Warning: This recap of the “Chapter Twenty-Three: The Blackboard Jungle” episode of Riverdale contains spoilers.
Most of us have long-lost siblings, so as far as plot lines go, rediscovering a long-lost sibling is as relatable as it gets. But studies show that over 90 percent of our long-lost siblings are also psychopathic sex workers living in small-town youth hostels, yet other acclaimed TV shows like Young Sheldon and Siesta Key refuse to acknowledge this. That’s why Riverdale‘s bravery deserves applause. We knew it was only a matter of time before we met the baby that Alice Cooper gave up for adoption, and we knew that baby would grow up to be a blond teen — as most of our long-lost siblings do — but Chick Cooper is a whole other thing. By that I mean Betty’s brother works a webcam in a youth hostel, his main hobby is getting knifed by johns, and he is creepy as hell. Speaking from personal experience, Riverdale has never been realer.
“Chapter Twenty-Three: The Blackboard Jungle” was Riverdale’s first episode after its winter hiatus and the first in a while that didn’t deal with the serial maimer known as the Black Hood. That’s because the kids discovered his true identity: a two-episode extra playing a janitor! Mystery solved, no further questions, let’s move on. (To be fair, even someone as noncurious as Archie has the sense that they caught the wrong guy.) But it was still refreshing to see some changes in the storylines… Not only the introduction of Betty’s nightmare brother, but the integration of Southside High into Riverdale High! These two student bodies clashing is like West Side Story with sillier jackets. Let’s talk about it!
We began with a local tough guy gently caressing the keys of an expensive laptop and frankly telling it like it is.
A lot had happened since the thrilling Christmas episode of Riverdale. Archie and Veronica were back together, Veronica was having civil conversations with her parents again, and some of the Christmas decorations were taken down. Not a lot had happened since the thrilling Christmas episode of Riverdale now that I think about it. But at least that Black Hood dude was captured, right? No further investigations needed!
One interesting turn of events was that Cheryl’s mother is now a sex worker. She goes by “courtesan” but come on, lady. You are sitting and spinning for bitcoin, and we all know it. I did not see this coming, and Cheryl wasn’t exactly taking it well.
But with half of the family dead and no source of income, at least Mrs. Blossom was providing for her household. Yes, she was doing this by cartwheeling onto popsicles but that’s her business. Literally.
Later at school, Archie thanked Veronica on the mouth for having paid for Luke Perry (as himself)’s medical bills. They entered that student VIP lounge attached at the crotch and didn’t care if everybody knew it! This obviously resulted in a sad/frown from Betty, who had very possibly rekindled her lifetime burning crush on Archie, but that’s how it goes sometimes. The heart is nothing but a wet red prankster.
That’s when a bombshell dropped over the P.A. The students of Southside High were going to be attending Riverdale High! As we discovered, Veronica and her parents had schemed to shut down that school so the Lodges could, like, gentrify and build condos or whatever, and they got the mayor to agree via bribery. Part of me was like, oh great, yes let’s get back to all those juicy property contract law subplots from last season. But the other part of me was like — wait, very good scene happening…
Reggie’s discovery of this news was a very good scene, brilliant even. For one thing, in just one glance we could tell Reggie had assessed all the sociopolitical ramifications of forcible integration between social classes. His expression in this scene was as if to ask, Are people born into less fortunate circumstances held down by a system that refuses to allow them entry into higher classes, or are they naturally conditioned to never aspire to transcend these barriers? Truly a stirring and nuanced moment, and one of the best scenes in Riverdale history.
Then Betty nearly pepper-sprayed her sister, and I would have laughed pretty hard if that had happened. Yep, Polly is still the most boring character on the show, which is saying something considering she gave birth to out-of-wedlock incest twins and joined a cult. Anyway, she wasn’t pregnant anymore, and this hurt Betty’s feelings. Very unchill to give birth and not put up at least a Facebook post about it. But this gave Betty an idea: She should track down the brother their mother had given up for adoption all those years ago. Wouldn’t that be fun??
A handsome man then approached Archie and they spent a lovely afternoon in the park, just getting to know each other. He was an FBI agent of some kind, and I will be honest, this was a plot line that I did not fully understand. I guess he was looking into the Lodges’ various illegal scams and needed Archie’s help to bring them down? A regular teenage boy? Anyway, Archie asked zero questions and seemed to go along with the idea immediately.
