Riverdale S2E19: Prisoners

by thethreepennyguignol

So, at the end of last week’s episode, when the Black Hood returned, I thought it made for a great cliffhanger but wasn’t sure if they could follow through. After all, it was the Black Hood plot in the first half of this season that left me so cold – it just felt rushed, unfinished, and in retrospect that’s for a reason, but still. Riverdale had been doing well without a central mystery pulling everything together and I was sad that we seemed to be moving away from that once again. But then, this week’s episode Prisoners came swinging on by to prove me right the fuck wrong and I am all the way on board once more.

Riverdale takes a turn into outright horror to close out the season, and, given the show’s slippery relationship with genre, I’m pleased that this is where they seem to have ended up. Riverdale’s dark side fits so neatly in with the scarier side of things, and this week they explore a variety of horror tropes and sub-genres over the course of a ridiculously entertaining forty minutes (God almighty, I crawed with delight when I saw those black cheerleading pom-poms at Midge’s funeral).

Prisoners opens by drawing the whole town together at a funeral, and then splintering them off as the return of the Black Hood begins to ripple out across Riverdale. My favourite plot this week, as it is every time it gets a featuring role, is Betty/Chic/Alice, as Betty must begin to take ruthless measures to protect her family in the face of discovering that Chic is not really her brother. It’s a home invasion horror, as they discover that the call has been coming from inside the house – in more ways that one.  Lili Reinhart is never better than when she’s dead-eyed and clutching a gun, and her steely coldness matched with Madchen Amick’s emotional avalanche of guilt, fear, and grief makes for a powerfully compelling storyline. Plus, it keeps Jughead busy enough that his story is mostly moodily swinging his leg over a motorbike, which suits Cole Sprouse’s acting talent.

It’s Archie who is the most immediately affected by the return of the Black Hood – trapped in an ugly cage of his own fear and anger at what his return means for the town, Archie is snatched up by a returning plotline and reminded of his own helplessness in a timely fashion. KJ Apa just gets better and better with every week that goes by, and it’s that Carpenter-esque sequence as he is kidnapped that brings the washed-out suburban horror to this storyline – well, that and the fact that I really fancy Archie in a black suit, which is equally as disturbing to me.

Sure, Nick Saint Clair was always coming back to this show, but I’m pleased to see him turn up in this context: a dark parallel to Archie, he’s also trying to prove himself in a crime family, and is channelling his rage and impotence in the face of it into violence to that end. When Archie confronts Hiram in another one of my secret-favourite study dialogues, there’s a simmering fury and fear that threatens to combine into an explosive mix. I still don’t know who came up with this “Archie turns to violence through the medium of mobstering as a way to reclaim his masculinity after his father was shot in front of him” storyline, but they need a promotion, stat.

And finally, Cheryl gets to take a fun backseat as the show shifts her story out of full-throttle and into something else entirely; swearing revenge on Midge’s murderer with the cheerleading squad behind her, this “Angels of Matte-Lipped Vengeance” thing fits with her rise from the ashes neatly enough, and gives her plenty of opportunity to sarcastically bite back at people trying to confront her, which has always been her forte.

Handsomely directed, lovingly constructed, and saturated in gorgeous reimaginings of horror tropes, Prisoners has Riverdale careening into it’s final act with the kind of barely-controlled, hair-raising oddness that keeps the blood pulsing around the wizened vein of the most horrible town in America. The Black Hood has upped the stakes in all the stories in Riverdale, and that can only be a good thing. And fuck me – I think it might make a lot of this season better in retrospect, too, now that we seem to have a hint at who the Black Hood truly is.

In other news: last week, I announced that my debut novel, RAPE JOKES, is coming out at the end of this year! I couldn’t be more excited to share the news with you. You can read more about it here, and I’m running a Q&A about it soon and would love to hear what questions you have about the book, the writing process, or publishing!

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(header image courtesy of Riverdale Fans Online)