It’s not summer, but school’s out. Southside High has been abruptly shut down as a “public health hazard.” At least, that’s the excuse, thanks to the pesky Jingle Jangle lab in the basement. So Jughead and his band of gender-neutral Merry Men are getting transferred to Riverdale High! The Lodges assure Mayor McCoy this was a good call — since they want to scoop up the Southside property that was formerly home to the school — and promise a healthy commission towards her reelection campaign.
Meanwhile, Archie has been writing songs all through break (oh God, was the Black Hood not horror enough for this town?), and he’s approached by a stranger on his way to school. This man introduces himself as Special Agent Adams, flashing an FBI badge. He’s on the case of Hiram Lodge and his ties to organized crime, and Archie would be a valuable asset to the Bureau. (Adams says he didn’t reach out to Fred first because he’s in business with the Lodges, which I am pretty sure is not how dealing with minors works, but okay, pal. Also, I would make a more convincing FBI agent with a badge I sketched in pencil on the back of a CVS receipt.) Archie’s first mission, should he choose to accept it: Find out what happened to Nick St. Clair, who was suspiciously injured after his family didn’t end up investing in SoDale.
The Southside kids arrive en masse at Riverdale High. Veronica — keen to help the transition go as smoothly as possible, for the benefit of Lodge Industries — is manning a welcoming-committee registration desk with locker assignments, class schedules, and so on. In my mind, the most important school-merging update is that there is another cute gay Serpent on the scene, Fogarty a.k.a. Fangs, with whom Kevin makes meaningful eye contact. (Miss you, Joaquin.) But Cheryl, Reggie, and a coterie of River Vixens envision this more as a “West Side Story meets Pawnee/Eagleton” scenario. Before Toni and Cheryl outright brawl — this is the stuff of my GLOW-season-two fantasies — the principal disperses the youths. Cheryl, a.k.a. Ginger Tomi Lahren, threatens Archie that she’ll tell Veronica about the Christmas kiss he shared with Betty if he doesn’t convince Ronnie to switch sides to Make Riverdale Great Again. Uh, couldn’t he just tell Veronica the truth? They were, after all, on a break. But Archie wants to talk to Cheryl anyway, in an attempt to dig up dirt on Nick St. Clair. Cheryl mentions that Nick tried to assault Veronica too, a piece of information that is new to Archie. “I am going to murder him,” he vows, not untroublingly.
With the Supposed FBI Agent’s blessing (in the Supposed FBI Agent’s defense, he didn’t hear that “murder” comment), Archie heads for New York with a cover story and a blazer borrowed from the late Jason Blossom’s wardrobe. He is, in theory, going to demand that Nick write another check to Cheryl, to replace the one her mother burned in their fireplace. Cheryl, by the way, was horrified to discover that her mother is hooking up with locals to pay for their Christmas tree and presents, a financial strategy that strikes me as extreme. I mean, a little credit-card debt probably wouldn’t kill you. “You wanted to me to get a job, Cheryl, and I did — providing comfort and companionship to the lonely men of Riverdale,” she crows. Honestly, Penelope, if you’re feeling safe and empowered, I support you.
It’s not long before Principal Weatherbee discovers that the school seal has been vandalized with Serpent graffiti. It is obvious that Reggie, standing several feet away and smirking, is the culprit, unless this is a Dylan Maxwell situation. Nevertheless, the enraged principal takes a hard line on gang behavior: Any Serpent jackets, visible tattoos, or pretty much anything Jughead likes is now banned on the penalty of suspension. Jughead is furious. Yes, Riverdale High has a computer lab and flushing toilets, but at least the Serpents weren’t “profiled” back on the Southside. Jughead is soon suspended for wearing his Serpent jacket to school in defiance. The last straw comes when the Serpents are impressed into a de facto Stepford Teens uniform of Riverdale polos and khakis. That’s when Jughead founds the Swords and Serpents Club, a principal-sanctioned, D&D-esque gaming group that is, transparently, a cover for the gang. They were so lazy that they didn’t even bother to think up a name that didn’t include the word “Serpents.”
Back home, Betty finds Polly packing up in her room. She’s alive and well, having given birth to twins (Juniper and Dagwood, kill me) without bothering to call home to let her family know. The leaders of the farm where she’s staying, which is definitely not a cult, want her to “sever all ties.” What kind of farm slash cult is this? Polly still looks extremely J.Crew polished in her ribbed sweater and neat headband over a flawless blowout.
Facing the disappearance of her sister (again), Betty gets it into her tightly ponytailed skull that finding her long-lost brother will help fill the void that prodigal Polly has left in her mother’s heart. With the help of Jughead’s social worker, she learns that his name is Charles Smith and that he was never adopted. They do have a last known address for him, though.
And so, Alice and Betty pay a visit to the sketchy Last Resort Hotel. The guy at the front desk directs them to room 237. (Heeeeeeey, that sounds familiar!) They enter to find not a rotting lady in a bathtub, but a sallow, skinny, and altogether spooky young man sitting in a particularly poorly illuminated corner. He knows who they are — he even drove past their house once, after the Sisters of Mercy gave him the address. And don’t call him Charles. He goes by Chic. Anyway, it’s time for them to hit the road because Chic has a “client” on the way — and yes, he works in “fantasy fulfillment.” (This episode sure teaches us a lot about Riverdale’s sex-work-based economy.) Out in the parking lot, Alice is sobbing too hard to start the car.
Archie surprises Nick, both his legs in casts, in his dorm room. He demands Nick write another check to the Blossoms to replace the lost one, for double the amount. He asks Nick how he got hurt; Nick answers, uninterestingly, “ski accident.” Nick intuits that Archie isn’t there for Cheryl at all, but Ronnie. Then Nick calls him a hick lost in “shark-infested waters,” and then Archie punches him a lot, which is fine with me, go for it. Back in Riverdale, Cheryl presents her mother with the new check from the St. Clairs in the hopes that this cash infusion will take away the groove Penelope has so recently gotten back. But Penelope doesn’t care: “Why would I stop when I’m having such a good time?”
Unfortunately, Archie broke Nick’s nose but not his fingers, so he’s able to text Veronica to tell her what her boyfriend did. Even with Cheryl explaining that she sent Archie on a shakedown, V is suspicious. Archie’s hiding something. He admits to kissing Betty, but doesn’t say anything about the Supposed FBI Agent. Veronica is hurt, but quickly forgives him. In his next meeting with his mysterious new adult friend, Archie demands FBI protection for Veronica, too, and while he’s at it, expresses his personal doubts that they really caught the Black Hood after all.
Betty goes back to room 237 to find the front-desk guy beating the hell out of Chic and slicing his arm with a knife. She pepper-sprays the guy and then dashes away with her brother. She brings bleeding Chic home, where their parents deploy the trusty family first-aid kit. Alice lovingly tucks Chic into bed, but it isn’t long before he’s looming creepily over sleeping Betty. A modern family!