Riverdale Recap: Apocalypse Now

A scene from Riverdale, “Chapter 34: Judgment Night.” Photo: Katie Yu/The CW


Chapter 34: Judgment Night Season 2 Episode 21
Editor's Rating 4 stars

Nothing like an unexpected houseguest to screw up your day. The Black Hood swings an ax at Cheryl, who flees upstairs; then he “Here’s Johnny”s his way through her bedroom door. But he’s too late. She’s already managed not only to climb out a window, but also to arm herself with a bow and arrow, which she launches directly into his shoulder. “Luckily I was able to get to my archery set and hunting cape,” explains Riverdale’s human embodiment of Little Red Riding Hood crossed with the Big Bad Wolf, when she gets Betty on the phone. Cheryl warns that this “maimed animal” is liable to attack anyone, including — if the person under that infamous hood is in fact Hal Cooper — his own family.

It may have just been the site of both an attempted axe murder and an arrow maiming, but Thistlehouse is nevertheless the calmest place in Riverdale right now, given that the town is basically in a state of martial law. The vibe is very dystopian 1985 Hill Valley, as presided over by Mayor Biff. Everything’s on fire; everyone’s in a terrible mood. Hiram Lodge, a messy bitch who lives for drama — particularly drama that feeds into his private prison-building, law-and-order agenda, and particularly drama that he played a large role in engineering — is of course loving all of this.

Doing her part, Hermione announces that she’s offering a $1 million bounty on the Black Hood, “alive or preferably dead,” and also alleges that the Black Hood shot Fangs Fogarty, which, no, definitely did not happen. It sure may have looked like Reggie shot Fangs — especially to the very displeased Serpents, who would now like to have a word with Reggie, please — but Archie is positive he tackled him before the rabid Bulldog could have pulled the trigger. (In that case, I’m sorry for calling you useless, Archie!) Veronica, meanwhile, solves the crime by accident, when she spots Midge Klump’s bereaved mother stumbling around town with a gun in hand.

Convinced that the earmarked Black Hood bounty is really the ransom she finagled from the St. Clairs, Veronica locks herself in her father’s office and searches for her money. She finds a folder labeled “October Surprise,” which, yes, I know, is a common political term, but sounds to me more like a prank that involves pooping in someone’s jack-o’-lantern. Anyway, therein Veronica discovers telephoto creep-shots of Fred and Hermione canoodling (old loves dot tumblr dot com) and a pre-written press release titled “Family Man Fred Andrews Not SO Innocent.” To her horror, Hermione is well aware of this plan of her husband’s, and agreed on the grounds that it would do more damage to her lover-turned-opponent’s campaign that it would to hers. (Uh, would it, though?)

Archie finally finds Reggie holed up at Pop’s. There’s a terrible commotion outside — but it’s not the Serpents, it’s the Ghoulies, all shiny and chrome. Their siege on the diner brings an entire new layer of Mad Max insanity to the table, with Jack Skellington eye makeup and homemade yet distinctly Dark Ages-inspired spiked weaponry. Putting Lodge’s leftover poker-night booze to good use, Pop teaches Archie to make a Molotov cocktail on the fly, and he lobs the flaming bottles from the roof. (Remember when the Chock’lit Shoppe’s roof was reserved for covers of Kelis’s “Milkshake?” We were so young then.) Finally, Riverdale’s Zaddy Brigade — Tom Keller, Fred Andrews, and F.P. Jones — pull up in the ex-sheriff’s not-yet-returned cruiser and wave a shotgun around, dispelling the Ghoulies and winning themselves a round of respectfully horny applause from the Pop’s clientele.

Hiram is angry when he hears that the Zaddy Brigade (of which he and his jawline are founding members) are being hailed as heroes, but he’s about to have a bigger problem to contend with. A very large, very scary man with a hint of Canadian accent has been asking around town about him: This is Small Fry, the late Papa Poutine’s son, who promised his father he’d seek vengeance against the loved ones of the man who killed him.

Betty arrives home to find the house empty but the kitchen sink suspiciously bloodied. While he’s waiting for Fangs to get out of surgery, F.P. calls Betty looking for Jughead, and just so happens to mention he saw her, ahem, suspiciously bloodied father get admitted to the ER. She rushes to the hospital to find her dad has already checked himself out, but not before leaving the body of his murdered doctor behind in his bed. That seems unnecessary. The Black Hood — Hal? Can we officially call him Hal at this point? — calls and tells her to come home. “Your mother’s here,” he says, warning he’ll slit Alice’s throat if Betty doesn’t return immediately. There, she finds her dad — whose secret capacity for evil, I hate to say it, is not unhot, and I’m hereby promoting him off the Zaddy Brigade bench — preparing to screen some old home movies for her unsuspecting mom. The footage is seriously creepy: A very young Hal is instructed by his offscreen mother to manipulate “the Conway boy” (that is, the future Mr. Svenson) to lie about who killed his family so as to protect Hal’s father, the real Riverdale Reaper. “Sinners have to die,” he repeats at her prompting.

