald Reagan in an effort to impress Jodie Foster. (Of course, Reagan lived and Jodie turned out to be gay, so it was a mixed bag for everybody.)
Just as Betty is processing this horrifying development, Kevin rolls up to say that he is STILL MAD at her for telling his dad about his anonymous forest sex, but he is willing to forgive her, because she is his only link to the show’s actual storylines.
I’D RATHER BE SHOEHORNED INTO YOUR SHIT THAN PIGEONHOLED IN THESE “VERY SPECIAL GAY EPISODES.”
Betty barely processes this, because we’ve already moved on to Her Thing: the letter/cypher. In the end, she opts to show the cypher to her mom, but tell no one about the letter, because she’s afraid the town will blame her for the Black Hood. (Ordinarily I would say that Betty is being ridiculous, but honestly there’s no telling what the grownups of Riverdale might believe.)
Betty’s mom, predictably, publishes the cypher in the town newspaper (because selling papers is among her top five motives) and everyone busies themselves trying to decode the message. Jughead teams up with Toni Topaz for a little private code-cracking session, which he lies to Betty about, because this show is trying to break them up just as fast as it can.
When Betty finds out about this, she muffles her jealousy and suggests that they all work together, and even invites Kevin along for the ride. They don’t make a lot of headway, though, because Toni would rather insult Betty than save lives. (I don’t like Toni. She reminds of me of Twitter.)
ALL NORTHSIDERS ARE ENTITLED, PRIVILEGED, IGNORANT BITCHES, WHO MAKE SWEEPING GENERALIZATIONS ABOUT THE SOUTH SIDE.
BUT THAT’S A SWEEPING GENERALIZATION.
OH, IT DOESN’T COUNT WHEN I DO IT.
The study group isn’t the only place where Southside/Northside tensions are coming to a boil with all the reckless, contextless, rage-fueled intensity of social media feuds. When the rest of the Red Circle abandons Archie, Veronica rushes to his side and assures him that she still believes that he is a good and reasonable boyfriend. But Veronica fails to grasp that the Red Circle collapsing has given Archie what he actually wants: an excuse to go completely off the rails.
So that night, Archie goes to the Southside with a can of red spray paint and his stupid fucking gun, looking for trouble. Naturally, it’s not long until he finds it, and a bunch of Serpents threaten him with a knife for graffiti-ing their neighborhood.
ACCORDING TO THE NRA, THIS IS JUST AS DANGEROUS AS A FIREARM.
WELL THIS’LL BE A REAL TEACHABLE MOMENT FOR THEM, WON’T IT?
The Serpents run, but word gets around that a young man with flaming hair has been waving a gun around town, and the next day Archie is suspended from school. The authorities check his locker, but thankfully he had the good sense to hide the gun there. He did however, stash Reggie’s hood there, somehow blind the the thought that keeping an actual black hood around might be sending a weird message at this particular moment in time.
I’M ACTUALLY DEDICATED TO RECLAIMING THE COMPLEX MULTICULTURAL HERITAGE OF BLACK HOODS.
At this point, everyone is pretty much at the end of their ropes with Archie. His dad is terrified of what he might do, his schoolmates can’t stop laughing at his video, and when he sends Veronica to retrieve the gun, she tells him she threw it in the river. When she confronts him, Archie admits that he went to the Southside hoping the Black Hood would attack him, so he could shoot him. Veronica is understandably horrified by Archie’s suicidal/homicidal fantasy, but they never get to really deal with it because the original Red Circle members show up at Archie’s house to apologize for abandoning him.
They aren’t the last guests at the Andrews residence that night: the Serpents also show up, seeking revenge on Archie for humiliating them on their home turf.
They agree to a West Side Story style rumble, which Veronica successfully argues should be a simple fistfight. And then they start beating the shit out of each other, which the show photographs a little too lovingly, given that we’re supposed to be condemning it.
