Riverdale Season 3, Episode 7: “The Man in Black”

This episode takes place in several chapters, somewhat improving the viewing experience, which in recent weeks sometimes resembles an episode of TV less than it resembles a really intense Scrambler ride. I’m not sure how I feel about it overall, because Veronica and Archie are both still driving me crazy, but at least there are some genuinely scary moments in here.

Previously on Riverdale: The parents played G&G, Hiram was a Fizzle Rocks dealer, Alice sent Betty to the Sisters of Quiet Mercy where art therapy revolved around painting the Gargoyle King; Hiram framed Archie; Veronica broke him out of prison in an inexplicable caper episode; Veronica announced that Minetta was going down; Veronica opened a fake speakeasy; Archie left Riverdale to escape Hiram with Jughead and they walked down the train tracks like they were literally in a Depression-era comic strip.

Chapter One: Archie and Jughead. (“Archie and Jughead” is displayed on screen, even though later, I don’t think Betty’s section or Veronica’s first section gets a title card… unclear what the thought process was there!)

In a dusty, misty rural landscape, with a train behind them and Jughead frequently stopping to take pictures, Archie and Jughead are still walking. Jughead’s been calling Betty from payphones and getting no answer, but he refuses to leave Archie. Archie keeps saying he’s fine and Jughead makes a meta-commentary that I’m betting was stolen right off of a fan Tumblr: “Archie, no offense, but Betty took down a serial killer last year. You can’t go for five minutes without getting kidnapped or getting the crap kicked out of you.” Hee!

Archie moans and groans about wanting to find a place to settle down, and then decides that some random farmhouse is a great place. Jughead seems dubious, maybe because he can hear the extremely non-peaceful-farmhouse electronic soundtrack thrumming as they walk up to the farmhouse. Sure enough, a red-headed girl stops them from behind, pointing a rifle at them. Behind her, a pretty brunette crosses her arms. “I’m Cal, this is Biff,” Jughead says. Cal and Biff?! I mean, it sounds less made-up than Archie and Jughead, but not by much. Pretty Brunette doesn’t find this convincing either, but the boys insist they were robbed.

“I’m Laurie Lake, this is Gracie,” says Pretty Brunette. Oh, OK. She introduced herself by both names, so we know that she’s going to be A Thing. Sure enough, Archie and Jughead are soon eating at her table at the farm where there are no men to be seen–and agreeing, despite Jughead’s patent reluctance, to stay for the night.

Verbatim transcript of what follows:

Archie: “Is there anything we can do to repay you?”

Jughead: LOUDEST THROAT CLEARING EVER.

Hee! Jughead is clearly picking up on the sidelong glances between Archie and Laurie Lake. Maybe he’s jealous that he’s not going to be the only alliterative love in Archie’s life anymore. Later, as Archie and Jughead bunk down in the barn (in separate beds, calm down internet) they discuss how Laurie is totally lying about where all the men on the farm are, but how they are also totally lying. Just then Laurie shows up with extra blankets! Awkward.

Jughead tries to tell Archie to “stay on task.” Archie clearly takes this very seriously because the next thing we see is him topless, doing farm work for Laurie. Does this kid ever make it through an episode without taking his shirt off? He’s like a female guest star on an HBO show.

In a fairly unwise move given that he is the only person keeping Archie, er, “on task,” Jughead goes to town to investigate this mystery of where the men have gone. He immediately stumbles on some mysterious runes, and in case you are really unable to put two and two together, the show provides helpful flashbacks to some of the other DOZENS OF TIMES that we have seen these runes in relation to G&G. He meets a creepy old lady (with an accent that I’m reading as a cross between western Massachusetts and deep Louisiana) sitting on a chair near a liquor store, and she tells him that the Jingle-Jangle and Fizzle Rocks made the town like this. Not like “normal Fizzle Rocks,” the kind that’s “laced with drugs.” Wow, is this an episode of Riverdale or have we already moved on to the local news at 11?

Back at the farm, Archie is getting shaved by Laurie. AND HE’S STILL TOPLESS. I’m sorry, maybe this isn’t the news at 11, it’s Cinemax at Night. After a very brief preamble, she totally climbs into his lap and starts making out with him, shaving cream beard and all. He goes for it for a second and then stops, explaining that there’s a girl back home that he still loves. He also totally confesses his real name. Wow, what an idiot. I’m sorry, but seriously? They make out for thirty seconds and he’s going to totally blow his own and Jughead’s cover?

