Content warning: This article mentions sexual assault.
“Riverdale,” this is not what anyone had in mind when we asked for more Cheryl. Finally, we get a delightfully Cheryl-filled episode, but it ends with her getting drugged and almost (though ultimately not) sexually assaulted by a guy from Veronica’s more sordid past in New York. As if this weren’t twisted enough, this week also saw Betty becoming more and more involved with the Black Hood, making “Chapter 18: When a Stranger Calls” the darkest and most distressing, but very exciting, episode of “Riverdale” (2017–) yet.
Picking up where we left off, Betty was about to help the Black Hood with his algebra homework. Okay, actually, they were negotiating what she could do to keep the Black Hood from murdering her sister, since he somehow knows about Polly’s hideout at the farm. Betty is told she can’t tell the police or Jughead she’s in contact with the Black Hood, so she almost immediately tells Archie about it under the guise of walking together to school. Archie, by the way, has officially disbanded the Red Circle. Too bad Betty is pulling him right back into this mess by making him sit in on her next call with the Black Hood. Archie may never get to sing again.
This is when the Black Hood makes his first request: To prove her loyalty and earn the chance to ask the Black Hood a question, Betty must print a mug shot of her mom as a teenage Serpent in the school paper. She’s hesitant at first but ends up obliging, causing a rift between her and her parents. In exchange, she asks the Black Hood if she would recognize the face behind the mask, to which the Black Hood responds, “Yes.” Creepy.
But this guy is not done. If she wants to save her friends’ lives, she has to cut them out of hers, starting with Veronica. Veronica has been busy so far this hour trying to help her parents raise the funds to open luxury apartments on the South Side. Leave it to Riverdale to open up space for debate on gentrification while there’s a serial killer on the loose. The Lodges are hoping the St. Clair family from New York will invest, so they invite them up to Riverdale and enlist Veronica to curry favor with their son, her old almost-flame Nick St. Clair. This leads to some very awkward moments for the Varchie relationship, where Veronica seems weirdly eager to have Archie and Nick in the same room, and is seemingly unbothered when Nick calls her sexy in front of poor Archiekins.
Nick ends up holding a party at Riverdale’s finest hotel, The Five Seasons, which is where Betty decides to cut the cord with Veronica. But first, let’s watch everyone (besides Betty) get turnt on jingle jangle, which looks suspiciously like Pixy Stix. Hardcore stuff.
A few quick main takeaways from this party: For all the talk of jingle jangle being a huge upper, this party seems awfully lame. (Why was everything in slow motion?) Also, still waiting for the Kevin and Cheryl spin-off. Finally, did Josie and Reggie low-key make out in the corner? New couple alert!
Eventually, Betty does the deed, accusing Veronica of being a bad friend and bad person, and storms out. Now, obviously Betty was being forced to do this by the Black Hood, but it still comes as no surprise that Betty would be the one to kill everyone’s buzz. Classic Betty.
Next on the list for Betty is Jughead, who has been mysteriously absent from most of the group activities. That’s because he’s off secretly getting initiated into the Serpents, presumably to try to infiltrate and keep them from doing any serious harm to the North Side and the people he loves. But this drives even more of a wedge between him and Betty, who are still struggling with the fact that they are both keeping big secrets from each other. Even though they share a cute but tragic scene in Pop’s where they talk about running away together, Betty still has to dump her precious Juggy. Unable to face him herself, she sends Archie to do it for her. He promises to be gentle, but this all goes out the window when he discovers Jughead’s new gang life, and he very forcefully tells Jug that Betty would never want to be with someone like this.
As if things couldn’t get worse for Jughead, his final task involves being beaten to a pulp by the Serpents. Although in good news for Toni Topaz, and bad news for Bughead fans everywhere, the night ends with a kiss between the newest Serpent and the pink-haired Serpent princess. Clearly, Toni did not care to wait for any of Jughead’s physical or emotional wounds to heal.
Over at the Lodges’ open house, Nick is apologizing to Veronica for attempting to grope her at the end of the party and explains that he’s been struggling to get clean for some time now. Veronica accepts, but literally only minutes later, evil Nick slips a pill into Cheryl’s champagne glass while she’s flirting with him. Luckily, Veronica spots Nick dragging a somewhat limp Cheryl from the party, and she and the Pussycats bust in just in the nick of time, where they give Nick a beating that seriously rivals the one Jughead received from the Serpents.
Betty arrives just at the end of the action, when Cheryl informs everyone that she will be pressing charges against Nick, since she has been out in an abandoned house, where the Black Hood informed her she would find his true identity. Surprise: We don’t actually get a reveal because over the phone, the Black Hood has Betty put on a hood and look in a mirror, informing her “We’re the same.” Well, unless Betty actually has a dissociative disorder, and “Dark Betty” is truly the Black Hood. This honestly wouldn’t be the most implausible theory in Riverdale-land, except that Archie was with Betty when he heard the Black Hood speak on the phone.
The final moments of the episode prove pivotal for poor Betty, when — after the Black Hood informs her he knows she’s been confiding in Archie (How does he know this? Is he Big Brother?) — he tells her she has a choice: either he kills her sister or she gives him another name. And what do you know, she just happened to run into a very bad dude/attempted rapist a few minutes ago! The name she gives the Black Hood? Nick St. Clair. Awfully convenient for her, huh. Although if Betty knew the funny business that had been happening on the South Side tonight, she might’ve been more inclined to say Toni Topaz.
This episode was an action-packed emotional roller coaster and quite possibly the best episode of the season yet. Although what happened to Cheryl is absolutely heartbreaking and infuriating, at least the aftermath will hopefully give Madelaine Petsch a much-deserved opportunity to further show off her acting chops.
If “Riverdale” is going to go dark, they might as well really lean into it. Because we all know being completely over the top and doing way too much is what “Riverdale” does best.
“Riverdale” airs on Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on The CW. Full episodes available on cwtv.com and Netflix.