When a Stranger Calls, the fifth episode in Riverdale’s second season, might just be the most batshit crazy episode of this show to date — and that’s saying something. Seriously. This ep boasts some truly iconic moments, from a certain bad-ass Pussycat sequence to the most fabulous outfit this show has ever seen, so grab the knife from that rattlesnake cage and settle in for this week’s recap (once again split into two parts, the first from Kelli and the second from Mary).
Part I: Kelli
This episode opens with Betty, which seems fitting, given the central role she now has in the Black Hood storyline. I am making an executive decision to refer to the Black Hood as BH from this point forward (I’ll admit that I’m tempted to call him TBH, but that seems needlessly confusing, and I’m trying to make this easier for you, not harder).
So, Betty and BH are having a late-night phone call, teenager-style. BH must be using the same vocal disguise mechanism Christian Bale used for the Batman Trilogy, because he is sounding rough. Betty asks him what he wants, and he responds that he wants to “cleanse the town of sinners — just like you.” He then tells her he knows that Polly is at “a farm two hours north,” which seems a little too vague to be scary because I’m pretty sure there are a lot of farms two hours north of any given small town in the US. Luckily, BH ups the ante by promising to “carve her like a jack o’lantern" if she tells anyone. This begs the obvious question: How exactly does one carve a human being ‘like a jack o’lantern?’ Humans already have faces.
Over at the Andrews residence, Fred and Archie have a heart-to-heart. Archie is going to post an apology video for the trouble he’s caused with the Red Circle, and he promises his dad that he’s done being a vigilante — which I’m gonna go ahead and call bullshit on. Amateur superheroing is kind of Archie’s thing now, and I have a hard time believe he’s gonna stop. If he does, that was a huge waste of two episodes… not that I’m a huge fan of the Red Circle plotline. Actually, I hate it. I hope he was telling the truth.
Archie then gets a text from Betty asking him to walk her to school. It is eerily foggy outside, which just reminds me that I really have no concept of time in the town of Riverdale. Are we still in the first semester of school? Did Halloween pass yet? How about Thanksgiving and Christmas? I think it snowed at some point, but Betty only wears cardigans, so how can I be certain?
Anyway, Betty tells Archie about BH contacting her. She is very jumpy, obviously afraid that BH will see them, since she’s not supposed to tell anyone about their conversation and she really doesn’t want her sister to become a pumpkin or something. Archie, suddenly reborn as a sensible, law-abiding young man, tells Betty that she needs to go to the police. Betty explains that she can’t because of Polly, and Archie concedes, telling her he won’t let her go through this alone. There is a tender, silent moment.
What I really don’t understand is: why is Betty telling Archie this instead of Jughead? Archie’s behavior up to this point suggests he would do something remarkably stupid, like try to arrange a one-on-one meeting with BH and show up with his baseball bat, so why would she decide to confide in him rather than her slightly-more-reasonable boyfriend? Over the course of the show, I have mostly agreed with Betty’s decisions — or at least understood them — but my ability to relate to Betty has diminished significantly thanks to this episode alone.
Cut to the Lodge household, where Hermione is reading aloud from a newspaper which at first glance, honest to god, looks like a copy of The Daily Prophet. Definitely the Malfoys. The article she’s reading has a lot of negative things to say about Hiram, who is sitting behind his desk looking mildly perturbed. He doesn’t want ANYTHING to ruin the open house he and Hermione are throwing, as they’ve invited many potential investors for their new town-destroying project. Hiram mentions that the “St. Clairs” will be in attendance — which sounds more like the name of a church than the name of a family — and Veronica perks up at the prospect of seeing her old friend Nicky St. Clair, who is apparently a “music producer” now. She seems a little TOO excited about seeing him, and already we can see what direction this is going in.
Hermione is all, ‘you wanted a seat at the table, so help us close this,’ and Hiram is like, ‘yeah, Veronica, let us pimp you out for that sweet investor cash!’ Veronica agrees far too readily, and I’m beginning to wonder if her suspicion of her parents will ever be consistent.
