By Bryce Cross

Spoilers follow for “Riverdale.”

Finally, all hell has broken loose in Riverdale, and everyone, including Archie, is powerless to stop it.

“Chapter 17: The Town That Dreaded Sundown” served as an excellent episode to showcase just how disorderly and chaotic the characters have become under the looming threat of death.

At the very end of the episode, Jughead (Cole Sprouse) laments, “Riverdale would no longer be the town with pep, from now on, it would be the town that dreaded sundown.” With this, we get a strong indicator that this melodramatic, suspenseful tone is here to stay. This isn’t a bad thing as everyone now plays their role much more grimly compared to the cheesiness found in parts of the first season. It helps sell the ridiculous madness of the show if everyone reacts realistically to it, and they finally are, as most of the cast brings their A-game this episode.

I’ve mentioned before that season one Archie (KJ Apa) was often a character who had the most mundane issues, yet still would act rashly and make baffling decisions. This impulsive nature has been somewhat consistent into the second season, but his motives here have been the most captivating they’ve ever been. No longer does Archie feel like a background character constantly dragged into the fray with the rest of the cast’s issues. Now, he drives the plot forward, thanks to great writing and an earnest, genuine performance from KJ Apa.

The action of “Riverdale” now revolves around Archie. We see him tormented by his thoughts of taking down The Black Hood for shooting his father (Luke Perry). But when the Red Circle makes a video taunting the Hood to come out of the shadows, tensions in Riverdale are heightened more than ever. People are not only afraid of the killer, but also of Archie’s threat that endangers their normal lives. As Archie gains a newfound notoriety in school and around town, his life begins a downward spiral.

His Red Circle group endangers his relationship with Veronica (Camila Mendes) as her parents want her to break up with him. This is even more complicated because her dad is responsible for manipulating Archie into forming the group. The organization also threatens to get Archie expelled from Riverdale High as graffiti of The Red Circle is found in town and threatens the Serpents. He even unintentionally convinces Veronica to turn the vigilante gang into a movement – T-shirts and all.

By episode’s end, Archie has sparked the flames of a civil war between the north and south ends of town and revealed to Veronica that he wants to kill The Black Hood himself. While she manages to talk him down, even throwing his gun in the river, one has to wonder: how far into the darkness will Archie go?

This episode’s other central focus was on Betty, as Lili Reinhart finally brings back the stellar, emotional performance we saw in season one. Betty’s character works best when we follow how her personal problems deeply affect her, rather than when she involves herself in the issues of other characters like thus far in this season. However, one of those moments paid off in this episode.

In “Chapter 15: Nighthawks,” Betty hosted a rally to keep Pop’s open, making a speech about how everyone should fight for the good things in the town. At the time, it seemed like nothing more than a moment to give Betty something to do. Now, we learn that The Black Hood was so impressed by this speech and another at the end of last season that he vowed to “cleanse the town of its sin.” Although she’s terrified, Betty and Jughead work to uncover a coded message from The Black Hood, preventing a massacre at a town hall meeting. It’s a short-lived victory as we see the episode’s final scene and cliffhanger – Betty getting a phone call from The Black Hood himself.

While I noted that most of the cast was outstanding this episode, the outliers were surprisingly Hiram (Mark Consuelos) and Hermione Lodge (Marisol Nichols). Their usual plotting seemed rather forced, with Hiram constantly bringing up the importance of loyalty and Hermione slipping in lines like, “I told you Fred was going to be a problem” while at the town hall meeting. They’ve been so compelling in the past, but now, one has to wonder if and how their conniving will pay off.

“Chapter 17: The Town That Dreaded Sundown” excellently follows Riverdale’s descent into darkness and fear through Archie’s quest for revenge and Betty’s pursuit of the truth. Except for Mr. and Mrs. Lodge, every character gave serious and realistic performances. “Riverdale” is really selling the idea that The Black Hood has everyone under his thumb, just waiting to pick them off one by one.

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