Adult Hal demands that Alice turn on her tape recorder and explains that, contrary to family lore, Great-Grandpappy Cooper wasn’t murdered by his Blossom brother. He was the killer, taking on the Cooper name to create a new identity: Mr. Conway knew, and had been blackmailing Hal’s father. And so the hereditary Cooper darkness was passed down to Hal — who in turn seems to have passed it onto Betty, but I guess we’ll deal with that some other time, when she picks up her first axe — and who finally, conclusively, unequivocally (these are a Riverdale recapper’s famous last words) reveals himself to be the Black Hood. Let’s take a moment here to celebrate: We did it! At long last, the mystery is solved! Tear open your Michael Scott happy box! Wait, why did Hal want to record this, anyway? “I want everyone to understand, when they find us.” Cool cool cool. Please ready your Michael Scott murder-suicide box.

Alice does what she does best and creates a distraction by belittling her “mama’s boy” of a husband. “Your father can’t do anything right,” she says. “Not even be a serial killer.” Solid, and accurate, burn. Hal begins to strangle his wife in a rage, until Betty knocks him unconscious with a fireplace shovel.

By the way, Hal told them earlier, that wasn’t him firing shots at the debate. Meanwhile, over at the Andrews house, a guy in a black hood — if not the Black Hood — attacks Archie, then shoots Fred. This time, fortunately, Mr. Andrews is wearing a bulletproof vest. Archie chases the man outside, but he disappears. Later, after Hal is arrested, Betty and her pal confirm that the timeline of this attack versus the Cooper family meeting-from-hell doesn’t check out. Hal couldn’t couldn’t have shot Fred tonight. So who did?

Is that the faintest whiff of blood and maple syrup in the air? Small Fry lumbers into the Pembroke, seemingly killing Andre and breaking down the door of the Lodges’ apartment, where only mother and daughter are home. Hermione grabs a gun off her husband’s desk and shoots Small Fry repeatedly. Hiram sprints upstairs to find both women alive, if unhappy to see him. “There’s another dead body in the study,” Hermione dryly informs her husband. Hiram apologizes; Veronica recoils at his touch. She refuses to be his collateral damage.

Hey, remember Penny Peabody? She’s back! (Who isn’t in this episode? Can anyone confirm if we’ve canonically ruled out raising Jason Blossom from the dead?) The exiled Snake Charmer and her newly forged allies, the Ghoulies, have taken Toni Topaz hostage. Jughead and, mainly, Cheryl and her archery set, manage to secure her release. But while she’s got them there, Penny poses an ultimatum to the Serpents: Either they leave, giving up the Southside to the Ghoulies and their drug trade, or do battle with their rivals in Pickens Park at dawn.

The White Whyrm is already tenser than Clifford Blossom during a regional outbreak of wig lice when the news breaks that Fangs has died. F.P. calls for a vote on the possibility of war with the Ghoulies: The gang is unanimous in their ayes, except for Jughead. He argues they’ll be outnumbered. F.P. argues they don’t have any choice but to go down fighting. “I’ll rally the reserves,” he says. I look forward to seeing which seemingly mild-mannered residents of Riverdale have quietly been in the Serpents reserves this whole time. Having deduced that his girlfriend’s best friend’s father (also his best friend’s girlfriend’s father) has both the Ghoulies and Penny on his payroll, Jughead calls up Hiram to make him a “counteroffer.” Then he phones Betty to tell her he’ll never stop loving her, which is not something you say under chill circumstances. She shares her worries with F.P., who activates the Serpent phone tree.

Jughead, we learn, has volunteered as a “sacrificial lamb” to his enemies in exchange for a promise of no bloodshed with the Serpents. He submits himself to Penny and dozens of bloodthirsty Ghoulies (a flock? a herd? a murder? what’s the collective noun for Ghoulies?), who proceed to beat the life out of him — maybe literally. “Let your dying thought be that your sacrifice was for nothing, and that come morning, Riverdale as you know it will cease to exist,” Penny, rude, tells him. By the time F.P. and company find Jughead, he’s a gruesome, bloody mess. His mutilated arm bears the evidence of Penny taking her “pound of flesh.”

If you, like me, find these visuals unpleasant, I recommend viewing photos of Cole Sprouse and Lili Reinhart looking adorable and entirely non-bloody at the Met Gala. Until next week!

Riverdale Recap: Apocalypse Now