Over at Southside High, Sweetpea and Jughead have a short confrontation. Jughead doesn’t seem to have many details — he only knows that Dilton was stabbed — and Sweetpea and Tough Dude #2 are like, HE STABBED HIMSELF. I’m not sure if Dilton actually stabbed himself, but I really hope he did, because that’s amazing.
Sweetpea and Tough Dude #2 fill Jughead in on the rest of the details of the fight, and then they show Jughead their plans to plant a pipe bomb under The Riverdale Register building. This is a very stupid move, since Jughead is obviously going to try to stop them; if they really wanted to blow up the building, wouldn’t they do it without telling a person who would definitely turn them in for it? Anyway, Jughead tells them to chill while he figures it out, at which point they yell at him for not committing to the Serpents. “YOU CAN’T BE HALF A SERPENT,” they cry dramatically. “WHERE DO YOU STAND? WITH US OR WITH THEM?”
Everyone leaves except for Toni, because she seems to be the only person sympathetic to Jughead’s plight. Toni tells Jughead that FP tried to keep peace between the sides, but now there’s only only solution: violence. Which… you know, I don’t even have time for that one. Let’s move on.
Later, Jughead puts on his Serpents jacket and shows up at the bar. He approaches the Serpents and says, “Tall Boy gave me this jacket, and it’s time I start wearing it.” Basically, he wants to “commit” to being a Serpent. I feel like at this point, he’s doing it with the intention of keeping the peace, but his motivations shift — understandably, I think — throughout the episode. Tall Boy warns Jughead that there will be an initiation, and we catch a glimpse of Toni looking concerned in the corner. She, too, has been through the initiation. After what we see later, I have to wonder: is it the same process for women?
Around this point, we get a short, awkwardly-placed scene in the Riverdale Lounge where Veronica tells Kevin about how she and Nicky St. Clair were the “will they or won’t they” couple of their group in New York. Archie shows up like, “who?” and Veronica is like, “Don’t be jealous, Archiekins! There’s absolutely nothing to worry about! It’s so cute how jealous you are! Teehee!”
Cut to Betty, who for some reason isn’t at school (again, no concept of time). Her cell phone rings, and her ringtone is OBVIOUSLY Lollipop by the Chordettes. Is that song still fun? Do people still have ringtones? I don’t fucking know. What I do know is that BH is on the line. He starts making vague threats about Alice, and tells Betty to check her e-mail and publish what he sent to ‘prove her loyalty.’ She says she wants something in return, something that will prove HIS loyalty, and he offers to answer any question she wants to ask once she publishes what he sent her. He says she has until tomorrow night.
At this point, I was really hoping it was going to be proof that Alice Cooper is a literal witch, but unfortunately it’s just a boring old newspaper clipping with a mugshot of Shelly from Twin Peaks — I mean young Alice — with the headline “Southsider Arrested and Released on Bail.” Shocker. Lol jk we already pretty much knew this.
In a trailer park far, far away, Jughead wakes up to see the Serpents standing over his bed wearing some snake masks they obviously picked up at Party City like 15 minutes ago. The first step of initiation is becoming “guardian of the beast,” which turns out to be a very cute dog named Hot Dog — the third iteration of Hot Dog, Toni tells Jughead later.
At the Malfoy Manor, things are heating up as Veronica welcomes the St. Clairs, including Nicky. Nicky is a squinty wasp who is not nearly attractive enough to deserve Veronica’s attention, but Veronica seems pleased to see him anyway. When I look at Nicky, I do not think “music producer.” I don’t think much of anything when I look at him, actually, other than “ugh.”
Back at Riverdale High, Betty and Archie talk about the article about Alice, which Betty has now obviously show to Archie since she’s decided to drag him through all of this alongside her. Betty says she can’t publish it because it will destroy Alice’s “credibility,” and Archie is like, ‘CREDIBILITY? LOLOLOL.’ I kind of have to agree with him on this one, because who gives a fuck, but Betty insists she can’t do it.