Jughead is still walking through the abandoned center of town, complete with Artsy Lens Flares that would make JJ Abrams envious. He finds some preteen girls playing G&G in a truck bed and wins them over by telling them he’s a Hellcaster on his way to four. (Jughead is fairly adorable around the kids; he gets this tiny little smile on his face while still talking in his hipster monotone.) The girls tell him the men are all away building a prison that isn’t just for prisoners but also for making drugs, working for “The Man in Black.” Jughead decides, on the strength of some very non-identifying details, that the man in black must be Hiram. DUN DUN DUN! Except that it could be anyone!! Except clearly it’s Hiram because it’s this show!

Meanwhile, Laurie feeds Archie some eggs to thank him, gives him an affectionate smile… and clocks him on the back of the head with her frying pan. Gee, I’m so surprised that telling a random stranger in a creepy town your real name didn’t work out well, Biff!

Jughead arrives back at the farm doing a stealth run for some reason, but it turns out to be wise because, from behind a bale of hay, he finds Hiram pulling up in his black car to visit the two girls, Laurie and her little sister. Somehow this tells Jughead to run into the barn, where Archie has been tied to a pole (I am shocked to see that Laurie left his shift on, because this seems like a prime moment for Archie to be randomly shirtless again). Somehow he beats Hiram and the girls there (where did they go?) and starts untying Archie.

Side note: at this point, Keets looked over at my screen and was like, “What is HAPPENING?”  

Transcript of the next exchange:

Archie (shouting): How do the girls even know him?!

Jughead: Shh. (full voice) I think her dad and her brother work for him.

I mean, why bother shushing your dumb friend if you’re going to also shout? Jughead tries to get Archie to run, but Archie wants to stay and fight. Good Lord, Archie. Jughead points out there are two of them and the other four have guns, so Archie… picks up a pair of gardening shears and vows to kill Hiram. Well, this should work out well.

Just then Hiram and the girls FINALLY make their way over to the barn. What did they do, stop for tea on the way? Jughead still has time to ask Archie if Veronica will ever forgive him if he kills her dad. Meanwhile, we learn what’s up with Laurie: Hiram has promised to forgive her father and brother’s debt and let them come home in exchange for Archie, so she has an excuse. (Although I bet if he had agreed to make out with her she might not have done it!) Awkwardly, by the time they get to the barn, Archie is gone–he and Jughead are booking it through the field behind the barn.

Next thing you know the boys are walking in plain daylight along the road, I guess figuring that Hiram is too lazy to check out the one road leading away from this farm. Jughead says he’s right: Hiram will never leave him alone, so they should go visit Jughead’s mom (like Hiram will never think of that?). I mean, maybe if Archie hadn’t told the first pretty girl he met his full name and where he was from, Hiram wouldn’t have found him. Poor Jughead is sacrificing his whole life to keep Archie safe and Archie is just marching around like HELLO! I AM ARCHIE! I AM A FUGITIVE FROM A POWERFUL MAN!

Back home, Hermione finds Veronica packing up her stuff with her bedroom door wide open. She says she’s leaving the Pembroke but not going after Archie. She just thinks that Hiram got rid of Minetta when Veronica found evidence that he had coerced confessions. She suggests Hermione leave too but Hermione is just like, “He’s my husband.” Veronica flounces off from the “House of horrors” with only a single suitcase. I hope she managed to fit a lot of A-line designer dresses in there! Next thing you know, she’s bunking down in her speakeasy in a silky black nightie. In the morning Pop comes in to find her already up and cleaning, not admitting that she’s secretly moved in downstairs.

Later, the loyal Reggie finds her moping by the bar downstairs, her only customers a table of underage G&Gers. He asks sympathetically what’s wrong, and Veronica says the numbers aren’t adding up despite how hard they work. “Business is steady,” he says, clearly lying. Veronica says, “We’ll never turn a profit selling five-dollar mocktails to high schoolers.” GEE, YOU THINK? Reggie declares that they need a side hustle. You know, that trendy term for “millennials taking second jobs to pay the bills.”

Veronica’s interpretation, however, is not exactly what I’d call a side hustle: she gets that Elio guy to agree to bring his high-roller friends to a casino night at the speakeasy for twenty-five percent of the profits. Is… there going to be alcohol at this casino night? I know I sound obsessed with drinking, but that’s just because this show is so weirdly coy about it! Anyway, Elio asks how Veronica is planning to do this, and she just shrugs, “The house always wins, right? I’m counting on that to be the case here.” Well, since clearly she’s done her research, I guess it’ll be fine that she also took out a second mortgage against Pop’s!

