Riverdale season 2 episode 21 review: Judgment Night

Riverdale season 2's penultimate episode is an insane, thrilling affair. Spoilers ahead in our review...

This review contains spoilers.

2.21 Judgment Night

“I have a darkness, Alice. The same darkness my father had. The same darkness his father had. And now, it lives in Betty, our daughter. Who am I Betty? Say it. Say who I am!”

“You’re the Black Hood.”

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And with that, Riverdale‘s worst kept secret was finally revealed. Ever since Mr Svenson took the fall for being the series’ resident serial killer back before the midseason break, fans were speculating that the true Black Hood was still roaming the streets of Riverdale, waiting to strike again. Even before the past three episodes began indicating that Hal Cooper — lousy father, terrible husband, and a journalist so bad he could easily get a primetime slot on Fox News — was the true Black Hood with all the subtlety of a train derailment, he seemed like the obvious choice. Who else would be so fixated on Betty? Or know what book was her childhood favourite and subsequently create a cipher that only she could solve? Hal being the Hood seemed so on the nose that for weeks I’ve been thinking that this is just clever misdirection on the part of the writers.

But nope. Hal is the Black Hood. The Black Hood is Hal. And you know what? I’m okay with this. His decision to become the killer wasn’t so much his own as it was hardwired into him. “Your great granpappy Cooper wasn’t murdered like some dog,” he tells Alice and Betty, “he was the killer.” From that act of evil spawned not only the Cooper family name, but a legacy of mania that was passed down to every subsequent generation. After his own father failed to kill the only member of the family who threatened to expose the truth, Hal was tasked by his mother to convince this person not to spill the beans. This surviving child was Joseph Conway, AKA Mr. Svenson, a tragic figure who was so thoroughly manipulated by Hal that he paid the ultimate price.

Despite years of keeping his darkness at bay, Hal finally snapped when Betty’s declaration that Riverdale “must do better” echoed the very words his mother said to him that put him on the fateful road to becoming the Black Hood. By the time of his ultimate showdown with Betty and Alice, Hal has forsaken his own demented code of justice and is lashing out, as Cheryl puts it, like a wounded animal. He has Alice tape record his confession, so that when he carries out his ultimate plan of killing his family then himself, the rest of the town will understand his motives. And the darkness will finally be gone.

Fortunately, Hal’s plan is thwarted by Alice’s goading him about how terrible of a man that he is, giving Betty the distraction she needs to whack him over the head with a fireplace poker. Hal is taken away by Sheriff Keller (who, appropriately enough given the town he lives in) has gone vigilante and put himself back in charge. The important thing is that yep, the Black Hood is done for good. All’s well that ends well. There’s nothing more to see here.

I mean, except of course for that OTHER Black Hood. You know, the one that shot up the debate and took another pop at Fred Andrews. Yeah, that guy. 

In a tense episode packed with huge developments, the next, and much more surprising, revelation involves Jughead finally getting his wish to become the Southside Serpent martyr he’s dreamed of being ever since he threw on the gang’s jacket during last season’s finale. A huge gripe that I’ve had all season is that he mutilated Penny Peabody — a hugely detestable act that illustrated how awful a character his ill-defined devotion to the Serpents had made him. Tonight he finally got his reckoning, just as Penny got her vengeance by cutting off his own Serpent tattoo. (Given the ouroborous of senseless violence involving the pair, it’s a nice touch that they both removed each other’s snake-related ink). Just before the credits roll, we see FP carrying Jughead’s seemingly lifeless body to the Whyte Wyrm. Clearly, he’s not dead, but maybe this experience will make ol’ Jug realise that everything he believes in is flawed. Something he hints at when he notices how quickly Sweet Pea’s bloodlust turns from wanting to destroy Reggie and Riverdale High to desiring war with the Ghoulies at dawn in Pickins Park. Even FP seems on board for such chaos, raising the possibilty that, when pressured, the Serpents’ first instinct will always be to embrace mayhem.

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Speaking of mayhem, Hiram is (unsurprisingly) revealed to be the ringleader behind the Ghoulies’ return… and the Riverdale rioting in general. He uses Hermione to seize the opportunity to announce a bounty on the head of the Black Hood — using Veronica’s Nick St. Clair ransom, natch. And I’d be willing to bet that either he or someone in his employ is the fake Hood running around trying to stir up panic in another ploy to get his wife elected mayor. We will likely find out more on this next week, but for now, Hiram is at odds with his family following the attack on Hermione and Veronica from Small Fry.

Finale predictions: Hermione will resign from the race, Fred becomes mayor, Hiram winds up dead or in jail, and Veronica will, like Cheryl, get emancipated from her parents, Archie will take his shirt off. Also, Jughead will be brought back from the dead by Sabrina the Teenage witch? Oh, if only.

Read Chris’ review of the previous episode, Shadow Of A Doubt, here.