After “Chapter Thirty-One”’s killer cliffhanger, “Chapter Thirty-Two: Prisoners” unfortunately isn’t a deep dive into just what happened to Midge backstage at Carrie: The Musical. Sure, there is a taste of it, in the short-but-sweet (and beautifully-directed) scene of Sheriff Keller questioning Jughead, Ethel, Moose, and Archie about what happened. But the point of that scene is mostly to is to show that Sheriff Keller is unfit for the job. And honestly, isn’t he? While Jughead makes sure Keller takes his documentary and alerts him to the existence of the letters, there’s a sense in just that short moment that Keller’s already prepared to pin it on a Serpent. Moose is clearly playing dumb with his lapse in memory, and Keller doesn’t push it at all. (Even though he’s the boyfriend, and it’s always the boyfriend. Except when it’s the Black Hood.) And when Archie of course brings up the Black Hood, all Keller can do is placate him about the fact that the Black Hood is dead… even after the Black Hood just returned in a way that says, “I’m not dead.”
For corrupt reasons, it’s no surprise Hermione Lodge “manipulates” Cheryl into calling for Sheriff Keller’s head. But for practical reasons, it might be about time. As much as we praise the man for being a Good Riverdale Parent or for keeping Sierra McCoy satisfied, he regularly proves himself less competent at his job than two teen detectives. In his defense, Betty’s relationship with the Black Hood is something that could probably really help his case... but he also let his affair with Sierra guide a lot of his decisions—usually in the form of a useless anti-Serpent agenda—so it’s not like he’s a saint. He certainly means well, but Sheriff Keller has failed this city.
After last week’s episode massaged the more unsavory aspects of Veronica and Archie’s current characterization into the background, this week’s decides that’s the way things are now. At least in Veronica’s case. Veronica has been a willing participant in her parents’ villainy this half of the season, but here, she’s back to openly insulting them for said villainy the way she did in the first half. This is even before they turn their backs on her boyfriend, as she’s calling them “Boris and Natasha” and saying “count me out of whatever nefarious schemes you’re cooking up” when they talk about ousting Sheriff Keller. But it’s not like she’s coming from a new place of clarity and humanity—it’s more that she’s finally going with the concept of “plausible deniability,” like Hermione told her to in the first place. It’s one thing if Veronica’s unwillingness to work on this particular scheme is tied to her not wanting to use Cheryl, after she just helped rescue her from the Sisters of Quiet Mercy. Instead, Veronica’s written as a temperamental teenager—finally—who decides this morning she’s over her white collar criminal phase. (Can she please have an emo phase next?) Perhaps we’re to assume Betty calling her out last week was a wake up call.
She does, however, have every reason to be upset with her parents when they refuse to pay for Archie’s ransom. Just like Hiram deserves to be robbed blind if the combination to his safe (and probably his passwords) is something as easy as his baby girl’s birth date.
If there’s one thing the entire Riverdale audience can probably agree on, it’s that Hiram has never had Archie’s back the way Archie insists on having his back. In making himself loyal to Hiram, Archie keeps assuming he’ll get that in return… and keeps having a Charlie Brown football moment when he realizes he doesn’t. By the end of the episode, when Archie talks about—and really, anyone saying this sounds ridiculous—“making his bones,” he thinks that’s his way to really prove himself to Hiram. Nevermind that the audience knows that it still won’t matter because Archie’s “not blood,” he’s not his son. Archie has repeatedly chosen Hiram over his dad and his best friends—except for last week— and for what? Really.
Before Archie gets kidnapped, it almost looks like he’s found himself in his own horror movie, which would be something different for this character. There’s something intriguing about Archie as part of a horror movie, with an interesting set-up in Archie being a “final girl” of sorts. (“Chapter Twenty” is the closest he gets to horror but as Jughead’s sidekick.) It’s honestly disappointing when he gets jumped by the other two “Black Hoods” and we get the Nick St. Clair story, instead of some interesting hellscape fueled by Archie’s mental struggles with the Black Hood. And that’s the problem with how RIverdale paints Archie, isn’t it? Archie can only handle situations physically rather than mentally and internally. When they actually made his struggles mostly internal (and had him handle them, not bury them), it was through the context of music. But now Archie buries the mental struggles, specifically so there’s something he can punch—and something that highlights KJ Apa as eye candy more than brooding could.
While Veronica is saving the day with poetic justice (the roofies) and payback (extorting the St. Clairs for $1 million), Archie’s version of that is escaping with brute force and then racing (when he should probably have broken ribs) to beat down a hotel door. I’m torn here, because it fits a very neat archetypal box with Veronica being the brains and Archie being the brawn—they complete each other—but it also continues the show’s habit of making Archie too much of one thing (whether it’s music or muscle), to the detriment of the character compared to everyone else.
What’s worse is that the show constantly highlights how Archie believes the Black Hood is toying with him or personally victimizing him… when the sad thing is, even the Black Hood couldn’t care less about him. That obsession instead is directed at Betty. And after bringing the Black Hood back in spectacular fashion last week, this week returns with a reminder that “Lollipop” is still terrifying. I had a visceral reaction to hearing “Lollipop” for the first time in this episode; I thought I’d put the song out of my mind, but it’s still chilling every time it plays.
This episode also reveals what most guessed about Chic from his introduction (specifically his watching his “sister” sleep moment): He’s not Betty’s long-lost brother Charles. Charles is actually dead—by Chic’s hand—which is a safer narrative fate than some teen mysteries tend to go for with long-lost brothers named Charles. And now to wrap this up with the most perfect exchange of the episode, when Betty gets off the phone with the Black Hood:
Jughead: “Is that your mom?”
