'Riverdale' recap: Mask for mask

Price Peterson
Writer, Yahoo Entertainment

Warning: This recap of the “Chapter 16: The Watcher in the Woods” episode of Riverdale contains spoilers.

The American criminal justice system is a complicated and imperfectly implemented set of laws designed to protect the rights of both the accused and the victimized. But sometimes, in addition to all that, a group of teens need to just put on ski masks and take off their tops and make YouTube videos threatening all the local criminals. To really let them know that if crime-doers don’t, like, relax, then they’re gonna get yelled at and chased around and possibly also get some meaningful body contact! Why bother with three-strikes laws as a crime deterrent when a lingering, tough-love shirtless hug will be even more effective in certain situations? Say what you will about vigilante justice, but this would definitely be the right way to go about it. Thank you, Archie, and thank you, Riverdale. (If it sounds like I am describing nonsense, I agree, but I promise it’s relevant to this episode.)

“Chapter 16: The Watcher in the Woods” was an extremely fun and scary and ludicrous episode of Riverdale (plus Veronica and her family were there too.) Let’s talk about it!

We began in the woods where two handsome strangers had begun to kiss despite the wails of protest from the Baby Jesus. Hush, child, let the hunks have their fun! Anyway, it must’ve still been Retro Night, because here was Kevin cruising the woods like it was pre-Stonewall times. And that’s when the gunshots rang out.

Kevin and his would-be lover (and possible identical twin) had been hooking up mere yards away from where Moose and Midge had been shot by the masked shooter! But that was fortuitous for the M’s, as Kevin perhaps helped scare away the shooter before any fatalities could occur. Because yes, last week’s cliffhanger was a bit of a fake-out: Despite all the blood spatter, Moose was merely wounded and Midge was completely unharmed, but for the Jingle Jangle coursing through her system. That meant the shooter was now one for four! Not a great stat but still pretty spooky.

Word quickly began to spread, and the football team seemed especially upset, considering their star closeted bisexual player was now hospitalized. Archie seemed especially perturbed, seeing as he’d had a personal connection to all of the victims so far. Somewhat less perturbed, however, was his girlfriend.

For one thing, tonight was the premiere of The Bachelorette, and since the Riverdale body count was technically zero, Veronica wanted to cut loose, kick back, and roll her eyes at whatever producer-fabricated gimmicks the bachelors would unveil upon exiting their limos! I could see her point.

Betty was concerned by the idea that Kevin was out hunting for D. in the woods when there was a killer on the loose, and he got extremely huffy. Dating apps just weren’t his thing, girl! Something about how he’s more afraid of getting catfished than shot in the face? Sure. It’s a small town, and he had to get his thrills somehow.

Meanwhile, it was Jughead’s first day of school at Wrong Side of the Tracks High School, even though he had previously had a first day of school last season? But I guess he was a new student again, and this cool girl with pink hair offered to give him a tour (mostly of broken vending machines and kids getting ganked up on that good-good right there in the hallway), but at least he had a foxy new English teacher:

Again, the school was really bad — it was like the one in High School High but zanier. And rather than immediately join a gang (as the South Side Serpent contingency of the student body requested), Jughead decided to do the next-toughest thing he could think of: join the school newspaper! Or, like, start one. Classic Jughead.

Archie had grown fed-up with the do-nothing Sheriff Keller just doing nothing all the time, so he went to go find his gat and instead had another brainstorm.

He lifted up a comic book just as a lightbulb went on over his head: He’d start a crew of justice seekers just like in the comics! And not to spoil it, but get ready to LOL at how this group chooses to dress. You honestly wouldn’t believe it if I told you.

Cheryl was amazing in this episode in that she barely did anything and seemed obsessed with Kevin’s sex life. Same! In one scene, she just sort of shadily walked behind Kevin and Betty, listening to them discuss Grindr. And later she took Betty aside and tried to break it down for her: Kevin was hot now, and hot people are thirsty. Cheryl gets it.

At this point, the masked killer, who I guess is known as the Black Hood … well, he sent a Zodiac Killer-style note admitting that he’d attacked all four victims and even helpfully included trophies from their various crime scenes, including Luke Perry’s wallet and Miss Grundy’s Lolita sunglasses. Additionally, his letter mentioned a motive: He was attacking people who’d committed sinful behavior! Luke Perry was an adulterer, Miss Grundy was a child rapist, and Moose and Midge, uh, did drugs or whatever. And that meant anyone in town who felt even the slightest bit sinful was suddenly a target!

It was all Polly needed to hear to pack her bags and head out to that pregnant-lady farm she’s always yammering on about. Fine — beat it, lady! Polly has been nothing but a boring headache from the beginning — I don’t care that she’s pregnant with ginger incest babies. Clear out and make room for Betty’s brother, already! Anyway, the town was scared now.

