After more than a season of wondering just what the heck all of Hiram Lodge's seemingly random crimes were building up to, tonight's episode of Riverdale -- titled "The Man in Black" -- gave audiences at least some idea of what's going on in his criminal empire.
The episode, which is structured in the same Pulp Fiction-inspired way as the last time Archie and Jughead were on the road together (around the middle of last season), shows three different duos -- Archie and Jughead, Betty and Ethel, and Veronica and Reggie -- and how they respond to revelations about Hiram Lodge's crimes.
It gave us a lot to digest, so rather than trying to connect the dots, we're just going to lay out the dots for you, in rough chronological order, and let readers make their own conclusions.
Do you think you have it all figured out yet? Comment below or hit @russburlingame up on Twitter!
Throughout the episode, fans got a chance to see various elements of Hiram's drug empire. Along the way, we discovered that while he seems to be a kind of local celebrity in Riverdale, outside of town he is simply "The Man in Black."
At a farm outside of town, Archie meets up with a girl whose family works for the Man in Black at a prison -- and of course, since it's a prison, and Hiram just built one not too long ago, Archie and Jughead don't take long to figure it all out.
Later, at the Sisters of Divine Mercy, Betty sees Hiram arrive. When she asks someone "do you know who that is?" they tell her it's the Man in Black.
Last year, Riverdale had a designer drug called Jingle Jangle, which resembled Pixie Stix to the naked eye. This year, that seems to be gone, as junkies have turned to Fizzle Rocks.
The funny thing about that? Hiram Lodge first introduced Fizzle Rocks (not the candy, but a narcotic-coated version, apparently) to Riverdale High in the '90s -- on Ascension Night, to be precise.
Since Lodge ostensibly has a credible face for his criminal empire, then, it is probably not too surprising that he uses both the prison facility and the laborers within it to advance his narcotics empire.
That likely also explains how he was able to keep the warden at Archie's juvie facility cowed so easily. There's money there.
As far as we can see, all of the men (and none of the women? So apparently he's a pretty misogynistic drug kingpin?) in the farming community Archie and Jughead visit are out of town, working at the prison. A later line of dialogue suggests that Laurie (the girl who lives at the farm) has no access to her father and brother because they owe a "debt" to Lodge and are working it off. That they can, apparently, be released and cleared of the debt on his word, it seems likely that they are not actually prisoners at the prison but instead indentured servants working under Lodge's rules.
Hiram should probably seek counseling from a trained mental health professional, because the fact that he has now begun stalking a teenager who is running for his life seems a little out of control.
Think about it: he was planning on trading not one but two of his indentured servants just so he can kill this teenager who, at this point, is doing absolutely nothing to him except continuing to exist.
The only reason this is offered -- even the Pop's is on the table and Hiram could theoretically buy it back and run the show -- is because he sees her being humiliated by a mafia rival as an affront to him personally, and would rather see her win than see himself "lose."
This is no surprise, really, but after making Sheriff Minetta pay those kids from Shadow Lake to claim Archie was a murderer, and then making Sheriff Minetta kill the kids to keep them from talking, it looks very much like Hiram Lodge ordered Sheriff Minetta to be killed after Veronica dug up video that incriminated Minetta.
The idea here, of course, is that Minetta would have cracked under scrutiny. And anything is theoretically possible since the body was found with no head or hands. But it seems pretty clear what happened, and who is responsible.
It should be no surprise, then, that he is also working with the Sisters of Quiet Mercy (and, since we know they are tied to the Gargoyle King, that Hiram is, too -- more on that in a minute).
It seems as though the Sisters is being used as some kind of fencing operation, using Claudius's maple syrup trick to hide the drugs while likely laundering both drugs and money out of the Sisters.
Meanwhile, he has his hands in the day-to-day enough that he can order things like getting Betty dosed with Fizzle Rocks so that she doesn't keep asking questions.
It should be no surprise that he is somehow tied into the whole Gargoyle King thing. While it is unlikely he is the king himself, the fact remains that he feigned disdain for the game, while everyone else just talked about it being dangerous, when confronted by the kids -- and anything that is a multi-year larger-than-life strategy game just has Hiram's name written all over it.
But, yeah. The game shows up in the farming community (where the people who "owe" Hiram had been playing before they left) and obviously the Gargoyle King is EVERYWHERE at the Sisters. So, it seems whatever his endgame is, he is using G&G to attain it.