Hiram is flustered to hear Archie has been campaigning door to door for his father, though our Fisher-Price Mafioso insists his real motive is … “to stare into men’s eyes?” Hiram asks, staring into Archie’s eyes. Technically, yes. He’s trying to spot the Black Hood among his neighbors. Hiram suggests Archie reform the Dark Circle instead, especially now that he’s installed his good pal Michael Minetta as sheriff. Of course, with the mayoral debate coming up, Hiram has an election-sized ulterior motive here. He’s hoping the Dark Circle causes “unrest,” thereby leading voters to wonder whether Fred can govern even his own son.
It takes about three minutes for the first meeting of the rebooted Dark Circle — who soon circulate flyers printed with a phone number and what looks uncannily like one of the inky alien logograms from Arrival — to get unrest-y. Moose admits he had a fight with Midge backstage before Carrie, because she told him she’d been secretly seeing someone else. (He didn’t kill her, though! Really, he didn’t!) All he knows is that the mystery man is a Serpent. Led by Reggie (who seems inappropriately angry about this revelation, given that it does not directly involve him, I’m just saying), the jocks crash a meeting of the Swords and Serpents Club, where Jughead was just telling his pals that the Ghoulies, fresh out of Shankshaw, want war. Seems like they’ve already got a war brewing on the home front.
Later, Fangs tells Jughead that it was he who’d been hooking up with Midge (very here for that, but also, RIP Midge), a fact he neglected to mention to Sheriff Keller. It’s a decidedly bad look, especially given that Lodge puppet Sheriff Minetta would no doubt salivate over the prospect of arresting a Serpent for this high-profile murder. (He didn’t kill her, though! Really, he didn’t!) Unfortunately, Jughead has already submitted his behind-the-scenes footage to the sheriff’s office, which includes a shot of Fangs loitering in Midge’s dressing room. He does eventually get his tape back, in the worst way possible: The clip of Fangs and Midge leaks to the Register website, and suddenly, it’s everywhere. When the cops come upon Fangs in the hallway at school and slam him against a wall, a switchblade falls out of his pocket. Fangs, to be sure, is not having a good day.
Veronica’s reverse kidnapping of Nick St. Clair has earned her quite an underworld reputation, and now the “princes” of the five families have been sent to woo the Lodge scion with their best business proposals. Veronica takes meetings with this series of hunky mafia haircuts in tight suits at Pop’s, but only one of their offers piques her interest: Elio (this space intentionally left blank for the Call Me By Your Name or frozen-pizza joke of your choice) says his family owns and operates the largest chain of casinos in the area, and they’d love to open a Sweetwater casino with the Lodges. But Hiram is not on board. He informs her this family’s casinos are just fronts for shady dealings, no matter what Elio says. It’s a no.
Elio, whose smile defies physics by somehow being wider than the space between his ears, tips off Archie to the fact that the late Papa Poutine’s son is probably going to try to kill him. Riverdale is throwing everything it can think of at us — Black Hood! Election! Ghoulies! Mafia revenge plots! — in the lead-up to the season finale and I, for one, appreciate it.
There’s nothing like a sneaking suspicion that your father is a homicidal monster to kill the vibe at the breakfast table. Betty confides her fears that Hal could be the Black Hood to Cheryl, whose own dad turned out to have killed her brother. Cheryl doesn’t buy that her uncle/mom’s-sometime-boy-toy could be the Black Hood, but offers some uncharacteristically reasonable advice: Call the police! But Betty is a hard pass on that. She wants to be sure first, and she wants to take him down herself.
Left alone in the Register office, Betty breaks into a locked drawer to scan the pages of her dad’s planner. Looks like Hal had mysterious meetings and trips conveniently scheduled to coincide with the timing of all the Black Hood’s misdeeds. She gets a call from Dr. Curdle — of all Riverdale’s winningly weird names, this may be my very favorite — at the coroner’s office. Assuming she’s Alice, he invites Betty to come see the mutilated corpse of an unidentified, twenty-something man found by the highway. Could this be what became of Chic? As it turns out, the body is not her brother (not her not-brother, anyway), but she’s still driven to tears by the sight, racked with guilt over delivering Chic to the Black Hood.