She’s back serving coffee upstairs when Hiram shows up to tell her Hermione’s worried about her since Archie “abandoned” her. But actually he’s mad that she asked for business help from Elio instead of himself. Apparently Elio’s family has a “gambling empire” and is full of criminals. When Veronica snarks about this, Hiram hilariously asks, “Are you angry about something?” Veronica is like, puh huh! Then he whips out something about how they’re family. Somehow, Veronica doesn’t find this convincing.

The titles tell us this next section is called “Casino.” Veronica is standing around watching the triumph of her single-night “side hustle.” She gloats to Reggie that they’re going to do great tonight, but Reggie says Elio is on a hot streak and they’re going to lose a bunch of money. Veronica then seriously responds, “But I thought the house always wins!”

Wow. This girl is SO not ready to own a business. Veronica. How do I put this gently? Cliches that people say in gambling movies are not the same as business plans.

Veronica mysteriously tells Reggie she’s not going to “go quietly” and goes up to exchange a few quips with Elio about their take. Apparently her plan is to … sit down and wager Pop’s and the speakeasy on a single hand of blackjack. I would react to this by slapping my palm to my face, but Reggie got there first:

Riverdale 307 reggie

Elio goes for it. The editors get a little creative with the split screen, and Veronica wins by getting a 2 on top of a 19. Elio is incredulous, but Veronica says, “The house always wins.” But… OK… but she was playing, not the house. But whatever.

Later she and Reggie count their cash, and Reggie (who is clearly ass over heels in love with Veronica) praises her fulsomely for successfully making a bunch of money. Veronica tells him a secret: Hiram called her to his office before Casino Night to warn her that Elio has “nefarious intentions.” He’s planning on “fleecing” her “because he thinks you’re weak.” He advises Veronica to cheat by bringing in a dealer named Johnny Goldwater who will stack the deck for Veronica in one big hand. “So you scammed the scammer,” Reggie says, like he’s all impressed. Veronica, who has taken the wrong lesson from all of this, smugly tells him it doesn’t matter how you win.

But when she goes upstairs, Pop tells her sadly that this place has always been clean and crime-free, and he hoped she wouldn’t be like her dad. Aww, poor Pop. He worked so hard on his Chock’Lit Shoppe only to have Veronica turn it into Amateur Hour with her daddy’s money. Veronica tells Pop that her dad isn’t so bad (he helps her cheat one time and she forgives him for having run her boyfriend out of town?!) but Pop reveals that Sheriff Minetta’s decapitated, and de-hands-itated, body was just found in the marsh. Ruh roh.

Next chapter: Betty is still trapped with the creepy nuns. She’s taking a Rorschach test and blatantly faking ingenuous answers: a blot is “a teddy bear with a tie,” while her voiceover informs us that it actually looks like a dead body and that she’s trying to make herself look sane so she can get out. And by the way, this voiceover goes on for Betty’s ENTIRE section, and let’s just say you do not have to do any deductions on your own; she is explaining everything, blow by blow.

Next thing you know she’s in line with a bunch of other girls in red sweaters and blue dresses, while her voiceover tells us that she thinks her mom is deluded enough to think this will actually protect her (ummm, I’m not so sure about that). They give her a tiny cup of Fizzle Rocks and tell her it’s a “treat” for good behavior. Very convincing! Whenever I get treats, it’s definitely in a medicine cup!

Back in her room she throws out the Fizzle Rocks, only to be interrupted by Ethel, who cheerfully announces she’s Betty’s new roommate. Yikes. Almost immediately she launches into telling Betty that she’s been having the most amazing conversations with the Gargoyle King, and that they’ve become “very close.” Wow, Ethel is the creepiest!

It gets worse: Betty asks to meet the Gargoyle King, but Ethel informs her that she’ll have to be taken there by Sister Woodhouse when she misbehaves. OK, Betty tries again, well where is his chamber? Ethel rolls her eyes and is all, duh, that’s also Sister Woodhouse’s job! “You’d tell Jughead,” Betty says softly. Ethel gives Betty a pitying look and informs her that Jughead’s just not that into her anymore and that she and Jughead are now “hot and heavy.”