Betty: “Uh… No, it’s my dad.”
It is. Because Hal is the Black Hood. And with the end of the episode, Betty believes that too. I know there were a lot of suggestions last week that Chic was Midge’s killer, which is where I’ll amend my theory to call Chic the Black Hood’s protégé (and possible scapegoat). It’s no coincidence that Alice points out how the entire Chic situation is “biblical” punishment. We’re also at a point where we know that most of Chic’s “creepiness” is deliberate. So when he asks something like, “Who was that, Betty? Who was that who called you? With that weird ringtone?” (a ringtone that’s not weird out of context), it reads less like genuine curiosity than it does a measured question as part of his game. And Riverdale is very deliberate in not showing the Black Hood actually catch and kill Chic.
That’s part of why Betty letting Chic loose for the Black Hood doesn’t quite work, when it should be a lay-up. It’s the moment of proof that she’s become so desperate to get his chaos out of their lives that she’ll do anything, but it’s not as “dark” a moment as the show wants it to be. The audience doesn’t see the aftermath of Betty’s actions, and it’s hard to believe the Black Hood isn’t as magic as a horror movie villain—meaning he’d catch Chic if he’s actually trying to catch Chic. Also, Chic isn’t even an entertaining character. He’s barely tolerable, so there’s always been the genuine hope either the Black Hood or someone from his past would get him. It’s disappointing, because the Betty/Black Hood mental torment—whether you believe it’s her father or not—has been quite tense up until this point. But throwing in a character like Chic, they’re asking the audience to care about someone they just want gone. Riverdale went too far hard left with the character—viewers still believe he was in league with the people who extorted Alice—and its “OMFG” moment ends up feeling more like a “good riddance” one, no matter the course the plot takes.
Once again, Jughead voiceovers about how “the Angel of Death” brought the people of Riverdale together in their grief. As this episode actually shows, it’s more about anger. That’s what gets Cheryl to push for Sheriff Keller’s ousting. That’s what gets Betty to send Chic off to his doom. It’s bringing these people together, but not to become their best selves. Except for in the case of Veronica and Archie. Sort of. In the case of Archie, Jughead later calls the anger Archie’s prison, and while it takes Archie physically getting battered to bring sympathy to that, it’s his choice to remain in prison that removes that sympathy once more. It’s not easy being Hot Archie.
- Riverdale Roulette: The Archie kidnapping plot—especially with the abandoned warehouse—feels like something from the third act of a forgotten ‘80s movie. My mind went to Tuff Turf, but I’m sure there are others that fit the bill.
- Josie and the Keller-cat: No Josie, but Kevin finally learns it’s not all awkward sleepovers and Andy Cohen when it comes to the Lodges. But seriously, while it’s nice to see Kevin stand up for his dad—especially against Cheryl—he should probably wonder why it was so easy for the girl he just gave the lead in the school musical to have no loyalty to him whatsoever. Then he should wonder why he didn’t give his dad the supposed Black Hood letters and tell him about anything that had been happening behind-the-scenes at the musical.
- While there are plenty of reasons to question the power of Riverdale teens, I’d say the Cheryl/Sheriff storyline made the most sense. After another failure on Keller’s end, the sister of Riverdale’s favorite dead son—and original Keller failure, Jason Blossom—calling for his head certainly holds weight.
- Cheryl’s cover of “You’ll Never Walk Alone”... Right after a musical episode, it’s more than okay to take a break from musical numbers. The fact that this starts the episode is thankfully not an omen.
- Are the River Vixens (minus Betty, Veronica, and Josie) a vigilante group now? Cheryl seems pretty certain they’ll bring the Black Hood down themselves...
- Ethel: “Cheryl always gets everything she wants. I just wanted the part.” It’s difficult to tell because of the way it’s set up, but it appears Ethel did send the letters... only to be caught off guard by Kevin’s bizarre understudy choice and, you know, the murder.
- It will be another example of Riverdale “missing the point” if Sisters of Quiet Mercy—yeah, the whole thing—isn’t closed down soon. Betty using the gay conversion as leverage—and then still not reporting it—is terrible.
- Jughead: “Shut the hell up, impostor!”
- Veronica: “Champagne, caviar, pate—all of my favorites.” I understand the intention is to make Veronica sound fancy and worldly, but it only makes her sound basic. Like she watched Gossip Girl once and figured she got the gist. And while this is a good episode for her in terms of action, lines like “Nick St. Sicko” and “You’re a reptile.” are just so weak, especially for how terrible Nick is. She should’ve asked Cheryl (who brings up Greek Furies and her bosom this week) to write insults for her.
- Archie asks Nick if he’s going through all this trouble just because he “punched” him. Archie beat the crap out of him, and he couldn’t fight back. Nick St. Clair is a monster, but for Archie to downplay what he did—when he went around bragging to mob bosses that he did it, which can explain how Nick knew he was Hiram’s capo—is either poor writing or a scary look at the kind of person Archie is.
- Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa described Nick St. Clair as a Bret Easton Ellis character come to Riverdale. Unfortunately, that originally interesting idea has led to diminishing returns with his appearances—especially now that the St. Clairs are another mobster family on this show. In theory, this should’ve already been known, since Archie thought it would impress mobsters. It makes zero sense Veronica didn’t know this though. Based on his performance, I don’t think Graham Phillips knew he’d be playing an aspiring mobster when he got this role.