Oh wait, to be fair, there was this 10-second moment where he took his shirt off and lay in bed and thought about it. But then he agreed! To, like, go undercover and investigate whether the Lodges had hired someone to break the legs of a date rapist who’d grabbed Veronica wrong. It was all so complicated and I wasn’t sure what was going on, but Archie was on board.
Things got tense when the Southside Serpents arrived at school and found themselves caught between Veronica (who, per her parents’ instructions, was trying to stifle protests over the shuttered high school) and Cheryl, who was sick and tired of poor people!! Jughead, who only recently did not want to join a gang, was now ALLLL about his gang. So it definitely looked like we were heading for a rumble.
But the main kids, including Josie and Kevin, did a good job of welcoming the cutest Serpents into the fray. I liked when background himbo Fogerty kinda-sorta flirted with Kevin about how he used to hang out with Joaquin a lot, and also was eating licorice while saying that, and also look at him. Let’s make this happen, show!
Then somebody but probably Reggie spray-painted the most hilarious, MS Paint version of a snake onto the Riverdale hallway mosaic and the principal blamed the gang and made them take off their biker jackets. But don’t worry, Veronica went and bought them all new clothes, so they were still hecka cool looking.
Ugh, it’s hard out there for a gang member!
So after Betty proposed to her parents that they track down the baby Alice Cooper had set adrift in a basket like the Penguin’s parents in Batman Returns, they did not like the idea. But later that night, a bedraggled Alice sat on Betty’s bed and was like “Let’s find that gutter baby.” Next thing we knew, they were at a local youth hostel (Riverdale has youth hostels?) and met him! His name was Chick and he had the sunken, hollow features of a CGI scarecrow. Or maybe it was just the lighting? Anyway, he did not really want to see or know them and rushed them out because a “client” was on the way. Noting the cameras set up around the room, Alice asked what kind of business he was in, and he responded with “fantasy fulfillment”. Which, uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. Yeah. Maybe Chick and Mrs. Blossom should exchange business cards?
Long story short, meeting her long-lost son did not cheer Alice up. Ugh, sometimes giving a child up for adoption can ruin your relationship with him. Lesson learned.
Cheryl then “blackmailed” Archie into rejecting the Serpents at school by threatening to tell Veronica that she’d seen him kiss Betty. Or something? I can’t be bothered. But she also informed him that the date rapist from last season had ALSO grabbed Veronica a lot, so Archie decided to pay him a visit at his boarding school to get “revenge” but also find out for the FBI agent whether this dude had been hurt in a hitman scenario. Doesn’t matter. Archie punched him a ton.
Later, Archie “came clean” to Veronica that he’d kissed Betty while they were broken up, and although she seemed pretty sad about it, she forgave him and they kissed on the mouth. Sometimes love conquers all, you know?
Archie and the FBI agent then spent some quality time in Archie’s soundproof garage, and it goes without saying the erotic tension was like something out of Red Shoe Diaries. Anyway, I did appreciate that Archie casually asked the FBI agent whether they’d caught the correct Black Hood or not and the agent was like “Buhh dunno.” Just happy this show didn’t decide to end that particular plot line so badly. Sheriff Keller needs more screen time!
Betty decided that when it came to hassling her long-lost brother, once wasn’t enough! So she returned to the youth hostel only to find Chick in midknifing! A man was windmill-arming him with a box cutter, and Betty had no choice but to mace him in the face! She got the bloodied Chick out of there and brought him home for a good, old-fashioned, family bandaging moment. But had she brought home a brother AND a creep?
The answer seemed to be yes.
If this last shot wasn’t the most nightmarish image in Riverdale history, I don’t even know what to tell you. Chick is a problem!
“Chapter Twenty-Three: The Blackboard Jungle” had a lot going on, and most of it was interesting. Chick is a fascinating new addition, and I’m glad Archie still hasn’t stopped thinking about the Black Hood. And who among us isn’t still haunted by the Reggie basketball scene for its visual poetry? Literally praying that Riverdale does not get too mired in property law plot lines again, but maybe that’s a fool’s errand. Still, very glad to have this show back and to have all the teens under one roof. How many more characters will become sex workers by season’s end? Can’t wait to find out!
Riverdale airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on the CW.
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