At last, the “Riverdale” (2017–) we know and pretend not to love is back. Only retrospection revealed that a lot actually happened in “Chapter Sixteen: The Watcher in the Woods,” because while watching it, it seemed like these kids were just running around doing nothing at all. The episode’s camp, reminiscent of season 1, made it easy to forget there is a serial killer on the loose and revel in the wacky, slightly off-kilter town of Riverdale.
First, the big reveal: the confirmation that there is in fact a serial killer in Riverdale, albeit, not a very competent one. As it turns out, Midge and Moose survived the car shooting. Congratulations, Emilija Baranac, the actress who apparently still plays Midge.
The green-eyed killer introduced himself as the “Black Hood” in a letter which arrived along with Fred Andrews’ wallet and Miss Grundy’s sunglasses in a package labeled “Coopers.” In this letter, the Black Hood explains that Riverdale is not an innocent town, and his mission is to cleanse it. Accordingly, he shot “the adulterer” (Fred), the “child-predator” (Grundy) and the “drug- and sex-obsessed teens” (Moose and Midge). And since he has only so far successfully axed Grundy, one could argue that up until this point, he has done nothing but perform a public service. Additionally, the fallout from this threatening letter scares pregnant teen/less relevant Cooper sister Polly into fleeing the town for fear of being the next target, because the father of the baby she’s having out of wedlock is her cousin. Maybe this Black Hood guy has a point after all. In a very Zodiac Killer move (does Ted Cruz’s dad have green eyes?), the Black Hood demands the letter be published in the newspaper. Obviously, the sheriff and mayor decide that’s not a good idea, and morally challenged journalist Alice Cooper already has it set to run in the next day’s paper.
On to more important things: Kevin has a new hobby, and it’s called “night jogging,” aka casually cruising around the woods in order to find someone to kiss against a tree. This is the second of Kevin’s hookups that has resulted in the discovery of shooting victims — first Jason Blossom, and now Moose and Midge, whom he helps rescue after hearing the gunshots. Betty, always trying to be practical, suggests that maybe Kevin should try an online dating app like Grind’em (okay, Riverdale) instead of putting himself in potentially dangerous situations with a serial killer on the loose.
This does eventually lead to some surprisingly poignant moments, when Kevin explains to Betty that he doesn’t have the same options for meeting people as she does, and he also has a sweet conversation with the still closeted Moose, when they express some solidarity. Betty also shines at the end of the episode, encouraging Kevin’s dad to start having more open conversations with him. This was, of course, thanks primarily to Cheryl, who, although being devastatingly absent from the majority of the action this week, shows some real emotional maturity in helping Betty understand why “night jogging” means so much to Kevin.
On the south side of Riverdale, Jughead spends most of the episode struggling to adjust to his new Wifi-less, jingle jangle-filled school. Not sure which of those two things is more concerning. He does meet cute Serpent photographer and (probable) future Bughead home wrecker Toni Topaz, with whom he teams up to reinstate the school newspaper. His first mission is to write about how a group at Southside High, the Ghoulies, are the source of hard drugs in Riverdale. Way to fit in, Jughead. After working late on the story, Jughead is badly beaten by some shadowed figures. What did you think was going to happen, Jug? Frighteningly, Jughead lies to Betty about his bruises and tells her they are from a motorcycle accident. Bughead, don’t you know honesty is the foundation of any solid relationship? Toni Topaz isn’t even going to have a home to wreck.
Bughead isn’t the only couple facing obstacles this week. Veronica has her hands full with Archie, who has decided to exercise his Second Amendment rights and form a militia at the advice of her father. Archie names the army “the Red Circle” and recruits a bunch of gung-ho football players. His first assignment comes when a suspicious van starts following Ethel (Shannon Purser, formerly Barb of “Stranger Things”). And although Archie and Reggie don’t make it in time to catch the mystery person in the van, they do prevent Ethel from meeting a similar fate to her “Stranger Things” counterpart. Justice for Barb.
Things ramp up even more when Archie accepts an invitation for dinner at the Lodges’. Hiram takes Archie into his study and convinces him that the Red Circle needs to go on the offensive against the Black Hood. Yes, Archie, definitely take advice from this convicted felon who isn’t even trusted by his own daughter. What could go wrong?
Everything can go wrong, because by the episode’s end, Archie has recorded one of the most disturbing (but also truly hilarious) videos of all time. Surrounded by a bunch of football players — all of them wearing red hoods, very few of them wearing shirts — Archie informs the Black Hood, “We’re called the Red Circle, and we’re coming for you. We will find you, we will hunt you and we will end you.” Wow Archie, we’re all shaking in our boots. That part where you got uncomfortably close to the camera really sealed the deal.
And there’s Hiram smugly watching the video in his study in front of an absolutely horrifying portrait of Veronica. All that money and you can’t hire a better artist, Hiram? Someone call The CW and make them give “Riverdale” a higher props budget, seriously.
Well, we’ve got a serial killer with a motive, and we’ve got Archie with a super cool, super safe militia. Only absolutely awful things can possibly be on the horizon, and with “Riverdale,” we wouldn’t have it any other way. Except with more Cheryl.
“Riverdale” airs on Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on The CW. Full episodes available on cwtv.com and Netflix.