When Betty gets home, she is confronted by Sheriff Keller and Alice, who inform her that the letter BH sent her is not a confirmed match with the first letter sent to the paper. Alice then accuses Betty of writing the letter herself, since the cipher was taken from a Nancy Drew book. “Maybe you and your Serpent boyfriend were bored.” Betty, in an act of self-righteous fury, texts Archie to tell him that they are most def gonna publish the letter. Archie receives the text while lifting extremely heavy weights, a shot which exists solely for KJ Apa to show off his rippling biceps.
To me, it’s now obvious that BH is going to know that Betty has told Archie everything. She was being so cautious earlier, so what’s changed? If anything, the stakes have only gotten higher. Betty, please get your shit together.
Jughead, having sufficiently “guarded the beast,” is now studying for a Serpent Exam with Toni, memorizing “laws.” Toni asks Jughead what changed his mind about joining the Serpents, and he tells her he considered what she said about FP — “someone needs to step up to keep a war from erupting.” I appreciate this moment, and this plot line, because Jughead’s motivations actually make sense. Sure, ‘realistic motivations’ should probably be a baseline for television writing, but here, Riverdale: take my praise!
At the bar, we see the Serpent exam in all its glory, which involves Jughead screaming each law at Tall Boy while lots of spittle flies from his mouth. It’s exquisitely stupid, but not as stupid as the next trial — retrieving a knife from a cage with an ACTUAL RATTLESNAKE inside. One would think that such a conceit would involve a high-tension scene, but no — we don’t even get to see Jughead grab the knife! We cut immediately to the aftermath, where Toni basically tells him to stop being a baby — it’s FINE that the rattlesnake BIT HIM since its venom glands were removed. 1) That’s definitely animal abuse, but 2) did they even remove the rattle tho?
Either way, he got the knife.
In our first Pop’s scene of the episode, Alice shows up to pick up an order, and Pop cryptically says, “I don’t judge you.” Of course, this is how she realizes the mugshot was published, and she rushes home to confront Betty. She asks where Betty got it and Betty Sassily replies, “Maybe it’s one of the Serpents you’re always trashing — even though you were one yourself.” Alice assumes it’s revenge, but Betty says no, it’s JUSTICE against Alice for thinking she’s better than everyone else.
For the first time in what seems like an eternity, Hal speaks, only to tell Betty to shut up. Dads, amirite?
Meanwhile, Veronica is introducing Archie and Nicky to each other, which is definitely a good idea and not at all awkward or deeply uncomfortable for anyone at all. Nicky pulls out some drugs and tries to get Veronica and Archie to indulge, but they both refuse. Nicky’s all, WHO EVEN ARE U VERONICA, and Archie is obviously hardcore judging her for her ~dark past~. They’re distracted, though, when Nicky finds Veronica’s cat ears. “You’re in a band called the Pussycats? Just when I thought you couldn’t get any sexier,” Nicky says, at which point I would have delivered a swift kick to the nuts, but apparently neither Veronica nor Archie are bothered enough by this comment to say anything about it.
For the 37th time, BH calls Betty again, ready to answer the question he promised. Of course, he won’t let her ask the most obvious option — his name — so Betty asks if she would recognize his face, and he says she would. He tells her that he needs her to cut everyone else out of her life because he’s ‘selfish,’ and tells her to start with Veronica.
Cut to Betty sitting in a booth at Pop’s, wearing — GASP — a low pony. Don’t quote me, but this may be a first. Jughead comes to meet her, and the two of them share a passionate kiss. When was the last time they saw each other, anyway? Has it been days? A week? It becomes clear that neither of them have any idea what is going on in each other’s lives, which is pretty depressing. Jughead says he wishes they could skip town, and Betty starts to cry. She looks incredible. No one should be allowed to look that pretty while crying.
At the high school, Nicky invites the Pussycats to a party at his hotel. Why is Nicky here? Since when can people bring random guests to school with them? Cheryl pops up out of nowhere, some alarm in her head triggered by the word ‘party,’ and she and Nicky exchange sexy glances. Just then, Betty walks by, and Archie runs out to catch up with her. He asks if BH called again, and she lies, saying he didn’t. The others come out into the hall, and Veronica invites Betty to the party. “I won’t take no for an answer,” Nicky says, his creepiness intensifying.
