Read the previous review here.
This post contains spoilers for Riverdale.
Riverdale very rarely delivers a bad episode. The mystery and character arcs they play off of keep things interesting the majority of the time, but every once and a while an episode shows up and screws up the curve for the rest of them. Tonight, that episode is “When A Stranger Calls”. There have been plenty of murders in season two, but there’s been a sort of slow burn with The Black Hood. Riverdale’s eighteenth episode turned the stovetop to the highest possible setting, and much of the fallout is a punch right to the gut.
The war between the South and the North sides of Riverdale continues to grow, and the Black Hood is fanning the flames that have existed between the two sides of the town for decades. Jughead’s still caught in the middle of everything, and takes some drastic measures to try to keep his friends safe after finding out that it was his father who managed to keep the peace before him. If there was ever anything that could have pulled him back from this unfortunate decision, it would have been Betty Cooper. Her serial killer problem stands in the way of that, though.
After being forced to remove Veronica from her life, Betty finds herself unable to do the same with Jughead. At least on her own. B sends Archie to do her dirty work, and the knowledge that Betty’s leaving him is enough to remove any doubt in Jughead’s mind about his decision, and to snap a string between him and Archie. His first two tasks were completed with ease (Hot Dog!), but the final packs more of a punch. Literally. He comes out the other side bruised, battered, and torn up over what’s happened between him and his North Side friends, but Toni Topaz is there to heal all wounds.
The split between the big four has been a tough pill to swallow. Jughead has always been one of the most interesting characters, but he’s been less and less involved in the main mystery of season two. “When A Stranger Calls” seems to have split him off from it and the rest of the teens entirely, leaving their story as divided as Riverdale. It seems likely that eventually we’ll see the two sides of the town have to come together for one reason or the other, but in the meantime the Serpents storyline seems more of a footnote than anything.
While Juggie’s dealing with initiation, The Black Hood wants to play a game, and that game is with Betty. He was inspired by her letter telling the town to take action last year, or so he claims. Now, he wants her to do tasks for him in exchange for information. The first? Dragging her mother’s name through the mud. Because Betty is who she is, she initially decides not to publish Alice’s former mugshot in her paper. However, since Alice is a monster, it wasn’t too difficult for Betty to feel inclined to give in to the Hood’s request. The next victim is Veronica, who Betty savagely drags while at a party held by New York’s Nick Saintclaire.
Nicki, as Veronica calls him, is a good old pal from her bad girl days. Archie obviously hates him, but Ronnie has to get Nick’s family to invest in Lodge Industry’s building project on the South Side. Since it’s totally cool to manipulate your children in Riverdale, her parents give her this task as a way of getting her feet wet with the business, hoping to leverage her past friendship to get the boy’s parents to invest. None of the Lodges planned on the Saintclaire boy being a complete monster, unfortunately. After being turned down by Veronica, Nick sets his sights on Cheryl. While at the fundraiser, he roofies the last living Blossom heir and takes her to his room to have his way.
Not on Veronica, Josie, and the Pussycats’ watch.
Riverdale is a cutthroat town. Often everyone within its borders is at odds with one another, but all of that goes out the window with the town’s women when a creep comes after one of their own. The scene between Nick and Cheryl was terrifying. Anyone who has lived that knows how it plays out in the real world, but damn if it wasn’t nice to see the fantasy of saviors coming to the rescue on the small screen. I can think of few scenes in television history that are as cathartic as the Pussycats and Veronica literally kicking the snot out of Nick Saintclaire for trying to rape their friend.
All of The Black Hood’s mind games with Betty lead up to him telling her that they are the same. It’s not a new claim for an antagonist, particularly on The CW Network, but The Hood decides to make sure he proves his point. By the end of things, he reveals that he knows Betty has been sharing the information he’s been giving with Archie. The Hood uses that as a reason to threaten Betty’s whole family, unless he gives her another name. Just like that, Nick Saintclaire is on The Black Hood’s hit list, and Riverdale’s sweetheart is falling apart at the seams.
The plot of Riverdale frequently brings “the feelings”, but “When A Stranger Calls” is in a league of its own. You could feel Jughead’s heart break as Archie broke the (fake) news from Betty, and, though Archie’s a twit much of the time, he wasn’t wrong to say that Betty is torturing herself. The poor girl is fighting a losing battle all on her own, and now she may have someone’s blood on her hands. The Saintclaire boy deserves whatever’s coming to him, but that’s not the type of thing that the Betty Coopers of the world are built for. Sure, she’s got a dark side, but that dark side was meant for boiling slut shamer’s in hot tubs, not facilitating murders!
Riverdale is coming apart at the seams, and it might just keep getting worse before it gets better. If you have thoughts on tonight’s episode, you know what to do!