Season One of the CW’s breakout hit Riverdale ended its 13-episode run with the shooting of Archie’s father, Fred, by a mysterious masked man. This scene’s significance would carry through most of the edgy Season Two, culminating in both a false end and a true end, drawn out long enough to last the duration of the season. This second season called for a full order of episodes to last the prime slot placement from Fall to Spring, and as such the show evolved accordingly. Instead of one central plot and one main antagonist, the sophomore effort introduced not one, not even two, but three main conflicts: The Black Hood (Fred’s would-be executioner), Hiram Lodge, and (at least on occasion) the Southside Serpents.
While all of these element add lore to the world of Riverdale, opening it up to grow and expand, they also came to the fore all at once, causing a real-life feeling of anxiety that corresponds to the anxiety of the characters. While the writers and showrunners perhaps bit off more than they could chew by splitting the plot and focus of Season Two, they certainly were shooting for the moon and mostly came out on top—Season Three was ordered in early April.
The Black Hood:
The apparent primary antagonist this time around was the masked murderer, only known by his trademark black ski mask and unnerving green eyes. He serves as a catalyst for much of the coming plot, especially that which is focused on Archie and Betty, though in completely different ways. For Archie, this sets him up as a teenage agent of vengeance, taking unnecessary risks and making extremely poor life choices that lead him to shelter under the demonic wings of Hiram Lodge. For Betty, it manifests through disturbingly continual psychological torture via cell phone calls and a push for her to connect with her inner “darkness.” I have heard that word so much this season, it no longer sounds like a real word. Fun Fact: I’m not sure I can ever listen to the song “Lollipop” again without feeling like I’m being watched by a psycho.
Betty’s connection with and adversarial nature to the Black Hood was perhaps the single most compelling factor of the season. Lili Reinhart stunned early in the season with her portrayal of the mental and emotional breakdown of Betty as she is manipulated by the Black Hood into cutting herself off from everyone around her: friends, family, and boyfriend alike. In a move that I was proud to anticipate, the true Black Hood ended up being Hal Cooper, Betty’s father. Once revealed, Lochlyn Munro’s Hal is truly Hannibalesque; his motives are clearly indicated. Initially he hoped to have Betty join him as a partner (there is a lot of precedence for the partner killer concept and it proves a fascinating methodological study), but as his plans crash down around him in the chaos, he turns to his last option to best fulfill his mission as he sees it: that is, to kill Betty, Alice, and himself, all of whom he considers to be as sinful as the rest of his victims.
Season One’s central mystery saw Betty and Jughead spearheading the search for the bad guy, and that element was one of few original plot points to carry all the way through the second season. The mystery is what made the first season of Riverdale special, and I find that to be mostly true with Season Two. The Black Hood plot was dropped via a red herring (in the traditional mystery style) at the midseason finale, a move which seems to be controversial among reviewers and fans alike. To me, it seems like the smart thing to do despite the relative sluggishness of the episodes that followed his supposed “exit,” if only to amp up the drama towards the season’s end.
Archie’s connection to the Black Hood is far more removed than Betty’s, and so he attempts to find external means to serve as both fuel and outlet for his turmoil: Hiram Lodge. This connects Archie with Veronica’s main conflict in the plot. On Archie’s end of things, the young man, already proven to be easily led and highly gullible (if only because of his general naiveté and willingness to believe the best in others despite evidence to the contrary) falls in as Hiram’s would-be, small-time, teenage mafia soldato. The effect is cringeworthy at worst and laughable at best, but KJ Apa certainly puts his all into it. Archie’s innate goodness is warped and twisted by his traumatic experience and the forceful influence of his girlfriend’s devious father.
Only appearing as an occasional conversational aside in Season One, Hiram Lodge started as a mere spectre on the horizon. By Season Two, that cloud has reached Riverdale. While the Black Hood is an unknown but straightforward evil, Hiram Lodge serves as his equal opposite: he is (by the audience at least) a known villain, but his goals are shrouded to all. Both serve as agents of chaos in the plot. Hiram (masterfully calculated by Mark Consuelos) is an architect, organizing the downfall of various key players in Riverdale’s society, all for his own nefarious purposes. He even goes so far as to readily put teenagers, his daughter, and his own wife in the line of fire to achieve his goals.
For Veronica, this serves as the catalyst for moving her character development forward. In Season One, she vacillates believably between loving and hating her father and his reputation. While she wants to believe that the father she loves is a good person, she is already suspicious of him. Season Two shows her first attempt to reconcile her parents’ shady business dealings by involving herself, to a degree, as they inform her of their intent to go straight. Yet, as she find herself deeper in the business—and, by association, Archie as well—Veronica comes to the conclusion that blood is not enough to secure loyalty. It is Veronica who comes to her senses about her father and his business before anyone else, save perhaps the mostly ousted and alienated Jughead Jones.
