This review contains spoilers.
3.7 The Man In Black
“My king, my saviour, guide me through the night, bless me with your darkness, guide me with your flight.”
Well, that was something, wasn’t it?
Like last season’s Tales From The Darkside, this latest episode of Riverdale plays fast and loose with the series’ traditional narrative structure to tell three separate stories that are united by the common threat posed by the titular ‘Man in Black,’ Hiram Lodge. Lodge has long been a threat to our guys and gals, but in the show’s third season his evil deeds are being shown to be far-reaching. More than just a corrupt businessman, he is now established as a puppet master controlling entire towns, a drug kingpin, and the force behind the Gryphons and Gargoyles craze that we now have learned is sweeping through several communities. And was he the one who decapitated Sheriff Minetta and cut off his hands? In the past, I would have assumed that he would send an underling to do this deed. But from Pop Tate’s description of the crime, this slaying has a ferocious and personal touch to it, one that Hiram is more than capable of pulling off.
Fan reaction to this season so far has been mixed, with the most vocal detractors complaining about everything from not enough musical numbers (eh) to Cheryl not getting enough screentime (completely valid). But here’s another thing to consider: This is the weirdest, and yes, best run of Riverdale to date. Say what you will about it, but man, does this show continue to surprise, at this point almost delivering Lost-ian cliffhangers. Are certain aspects of it a hot mess? Duh. Don’t lose sight of the fact that a sexy, crime-filled show about Archie Comics is inherently ridiculous, and the writers are now in a groove where they can make this bigger, bolder, and yes, goofier than ever before. This show is a gift, remember that this holiday season.
But back to specifics. At the start of tonight’s episode we see Archie and Jughead still on the run from Hiram Lodge. They decide to stay the night at a farm (but not The Farm, sadly) run by the alliterative Lori Lake (Riley Keough), who lives there with her younger sister. Jughead, being at least somewhat wise, decides to not tell the Lakes what he and his sexy ginger pal are up to. The fact that he also comes up with the clearly fake names of Cal and Biff show that he isn’t exactly the sort of person you want to be with in a crisis, but I digress. Archie for his part can’t wait to make out with Lori then feel bad about it, nor is he able to keep his chiseled jaw shut and proceeds to tell her, a total stranger, his entire life story completely unsolicitedly.
Is there a dumber character on TV than Archie right now? No, no there is not.
Meanwhile, Jughead goes into the small town of Athens and discovers that it’s a ghost town. All the men are working on building Hiram’s prison, which is casually but also unsurprisingly revealed to be a drug lab, while the women and girls are left behind to get high on Fizzle Rocks and play G&G all day.
Seeing how her father and brother are apparently under Hiram’s control, Lori tells him that Archie is tied up in her barn. Hiram agrees to free her family members in exchange for getting his hands on his ginger nemesis. While this is happening, Jughead is trying to convince a clearly insane Archie that cutting off Hiram’s head with some gardening shears is not a survivable plan. Archie is having none of it until Jug mentions that Veronica will never forgive him for murdering her pop. Archie agrees and the two escape. On the road, they both discuss how Hiram will never stop hunting Archie. Jug’s plan to survive? Go visit his Mom in Ohio. So either Hiram really has it in for the Buckeye State or he and Gladys Jones have history that would keep him away. We’ll have to wait to see.
The narrative then changes to show us Veronica who, finally tired of her parents’ constant manipulation, decides to move out of the Pembrooke. While planning her next move, she starts staying in her speakeasy. The business is steady, but things could go bad at any minute, so Veronica decides to enlist the help of associate/criminal Elio to plan a casino night.
Nothing but good choices being made by these kids.
Anyway, Hiram stops by to gloat to Veronica, neglecting to mention that he was just in a barn looking to kill her boyfriend. He’s also there to act hurt that she didn’t come to him with her business issues. You see, Veronica can solve this problem on her own. Then Hiram calls her to his study, tells her that Elio is planning to cheat her, and then proceeds to solve all of her problems for her. Ouch.
Note to the Riverdale writers: It’s not a good look for Veronica to have her play the independence card then repeatedly turn to her crooked father to make things right. (Which he does here, after Veronica heeds his warnings). It’s even worse for her to defend Hiram, telling Pop Tate that the man directly responsible for her breakup and the mutilation of her favourite person on Earth maybe is “not so bad.” This is super frustrating because we know Veronica is smarter than this, and for the character just to be defending her father despite everything so that Pop can deliver the news that Minetta is dead (likely at Hiram’s hands) is a contrivance on the series’ part that shows contempt not only for her but for viewers as well. Hopefully this will be the last time this occurs, but I fear it won’t be.
Despite being irked by this development, the episode then course corrected by showing us what Betty is up to over at the Sisters of Quiet Mercy. Fizzle Rocks have infilitrated this facility, being given to the patients as a candy reward for good behavior. She isn’t buying it, and immediately goes into Nancy Drew mode to investigate. Complicating her plans is new roommate Ethel. In a nice nod to the comics, Ethel seems more obsessed with Jughead than ever. But Betty doesn’t have time to deal with this, because she needs to uncover why Claudius Blossom is delivering ‘maple syrup’ to the Sisters when they don’t serve it there, why Hiram Lodge is poking around the grounds, what her medical file says about her, and get an audience with the Gargoyle King over in the infirmary.
Don’t you just hate it when you are overbooked?
After faking a seizure to get to the infirmary, Betty gets her hands on her medical records and discovers that Hiram Lodge is responsible for trying to get her dosed with Fizzle Rocks. He is already doing so for the other patients at the facility, leading me to believe that the entire operation is one big testing ground for his drugs before he rolls them out to the general public. This information in hand, Betty tries to escape through the door Cheryl was led to freedom with. Unfortunately, the wall behind the door has been bricked up. Sister Woodhouse, Ethel and two guards show up to force Betty into taking ‘candy.’ Devastatingly, our heroine has become yet another guinea pig, her sense of self smothered by a new drug-fuelled love for the Gargoyle King. Cut to the end credits.
Marred only by sloppy character work involving Veronica, this largely excellent episode clarifies what most viewers already expected: Hiram Lodge’s power is far reaching. As it stands now, he’s way more of a threat than the Gargoyle King and The Farm (which we still know nothing about but it’s likely Hiram is involved here as well). With the midseason finale swiftly approaching and Hiram facing enemies on all sides, shit is, as they say, about to get real.
Read Chris’ review of the previous episode, Manhunter, here.