The greatest strength of “Chapter Seventeen: The Town That Dreaded Sundown” is just how heavy it leans into its stylistic choices, no matter how ridiculous they are. Because every choice is completely in service of making nearly everything in this episode work. The apex of this comes in the form of the big thunderstorm, which goes from the sign of an ominous thriller to a dramatic display of machismo (as well as general town dissent) to the beginning of a horror story. Narratively, “Chapter Seventeen” is already a heightened episode, but the visual and even aural aspects of the episode are right there with it.
And so is Archie, who Riverdale again gets right by treating him not so much as an aspirational figure or even the true “hero” of the story (even though we know Archie does have his own genuine moments of heroism). Watching this episode specifically, I couldn’t help but think of what Hank Hill would say about Archie: “That boy ain’t right.” Case in point, a line like this:
“Principal Weatherbee, you have my word. There is only one person who should be scared of that video.”
How he thinks that’s an appropriate response to anything Weatherbee says in that particular scene is a whole other level of impressive for this character.
Remember when Archie Andrews was Cheryl Blossom’s gigolo and literally everyone told him he was, but he didn’t believe it and wouldn’t listen? This episode is that… times 100. The Archie who struts down the halls of Riverdale High School with that “autotune the news” soundtrack cue of his Black Hood video? Acting like he owns the place and not realizing everyone parts like the Red Sea because he’s the weird kid who just called out a serial killer on YouTube in a room of masked, shirtless teen boys? That’s the Archie who can drive an entertaining episode of Riverdale, as absurd as it is. Because the fact that it’s absurd is what works, especially when it miraculously turns poignant.
Because as nice as it is to laugh at Archie, Riverdale manages to bring out the real emotional and psychological honesty out of all of his actions by the end of “Chapter Seventeen.” Dilton Doiley is incredibly heavy-handed as he confronts Archie about (and facilitates him in) his quest for solo vigilante justice, but in exploring Archie’s real reasoning behind everything he’s been doing with the Red Circle, it makes such an over-the-top plot work on a level that’s more than just “lol Archie started a teen militia.” I wrote that “Chapter Fifteen: Nighthawks” handled Archie’s particular issues with more of an after school special than expected or even preferred from Riverdale, but “Chapter Seventeen” does a better job when it comes to them. While Archie embarrassingly made his peace with the fact that he’ll “die alone” (back in season one), it’s not until now, with this entire Black Hood saga that we realize just how far gone he’s gotten due to this trauma. Not only does he want to kill the Black Hood himself but he doesn’t care if he doesn’t make it out alive. Archie has a death wish, and he’s not even writing terrible songs about it. That’s how serious it is.
When I write about Riverdale getting Archie right, it’s not just about getting his in-over-his-head teen tunnel vision up to 11. Because this episode draws attention to something never imagined possible: Archie is the one who gets Riverdale’s Rebel Without A Cause/The Outsiders treatment. Not Jughead. On paper, that makes little sense because Archie is Archie and Jughead is Jughead. Jughead even hits the nail on the head this week when he calls Archie “milquetoast.” But as Jughead’s role is that of the observer—even with all his Southside baggage—it kind of makes perfect sense that he’s not the one hitting these beats. Sure, Archie is definitely more of a Rebel Without A Clue, but look at the rumble between the Bulldogs and the Serpents. It’s straight from The Outsiders, right down to Reggie driving Dilton to the hospital. And it works just as well as anything else in Riverdale, if not even more so. The moment where Archie throws the first punch and Sweet Pea goes down? I’ll sincerely use the word epic. The same goes for that shot of Veronica as she stops the fight, standing right in between two cars as though she’s signaling that ’50s chicken race at the quarry that just has to happen this season.