Cheryl advises Betty to confront Hal and see how he reacts — the play’s the thing, etc. (By the way, what happened to Cheryl’s Uncle-Father Claudius?) And so, over dinner, Betty confesses to her parents for the first time that she and the Black Hood are basically audio pen-pals, and also that she may have been directly responsible for Chic’s death at his hands. Hal reaches out to Betty and shares that he relates to the feeling of inner “darkness” she describes, but it’s unclear if by “darkness” he means darkness, or if we’re talking, like, depression. I have said it before and I will say it again: FEMA should approve emergency funding to put every single resident of Riverdale in intensive counseling. Betty discovers from her dad’s credit card statement that he’s still renting the ShareBNB where he stayed while separated from Alice. Could this be, as Cheryl puts it, his “serial killer lair?” The girls break in to find a grody, if innocuous, bachelor pad littered with discarded takeout containers. Then Betty spots a copy of the very same Nancy Drew secret code book that she loved as a little girl, and that the Black Hood used to create his cipher. Not great, Bob.
Unbeknownst to Archie, a rogue faction of the Dark Circle spent the night slashing tires and setting fires on the Southside. Horrified, Archie tries to disband the group, but it’s taken on a life of its own. Reggie lets it slip that Hiram has been paying them to wreak havoc — in fact, their recent rampage was his idea.
Meanwhile, someone slid a handwritten note reading “You’re next, sinner!” under the Andrews’s door. Fred and the Lodges discuss cancelling the mayoral debate, but mostly at Fred’s insistence, they decide to go through with it. Onstage, Hermione hardly has time to troll Fred about Archie’s association with the “dangerous radical group” that is the Dark Circle when the Black Hood, that Ken Bone of serial murder, appears on the balcony with a rifle and begins shooting at the stage. Miraculously, seemingly no one (at least no one we care about) is injured, and perhaps more miraculously, Hal is on the floor to pull Betty down to safety, seemingly confirming that he can’t be the Black Hood after all. Or can he? Or can’t he? Or can he not can’t can? Only time will tell.
Veronica is furious with her father for refusing to entertain the idea that a visibly trembling Hermione should consider dropping out of the race, not to mention refusing to entertain her casino scheme. Well, Riverdale’s aspiring Sam Rothstein (yes, that absolutely means Archie is Ginger, thank you for asking) will go ahead with the plan anyway, financing the casino herself with the St. Clair ransom. There’s only one hitch: Hiram already went ahead and put the dough in a trust that she can’t access till she turns 21.
I hate to point out that she’s not old enough to vote, either, but Veronica nevertheless heads for the Andrews house to announce she’s supporting Fred in the election — and also to show off her new lingerie to Archie upstairs in his room. Riverdale just remembered it hasn’t been super-horny for a minute and is desperate to rectify that oversight. They’re still in bed when Jughead calls in need of help: Fangs is about to be released, but riotous protesters have swarmed every side of the sheriff’s station, even though you’d think the night’s events would have convinced them that the real Black Hood is still at large. Whatever! F.P. has enlisted the services of our good buddy Joaquin, notable for both smooching Kevin Keller and also for being an accessory after the fact to Jason Blossom’s murder, to help Fangs “disappear” to his hideout in … oh yes, San Junipero.
But first, they have to escort Fangs safely out of the building. The Serpents exit en masse, surrounding Fangs with their bodies as best they can. Archie tries to fight his way through the crowd to reach them, but is mostly useless. But Reggie — to whom Hiram personally saw fit to inform of Fangs’s imminent release — briskly approaches the Serpents, looking so angry he might as well have a gun in his pocket, and then we see that, whoops, yes, okay, he does have a gun in his pocket. Archie manages to tackle Reggie, but again, he’s useless. The gun goes off, with both boys’ hands on it. Fangs, shot in the stomach, collapses to the ground.
Back home, Betty finally faces her dad. She explains that she broke into the ShareBNB and demands an explanation for the Nancy Drew book. He insists he found it online and bought it for her as a nostalgic birthday gift. But she doesn’t seem entirely convinced. Later, still feeling unsettled, she calls him and asks him to meet her at the town hall, where she gave the speech that apparently inspired the killer to take action in the first place. She comes prepared with both the book and her revolver. (Maybe I’m a big old lame-o, maybe it’s been a uniquely shitty year, but are you also feeling a little uncomfortable seeing all these teenagers with guns?)
Hal stands Betty up. Cheryl, meanwhile, hears a knock on the door at Thistlehouse. What do you call a singing telegram, except the person doesn’t sing, and also, they’re the Black Hood? Because that’s what this is.