'Riverdale' recap: Trilogy of terror

Price Peterson
Writer, Yahoo Entertainment

Warning: This recap of the “Chapter Twenty: Tales From the Darkside” episode of Riverdale  contains spoilers.

Of the many reasons to adore Riverdale, the one I’ll hug with both arms is its more-than-friends relationship with horror. Yes, this series is a visually beautiful, romantic, witty one-liner machine at times, but a dark fog has always crept in around the edges. The reason a show centered around a ginger Hollister model feels so compelling is because here even the truly genetically blessed and effortlessly fashionable will still be pushed to the brink of sanity on a daily basis. Season 1 found Riverdale dancing around the edges of a brutal murder before finally revealing the awful truth about what had happened; Season 2 has gone even darker with a moralistic serial killer terrorizing an entire town. I enjoy love triangles and talent shows as much as the next person, but if you really want to get my attention, let a bloody deer cross the road and make direct eye contact. Now THAT is a teen drama.

Sorry for being so bold, but in my opinion “Chapter Twenty: Tales from the Darkside” was the best episode of Riverdale since the pilot. From its three-story anthology structure (including an entire segment about Josie!) to the storytelling to the bodybuilding ZADDY, truly what more can we ask of this genius show? This episode was extremely good, and we should talk about it!

We began with a fairly frightening title scroll lifted from The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (or maybe The Town That Dreaded Sundown, hard to tell). A dire voice-over stated that the Black Hood’s reign of terror had inspired three separate tales of teens in peril, and we started with the one about Jughead and Archie.

The Black Hood had pinned a note to the outside of Pop’s diner, and it was disseminated through Riverdale via the local paper. In it, the Black Hood did his usual thing of calling everyone out for being sinners and vowing to REALLY crack down starting now. Yes, he had murdered two teachers, but it was time for him to branch out. Who would be next? And could any of these people possibly stop sinning even if they wanted to?

Jughead “woke up” from what was clearly a sleepless night, breathed hot breath onto Betty, and then took a phone call from a former werewolf turned shady gang lawyer.

Even though this plot line was set up, like, years ago, we finally found out why Jughead’s dad had warned him not to do business with this lady. Over burgers she informed Jughead that his dad had gotten beat up real bad in a prison shower and she would try to, like, do some lawyering about it if he’d simply deliver a giant crate of drugs in return. A normal and reasonable request from a lawyer. Jughead agreed!

Fortunately he got Archie to help him, and they picked up a chained crate (cutely labeled “Miskatonic University via H.P. Lovecraft” for us old gods nerds), but minutes later Archie’s truck got a flat. That’s when they were offered some help by local do-gooder CANDYMAN. Tony Todd himself!

But things just got … creepier. Jughead went off with Candyman, and Archie stayed behind to wait for “Triple Z,” and that’s when a BLOODY DEER walked awkwardly across the highway and looked at him. Yes the CGI made it look like a claymation cartoon, but that weirdly made it even scarier? What ON EARTH? Anyway, Jughead’s impromptu diner stop with Candyman revealed that there had been a previous killer in Riverdale called the Riverdale Reaper, but why Jughead wasn’t already aware of this was a mystery. Like, trust me, if there had been anything remotely like a serial killer in my hometown’s history, it would be all we’d ever talk about. Was the Riverdale Reaper related to the Black Hood? And was his costume stylish? I’m sure we’ll find out.

I also loved the shady lady in the wheelchair who was on the receiving end of the mysterious crate:

Guys, I do not know much about the Archie comics, so this is obviously not the place to come for Archie information and lore, but this lady is probably important to this world, right? She kinda looks like Mama Fratelli, and I’m pretty sure she was holding a taxidermied fox on her lap, which is just chic. Anyway, hoping to see more of her!

The brutal twist of this whole thing was that shady lawyer lady had LIED to Jughead about his dad, and she merely wanted to get him on camera committing a crime so that she could blackmail him into doing her bidding in the future. Man, if I had a nickel for every time a gang lawyer blackmailed me into being her errand boy, I’d have $3.55.

Our second story was about Josie! Yes, this was the most Josie has ever been in the show, and it was glorious. The actress is great, and we learned a lot about Josie as a character, and even explored the sometimes fraught dynamic within the Pussycats.

