Stop right there! If you’re not caught up yet, check out last episode’s recap here.
After last week’s turmoil, it’s time to get festive — as Jughead’s narration tells us really nothing important about the holiday season in Riverdale. (To be honest, I’m starting to question the necessity of him opening and closing each episode when he’s starting to run out of important things to say.) Meanwhile, Archie Andrews and his dad Fred deliver a Christmas tree to Pop Tate, thanking him for allowing them to use his Chock’lit Shoppe parking lot as a tree sales yard for the season. Arch sits with Jug, and they briefly discuss holiday plans — including Kevin Keller’s ill-advised Secret Santa with the gang — before Archie heads back out with his dad. Meanwhile, Betty Cooper is shaken awake in her bed by an intruder… none other than her big sister Polly, back from running away from home. She quickly ushers Bets downstairs, where her family is happily enjoying Christmas like nothing’s wrong — and in the corner, none other than a red-clad Santa Claus is placing presents under the tree. Slowly turning around, Santa isn’t Santa at all, but rather the Black Hood in a Santa outfit, wielding a knife. While I’m deciding if this is unsettling or stupid af, he makes up my mind by slowly ambling over the couch like a contortionist spider, rushing right at our favourite Cooper. He raises his knife and… Betty wakes up, gasping in fear. Obviously. You thought this shit wasn’t a dream? Elsewhere, at Thistlehome, a very spoiled Cheryl Blossom is grilling her mother on her choice of Christmas decor and she admits that they’re broke. (Also, Nana Rose is there. Congrats on somehow not perishing in the Thornhill fire!)
Meanwhile, Fred Andrews is breaking equally bad news to his son Archie: they’ve received the medical bill for his emergency surgery to the tune of $86,000 with no insurance coverage. What a jolly start to the episode! Back at the Pembrooke, Betty and Veronica Lodge discuss the Secret Santa and the ‘just friends’ status of their former flames, while, rounding out the montage, Jughead Jones tries to talk to his dad about ‘their’ blackmail problem while Tall Boy delivers mysterious duffel bags to them, but FP gets frustrated at his attempted involvement and sends him off to school. Finally, later at Riverdale High, the infamous Secret Santa is nearing its end. Josie McCoy awkwardly gets Ronnie a couple’s massage, Reggie Mantle flirts (as usual), and the whole shebang ends off with a touching and sweet gift from Archie to Betty — complete with a lot of giggling and exchanged glances that does not go unnoticed by Veronica. This tension is broken by Moose Mason and his girlfriend Midge Klump entering the room, the former recently released from the hospital. As the gang crowds around to welcome him back, Arch books it into the hall and is followed by Betty. He admits that he can’t look at Moose without being haunted by memories of the Black Hood’s attacks, and Betty agrees — before noticing that regular janitor Mr. Svenson is missing. Questioning the substitute on his location and finding he’s been missing for a few days, the two worry that by Archie and Veronica confronting Svenson and uncovering his secret, they led the Hood right to him.
After the title card, the duo head to the office to talk to Doris the office manager, and she confirms it: Svenson has been out all week ‘with a cold’. She left soup at his door, but she confides that he usually gets depressed around the holiday season so this isn’t irregular. As Betty returns to the junior news office, she runs into Jughead — who stayed behind to give her his gift. As she puts it aside unopened, he apologizes for how things went down between them, but assured it was for her protection. Betty thinks she could get a say in that, but nonetheless gives Jug a (huge!!!) present she got him. Elsewhere, Ronnie excitedly gives Archie her awkward purchased-pre-breakup gift — a watch, engraved with a romantic quote about them both. (WHY GIVE THIS AT ALL, LET ALONE BE EXCITED FOR IT?) Noticing something is up, Veronica reminds Archie they’re still friends and encourages them to open up, and he spills the beans about his dad’s medical bills and their inability to pay for it. Meanwhile, back in the south end, Jughead returns to the Whyte Wyrm to find it decked out for the holiday season — which Toni Topaz notes is Southside Serpent tradition; every year they give back as a gang by helping out local charities for the holidays. AWHHH. As FP and Talk Boy head out to do another blackmailed deal for Penny Peabody, Jug tries to tag along, but to his frustration is still ordered to stay out of it and Sweetpea is taken along instead.
