Tonight’s episode of Riverdale was different, starting with the opening. A modulated voice reads white text scrolling across our black screens, introducing a gruesome story about the “first attacks perpetrated by a hooded assailant.”
It was part Law & Order, part every horror movie ever. But for an episode titled “Tales From The Darkside,” it was the perfect way to establish that tonight’s tale would be dark, creepy, and the beginning of a new chapter of terror in Riverdale.
We start with a warning – a letter from the Black Hood to the entire town. The message is clear: “The next 48 hrs will be a test and I will be watching you closely,” the letter reads. “Show me you are pure of heart and my work ends. Continue to sin and I will take up the sword again.”
The episode is broken into the parts — noted by black screens with white text. The first part focuses on Jughead (Cole Sprouse) and Archie (K.J. Apa).
We cut to Betty (Lili Reinhart) and Jughead in bed. Betty is feeling guilty about the murder of Mr. Phillips, a.k.a. “The Sugar Man.” But their cuddle time is cut short by a phone call from Penny Peabody (Britt Morgan). You remember her, right? She’s the “snake charmer” that helped out F.P. (Skeet Ulrich) for a price. Jughead was warned about her by his father, but he ignored him. If you ever needed proof to listen to F.P., this episode is it.
Penny tells Jughead that there was an “accident” in the prison showers. The Ghoulies attacked F.P. — in retaliation for Archie’s call to the cops during their race — and now he’s badly injured in the infirmary. Of course, Penny can protect him, but for a price.
Jughead only has $18 to his name, so Penny suggests that he do her a favor. That favor is to play drug mule for her, carrying a crate from Riverdale to Greendale by midnight. Jughead has no choice, so he asks Archie for help, and his dad’s car.
We fast-forward to the twosome on the open road, with Archie saying, “Jug, I’ll see this through but where does it end?” Jughead doesn’t have an answer. He just tells Archie that he’s living “minute to minute” right now.
Archie waxes poetic about a possible future where our central quartet of characters lives out their dreams in New York City; Archie becomes a musician, Jughead a writer. They live in the East Village, while the girls live as roommates on Park Avenue. But this is Riverdale. Dreams never turn out the way you hope.
Their car gets a flat tire with the countdown clock (remember, they had to deliver by midnight) winding down. With no spare, the boys begin to panic, but a strange older man stops to offer a ride — for a price. It’s Jughead who hitches a ride with the stranger for $18 (his last few dollars). When asked what’s in the crate, he simply says, “pancake mix.”
It’s a tense ride and the radio doesn’t help with some kind of preacher talking about the Black Hood being “the reaper” for a town that is “soulless and corrupt.” Jughead is made more uncomfortable (and so are we) when the man driving says that some people think the Black Hood is “doing God’s work.”
When they stop for gas, Jughead goes to the pump and starts checking out a tarp covering something bulky in the truck’s back. Despite earlier warnings not to look under the tarp, Jughead does just that after spotting a pool of blood. He finds a dead deer — a relief after the creepy driver’s praise for the Hood.
His driver invites him to eat at the gas station’s cafe/diner. And this is where we hear the legend of “The Reaper.” Last week it was the “Sugar Man.” Now it’s the “Reaper.” Who knew Riverdale had so many urban legends? But if the “Sugar Man” incident is any indication, I have a feeling the “Reaper” is all too real.
“The Reaper” is described as a “thrill-seeking psycho” who murders a family in Fox Woods before running to California to…worship the devil. It sounds absurd, but the man wonders if the “Reaper” ever really left – maybe he’s even the Black Hood.
“It’s a cycle,” he tells Jughead. “It’s killing season in Riverdale.”
If that doesn’t creep you out, how about this: They finish the meal and the strange man insists that Jughead pay. Of course, Jughead has no money since he gave the man his last $18. But it’s part of a plan — the driver wants to run off with Jughead’s crate of “pancake mix” and leave him to deal with the cops. There’s a near confrontation when Archie scrambles in — fresh with his newly fixed tire. The driver calls both Archie and Jughead sinners, warning that they “be careful or taste the reaper’s blade next,” before leaving Archie to settle the bill.
The two boys rush to their midnight destination: A warehouse where they meet an old lady in a wheelchair. She warns them not to be late again. Naturally, Jughead protests because there’s not going to be an “again” or a “next time.” Right? Wrong.
The snake charmer has assigned Jughead Jones the role of delivery boy, taking over for the ghoulies. Add that to the long list of things Jughead has been roped into against his will this season.
The boys end their night at the diner, where — among other things — Archie asks Jughead to leave this Serpent life behind. “Can’t you get out of this, Jug?” Archie asks. Jughead can only say, “I’ll try.”
We end their story the next morning. Jughead heads to the prison to visit his father. And it turns out F.P. is just fine. No injuries, no scrapes. Not even a paper cut.
When Jughead confronts Penny about the lie, she explains that she simply “incentivized” Jughead to complete the run. But she also makes it clear that this is going to be a regular occurrence. Penny now has footage of Jughead (and Archie) at the drop off. So blackmailing him into work is the name of her game.
When Jughead asks why, she admits that it’s payback for his father breaking a promise. “His debt is yours,” Penny says. “And I am just getting started with you.”