Speaking of Veronica, we’ve been watching the Veronica/Hermione relationship grow more and more antagonistic this season, but it really should be acknowledged here: Hermione is absolutely in the right as a parent in this episode. More importantly, Veronica realizes that, as she even admits in other scenes that she’s simply taking the opposite side just to keep that whole dynamic going. But it’s Hermione’s speech to Veronica about “loyalty” versus “blind loyalty” that really stands out. Because even though things end with Archie and Veronica supposedly in an okay place again, it’s all the result of Veronica putting way too much “blind loyalty” in Archie. (Also keep in mind that Hermione, as far as we know, is not blind in her loyalty to Hiram. But I’m sure he has a few tricks up his sleeve.) After this speech, Veronica almost immediately goes to retrieve Archie’s hidden toilet bowl gun for him. Veronica then channels the audience when she tells Archie she’s glad he wasn’t dumb enough to keep it in his locker. Then she officiates the class warfare outside of Archie’s house and ends up shooting the damn gun herself (to put an end to something that have escalated to this point in the first place). And even before all this, she makes those “fashion statement” Red Circle T-shirts. Because as usual, Veronica—as New York elite as she is—doesn’t understand the gravity of the situation she’s getting herself involved in.
Early in the series, I tried my best to frame and even justify a large portion of Archie’s boring nature within the context of his character really only needing to be a good, decent person. But when Veronica says she knows Archie wouldn’t have shot anyone, I don’t think I believe it. Especially given how far gone he had become before Veronica finally put an end to the rumble. That’s when it hits me: Veronica’s storylines in particular are the ones that make the difference between how one perceives a teen drama as a youth and how one perceives it as an adult even more apparent. Archie is a walking, talking red flag in this episode (and this season, given everything), yet the power of Veronica’s love supposedly saves the day. This isn’t a normal relationship speed bump, so hopefully the issue of “blind loyalty” comes up again.
And all the while, as Archie feels a personal vendetta in his dealing with all things Black Hood, we learn that the Black Hood has an actual personal attachment to Betty. Yes, after the past few episodes of Archie’s belief that the Black Hood cares only about him—even after the letter about how he’s going after sinners—this episode confirms that Archie is 100% wrong even when it comes to that. Because as we learn here, the Black Hood is doing it all for Betty Cooper. While Betty’s attempt to hide things from her parents—especially after her mother informs her just how scared she is for her daughters—is a pretty teenage response, there is an understandable touch in the fact that she also doesn’t want Archie to know. Because she doesn’t want Archie to blame her, and while it might sound like a dick move for him to do so, given his current state (at least before his final conversation with Veronica), it’s absolutely possible Archie would blame her. He’s looking for answers and reasons and excuses, and if Betty and her Jubilee speech can be one, then so be it.
At the same time, as troubling as all this is, one of the best scenes in this story and this episode is when—again, after just having the realization that her mom isn’t exactly the Ice Queen she seems to be—Betty goes to her mother with smeared eye make-up and crocodile tears to manipulate her into publishing the Black Hood’s cipher (no questions asked) and puff up her ego as a Super Mom. And it works, as Alice Cooper explains away the holes in Betty’s story to Sheriff Keller with a simple line: “Well it’s obvious, Sheriff: He needs a platform to grandstand on, and he’s terrified of me.” This is a laugh out loud line and also one that makes for as good a time as any to discuss the possible identity of the Black Hood. Because even though that “he’s terrified of me” line is just an Alice Cooper-ism, this episode certainly plants the seeds for the Black Hood to be Hal Cooper.
Besides the fact that the Black Hood reveals he’s doing this for Betty, there’s also the reveal that he knows the very specific book that Betty was obsessed with as a child (The Nancy Drew Secret-Code Activity Book, of course). Now, Hal Cooper is the same guy who went into a spiral while knowing about his family’s incest bomb and keeping it to himself—he’s a character who’s bound to snap at some point if he hasn’t already. This would also explain the lack of attempt on the Black Hood’s part to go after Polly, despite her obvious sinner status and her rookie horror movie move to seclude herself. And when it comes to the Archie of it all (as we’ve eliminated the theory that he’s trying to send a mission to the kid), it would explain the Black Hood’s hesitance when it came to actually shooting him. Because while Hal and Alice might not like the boy, he means the world to Betty. And that’s reason enough to spare his life. If Hal actually does end up being the Black Hood, it’s also not a problem that it’s possibly too predictable. Because:
- The eventual reveal has to make sense. There’s a habit for a sequel (which is technically what this is) to go with a convoluted explanation for a mystery to avoid predictability. But if Riverdale goes with predictable and maintains this current level of quality, it’s golden.
