New year, new you, and a new episode of Riverdale to sink your teeth into. While the midseason finale was something of a let-down, with the underwhelming reveal of the Black Hood’s identity, Riverdale isn’t letting fan disappointment get them down, coming back with another solid story of mystery and intrigue.

‘Silent Night, Deadly Night’ saw the Archie Andrews (KJ Apa) being photographed on his front porch by a mysterious photographer hiding in the bushes outside his house, and our return to the sleepy town of Riverdale has revealed the identity of his secret photographer. Unbelievably, it’s the FBI. And even more unbelievably, they need Archie’s help.

Yes, ‘The Blackboard Jungle’ sees the arrival of Special Agent Adams (John Behlmann) in the suburb, and he is in desperate need of our red-headed hero’s help to take down none other than Hiram Lodge (Mark Consuelos). Finding that Archie is a unique link to the Lodge inner circle, Adams explains that the less-than legal nature of their business is in need of exposure, and he needs his help to gather evidence. And though he is initially hesitant, after one Sopranos-esque dinner with the Lodges, it quickly becomes apparent that there is truth to what Adams has told him, prompting Archie to consider the danger his girlfriend and his father are in, so closely aligned with Hiram.

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His first task is to find proof that Hiram put Nick St. Clair (Graham Phillips) into hospital – the only problem? – Archie loses his cool when he finds out that Nick tried to do to Veronica (Camila Mendes) what he almost did to Cheryl (Madelaine Petsch) and breaks the guy’s nose. You’ll never make it to the big spy leagues doing stuff like that, Arch. Regardless, seeing the affect that Hiram has had on Nick pushes Archie to side with the FBI on the condition that his father and Veronica are protected. Unaware of her partnership with her parents, Archie should be wary, because, as Nick explained to him “when Veronica Lodge smells blood, she’ll turn on you too.”

Elsewhere, there’s a divide in Riverdale High School, as the closure of South Side High has seen students transferred to their Northside counterpart. Condemned as a “public health hazard” (which isn’t exactly far from the truth) but actually bought by the Lodges under the table, the school is set to be demolished and with Serpents sharing Riverdale, many of the students want to force the leather-clad teens out. And when Reggie (Charles Melton) blames the Serpents for defacing the school crest, the principal enforces a ‘no gangs’ rule, which means no Serpent paraphernalia in the school halls, which most of the Southsiders are fine with – except Jughead (Cole Sprouse), who takes this as an affront to all the Serpents stand for. Just take the jacket off for a few hours, Jughead, not even FP (Skeet Ulrich) sees a problem with it.

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As though things couldn’t get worse for the new students at Riverdale High, Veronica anonymously donates some new clothes to the Serpents – school uniforms. Which just seems like an unnecessary cruelty, given that the school hasn’t actually had uniforms before now, and they make it look as though the Southsiders are working at a country club. However, Jughead won’t be beaten, and with approval from the principal he creates the ‘Swords and Serpents Gaming Club’ as a front for the Serpents to hang out together in school hours. Which either means that the principal is so oblivious that he can’t see what the club really is, or else he’s just so fed up of the meddling kids that he’s willing to let this one slide.

It’s a big week for the Cooper family, as ‘The Blackboard Jungle’ sees the brief return of Polly (Tiera Skovbye), sans bump, who is apparently living in a cult – where was that storyline?! – with her twins Juniper and Dagwood, and has no desire to return to the Cooper clan. When Alice (Mädchen Amick) finds out that her daughter gave birth and didn’t even give her parents a call, it leaves her distraught, and Betty (Lili Reinhart) knows how to help – by locating the long-lost Cooper sibling, Charles ‘Chic’ Smith. Springing the discovery on her parents doesn’t exactly go down well, however curiosity gets the better of the Cooper matriarch and together mother and daughter journey to the hostel Chic is currently calling home.

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It isn’t exactly a warm welcome, as Chic is understandably angry to see the mother who abandoned him and her perfectly preppy daughter. But the world is a dangerous place for the child no one wanted, and Chic finds himself on the wrong side of the wrong people, cut and bleeding, when Betty returns and takes him home to be patched up by their parents.

However, it seems as though there is more to Chic than meets the eye, as the mysterious Cooper’s behaviour becomes increasingly unsettling – especially where Betty is concerned. And with Archie doubting whether they actually caught the right Black Hood, there’s may still be a potential murderer on the loose. Perhaps Chic has some connection to the killer, given the Hood’s predilection for targeting the Coopers, it isn’t beyond the realm of reason.

VERDICT:

Riverdale has some work ahead of them to bring the series back to the level that the story was at when Season 2 began, and though ‘The Blackboard Jungle’ had some issues, it was a great start to the concluding half of this season, with just enough intrigue to keep us guessing.

Rating: 8 out of 10.

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