Suddenly, we’re at the party. Nicky is telling an annoying story about Gal Gadot, and Archie doesn’t know who he is because he’s a L-O-S-E-R. He is even MORE of a loser when he refuses the drug of all drugs — that’s right, JINGLE JANGLE IS BACK, BITCHES. Nicky calls Archie a buzzkill, and then reminds Veronica that she’s supposed to be showing him a good time. Veronica caves and agrees to take the drugs, partly because she’s trying to close the deal for her parents, but also partly because it seems like she kinda wants to… and who wouldn’t, tbh? Would YOU turn down a pixie stick drug called Jingle Jangle?
Cheryl, Reggie, and Kevin all promptly agree to take part, followed by the Pussycats. Betty says no, and Veronica tries about three seconds of peer pressure before Betty is like, ‘I SAID NO,’ just like in every after school special she was most-likely raised on. Nicky suggests they take the party into the bedroom and puts his arm around Veronica, at which point Archie decides that he’s gonna get in on the JJ too. Good for you, Archie. Eat that pixie stick.
It’s not long before everyone is fucked up. Reggie is making out with Melody (I’m not sure they’ve said her name yet, but she’s the third Pussycat, which I know because of my childhood obsession with the film adaptation). Everyone is dancing, and Betty is the only sober one, sitting in the corner looking like I probably looked at every high school party I was ever dragged to. Veronica tries to get Betty to dance with them, and this is when shit gets real.
Betty unleashes a rant that is so Alice Cooper-like that it’s actually painful to watch. She accuses Veronica of not caring about any of them, only hanging out with them because there’s nothing better to do. Veronica tells her to stop, and Betty’s like, “Or what, you’ll have your dad put a hit out on me? Or YOU? You haven’t fooled me, you’re a bad person and you always will be.” It is seriously SO MEAN, and Veronica is obviously upset by it, even though she’s trying to hide it.
After that, Betty leaves and everyone is like, ‘ummmmmm,’ because Betty totally killed the Jingle Jangle vibe. But Veronica says she’s fine and puts on her brave party face, because that’s what Veronicas do.
Part II: Mary
Toni says that Jughead still has time to back out before THE GAUNTLET, the final test in his initiation into the Serpents. He’s not worried, of course, because the other trials were sooooo easy. She says that this last one won’t be so easy. Such drama.
To comfort Veronica after Betty yells at her, Nick tries to cop a feel. When she denies him, he says, “Same old Veronica, huh?” What the hell, Nick?! Nick is definitely the Chuck Bass of this episode, trying to feel on people who do not want. Part of me thinks this episode is a bit distasteful, considering recent events (if you’ve been living in a dark hole, tons and tons of men, including Louis CK, Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, etc. etc. etc. have been outed as sexual harassers. Also, let me come live in that dark hole, too. I don’t want to see the news anymore). That being said, I know that this show was written months ago.
But just wait. Justice is coming.
Betty cries and is sad because she was mean to Veronica. Waaaaah. She gets a phone call from the BH and asks him what will make him stop. He gives her some vague answer and tells her to cut Jughead out of her life. At this point, I’m wondering if the BH is supposed to be some sort of Jigsaw ripoff. He talks through a voice changer, is really vague, and just spends a lot of time pursuing some just goal that seems, well…unjust. I see you, Riverdale. I see what you’re up to.
Finally realizing she can’t handle the BH on her own, Betty recruits Archie to get rid of Jughead for her. If she’d done this for Veronica, I’d be OK with it, but having your one-time crush break up with your current boyfriend for you? That’s the coward’s way, Betty!
I have a theory that this plotline is setting up Betty and Archie for a romance in Season 3. And I hate it. I don’t want any part in it. I get it, I get it. I mean, in the comics Archie, Betty, and Veronica swap around like a Mr. Potatohead in the hands of a 2-year-old, but that’s not the vibe Riverdale has been going for, and I’d appreciate it if they’d stop.
Hiram and Hermione throw a fancy party to celebrate, well, GENTRIFICATION. They’re making money moves, as Cardi B would say, schmoozing with their guests and pulling the strings on Fred Andrews. We see a nice shot of Hal saying Alice can’t make it because she’s embarrassed or something, but then...