Betty’s voiceover literally responds, “You psycho bitch.” Heh, whoa there! In revenge, she says coldly, “Oh, he definitely told me about how you blackmailed him into kissing you.” Point to Betty! Ethel gets pissed and accuses Betty of thinking she’s better than Ethel. But here, she’s the queen bee, and Betty’s going to have to change her attitude. She fishes the Fizzle Rocks out of the trash, clearly ready to forcefeed them right into Betty’s mouth. Betty pretty much bats her eyes at Ethel and begs to be Ethel’s friend, at which point Ethel relents. Oh, Ethel. You are so easy.

Betty and the girls are also apparently forced to do slave labor outside for the nuns, so Betty–who’s trimming roses, apparently–has a clear view to witnessing Claudius Blossom delivering a bunch of maple syrup to the nunnery (“That’s weird. The sisters don’t serve maple syrup in the cafeteria,” her voiceover says) and Hiram Lodge, the unavoidable psycho villain, showing up in his car. Betty’s voiceover goes, “What kind of business does Hiram Lodge have with Sister Woodhouse?” Uh, yes, I think we can get to that question on our own, thank you, Voiceover Betty.

A fellow patient informs Betty that Hiram is an angel donor, but Betty realizes that Fizzle Rocks were originally brought to a G&G game by Hiram and basically panics. Next thing you know she’s running down the hallways of the nunnery, pushing on every door, apparently hoping that the only unlocked room will magically open to reveal some kind of letter of intent from Hiram about what his evil plans are, I guess?

In her search she comes upon a door that looks like it leads into a chapel, with a light glowing behind its cross-shaped window. Thinking it’s the Gargoyle King’s chamber, she comes closer, only to hear a horrible scream coming from nearby. She hides, and witnesses a girl being dragged down the hall by one of the sisters. When they’re gone, she comes back out and approaches the door again. “What do you think you’re doing?” Ethel says from behind her. Oh, Ethel, you’re always ruining the fun! Betty claims to be looking for a file for one of the sisters, but Ethel informs her that those are in the infirmary and sends Betty back to her room.

Later, Betty steals a paper clip, presumably intending to break into the same room, but Ethel orders her to join in a board game instead. You know, since they’re friends and all. Betty decides to send herself to the infirmary in a different way: she confronts Ethel about kissing Jughead. Ethel smugly informs her that she and Jughead are going to be together and they’re going to be “a ship” (major points for shouting out to your fandom, dear Riverdale). Betty laughs meanly and says, “Ethelhead? In your dreams.” OUCH! Ethel accuses Betty of being jealous (more of the Gargoyle King thinking she’s worthy than of Jughead), and as soon as she leans into Betty’s personal space, Betty falls to the ground in another seizure–not a real one, because Betty’s voiceover is going the whole time. But the point is, the sisters think it’s real, and they call for the nurse while Betty continues seizing.

After the commercial break, Betty’s lying all alone in the infirmary, bragging on her voiceover that the sisters bought her fake seizure. They leave her alone and she immediately gets up and picks open the file cabinet with her stolen paper clip, to retrieve her file. Conveniently, the file quotes “HL” as prescribing an increased dosage of “Bullio Lapis” (Fizzle Rocks, for those who aren’t up on their made-up Latin) after the first week. Betty concludes that Hiram is using the girls as lab rats and decides to escape.

Somehow she makes it all the way to the basement and to a door marked “X” that is supposedly the escape. Unfortunately, however, behind the door is now just a brick wall. Even more unfortunately, Ethel the Buzzkill has brought Sister Woodhouse and two strapping young orderlies down here to get Betty in Big Trouble.

“Restrain her,” says Sister Woodhouse. Betty tries to run, but of course the orderlies get her immediately. “You’ve been a very bad girl, Betty. You haven’t been taking your candy,” says Sister Woodhouse. They hold her mouth open and force feed her the Fizzle Rocks. Ethel starts openly praying to the Gargoyle King, and Sister Woodhouse declares Betty in need of a “talking-to” from the King. Yikes.

With what seems to be some kind of very dramatic choral music in the background, Betty is dragged down the hall and taken to the chamber where she heard the horrible screams before. The door opens, and Sister Woodhouse announces, “The King awaits you.” Then she shoves Betty in and closes the door. Fade to black, followed by a heart-rending scream from Betty.

Next thing you know she’s taking another shot at the Rorschach test with Sister Woodhouse, only she’s giving honest answers to every blot. She’s also totally hallucinating the Gargoyle King behind Sister Woodhouse. Her voiceover starts reciting the same deranged prayer Ethel was saying before: “My king, my savior, guide me through the night. Bless me with your darkness, gift me with your flight.”

Oh no. Betty’s crossed over!

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