- It would finally allow Riverdale to use Lochlyn Munro to his fullest potential. While he’s “just” a guest star on this show, that doesn’t make his casting any less deliberate than the rest of the show’s casting. You just don’t cast Lochlyn Munro without being willing to pull the mental breakdown trigger eventually.
And despite the talk about the Black Hood potentially being a rogue Southsider, the point about the Black Hood having attended the Riverdale Jubilee arguably suggests he’s Northside through and through. Since, you know, the Southsiders are barely treated like Riverdale citizens.
The escalation of the Northside/Southside conflict in this episode promises for even more chaos throughout the season, but it is nice to see the Southside side of things here. Yes, the Serpents (who are criminals) specifically are the ones leading the battle cry, but they do have a point. Alice Cooper is attempting to spark Civil War in Riverdale, even attempting to have Southside High School closed, and there’s not an ounce of evidence that says the Red Circle is from that part of town. What’s less nice, however, is the way Toni Topaz immediately goes from chill to fed up in this episode, and it’s one of the things that truly feels off in a rather affecting episode. (As for what feels especially “on,” go back to Alice’s “my heart stops” speech to Betty about how scared she is right now. Madchen Amick truly gives one of the most emotionally honest moments of the series right there, and it really makes Betty’s manipulation cold-blooded.) Obviously this episode latches on to the Serpents’ frustrations with the Northside, but Toni all of a sudden has such a short fuse when Betty suggests a Southside suspect, accusing her of thinking a Serpent did it (she doesn’t imply such a thing) and blowing up Jughead’s spot about his continued friendship with the Serpents. The latter at least gets things out in the open for Betty and Jughead in a way that’s much needed in this episode, but neither of them really have time to discuss it here. Nor do they get to discuss if Toni is okay, because her blow-up is an insanely quick escalation of frustrations even for Riverdale.
Now before I finish, let me go back to the beginning of the episode.
“Everyone’s afraid to say it. So let me be the first: There is a serial killer amongst us.”
Just to be fair to the citizens of Riverdale, they don’t exactly have a good serial killer. And while the Serpents have some issues to sort out about their own newly revealed beliefs that the Black Hood is essentially their version of Santa Claus, both North and Southsiders should be able to rejoice that his one actual kill was a serial child predator. Still, there is an understandable terror in the air, and “Chapter Seventeen” explores that extremely well. That’s the case right from the beginning, with simple beats like Cheryl and the River Vixens walking home in a pack, Hal Cooper adding another lock to the house (while Alice Cooper rolls her eyes and drinks a glass of wine), and especially the visuals of Riverdale’s real life serial killer inspirations.
That last one is a fantastic choice too, playing into the surreal visual nature of the series while also serving as a reminder of just how strongly this show wears its inspirations on its sleeves. There’s the Zodiac Killer, who has been a topic of Black Hood conversation in the comments since this season began. (I’m still hoping for some Snowman action though.) There’s the Axeman of New Orleans. And then there’s the Phantom Killer, who is the killer of choice in this episode’s title reference, The Town That Dreaded Sundown. We usually know Riverdale as the town that dreaded turning on a light switch—and given Archie’s turn to darkness, the Andrews’ household is the biggest offender of that right now—but with talks of curfews and the actual existence of teen jock vigilante squads, it’s clear Riverdale has never been more dangerous. While there was a sense of fear that came with Jason Blossom’s death, that was treated by the town as an anomaly, not a widespread issue. But now? That’s not even possible. Not with Alice Cooper leading the charge in a Northside versus Southside battle and not with the aforementioned teen jocks getting into rumbles with actual gang members. Last week, Fred Andrews said Riverdale isn’t the Wild West. Well, it’s getting dangerously close these days.
- Riverdale Roulette: All I can think about is the music video for Paula Abdul’s “Rush.”
- Apropos of nothing, how long do you think it will be before Riverdale casts James Van Der Beek? Points if they find a way to re-create this piece of history.
