Chapter 23 of ‘Riverdale’ improves on perplexing winter finale

The poster of 'Riverdale Season 2' (2017), a teen drama on The CW based on the characters from 'Archie Comics.' Via TV Overmind

A huge cloud was hanging over the midseason premiere of “Riverdale” (2017–) this week, since the winter finale reveal of the identity of the Black Hood turned out to be such a letdown. In fairness, it would’ve been hard after all the buildup for the face under the hood to be truly surprising and satisfying, but the janitor felt particularly contrived (not to mention the fact that all the clues did not add up). Did the writers really just write themselves into a hole and throw in a lazy explanation for the Black Hood at the last minute? Luckily, the last few minutes of “Chapter 23: The Blackboard Jungle” indicated that the janitor might not have been the right guy after all, meaning the real Black Hood could still be out there. As if the town of Riverdale doesn’t have enough problems.

The big shakeup this week was the closing of Southside High. Not surprisingly, Hiram Lodge is behind this, since he has plans to buy the land beneath the high school. There is only one reason to care about this round of Hiram’s shady behavior, and that is that Juggy is coming home to Riverdale High! Except wait, bummer, Jug is still attempting to be an edgy gang member (remember when he scalped that lady’s arm?), so he shows up to the school in full Serpent attire along with Toni Topaz, Sweet Pea and the rest of the South Side’s finest.

This leads to some fun classist tension, with Cheryl obviously leading the charge against the “underachieving scum” of the Southside. (Except side note, Cheryl does not appear to be in the best financial situation herself, since her mom has become a sex worker to make ends meet.) The principal ends up making the Serpents ditch their jackets in order to “assimilate,” but Jughead isn’t ready to back down yet. Jug, you literally only joined the Serpents because you didn’t feel safe at Southside High. Why are you still so invested now that you’re back in Riverdale? Go back to your weird little relationship with Betty and let Toni Topaz get the education she deserves.

Speaking of Betty, her meddling has once again gotten her into quite the situation. First she discovers Polly picking up some things in their house and after seeing her remarkably slim figure, realizes that after approximately 19 months, Polly has finally given birth to her twins, named Juniper and Dagwood. (Sorry, what?) Betty urges Polly to stay, but it turns out Polly has gotten wrapped up in a farm cult (classic Polly), the leaders of whom convinced her to cut off ties with the rest of her family. Okay, bye again, Polly. Don’t rush back.

This whole thing convinces Betty that if her mom can’t meet her grandchildren, then she at least needs to meet her son that she gave up for adoption. Because those two things are completely equivalent. Jughead helps her track down Charles — sorry, it’s Chic — and she and her mother finally meet him in the motel where he’s been staying. By the way, Hal refused to go along with any of this, which for the record, is totally because Chic is FP‘s son, not his. Calling it right now. Unfortunately, over at the appropriately named Last Resort, Chic does not warmly receive Alice and Betty’s visit, devastating Alice. Great job Betty, you’ve done it again.

However, Betty is not ready to give up (this is Betty, after all), and she pays Chic another visit. It’s lucky she did since she ends up saving Chic from getting stabbed to death by a scary stranger. Instead of taking him to the hospital to have his large knife wounds checked out, she takes him home, where Hal pulls out a pathetically tiny plastic first-aid kit. Welcome home, Chic.

Archie hasn’t been having the easiest time either this week, since he has been enlisted by the FBI to spy on his girlfriend’s dad. Why the FBI is all of a sudden concerned about Hiram’s big bad gentrification scheme when there’s been a serial killer on the loose for months is beyond comprehension, but then again this is “Riverdale,” so maybe it actually makes perfect sense. Or maybe it’s a fake FBI agent hired by someone to get information about the Lodges. Archie did see his badge, but this is Archie we’re talking about here. It would not be surprising to learn Molly Ringwald dropped him on his head as a baby.

The “FBI agent” suggests to Archie that Hiram may have had some sinister involvement in Nick St. Clair’s “accident.” Archie’s digging about Nick leads him to Cheryl, who accidentally discloses to Archie that Nick also tried to assault Veronica. Cheryl, cunning businesswoman she is, then blackmails Archie, telling him if he doesn’t come to her side in the Riverdale/Serpents conflict, she will spill the beans about Archie’s kiss with Betty.

So Archie takes a quick little vacay to New York City, where he gets Nick to write a new check for Cheryl so her mom doesn’t have to continue having sex for money (but turns out Penelope loves her new job and has no intention of stopping). Archie then proceeds to beat the crap out of a bed-ridden Nick. Crazy gun-wielding, teen militia-leading Archie is back, guys! He was not missed.

Archie is starting to get weighed down by all these secrets he’s been keeping from Veronica, so he decides to tell her about his secret kiss, but still withholds the whole thing about him spying on her father on behalf of the “FBI.” Veronica, Chill Girl™ that she is, forgives Archie pretty quickly, but there is still clearly tension between them. These two are not going to last, sorry not sorry.

Archie returns to the “FBI agent” and, after first demanding immunity for both Veronica and his father (who is still tied up in some business with the Lodges), makes a surprising statement: he doesn’t think the janitor was the real Black Hood and wants to know if the FBI agrees. What a huge relief that someone in Riverdale is thinking this, because seriously, the janitor being the Black Hood just didn’t add up. His eyes weren’t green! Archie is right not to abandon his initial instincts on that. Simple as Archie is, he does seem capable of identifying colors.

The episode closes with a shot of Betty asleep in her bed and a dark figure looming over her. Surprise, it’s Chic, and he looks extremely menacing. This scene was actually genuinely scary, so good job, “Riverdale.” After an episode that was kind of all over the place, this ultra-creepy sequence made it all worth it.

And for the record, Chic’s eyes are totally green.


Summary

"Chapter 23: The Blackboard Jungle" proved to be an uneven but ultimately exciting episode, reopening the door for the furthering of the Black Hood mystery.

3.5 stars
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