Part two is dedicated to Josie (Ashleigh Murray). She’s playing a piano in the school, alone late at night. It’s the norm, or we gather as much from the janitor who warns her to head home, using her regular escape route. But home is now the Five Seasons Hotel thanks to her mother, Mayor McCoy (Robin Givens), who is scared. And she should be — there’s a crazed killer on the loose and she doesn’t want her daughter walking the streets alone. A+ for the parenting skills on a teen show. But we all know Josie isn’t going to listen.
The next day at school, Josie and Cheryl Blossom (Madelaine Petsch) are hanging out. Who knew these two would become so close? No one, right? Well, they are now! Josie talks to Cheryl about her mom stressing her out and how she’s gone behind the Pussycats’ backs, writing songs without them. It’s normal until Josie opens her locker to find a stuffed teddy bear with a note that reads, “I’ll be watching you.”
“OMG, another gift from your secret admirer,” Cheryl says with enthusiasm, but Josie is freaked out, and so are we. It’s the third gift this week from “mystery bae.” But what if “mystery bae” is really the Black Hood?
If her mother and a serial killer weren’t enough stress, there’s also Chuck Clayton (Jordan Calloway). You may remember Chuck as the misogynistic asshole from the episode where we first meet Dark Betty. These days, he’s heading to church and learning to draw. He’s also head over heels for Josie.
Her response is iconic: “Ew.” Sorry, Chuck, but Josie doesn’t date chauvinistic, misogynistic harassers of women.
Josie’s stress is affecting her vocal chords, so she plans to take advantage of the school’s steam room (okay, Riverdale). But she’s confronted by the Pussycats in the locker room. Valerie (Hayley Law) and Melodie (Asha Bromfield) claim they received letters in their lockers that say Josie is ditching them for a solo career. It’s a little true. After all, Cheryl claims she knows a music exec who’s interested in just Josie. After being called a “solo diva,” the Pussycats break up.
It’s Chuck Clayton who Josie runs into. She asks for a ride home (feeling creeped out about the Black Hood situation). He agrees, but they make a stop at Pop’s first. It’s pretty clear that Josie is maybe not as against Chuck as she thought. And that’s before they start dancing in the middle of Pop’s.
Of course, momma McCoy breaks that shit up real quick.”I’ve been texting you for hours and you’re in here doing the twist,” Mayor McCoy says. Then she warns Chuck to stay away from her daughter.
If you’re starting to think Josie’s mom is harsh, hear her out. The town is spooked by the Hood, and her mother — the mayor — has been getting death threats. And some of them are threats against Josie too. This seems to wake Josie up, or at least we thought so until she lies to Sheriff Keller (Martin Cummins) about getting any strange or unusual packages.
It wasn’t her best move. After all, the next day, Josie gets another package — a drawing of her that says “If I can’t have you, no one can.” There’s one more thing too: A box…with a heart inside.
Cheryl immediately confronts Chuck, who clearly has no idea what they’re talking about. It doesn’t matter. He gets accused of stalking and Josie turns to Cheryl for comfort.
That night, Josie has a nightmare that the Black Hood comes to her favorite piano playing spot at school and slits her throat. She wakes up with no voice. And we get a glimpse of the real stalker: Cheryl Blossom.
Cheryl sketches out a drawing of Josie (identical to the creepy one from earlier). Apparently, Cheryl isn’t just friendly, she’s obsessed.
The last part of our story centers on Veronica (Camila Mendes) and Betty, who have both come to the conclusion that Sheriff Keller is up to no good. Veronica thinks it’s an affair; Betty — being the person that she is — assumes that he’s the Black Hood.
The key to her theory is the fact that the “Sugar Man” was killed while in police custody. She interviews Sheriff Keller “for the paper” as a pretense to get information. He tells her that the Black Hood forced entry while a deputy was asleep. Of course, Betty isn’t convinced.
Meanwhile, Veronica heads home with Kevin (Casey Cott) for a sleepover. Or more accurately, an opportunity for her to find out if his dad is having an affair while his wife is in Bahrain. One phone call from Betty is enough to get Veronica to snoop around the Keller house. While the office may be locked, the basement isn’t. And what does V find? Sheriff Keller, of course.
Let’s all take a minute to appreciate Sheriff Keller pumping some iron in the basement. He’s all shirtless and sweaty — and Veronica is in her silky PJs— and for a minute, I really worried that Riverdale was going to revitalize the grown-up/teen relationship trope that I hate so much. Luckily, they didn’t.
The two share an uncomfortable chat before Kevin interrupts. And in the middle of the night, Veronica spots Sheriff Keller leaving the house. That piece of info is enough to set Betty off. She literally breaks into the sheriff’s office and starts searching. Naturally, she gets caught.
The sheriff tries to explain why he had a black hood in his desk (the one he found in Archie’s locker). We know he’s telling the truth, but Betty doesn’t believe a word. Not even after checking his log books, with clean alibis during each murder.
Betty is completely undeterred. Rather than feeling silly or humiliated that her overzealous search led to her dad picking her up at the police station, Betty enlists Veronica for an old fashioned stakeout.
They follow the sheriff from his house to a motel late at night. There, they find him with a huge duffle bag. Betty almost walks right up to him — until she sees him kissing Mayor McCoy.
Affair? Yes. With the mayor? Shocking. Crazed killer? No.
All three parts of the episode converge at Pop’s where there’s a call from the Black Hood. “He says we failed his test. We’re all sinners,” Pop announces to his patrons. “The reckoning is upon us.”
In other words, more dark tales to come.
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