We need to talk about this episode title, because it brings up my biggest issue with this season thus far. The episode is called “Chapter Seventeen: The Town That Dreaded Sundown.” The town that dreaded sundown. Is there a more dramatic way of phrasing that? Spoiler: No, there’s not. And yet every time I want to roll my eyes at the melodrama, this show does one of two things:
- It makes fun of itself.
- It pulls back on the dramatics, which we see at the end of tonight’s hour.
And that leaves me teetering on the edge. On the one hand, I’m really enjoying this season, and on the other, it’s soooo close to being too much. But that’s also part of Riverdale, right? I’ve never felt more confused, so let’s just get into it, shall we?
The episode starts with Jug finally saying the words everyone else is avoiding: “There was a serial killer among us.” Yep, the Black Hood is joining the ranks of Zodiac, the Axeman, and the Phantom Killer…at least as far as Jug is concerned. But the serial killer isn’t the only issue in Riverdale. As the librarian tells him, she’s just as freaked out by the shirtless video Archie and his Red Circle put together.
At this point, the town is on high alert: Shops are closing early, people are adding deadbolts to their doors, and the mayor is calling a town meeting to put people at ease. And then there’s Alice Cooper, who’s doing everything she can to point the finger at the South Side, thereby reasserting that the North Side of Riverdale is far superior. But what she doesn’t know is that one of North Side’s own — Archie Andrews — is currently having target practice in the woods, and he’s a really good shot? (When did this happen? I have some doubts.)
Elsewhere, the parents of Riverdale are reacting to the Red Circle’s video: Hiram plays dumb and supports Hermione when she tells Veronica to break up with Archie; Betty’s parents don’t care because they’re too focused on the fact that Polly just left; and Archie’s dad tells his son to pull the video down. (Archie already did — it’s not his fault it went #viral and now everyone’s sharing it.) And then there’s the Serpents, who decide that Archie’s beautiful red head will serve as their next target. Jug tries to talk them into going after the Black Hood instead, but according to Sweet Pea, the Black Hood is doing their work for them. He’s their hero. A SERIAL KILLER IS THEIR HERO. MAYBE YOU SHOULD STOP SITTING WITH THEM, JUG.
While Jug tries to save Archie’s life, Archie is walking down the hallway at school like he’s some kind of god as the music in the background is a rap remix of his video? Honestly, what is happening? It all ends when Ronnie pulls him into a classroom to yell at him for the tape, and it takes Arch about two seconds to reveal that Hiram is the one who gave him the idea. No, he didn’t say to, as Ronnie puts it, “line up a bunch of semi-naked boys straight out of The Lord of the Flies, put them in red ski masks, and deliver some Unabomber-like manifesto.” But Hiram did tell Archie to fight fire with fire, and if that doesn’t translate to shirtless teens, I don’t know what does.
Continuing his downward spiral, Archie is called into the principal’s office, where Principal Weatherbee shuts down the football team until the Red Circle is disbanded. As for Archie, he has a week to issue an apology to the community or his suspension will begin, and it will continue until he’s complied. Archie’s response? He tries to convince the Red Circle to follow him to the South Side, where they’ll force the killer’s hand by showing up on his home turf. Yeah, no, Reggie’s out, and he takes all the guys with him. That leaves Archie alone, something Doiley thinks he wanted all along. Now, Archie gets to face off against the Black Hood mano a mano.
But the Black Hood has other things on his mind than Archie Andrews — namely, Betty Cooper. The Black Hood sends Betty a letter explaining that her speech at the jubilee is the very thing that inspired him. He says he’s doing all of this for her. That’s why he’s enclosed a cipher that he says only she can figure it out. And if she passes his test, she will know the location of his next victim.
Unsure of what to do, Betty tells Kevin everything but decides to keep the letter for herself and just hand the cipher over to the cops (and her mother). That leaves all of Riverdale to try to crack the code. (Next: The Red Circle versus the Southside Serpents)
After school, Veronica confronts her father in his study and basically talks her way around asking if Hiram manipulated Archie into starting the Red Circle and creating that video. Of course, the answer is yes, but Hiram claims he doesn’t remember what he and Archie talked about. To be fair, Archie is not the most exciting conversationalist, but come on Veronica, you know something’s off here.
And she does. That’s why she decides to support her man by making T-shirts for the Red Circle — a hilarious, oh-so-high-school way to think of supporting a cause — and having the Vixens hand them out. Does this mean the Vixens are part of the Red Circle now? Because I am so down to watch Cheryl fight crime.