ALICE FREAKING COOPER WALKS IN. The romper dress, the serpent necklace (a subtle/not so subtle nod to her past as a Southsider?), the way she says, “Shove it, Hal” as she walks by…she’s perfection. Alice is crazy, but we love her because she’s crazy.
Nick tells Veronica he’s been in rehab, so it’s been hard to control himself. Sure, rehab sounds like a perfectly viable excuse for sexual harassment. It’s been a popular one recently. (Note: It is NOT an excuse for sexual harassment and no one is fooled). Before he even finishes his sentence, Nick has his eyes on Cheryl.
Archie breaks up with Jughead for Betty as the Serpents arrive to pick Jughead up for the Gauntlet. Sweet Pea says some harsh stuff about Archie. Did Sweet Pea always have that neck tattoo, or is the costume department trying to make him look tougher?
Back at the party, Nick drugs Cheryl with the most dramatic **PLOP** sound effect ever. Hiram tells everyone that the Southside will be no more once they build some fancy golf course or whatever. The Pussycats sing a song from RENT. It’s a weird choice and I’m not sure the show even knows what it’s doing at this point.
Nick drags a drugged Cheryl back to his hotel room and tries to rape her. Meanwhile, Jughead goes through with the Gauntlet in the Southside. These intercut scenes make one of the best moments (directorially speaking) Riverdale has ever experienced. Simultaneously, The Pussycats and Veronica break into Nick’s room and beat the crap out of him while Jughead gets punched by every single Serpent gang member. The juxtaposition of Nick being beaten for his absolute terribleness and Jughead (patron saint Jughead Jones!) being beaten as a rite of passage is…artistic? Am I allowed to say that Riverdale has an artistic moment?
Betty, crying and sad because now she has no friends, gets another call from the BH and asks him who he is. OK, Betty, did you really think you were going to get an answer for that? He gives her directions to go to a secluded spot in the woods where she will find an old cabin. SURE, THIS SOUNDS FINE. THIS DOESN’T SOUND LIKE EVERY HORROR MOVIE EVER. The dumb girl goes and finds a black hood in a wrapped box. The BH calls and tells her “Put it on and you’ll see.” Betty’s eyes do indeed look green like the killer. Did Kelli and I tell you or did Kelli and I tell you?
Everyone comforts Cheryl and she says she wants to press charges on Nick. Yes, girl. Please do it! Meanwhile, Jughead is sporting a new Serpent tattoo. He tells Toni that he and Betty broke up and Toni immediately jumps on that. I’m kind of over the Betty/Jughead tension at this point. It seems ridiculous (and that’s saying something for a CW show).
The BH knows that Betty’s told Archie everything, so he wants to kill someone. Instead of killing, say, Archie, he says he’ll kill Polly if Betty doesn’t give him another victim. She says, with very little hesitation, that the BH should kill Nick Sinclair. AND I DON’T DISAGREE.
Mary: OK, so can we say with certainty that the killer is, at the very least, one of Betty’s relatives? It could be Hal, but it could also be a long lost brother (which is a favorite soap opera trope), which Alice sort of eluded to in season 1. Regardless, it’s gotta be a Cooper—and I’m still leaning towards Hal.
I’m kind of ashamed to admit it, but I really like Jughead being in the Serpents. Maybe I just love a villain, but they don’t seem like too bad of a gang, and their plotline is a little more interesting than Archie’s. Also, maybe I read The Outsiders a lot as a kid. It’s rough all over, Ponyboy.
Kelli: If I could just put that scene with Veronica and the Pussycats beating the shit out of Nicky as the screensaver on my computer, I would. Then I would sit in front of my computer and wait for it to fall asleep and then just watch it on repeat until I die.
I’m starting to think that maybe there are two BHs — the one who actually did the killing, and the one who’s harassing Betty. It seems like it’s become very personal, when all of the people the killer actually targeted weren’t people of any special importance to Betty. I guess we’ll see how this all shakes out.
UNTIL NEXT TIME, JINGLE JANGLERS.
—Kelli & Mary
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The authors of this blog are four women with opinions about pop culture. That's all you really need to know.