Later, Betty calls up Archie — who is pruning trees for the holidays — with Svenson on the brain, and they agree to meet up and check on him just as Cheryl arrives to purchase their finest tree. Heading to Svenson’s house, just as they feared, they find the chicken noodle soup still chillin’ on the doorstep and no answer at the door. (Plus his house number is 119 — 911 backwards. COINCIDENCE?) Answering a different knocking on his door, Jughead comes face to face with his dad’s parole office Jack Walsh, stopping by to snoop around and check that things are still kosher. Reluctantly, he lets him in. Meanwhile, the Lodges sit for dinner as Hermione and Hiram cavalierly chat about their grossly expensive Christmas lists, but Ronnie disgustingly takes a stand and points out that some people are starving while they waste money on jewel-encrusted eggs. As her parents refuse to help Fred’s financial situation, she takes a jab at how he’s a better father than her dad and Hiram storms off to his study. At Thistlehome, Cheryl is tending to her new, expensive, and obnoxiously red Christmas tree when her mother comes in and demands to know where she got the money for it. Sassily, Cheryl tells Penelope to beg for a job, despite her lack of skills besides terrible motherhood. BURN. Lovely crazy ol’ Nana Rose chimes in, telling Mrs. Blossom she should’ve drowned her children at birth. CHRISTMAS. Later, Betty comes home to find her mother in an eerily good mood and baking passive-aggressive Christmas cookies, before telling her daughter she brought a package from her Secret Santa up to her room. Upstairs, Betty opens the package and drops it, gasping in horror — as a severed finger rolls across the floor.
Later, Arch is over and reading the enclosed note; this little gift is a piece of Joseph Svenson, straight from the Black Hood — and if they can reveal one last sin to the town they can perhaps save his life. As they mull over what to do, the Black Hood calls with a heavily-wounded Svenson to reiterate his point, and Archie and Betty decide to visit the Sisters of Quiet Mercy — where he lived as Joseph Conway prior to his adoption into the Svenson family — for clues. Meanwhile, Veronica is snooping for presents in her dad’s study when she comes across the deed to Pop Tate’s Chock’lit Shoppe in his drawer, which he had expressly promised to help and not buy. As revenge for her parents’ lies, she makes a teensy little call to hospital with her mother’s American Excess card, anonymously paying Fred Andrews’ medical bill in full. Elsewhere, FP returns home to find his trailer ransacked by the parole officer and his two duffel bags on the table. As Jug tells him how he got rid of Walsh, FP unzips the bags to show they’re full of Christmas presents for the Jones family. Jughead still isn’t happy about this arrangement and his dad’s willingness to go along with ol’ Ms. Peabody’s blackmail, and FP frustratedly tells him to live somewhere else then, because this isn’t working. Later, Jug rallies the high school Serpents to discuss his game plan: to take out Penny. Toni backs him up, reciting the Laws of the Serpents, and despite initial objections Sweetpea and the rest agree to risk their necks to save The Serpents from becoming lowly drugrunners like the Ghoulies.
Elsewhere, Arch and Betty meet with Sister Woodhouse from the Sisters of Quiet Mercy. Though she’s reluctant to speak much on it, Betty’s threats of exposing the place based on her sister Polly’s firsthand knowledge persuade the Sister to talk, and she tells them how Conway/Svenson was a troubled youth. She reminds us how he had pointed out the man who massacred his family and how a lynch mob took matters into their own hands… but notes how he had later confesses that he may have accidentally gotten the wrong person executed. Woodhouse admits that she doesn’t remember any of the mob’s faces and she never knew their names, but she does remember the one female member’s unique hair: white, save for a cherry-red stripe. NANA ROSE BLOSSOM, NO. Back in the south side, Penny is prepping her drug delivery when there’s a knock on the door. Believing it to be FP Jones arriving early, she instead finds Jughead with a crowbar — ‘in case he needed to pry the door open.’ As she points out that he should leave before his dad finds him there, he notes that that won’t be an issue; neither of them will be there when he shows up, as rows of snake-masked young Serpents file in and kidnap the Snake Charmer. Later, the Lodges return home early from shopping as they’ve received a most intriguing call from their bank: a credit card purchase confirmation for the tune of $86,000. As Veronica admits to the charge and confronts her parents about Pop’s, she demands to know all the dirty little secrets they’re hiding. Hiram objects, pointing out there’s a reason that she doesn’t know, but Hermione thinks it’s time to tell her their secret — which means the time for daddy’s little girl is over.