YOU WANT TO HAVE YOUR SOCIAL COMMENTARY BUT EAT YOUR BEEFCAKE TOO.
Things really get out of control when one of the Serpents stabs Dilton Doilie, and Veronica fires Archie’s gun into the air to break it up.
WHAT, YOU THOUGHT I REALLY THREW IT IN THE RIVER?
The Northside gang takes Dilton to the hospital, and Veronica gets Archie to dispose of the gun for real this time. Afterwards, he admits that he’s grateful he didn’t have the gun last night, because he might have used it.
TURNS OUT A GOOD GUY WITH A GUN IS A LOT MORE DANGEROUS THAN JUST A PLAIN OLD GOOD GUY.
Meanwhile, all the grownups are at a town meeting. (I miss having fun town events, like last season, where everyone got drunk and hissed at each other!) They’re discussing how best to react to the Black Hood menace, with all the parents taking different positions on the issue. Alice Cooper suggests they just convert Southside High into a prison and lock all the students inside.
I ALSO THINK WE SHOULD BAN EMOJIS! WHO KNOWS WHAT OUR CHILDREN ARE SAYING WITH THEM?
Fred Andrews accuses her of conflating one problem (a lone vigilante) with another (the poverty that has made Southside the den of iniquity it is today). The Lodges, meanwhile, are sitting quietly to the side, searching for a way to profit off the town’s paranoia.
WE NEED TO BUY STOCK IN SPRAYPAINT COMPANIES, BULLET MANUFACTURERS, AND A COUPLE DOZEN RUSSIAN TROLLS.
(In case you are very dull, all the events of this episode are meant to parallel our national mood, and our rapidly fraying social bonds.) But the meeting is interrupted when Betty and Jughead show up and warn the adults that the auditorium is the killer’s next target! It turns out, the cypher was designed specifically for Betty, since it referred to her childhood love of Nancy Drew. (Also something her parents are uniquely positioned to know.)
JODIE FOSTER? NANCY DREW? I THINK THE KILLER IS TELLING ME TO BECOME A LESBIAN ICON.
The adults evacuate before anyone else is killed, but the threat of violence causes the panic the Black Hood clearly wants. And as Jughead grimly narrates, that night marks a turning point for the town. And yes, he has already said that Jason’s murder and Fred’s attack were the events that robbed Riverdale of its innocence. But this time, he darkly intones, its lost something even more precious: its pep.
NOW JUST THE TOWN WITH AN UNREALISTICALLY HIGH PERCENTAGE OF CLASSIC CARS.
When I decided to recap Riverdale, I made a calculated risk. I committed hours of my life each week—hours which my girlfriend has gently suggested I might spend working on projects for which I am paid—because I believed that Riverdale could make it worth my while in two possible ways.
- Any (literally any) of its female characters could touch boobs with any of the others, thus rendering the show irresistible to my core group of queer female readers. This was always the best case scenario, and would make recapping Riverdale look like investing in Bitcoin. I still hold out hope that this dream will come to pass. As of yet, however, the best we have is Cheryl Blossom plotting evil deeds in front of her locker. Which isn’t nothing, but it’s not enough.
- The show’s “Happy Days by way of Hitchcock” aesthetic would continue to win viewers, and it would finally become the “national obsession” it originally positioned itself to be. But, as Jughead’s narration this season has constantly reminded us, the show is dispensing with much of its cheeriness to explore darker themes. Unfortunately, I think Riverdale is shifting gears so violently and abruptly that it’s at risk of stalling out, and I’m not the only critic who holds this opinion.
As of now, this show is still succeeding on several fronts. Its cast is only more compelling the more time they spend with their characters, the lurid color palette is still a visual treat, but the show’s grim new outlook—while effective at mirroring our national mood—has robbed it of the giddy escapism that originally made it so appealing. If you take the “pep” out of Riverdale’s step, what you’re left with is a trudge.