Except, when Archie heads to the South Side, he does it on his own — after purchasing some ammo, a holster, and a kevlar vest using a fake I.D. with the name WILBUR WILKINS. (Give that a second to sink in.) He then proceeds to spray-paint red circles all over town until Sweet Pea and some Serpents catch him. But when Sweet Pea pulls a knife, Archie pulls a gun, and WHAT IS HAPPENING TO ARCHIE?! Sweet Pea and his guys run away…for now.
Back in the North Side, Betty, Jug, Toni, and Kevin are having a code-breaking party, because that’s not awkward at all. Things quickly get heated when Toni tells Betty she might be able to recognize the symbols if she loosened her ponytail. Kevin’s response: “Betty’s ponytail is iconic and beyond reproach.” THIS is the Kevin I’ve missed.
But at this point, Betty’s willing to try anything, so she takes down her hair in the hopes that suddenly she’ll be able to crack the cipher. (Am I smarter when my hair is down?!) But when they start going over what they know about the killer and Betty suggests he’s from the South Side, Toni loses her cool and outs Jughead for sitting with the Serpents at lunch. With that, she and Kevin both leave so that Betty can…not yell at Jug? He swears he only sits with the Serpents for survival purposes, but Betty is far too focused on breaking this code to even care. In fact, her mild obsession with solving the code comes back to bite her when she and Jug accidentally fall asleep and she ends up rushing home the next morning and leaving behind a few notebooks. In one of those notebooks is the note the Black Hood wrote her, and Jughead finds it.
When he asks why Betty kept it from him (and everyone), she admits she’s worried that if Archie finds out she inspired the killer, he will blame her for all of this. But when Jug calls her “Nancy Drew meets Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” she remembers something. The letter said only she could solve the code. So she takes Jug to the library to check out one of her favorite books from when she was a kid: The Nancy Drew Secret Code Activity Book.
Back at school, Sheriff Keller and Principal Weatherbee find out that some red-headed kid was waiving a gun around the South Side last night, so they ask to see Archie’s locker. Thankfully, Archie is smart enough not to keep his gun in his locker, but he’s not smart enough to get rid of the ski mask that Reggie wore to his house. Why he kept it, I have no idea. But it gets him barred from school.
In a bit of good news, not ratting Reggie out gets Archie back on good terms with his boys. After Archie calls Veronica and asks her to get his gun for him — he hid it in the back of a toilet at school — she heads to his house to rightfully yell at him as Archie admits that he wants to be the one to kill the Black Hood and that he didn’t wear a ski mask in the video so that he’d become the Hood’s next target. Just then, Reggie and some of the football team knock on the door. They’ve come bearing pizza to say that they want to keep the Red Circle going…and it’s a good thing because Sweet Pea and a group of Serpents just showed up on Archie’s porch.
Long story short, the Serpents are here to fight, and after both sides agree to a “no weapons” rule, they head out into the rain — of course it’s raining — for a good old-fashioned brawl. It doesn’t take long for things to take a turn when one of the Serpents pulls a knife and stabs Dilton in the leg. Thankfully, Veronica’s there and she brought Archie’s gun, which she fires into the air to put an end to things. In the end, something good comes out of the fight: Archie realizes how crazy he’s been, and together, he and Veronica throw his gun into Sweetwater River.
Back at the library, Betty figures out that the Black Hood plans to strike next at the town hall, where Alice Cooper is currently trash-talking the South Side, per usual. She wants to shut down Southside High and use that money to bolster the police force. Of course it’s Fred who speaks up against her, but no decisions are made before Betty pulls the fire alarm to get everybody out. She then decides to hand over the Black Hood’s letter to the cops (and her mother).
As Jug’s voice-over tells us, that night was the turning point: Riverdale would no longer be known as “the town with pep,” but rather “the town that dreaded sundown.” The final shot of the night shows Betty receiving a phone call…from the Black Hood.
Leaving tonight’s episode, I’m no less confused about how I feel about this season. I do like adding the Betty connection to all this, and I’m very happy that Archie realized how ridiculous he’s been, but I still haven’t decided if this all feels just a bit too much. One thing I definitely know: Kevin’s great ponytail line reminded me of how much I missed those fun one-liners — from him and others (Cheryl!). But what did you think? Hit the comments with your thoughts or find me on Twitter @samhighfill.