The Southside Serpents:
It’s never really a good thing for a teenager to join a gang, but objectively, I’d say it’s worse for a teenager to become a mafia enforcer. Unfortunately, only one of these two paths is the sad reality for many youth in Jughead’s position. Hiram Lodge’s machinations against the Southside and its inhabitants don’t really begin until later in the first half of the season, and, for that portion, the Serpents serve an antagonistic function in Jughead’s life. They appear to be his only recourse, which is often the case since gangs offer protection in a world where much worse and more immediate repercussions may occur without it. Additionally, there is the added bonus of a “family,” the seeming lack of which Jughead also shares with many real-life teens whose parents are in jail (like FP II) or worse.
Jughead readily falls in with them as they present the only friendly possibility in an unfamiliar world: a new school, a supposed “foster home” (although this was never elaborated on after Season One), and an entirely new world where he does not have the option to fall back on the Andrews’ kindness. Though many figures from the Serpent collective end up being positive forces, several initial key figures are not. These include Penny “Snakecharmer” Peabody and Tallboy, who is in with the rival gang the Ghoulies, and later revealed to be Hiram’s minion and a hired Black Hood copycat. As a result, Jughead ends up cornered and on the wrong side of the tracks figuratively as well as literally as he find himself illegally drag racing and unwittingly ferrying the highly addictive killer drug “Jingle Jangle.”
Yet, in the second half of the season, it is revealed that many of these issues are spearheaded by Hiram in his bid to buy up most of the Southside, starting with Southside High and even, secretly, Pop’s Diner. Those of the Serpent higher-ups who led Jughead and others into trouble were all working for Hiram, which mostly absolves the Serpents of any great wrongdoing. Only Jughead ever fully realizes Hiram’s plan. Betty is far too preoccupied with her own personal turmoil, between her false brother and psychotic, serial-killer father. Archie can’t see past his own nose on the best of days. Veronica, perhaps the only one who could have assisted Jughead in connecting the dots at an earlier date, has little to no contact with her boyfriend’s would-be best friend. So, by the finale of Season Two, Hiram is firmly set up as the main antagonist for the next season.
The Not-So-Core Four:
While Season One firmly established the “Core Four” of Archie, Veronica, Betty, and Jughead, Season Two spends the majority of its time splitting them apart, first into couples and then all together.
With Jughead set apart in a different school, his distance from the rest (minus Betty) was easily assured. This firmly splits their time on the show into couples time, often showing Archie and Ronnie together and Betty and Jughead together, but rarely were they found together in scenes more meaningful to the plot. Eventually, Betty is cut off from everyone, including Jughead, via the Black Hood’s manipulations. At this point, Archie and Veronica have also hit a rough patch (when Archie tells her he loves her and she isn’t willing to say it back). During this time, only Archie and Betty have shared screen time, because she shares her secret with him, which almost leads to his death.
Eventually both couples end up back together and, for a brief while, Jughead and Archie share some key plot scenes as they run drugs for Penny Peabody after Jug makes a deal to get his father released from prison. From that point forward, the Core Four are once again split into couples, with Jughead getting additional screen time with the Serpents and Archie with the Bulldogs, even after the key Southside students are reincorporated into Riverdale High.
This split does two things. Within the plot, it serves to literally weaken the Core Four against their various adversaries since none of them function well without a support system. Metatextually, I would say that it also weakens the season. B and V spent the season as on-and-off antagonists to each other. While this is not incorrect in the context of the comics, they’re usually the best of friends in between those “falling outs.” This season, they barely have any significant screen time together. The same goes for Jughead and Archie. The show is strongest when the four are acting as the core of the show, rather than as separate pillars.
Riverdale, as much as I love it, is the biggest Hot Mess of a show ever aired. So much was going on in this season that it was hard to keep track of it all, much less form a cohesive timeline for a show that, in its first season, barely covered a period of 4-6 months. The Sophomore class of Riverdale High has yet to become the Junior class, and while I can’t fault the writers for drawing it out as much as possible (they only have 3 in-universe years to cover at best, unless they want to go the route of Boy Meets World: The College Years), it seems like this season upped the ante a little too much in comparison to Season One. Hopping from solving one murder to both a serial killer and an evil mafioso seems like an untoppable escalation.
I wonder how they can manage to make the third season just as adrenaline-pumping with Hiram as the main antagonist. The finale cliffhanger—Archie being arrested for murder—is something that I anticipate will likely be cleared up within 2 episodes, if the CW formula is anything to go by (I cite Flash being lost in the speedforce and Dean being cured of demonism as evidence) so Hiram’s bid to rule the city will still be the main focus. Without the edge of “who is going to die next?” or “who is Jason’s killer?” from episode to episode, without the key mystery, the format that Riverdale has run on for the past two seasons is lost, and with it, I postulate, much of its draw, especially considering the unlikeliness of any further relationship drama between the couples that make up the Core Four.
I can only hope that, with only one main plot and primary villain, the cohesiveness of the writing that characterized Season One, and was largely absent in Season Two, will make a return appearance and bolster the plot to make for one hell of a Season Three.