Graphic: Diyah Pera (The CW)

“Chapter Thirty-Three: Shadow Of A Doubt” highlights something that’s key to why Riverdale season two is so frustrating to watch: Riverdale is just such a hateful place at this point. I’ve compared Archie to Paul Walker’s character Skip in Pleasantville, but the entire town is at that angry, burning books (give it time) level of things now. And it’s all just so bleak. The fun surrealism of the world of “dark” Archie Comics isn’t the feeling anymore—just hatred and anger, which isn’t what you want in an escape from the real world. Jughead voiceovers about the “darkness” of this town, and the Coopers use the word as a catch-all for mental illness and possible serial killer status, but the point of that was always to show how the darkness would creep out from the light. But all there is now is darkness. Supposedly the musical numbers are the light, but having seen Glee, that’s definitely an incorrect assumption.

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In this episode, there’s a lynch mob for Fangs, despite absolutely zero evidence that he did anything but date Midge. In fact, there’s more “evidence” of Moose doing something, considering how upset he was that Midge/Fangs were together (a point that’s not addressed). A switchblade that isn’t tested for any of Midge’s blood is considered proof of Fangs’ guilt. But Fangs gets shot because of an intense anger against Serpents that this show refuses to examine. It’s in a scene that looks cool—but don’t these people have better things to do?

Riverdale wants to tackle class warfare (not so much struggles), but it doesn’t go any deeper than “Northsiders are dicks.” Characters like Archie and Reggie and Cheryl are (“were,” in Cheryl’s case) the poster children for the anti-Southside rhetoric among the youths, but in Archie’s case, we at least know (even with all the character missteps) that it comes from a place of helplessness. (Archie telling his dad he he doesn’t want to feel this way anymore is one of the best scenes of the episode. It’s just a shame the feeling snowballed into a huge mess this season.) Cheryl’s opposition came from her old money, snob upbringing. Reggie’s comes from… Well, we know he supports the Lodges because his dad does. And now because Hiram pays him. We have no motivation behind any of Reggie’s actions besides the assumption that he’s a psychopath. (The only thing countering that theory is his shock when Fangs gets shot, but I’m struggling to understand what he hoped would happen with the gun.)

On the adults’ end, obviously the Lodges and Alice have been the biggest anti-Southsiders, but for Alice, it was a matter of running away from her past to the point of turning on it. For the Lodges, it’s just business. Riverdale has gone so far in making the Serpents delightful human beings and actual positives to the show’s very existence—besides Toni Topaz obviously, the last episode Fangs was in, he achieved icon status—while making the Bulldogs (except for Chuck but somehow including Kevin) examples toxic masculinity. And that’s the very least of the problems with the Bulldogs.

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Meanwhile: Mob teen courtship is stupid. After Veronica’s anti-evil parent comments last week, this week’s episode completes that face turn. And it does it better, except for the very concept of Veronica’s teen business aspirations. On the plus side, Riverdale is smart to make the courting montage and concept as nonsexual as possible, with no Nick St. Clair 2.0. Veronica’s favorite boxer being “Michelle Rodriguez in Girl Fight” is also officially the most interesting thing about her, and I eagerly await a moment where Veronica somehow finds a way to mention Blue Crush. Veronica approaching Hiram about the casino idea and him shutting it down because Elio’s family wouldn’t do it legitimately should actually make Veronica happy—especially as it finally gives a sense that Hiram really does want to go legit. And her look to find a solution does show initiative, but it’s all really example of Riverdale thinking the audience really cares about the inner workings of business minds.

However, Veronica has a truly excellent moment when she confronts Hiram post-debate. Riverdale’s taken a large step back from Hiram and Hermione’s personal issues since the beginning of the season, with the two of them pretty much on the same side these days. But here, we get a reminder of how much they really aren’t a partnership, as a terrified Hermione clearly only chooses to continue with her mayoral campaign because it’s what her husband wants. “He’s willing to put your life in jeopardy. And for what? His plan, his vision, his decisions.” This is where Veronica (specifically Camila Mendes) actually has a chance to shine, as it’s easy to forget how good the Veronica/Hermione dynamic was last season. The fact that it’s fueled by her desire to create a casino kind of dampens it, but it’s still worthwhile.

You know, these kids are all pledging allegiance to the mayoral campaigns of people they can’t even vote for. It’s more of a gesture and a sign of shifting loyalties, but all Veronica directly telling Fred she’s on his side really does is point out even more how messed up it is that Archie’s not all-in with his own father. (Plus, she’d rather have Fred as a target than her mother.)

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This episode does a great deal to get Archie out from under Hiram’s thumb, but it’s frustrating how much things needed to be spelled out for Archie to finally realize how little Hiram has his best interests in mind. It appears the Dark Circle going into business for Hiram and getting paid behind Archie’s back should be the nail in the coffin, but then Hermione completely throws Archie under the bus as the founder of this “dangerous, radical group,” and that really should be the end of it all. Unfortunately, instead of getting confirmation that Mob Archie is done, we eventually get a Veronica/Archie sex scene that should signal the end of a chapter but feels oddly out of place for this episode. It’s a scene that makes sense for Hot Archie, but it’s one that also reads like the culmination of throwing the whole villain Veronica/Archie story out. Only Archie still has at least one foot left in that world. Honestly, Archie’s major saving grace in this episode—other than calling Reggie an “idiot”—is the fact that he’s literally sleeping through most of the mayhem that happens.