- Usually the lack of substantial Cheryl Blossom goodness in an episode would be a mark against it, but in an episode like this, I think it might be for the best. I just can’t help but think she would’ve continued to facilitate more poor teen choices (like she tried to do with Kevin last week). Someone probably would’ve died during the rumble if Cheryl were around.
- Ms. Paroo the librarian: “These research for school?”
Jughead: “Research. Not for school.” Wow, not even a true minute into the episode (a lot happens before we even get to the title card) and this is what we get. This is how I knew it would be a good episode. This is a psychopath’s response and it should have immediately led to a swarm of security guards and Riverdale deputies taking Jughead in for questioning. In an episode of non-stop RED FLAGS on Archie’s front, Jughead starts ahead of him with this one line. What a great show. Also, is the librarian choice an intentional Music Man reference? Is Hiram Riverdale’s Harold Hill?
- Jughead: “Betty, I have to try to at least maintain a semblance of being a student here.” At least the show knows.
- Sweet Pea: “And why would we do that? The Black Hood’s targeting Northsiders. Who do nothing but blame the Southside for everything that’s wrong with this town. And we’re sick of it. Black Hood’s doing our work for us. He’s a hero.” 1. Like Jughead’s response to the librarian, this is an insane thing to say out loud. 2. While he’s—so far—only gone after Northsiders, they know the Black Hood is going after sinners. The Southside could easily be next.
- It’s slightly disappointing that Kevin forgives Betty immediately after the end of last week’s episode, especially when she then ends up asking him to help her hide something from her parents. You know, the thing she didn’t do for Kevin. But at the same time, it’s a very teen (and human) thing for him to still be upset she snitched but forgive her. He just needed a couple of days to clear his head. It’s far from the crazies thing here.
- Veronica: “Line up a bunch of semi-naked boys straight out of Lord Of The Flies, put them in red ski masks, and deliver some Unabomber-like manifesto? Is that what he said you should do?”
Archie: “‘Fight fire with fire. Fight terror with terror.’ That’s what he said.” Because he’s Archie, I was worried he wasn’t going to tell Veronica that Hiram’s the one who convinced him to go all-in with the Red Circle. Him telling her is the smartest thing he does in this episode, and since it’s an actually smart thing that avoids plot contrivance—especially since Veronica knows her father well enough to know that’s the type of thing he would say—this is not just a light compliment to give to Archie.
- So it looks like my theory was right (or at least correct adjacent) and Hiram did fan the flames for Archie in order to create chaos in town. As we see after his and Hermione’s initial scene with Veronica, he’s pleased there’s “so much chaos and confusion” in town. Then at the town hall, Hermione looks to be on board and in the know about whatever Hiram’s plan is, as she had warned him about Fred being “a problem” for said plan. I’m sure I speak for everyone when I say: I’m really excited for this to lead to another Lodge/Andrews family real estate plot.
- Here is another Archie compliment and perhaps the highest one I can pay him: When Archie’s shouting (with a gun) “Who made a mistake?!” at the Serpents, I swear KJ Apa is possessed by the still living soul of Paul Wesley (née Wasilewski, which is a very important distinction) during his episode of The O.C.
- Every time Dilton Doiley shows up in a scene with the Bulldogs, all I can think is: “How on Earth can the people who bullied Jughead give Dilton Doiley a free pass?” I was about to posit that Dilton died between seasons one and two (cause of death: accidentally shooting himself, Scott Scanlon style) and Archie was hallucinating him as his Tyler Durden—the locker room scene hits that pretty hard by the way. But then New Reggie (who truly does bear some resemblance to young Matt Dillon) is rushing him to a hospital and there goes that theory. Also, once a kid gets stabbed in battle with you, that kind of bonds you for life.
- With every Fred and Archie scene in this episode, I silently begging for Fred to suggest (or even demand) Archie go see a therapist. This episode includes a nice moment where Fred silently accepts and appreciates that Archie is at least talking to Veronica, but that type of hands-off behavior is like his “it’s not your fault” reaction post-Archie and Grundy. It’s a temporary fix, but Fred never thinks (or at least is never shown thinking) about the long-term effects of Archie’s trauma.