Leave it to Riverdale to follow its super fun musical episode with one of the darkest episodes of the season. Granted, that musical episode did end in the most gruesome image of the show’s history: Midge’s death. Most of the deaths on Riverdale happen to characters for which there’s little viewer emotional investment, which lowers the stakes a bit. But Midge’s death—as minor of a character as Midge was—does hit hard, affecting the whole town in a way that hasn’t really happened since the death of Jason Blossom. And like that catalyzing act of violence, Midge’s death throws open a pandora’s box of secrets and sins.
Riverdale gets back to its gothic-glam roots in this episode, opening on Midge’s funeral, where Cheryl sings, flanked by her fellow vixens in jet-black uniforms, clutching jet-black pom-poms (did they just dye their usual uniforms? I have questions). Eerie, stylized visuals make the episode haunting, tense, immersive. The town has been undone yet again.
And the consequences are particularly dire for the Cooper family. There’s a whole lot going on in this episode, reinjecting the show with some much needed momentum. But Alice Cooper is the lowkey star of the horror show that is this episode, Mädchen Amick reminding us just how damn good she is at every turn.
In the wake of Midge’s death, Jughead and Betty pick up their Black Hood investigation once again, leading them to the Sisters Of Quiet Mercy, where Betty rather crudely leverages Cheryl’s trauma to get what she wants. They learn that Chic isn’t Alice’s son at all, that he really is an imposter like Betty has somewhat suspected. That reveal isn’t necessarily shocking, but it has shocking emotional consequences for Alice. She learns that the boy she has been fiercely protecting, the boy that she helped do a murder for, isn’t her son at all. And Chic tells her that her real son tried to seek her out one day and then overdosed on jingle jangle after she shut the door in his face.
The floor falls out from under Alice as she spirals through her guilt, finally realizing she needs to come clean about…everything. She tells FP that her real son was also his. Again, this isn’t the most shocking reveal, but it still feels like such a profound twist in how its characters are emotionally affected by it and process it. Amick and Skeet Ulrich churn out a powerful scene.
And then the Cooper fam is left with a serious Chic problem. Jughead tries to beat the truth out of Chic, but FP pulls him the hell out of there. The past comes back to haunt every character in this episode, Riverdale managing to pull several threads into this dark tapestry. FP doesn’t want Jughead going too far with Chic because of his guilt about Jason Blossom. Alice and Betty can’t just let Chic go because of what he knows about their little mother-daughter murder cover-up.
And then Betty’s also being haunting by another part of her past: The Black Hood. Yes, that goddamn “Lollipop” ringtone is a harbinger of doom (Betty, I gotta say, having a custom ringtone for the serial killer who likes to call you to fuck up your life is kind of a weird move). Archie thinks he’s being stalked by the Black Hood, but our town killer has always been way more interested in Betty. And this time, he calls her and asks her to bring Chic to him to be dealt with.
In one of the most genuinely surprising turns of the episode, Betty does. She goes one step further than when she gave the Black Hood Nick St. Clair’s name, delivering Chic to the Black Hood herself. Even Chic doesn’t quite believe it, not running when she tries to give him a head start. In a way, Betty is working with the Black Hood now. And they might be even more connected than that, Hal’s absence at episode’s end sending a jolt of realization through Betty.
After the funeral, Cheryl sort of takes a backseat in the episode. There’s a small subplot involving Hermione Lodge convincing her to write an op-ed condemning sheriff Keller, which does end up having some potentially serious consequences, as the sheriff tells Kevin he intends to resign. Cheryl also gets in a classically Cheryl Blossom line at the top of the episode: “Like the Furies of Ancient Greece who ceaselessly pursue blood atonement when a crime’s been committed, the vixens and I vow that we will not rest until those responsible for the murder of our sister is rightly punished.”
That vitriolic revenge spirit doesn’t really play out for Cheryl in the rest of the episode, but it does for Veronica. Varchie’s past comes back to haunt them in the form of the insidious, wormy rapist Nick St. Clair. It’s him and his prep school goons who are stalking Archie, not the Black Hood. And when they kidnap and hold him ransom for $1 million, Hiram and Hermione are pretty much just like “sorry, mija!”