So, apparently after saving Cheryl from her attempted assault, Josie had begun focusing on her solo work, and this really ticked off the other Pussycats. But Josie couldn’t help it! She’s gonna be the next Whitney. Unfortunately it was Whitney from The Bodyguard, because somebody was stalking her!!

With the reappearance of Chuck, the douchebag jock who’d participated in the Riverdale sex scandal of 2016, we were meant to maybe think HE was the one leaving creepy teddy bears and notes in Josie’s locker. But he ended up proving to her that he’s reformed now and that he treats females with nothing but respect. (Side note: Isn’t it gross when men say “females” like that is a respectful term?) But, yeah, Josie was won over and couldn’t help but enjoy a celebratory Watusi.

They danced right there in Pop’s, and it was genuinely adorable. Youth!

But WHUH-OH. Look at this creepy sketch someone had left for Josie in the band room that only she is allowed to use!

The sketch was unflattering enough and clearly drawn by an unhinged psycho. But check out what else was left for her:

A wad of chewed-up Gushers! Ugh, I bet the smell was sickening. Who had done this? And why? And who jumped out of the shadows and slit Josie’s throat all of the sudden?

But don’t worry, it was just a nightmare! Josie’s throat had not been slit in this week’s episode of Riverdale. (But wouldn’t that be a remarkable thing if it had?) I for one am thankful, because she is great. (Second parenthetical: Where was Hotter Reggie this week? Shouldn’t they be flirting more?)

Oh, and look who had quite an eye for sketching? Cheryl! SHE had been the one leaving creepy stuff for Josie, because it turned out she was manipulating Josie into fingering Chuck for being her stalker. Possibly because Cheryl was now on the hunt for any sexual assaulters, and possibly also because Cheryl was bored. Still: shady!

The episode’s third segment centered around Betty and Veronica. Betty had realized that the only person who could have reasonably murdered Jughead’s English teacher in his jail cell was Sheriff Keller. (Betty is smart.) So Veronica, who is physically unable to stay out of a good scheme, decided to invite herself to sleep over with Kevin, where she heard a lot of grunting in the basement in the middle of the night. And then this happened:

So, uh. I gotta hand it to Riverdale. If it was trying to misdirect us from thinking Sheriff Keller was the Black Hood, this was a GREAT way to do it. Who can remember anything when we’re faced with these kinds of brain-scrambling situations?

Veronica covered for her creepin’ by behaving totally normally, like downing a soda and inquiring about Sheriff Keller’s marriage while wearing a silky pajama set.

Sheriff Keller revealed that his wife was stationed overseas, and this lent credence to Veronica’s theory that he wasn’t the Black Hood, he was merely having an affair. So, yeah, Betty was wrong about him! But that wasn’t going to stop Betty from continuing to snoop, so you better believe that one scene later she was sneaking into his office and eyeballing his yarn-n-pushpins serial killer board. Or crime-solving board — same difference. He, of course, walked in on her and sternly lectured her that he’s not the Black Hood, and there’s a reasonable explanation why he had a black hood mask in his desk drawer. Yeah, Betty still wasn’t convinced.

That’s when she and Veronica did a stakeout where they followed him to a local motel…

And YEP, he was having an affair … with the mayor! And this was presumably supposed to make us think that he was NOT the Black Hood, I guess because masked psychos don’t also have affairs? Anyway, it’s hard to know what’s going on here, mostly because my brain was still scrambled from the basement scene. But something told me things were not what they seemed.

Our final scene had all three stories finally coming together, when each pair of characters found themselves eating at Pop’s at the same time. That’s when the phone rang and Pop relayed a disturbing message to the entire diner: The Black Hood had witnessed ALL OF THEM sinning, and now a reckoning was about to begin. Were they really all about to get murdered, or were the Black Hood and his mayor girlfriend just annoyed that their kids were staying up past their bedtimes too often? Time would tell.

There was SO MUCH to adore about this episode. The overt horror, Candyman, the Lovecraft reference, the dancing, TWO split-screen conversations, the uhhhh bench press moment. But most of all the episode moved quickly and felt jam-packed with good storytelling that seemed to progress the overall story faster than usual. Maybe it was just the way the episode was structured, but I loved how the characters each got starring roles (especially Josie) and almost wish Riverdale unfolded like this more often. Yes, it’s a show with a cozy, warm appeal, but it’s when things get claustrophobic and terrifying that it really hits home. And, uh, wait, what was I talking about again?

Can’t remember. Anyway, classic episode.

Riverdale airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on the CW.

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