Also, in all this mess, let’s never forget the most important part of it all: Papa Poutine has a son called “Small Fry,” and he wants to get Archie for taking out his dad. SMALL FRY! No, Archie didn’t do anything to Papa Poutine, and Archie says as much here… but he did take credit for taking Papa Poutine out in “Chapter Thirty” While I can point out plenty Hiram has done to screw with Archie, Archie did this one to himself.

The Betty/Cheryl plot is mostly divorced from the rest of the episode, even though it intertwines with the debate at the town hall for a moment. The team-up is slightly different from a Betty/Veronica mystery team-up, where Veronica is the rational one questioning why Betty has escalated everything to 11. Here, Betty is lock-picking up a storm in order to prove that her father is the Black Hood and Cheryl loves all of it (she’s so excited to break into a serial killer’s “lair”)... but Cheryl also manages to be the level-headed one who lets Betty know that she has to be 100% certain before she can throw out an accusation. Since that’s not even Cheryl’s way about doing things, it’s interesting to see her play that role. As Betty points out, Cheryl has a unique perspective about this kind of thing: Her father was the monster in the dark, and she wouldn’t want anyone to go through that same experience.

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This episode doesn’t actually answer the Hal/Black Hood question. At breakfast with Betty and Alice, the show brilliantly finds time to give Lochlyn Munro the greenest eyes he’s ever had—immediately after the scene where we get Archie’s Black Hood eye flashbacks, as the boy literally goes door-to-door to look into men’s eyes. Betty even finds a copy of the Nancy Drew code book at the Share BNB Hal never stopped paying for. But Hal calls the book a birthday gift for her. (He never explains why he’s still renting the place though.) He’s also there when the Black Hood shoots up the debate at town hall—he protects Betty. That should nip it in the bud for Betty and the audience. But it doesn’t. So Betty calls Hal to meets her at the town hall, in the same cryptic way the Black Hood had called her before. It’s not a “normal” phone call, yet at no point does Hal question why his daughter’s talking the way she is. When the episode ends, Betty is waiting for her dad… as the Black Hood is at Cheryl’s door. Of course, Betty told her dad she and Cheryl had been investigating him.

When it came to Clifford Blossom, it wasn’t like there were bread crumbs laid out for him to be his son’s killer. Really, he was just the best possible option, especially as a guest star instead of a series regular. With Svenson, it was underwhelming. It was then revealed to be chosen by the writers in an even more underwhelming fashion, it was generally agreed upon that he wasn’t the real Black Hood. With Hal (or someone who looks like Hal—he is a Blossom after all) as the Black Hood, it would honestly be one of the best examples of planning on Riverdale, a show that isn’t exactly praised for its logic and planning. Especially when most of that planning seems to go to mobster Lodges and local politics.

Stray observations

  • Riverdale Roulette: I think I have to suggest Girl Fight, honestly.
  • Josie and the Keller-cat: Josie doesn’t exist. Duh. Kevin continues to be the most passively terrible character on this show. Yes, the core four are all actively terrible. But it takes a special quality to just accept terrible things the way they are, whether they’re the Lodges (because of Andy Cohen), gay conversion (because of hook-ups), or vigilante mayhem (because of money and a forgetful mind). I mention “a forgetful mind,” because it was just last week Kevin was letting his dad know he’d campaign for Fred Andrews, because a Hermione Lodge mayoral run meant he’d never be sheriff again. But now Kevin’s all in on Lodge-funded Dark Circle antics because the murderer of Midge is the reason his dad lost his job, not the fact that the Lodges wanted a sheriff they can control. (Why does no one in this town have a problem with the fact they “personally recruited” the new one?)
  • I love that Sierra is now just “Attorney McCoy.” She’s your friend’s mom, guys. You can call her “Mrs. McCoy.”
  • Cheryl: “Dear cousin, you look harrowed.” Oh, Cheryl. Also, she’s reading Clive Barker’s Books Of Blood when the Black Hood so rudely interrupts her.
  • The default iPhone ringtone on this show feels as out of place as Love, Simon did.
  • Jughead: “Unless it was some other vigilante group in letterman jackets who set a dumpster on fire and slashed our tires.” The jocks on Riverdale are the dumbest people, and that stupidity is at least a joy on a visual level.
  • Archie: “Have you guys lost your minds?”
    Reggie: “We were celebrating Fangs’ arrest.”
    Archie: “That’s not something to celebrate, you idiot. He didn’t do it.”
    Kevin: “Archie, he had a knife on him.” 1. Archie calling Reggie an “idiot” is earned and an instance of Archie being 100% able to call someone an idiot. 2. Kevin is also an idiot, because literally every Serpent has a knife on them.
  • Again, we’re shown a Black Hood with a lack of stealth or finesse—the fact that he doesn’t hit anyone should show that this is just a diversion. I’ve called the Black Hood the worst serial killer ever, but he’s (except for the season two intro—which I mentioned in the comments last week—and the frantic Svenson version) not someone who’s going to get spotted by Veronica and miss every single shot he takes. Unless he wants (or his partner wants him) to be.
  • Who else is not surprised the dead body Betty and Cheryl go to see is not Chic?
  • Oh hi, Joaquin! I don’t know how I feel about them making San Junipero a real place instead of just the nice Easter Egg it was in season one. But I do know, Fangs deserves to go there.

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