One of my biggest complaints about this show has been the way it treated the Moose character. Last season, it decided to make Kevin single, so his down-low shenanigans with Moose were abruptly cut off when Kevin broke up with Moose for not being gay enough (?). I truly didn’t understand that or why it was barely referenced ever again. So I loved this moment, in which Moose seemed grateful for Kevin’s visit and even admitted that he wasn’t totally sure what kind of person he was looking for, but would Kevin please, please come visit more often, if not all the time? I have hope for these two, but either way I’m glad their history was acknowledged, y’know?

If I’m being honest, like 85 percent of this episode was the Lodge family whispering hateful things into each other’s ears for no reason I could understand.

Veronica and her mom hate each other now, and also apparently the parents hate each other too. OK? Cool family! I honestly can’t be bothered to care about any of it. They look great, though. Hope we get a lot more scenes about real estate and business contracts and stock options. That’s why I’m watching!

At one point, Barb was stalked by a mysterious van, and she called Archie and his team of vigilantes to come save her, and they did! Had it been the actual killer, though, or just some guy in a van? Either way, Barb was safe and that’s a good thing. See, teenage lynch mobs do work sometimes.

Kevin just couldn’t stop going into the woods to find some D., and it was hilarious when Cheryl spotted him and then her instinct to be a troublemaker doubled as an act of concern. Really, she just wanted to get Betty upset and drag her into the woods and have a front-row seat for the fireworks of them fighting about Kevin’s thirst levels. But despite her tea-spilling grin, Cheryl also just didn’t really want to see Kevin get killed out in the woods, so I loved that she created drama to also maybe keep him safe. It was just really clever writing, in my opinion. Again, Cheryl had the smallest part this week, but she still looms so large in this world. The best.

Veronica was very interested in getting Archie to win over her father, so she arranged for them all to dine together. At one point, Hiram took Archie into the fireplace room for some “man to man” talk (not to be confused with the “man to man” talk currently going on in the woods) and bizarrely began to encourage Archie to turn his teenage militia into a, like, Fight Club or whatever. Something about getting wild and scary with it, so as to frighten the killer. Archie was like, “Uhhhh, K.” But his gears were turning.

Then Kevin went back to the woods for some D. again and got into some stranger’s car, and the stranger stabbed him.

Please do not make a penetration joke here or laugh at anyone who does, because this is not the time or the place. Anyway, don’t worry, this was a dream sequence. A cautionary tale dream sequence in which Kevin learned a valuable lesson about cruising for D. during a serial killer rampage.

Kevin returned home, and his father confronted him about his D. cravings and assured him that he loved his son no matter what, and etc. But can I be real with you for one second? Sheriff Keller has got to be the Black Hood, right? All this “I’m cool with your lifestyle” stuff is just a misdirection from the killer’s moralizing. Also, in my opinion, Sheriff Keller wants to scare the “sinners” of the town so that Riverdale calms the f*** down with all its lurid crimes lately. He was obviously not doing a great job preventing crime before, so maybe this is just him getting more ambitious. Anyway, that’s my theory. It’s Sheriff Keller, trying to keep the peace in a twisted way. Or maybe it’s Hiram Lodge. Or maybe it’s Betty’s dad. Look, it’s a dad. Pretty sure there’s a killer daddy on the loose. As always!

Then Jughead got beaten up at school (the rival gang is delightfully known as the Ghoulies) and realized that he should join the South Side Serpents for protection. But he was not happy about it. Also, are we expecting him to form a love triangle with pink-haired Toni and Betty, or can we all be adults here and hope that the gals will be friends? I think I like Toni — she’s like a modern-day Rayanne, kinda — so let’s see that happen, please.

OK. Are you ready for this?

Behold the Red Circle, the fiercest soft-core gay porn gang this side of San Diego. For when you just want to drag crime into the woods and kiss it on the mouth! Archie truly is the best.

I’m honestly still recovering from Archie’s gang’s makeover, but overall I’d say that “Chapter 16: Watcher in the Woods” was a terrific episode. For personal reasons best saved for a Tumblr post probably, I am impressed and delighted that a network television show devoted so much time to gay cruising. Also I loved the serial killer stuff, and the vigilante angle was great too. Somebody please cast a spell on me so that I can enjoy the Lodge family drama, because what is even happening there? They all drink wine and make withering putdowns, we get it. They’re like the Blossoms but boring. Still, Season 2 is pretty great so far, don’t you agree? Twisted and ridiculous and occasionally laugh-out-loud amazing. I would definitely meet up with Riverdale in the woods during a serial killer rampage, and you can quote me on that.

Riverdale airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on the CW.

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