A trio of twosomes got into trouble last night as Riverdale leaned into a Pulp Fiction style of storytelling, interweaving three vignettes. (Then hammering the allusion home with an iconic dance at Pop’s Chock’lit Shoppe!) “Chapter Twenty: Tales from the Darkside” offered some juicy new turns, curious new characters, and shocking reveals. But most tantalizing for true crime fans, it’s setting up a previous unsolved murder that could be an overlooked clue.
At the beginning of the episode, Riverdale is reeling from news that the Sugar Man was murdered while in police custody. Then comes the threat from the Black Hood: sinners better behave in the next 48 hours, or there would be a reckoning. So of course, over the next two days Jughead and Archie became drug mules. Betty broke into the Keller home. Veronica creeped on the Sheriff (who is both dad and daddy), and then the BFFs teamed up to stalk him, where they discovered he’s banging Josie’s mom, Mayor McCoy, on the sly. There is literally a killer preying on sinners and the town’s leaders can’t keep it in their pants for TWO DAYS.
Meanwhile, Cheryl stalked Josie, manipulated her into ditching the Pussycats (who else would have told them about her upcoming solo studio time?) and pushing away crushing Chuck. I’m seeing speculation online that these actions plus her dreamy portrait of the two of them together means Cheryl is pining for Josie. I wish that were true. So far in terms of bi representation on this show was Toni Topaz’s shrugged sentiment that she’s “more into girls,” when she and Jughead decided not to pursue romance. But really? I think Cheryl’s still reeling from her near-rape at the hands of Nick St. Creature, and she’s trying to protect Josie from bad boys (Chuck does have a reputation). And out of a deranged sense of devotion, she’s also pushing away the good girls she feels are holding her dear friend back. Justifications aside, this an abusive relationship brewing, where Cheryl is purposefully mindfucking Josie to isolate her, and make her all Cheryl’s. Whether there’s a romantic or sexual element to this, remains unclear.
But the biggest, most plot-impacting reveal of the ep came in the midst of a dizzying cameo. Once Archie’s car broke down, Jughead relied on the kindness of a stranger-than-strange stranger, Farmer McGinty. But you might know him better as the Candyman.
Towering and intimidating, Candyman star Tony Todd sneers at Jughead and expounds about the Riverdale Reaper.
Farmer McGinty: There was a family living out near the Fox Forest. A good family. Mother. Father. Two kids. One night, they were all asleep when someone broke in. A Bogeyman who went room to room with a shotgun, shot ‘em all dead. No survivors.
Jughead: My god. Did they find him? The Reaper?
Farmer McGinty: Some people say that a lynch mob got him. Hung him from a tree near Pickens Pond. Others think he hopped a train, went out to California, started praying to the devil. Others say he never left Riverdale.
Jughead: What are you saying? You think the Black Hood is the Riverdale Reaper?
Farmer McGinty: I’m saying there’s a cycle to things. What happened then? What’s happening now? It’s killing season in Riverdale. And I wouldn’t be surprised if it was the same man.
There’s a lot to process here. For one, Todd’s Candyman character was killed by a lynch mob. It was that monstrous act that turned a passionate painter into a hook-handed supernatural killer, thirsty for revenge. Riverdale has been teasing there’s something strange going on in Greendale. Archie comics fans know this is where witches—like Sabrina Spellman—live. And this ep is laying down ominous signs of something spooky and supernatural about the town. McGinty says he thought Archie might have been the murdered Jason Blossom. When Jughead looks confused, the farmer laughs, “You never know on the road to Greendale.” And when the duplicitous Penny Peabody sends Jughead to drop off the crate of “pancake mix,” she warns him he won’t want to be Greendale after midnight. Steer clear of the witching hour, maybe?
So, could it be that the Black Hood is not a man, but something more sinister? Could he be the resurrected killer of a family of four? A vengeful spirit? OR is the tale of the Riverdale Reaper meant to give us clues from a real true crime case?
So far this season, Riverdale has leaned heavily into the M.O. of the Phantom Killer of Texarkana, and the encrypted and taunting messages to newspapers in the style of the Zodiac Killer. There’s even a whiff of the Axeman of New Orleans, who snuck into people’s homes to kill. Then in a letter commanded the people of New Orleans to behave as he demanded—blasting jazz music—lest they incur his wrath. All of these allusions are terrifying not only for their ties to actual real life cases, but also because in each the killer was never caught. But what about this Riverdale Reaper?
It’s unclear how long ago the Reaper’s murders occurred. (Were they before, after or related to the riots Pop so casually mentioned a few weeks back?) But more chilling, its details feel at once familiar and too vague to narrow down to one clear case of inspiration. It could be the Clutter murders, where a family of four was killed in their home by two would-be thieves, who became the subjects of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood. Or maybe the Reaper is a reference to the gruesome events that begin The Amityville Horror. 23-year-old Ronald DeFeo Jr. went room to room in his family’s home, shooting to death his father, mother, two brothers, and two sisters. Or perhaps the Keddie Murders, another grisly and mysterious story of a family slain in a once cozy setting. That one is said to be the inspiration of the home-invasion horror movie The Strangers, and its case remains unsolved.
But here’s the most unnerving part: it doesn’t matter which of these the Riverdale Reaper case might be based on. They all end without satisfaction, even when the killer was caught, convicted, and executed. Whether investigated by Capote, tied to a haunting hoax, or unsolved, there was never a satisfactory answer to why. Why slaughter an entire family? How do we make sense of such a deep and harrowing horror?
Here is where horror movies and horror-laced TV series give us some solace, some satisfaction. In fiction, we demand answers life denies us. And so we will root for Jughead to root out this undiscovered killer. We will root for the Black Hood and the Reaper and the Green-Eyed Man to be exposed and taken down. We will root for Riverdale justice, and maybe some Greendale snarls of witchy revenge.