It’s Christmas time in Riverdale, and all through the wood, not a creature was stirring; not even the Black Hood. Pop has let Archie and his dad set up shop selling Christmas trees in front of the Chock’lit Shoppe to bring in some extra cash, and spirits couldn’t be higher. Across town, though, Betty is having a nightmare: she dreams that Polly has woken her up and run downstairs. Betty follows her to find her family exchanging Christmas presents. She turns to see Santa over by the Christmas tree, but when Santa turns around, it’s revealed he’s actually the Black Hood holding a knife. In what is clearly an homage to BOB from Twin Peaks, the Black Hood crawls over the Coopers’ couch. Right as he gets to where Betty is standing, she wakes up.
The next day, all of the kids meet up at school to exchange Secret Santa gifts. Things get pretty awkward; many of the gifts were purchased before Archie, Veronica, Betty, and Jughead all broke up last episode. As Archie and Betty leave, they notice that Mr. Svenson has been replaced by another janitor. The new janitor tells them that Mr. Svenson has been out for a few days, so he was called in. They manage to get Mr. Svenson’s address from a school secretary before parting ways to go to class.
Later that day, Archie and Betty go by his house and discover he isn’t there. Their suspicions that he may have been taken by the Black Hood are seemingly confirmed when Betty goes home to find a “Secret Santa” gift that had been left for her: one of Mr. Svenson’s fingers in a giftwrapped box. The Black Hood tells them that if they want to save Mr. Svenson, they have to uncover the location of Riverdale’s “primal sin,” where he is buried alive.
Over dinner, Veronica criticizes her parents’ opulence. Archie had confided to her earlier about his dad’s $86,000 medical bills, and she desperately wants to help. Veronica’s parents shoot down this idea; the Lodge Charitable Trust has already made its charitable contributions for the year, and $86,000 is a lot of money. After she snoops around in her dad’s office and discovers they’ve been lying to her about their involvement with Pop’s, Veronica takes matters into her own hands by paying the medical bills with her mom’s credit card. The charge goes through, but not without the credit card company notifying Veronica’s mom.
At Thornhill, Cheryl has put up one of Archie’s dad’s Christmas trees, to her mother’s chagrin. The Blossoms are running low on funds and can’t currently afford to go all out for Christmas, but Cheryl is acting out, so she tells her mother she’ll have to get a job. Madelaine Petsch continues to thrive in Cheryl’s cattiest moments, just in case anyone forgot she’s the best actor on this show.
Ever since FP re-joined the Serpents and began repaying their debt to Penny, Jughead and his dad have been butting heads. Jughead fears that, as Penny’s “favors” get bigger, the more risk there is that the entirety of the Southside Serpents will become involved. In the hopes of ending this for good, Jughead and the other younger Serpents band together to try and take Penny down. They show up at her warehouse where she’s waiting for Jughead’s dad and take her to Greendale, where they tell her she will be relocating. Penny attempts to invoke Serpent Law, which dictates that Serpents do not harm other Serpents; Jughead tells her that having a tattoo doesn’t make her a Serpent and proceeds to forcibly remove the tattooed skin on her arm with a knife. I’m sure this will go over fine and definitely not come back up later.
A visit to the Sisters of Quiet Mercy and a conversation with Cheryl’s grandmother lead Archie and Betty to figuring out Riverdale’s primal sin—as a child, when Mr. Svenson identified the man responsible for killing his family, he identified the wrong man. They hurry to the spot where the man was hung, under which is a pile of freshly dug dirt.
There’s a coffin in there all right, but it’s empty. The Black Hood shows up, revealing it was all a trap. He orders Archie at gunpoint to get in the coffin and forces Betty to begin burying him alive. Luckily, Sheriff Keller shows up before Archie is buried too deeply, and Betty is able to hit the Black Hood with the shovel she’d been using. He’s not out for long, though; by the time Betty is able to unbury Archie, the Black Hood has made a run for it. His escape is cut short when he’s shot by Sheriff Keller, who pulls off the mask to reveal that Mr. Svenson really was the Black Hood all along.
I’m not going to lie, this isn’t exactly a satisfying end to the mystery, and not just because it didn’t align with my fan theory. Faking out that Mr. Svenson wasn’t the Black Hood in a previous episode didn’t feel like a twist or a misdirection, but rather more like an outright lie. His motivation as the Black Hood doesn’t make a lot of sense either, as hard as Betty tries to rationalize it, making for a rather anticlimactic mid-season finale. At least we get treated to a lovely duet of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” by Kevin and Josie. Either way, I’m still looking forward to seeing where the show will go now that the Black Hood is out of the picture, and Netflix’s Sabrina the Teenage Witch spinoff looks promising.