That night, Jughead and the Serpents un-blindfold Penny in the forest outside Greendale, and order her to leave Riverdale and not come back. As she maniacally laughs and points our Jughead’s stupidity — the Serpent Laws mandate that you can’t hurt one of your own — Jughead flicks a switchblade menacingly and reminds her that that tattoo doesn’t make her a Serpent… before cutting it off of her arm. WOAH, WHAT? Jughead has gone FULL DARK, YO. DAMN. Meanwhile, Archie and Betty head to Thistlehome to confront Nana Rose about her involvement with the murder mob. Senile and confused, Nana Rose (thinking she’s talking to Polly) states that she wasn’t allowed to be part of the live burial of the poor victim, but she once had a picture of them at the spot — underneath the gnarled tree known as the Devil’s Hands, noting that Betty’s grandfather was one of the men. Becoming upset, she asks her granddaughter to take her to her room as Cheryl orders them out. In the parked car, Bets frantically tries to recall packing that picture in her Grandpa Louis’ photo album when he died, and freaking out that she was likely picked by the Hood as her grandfather was a sinner. As Arch grabs her hands and tries to calm her down so they can end this, she leans in and kisses him full-on. BARCHIE. AAH. Choosing not to acknowledge this right now, the two quickly push forward and drive off to finish this.
Elsewhere, the Lodges finish telling Veronica the mysterious down and dirty and she’s in, on the stipulation that she doesn’t have to do anything illegal, and that the medical bill charges stick. Hermione agrees to this, as they may need Fred later, and notes that nothing is illegal with plausible deniability. Later, as FP returns home to the trailer, Jughead presents him with a celebratory Pop’s dinner and explains what he did to Penny. FP rightfully notes that he’s stupid and crazy for doing that, but Jughead argues that he’s proud of who is and what he’s done; he’s proud of being a Serpent. Meanwhile, Archie and Betty go through photo albums in the Cooper house to find an old photo Betty remembered of her grandpa and some friends in Pickens Park. Finding the photo and confirming it to be the burial place, the two, calling the sheriff on the way, book it to the spot and find a makeshift grave for ‘sinner’ Joseph Conway, and digging with conveniently available shovels until they hit a coffin, the two find it empty. As they mull over the meaning of this, the Black Hood appears behind them and cocks a pistol, ordering Archie in the coffin or he shoots Betty in the head. As Archie is done what he’s told and Betty is made to bury the grave, she pleads to figure out an alternate solution… until the Hood is distracted by distant sirens, and Betty takes this shot to knock him out with a shovel and help Archie up.
As the two scramble after the fleeing serial killer, grabbing his gun in the process, the chase leads them onto Sweetwater Bridge. As he attempts to jump over the side, Archie stops him by pointing the pistol and threatening to shoot. This doesn’t deter the Black Hood — but a gunshot does, as he flops back onto the bridge, dead. As Archie states in horror at what he believes he’s done, Sheriff Keller lowers his smoking pistol from the distance. Ordering Archie to stand down, he quickly approaches and verifies the killer’s death, before unmasking him… as Joseph Svenson himself, missing a finger on his left hand. Later, as the gang reels over this in Pop’s, Archie and Betty fill Veronica and Jughead in and they deduce how it all makes sense, and why a sinner would target other sinners as recompense. (Spoilers: it doesn’t make sense.) The next morning, Christmas, in fact, we get a montage of the gang opening their gifts from each other: Jughead receiving a vintage typewriter from Betty (and electing to text instead of thanking in person), Betty receiving a signed first edition of a book by her favourite author from Jughead, Veronica receiving a romantic couple’s locket from Archie, and Cheryl walking in Penelope and a rando on the couch. Later, as Archie ends a call with his mom wishing her Merry Christmas, he meets Ronnie outside and kisses her under the mistletoe she hung. Finally admitting that she loves him too and begging him back, the two make out… as some unknown person snaps pictures of the two. VARCHIE? AAAH. Finally, as Jughead narrates about another mystery wrapped up in a nice little Christmas bow, Betty melancholily tosses her Black Hood letters and paraphernalia in the fireplace one by one… before snatching the hood itself from the flames before it burns, just as Jughead points out that she had seen a reflection of herself in him, and this isn’t over.
While that killer reveal was a bit off-kilter, Riverdale is finally back for their mid-season premiere on The CW tonight! What mysteries do we want to see solved in the second half? Find out every Wednesday on The CW at 8/9c, or check The CW app or international Netflix! Don’t forget to check The Game of Nerds for all your Riverdale, geek, and fandom needs!