I know this storyline is particularly dark and troubling, but I have to admit that I laughed out loud at this exchange between Hiram and Veronica:
Anyway, when Veronica can’t get enough money to pay off Nick, he decides to double-down on his rapist history by suggesting she sleep with him to pay off her debt. With Archie, he keeps going on and on about needing to “make his bones” with his family, which as it turns out, means he needs to do a murder. So he just goes full evil monster and sets up a livestream for Archie to watch him and Veronica and vows to kill Archie after.
Thankfully, music cues and a pointed glance from Veronica hint at the fact that she has taken matters into her own hands with Nick by spiking his drink. Sure enough, by the time Archie punches his way out of captivity, she has already incapacitated him. And Veronica and Archie get their Hermione and Hiram on by turning the tables on Nick, holding him for ransom.
Early on in the episode, Veronica wants out of her parents’ schemes. As they clink their wine glasses and toast to manipulation, she’s off the sauce, glaring at them, drinking her water, over their constant moustache-twirling. But even though Nick St. Clair most certainly deserves to be squished like a bug, it’s hard not to see her and Archie’s actions at the end of the episode as a reflection of her own parents’ bad deeds. For supposedly wanting a reprieve from her family’s games, Veronica certainly does lean into the capital-f Family business this episode.
Archie slips further into the dark side, too. He wants to make his bones with Hiram, and he wants to do so by killing the Black Hood. Narrator Jughead is rightfully apprehensive. Everyone in the town of Riverdale seems to be foaming at the mouth for “justice” when what they really want is revenge. “Prisoners” isn’t the most tightly executed episode of Riverdale, but it’s urgent throughout and manages to pull in a lot of the past to propel and give deeper meaning to the present. Old demons are back with a vengeance.
This is so good. I love how your Riverdale coverage goes from like, exclamation-point-heavy feelings about musicals to this more serious analysis and yet it all feels super smart and super consistent with the show. The show has drastic tonal shifts that *should* feel jarring but somehow really (mostly) work?? And you capture that really well.
This episode was a LOT. Honestly, I know it’s super hypocritical of me, because I’ve been eye-rolling Archie’s slide into darkness via fascist boy gang for months now, but I really enjoyed Betty & Veronica going straight up blood vengeance in this episode. It was soo satisfying to watch. (Sidenote: I assumed that The Black Hood himself set that ridic ringtone on Betty’s phone?? This seems to be a thing that people do on tv shows all the time and I’ve never been able to figure out if it’s real because I don’t really understand technology. But he’s a pretty serious and gruff guy and that doesn’t really seem his style?? How awkward, too, if he really is her dad. Like…????)
Also, I can’t imagine loving anything more than the River Vixen full-on mourning cheerleader costumes. They even got black pom poms!!!! Also how good did Cheryl look in all-black and that dark lipstick??
i majorly LOLed when veronica called her parents boris and natasha.
Couple things: shouldn’t Toni have been with the vixens? And Betty and Veronica for that matter?
Also, it’s funny (not funny-haha but funny-infuriating) how Betty only acknowledges her familial relationship with Cheryl (which, doing the math, I’m pretty sure they’re actually like 5th cousins, not 3rd) when it suits her needs, but Cheryl always refers to her as ‘cousin’.
I looked up how family trees work and I guess they are 3rd cousins, cuz like Hal would be Cheryl’s 2nd cousin once removed or one of those confusing things.
I will admit my feelings are all over the place when it comes to Riverdale. I pretty much watch it for Choni and Kevin. But since the start of the season I have had the weirdest feeling that the black hood is Kevin. It would have the wow factor, Kevin is such a sweetheart and he has a bit of a dark side. I think it makes sense. The black hood loves to go on and on about how he and Betty are the same. Kevin was acting like a pouty child ever since Veronica came into town. He is possessive and he is the one who would benefit the most from Midge dying. Whats messed up though is that even if it is him, I would be perfectly fine if they never catch him.