This Riverdale Plot Line Highlights A Huge Problem With The Town

Photo: Courtesy of the CW.
When you think of Riverdale, your mind likely wanders to thoughts of milkshakes, questionable sex scenes, and death, so much overwrought death. However, you probably wouldn’t muse, “Ah, yes, Riverdale, the show that flawlessly juggles inclusive storylines about race, gender, and sexuality.” That little issue is why we already had to deal with the drama’s Pussycat problem. Like Josie McCoy (Ashleigh Murray) and her friends, Riverdale’s resident gay character Kevin Keller (Casey Cott) is usually given the scraps of the show’s storyline. Can anyone even remember a time Kevin was allowed to snag a seat in the central gang’s hallowed Pop’s booth? No, of course not.
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Yet all of that changed with Wednesday night’s “Watcher In The Woods,” which gave Betty’s best friend the most powerful storyline of season 2 so far, as Kevin finally stood up for his sexuality. The young gay man was allowed to bring up some major points about the LGBTQ community no one on TV is talking about, and it’s a subject straight women everywhere need to keep in mind.
Because Riverdale works best as a murder mystery, the residents of our titular sleepy burg are currently terrified of the Black Hood, a masked man who killed sexual predator Miss Geraldine Grundy (Sarah Habel), and nearly shot three other so-called “sinners” to death. This legitimate danger gives Betty Cooper (Lili Reinhart) an in to police Kevin’s sexuality, which seems like an opportunity the young heterosexual woman has been hoping for recently, but couldn’t get. Since becoming a total “smoke show,” as local queen bee and haunted teen Cheryl Blossom (Madelaine Petsch) rightly calls Kevin, the high schooler has taken to going for “runs” through Fox Forest late at night. But, the nocturnal exercise is just an excuse to go cruising for other gay men in the woods. It’s a ridiculous idea that a town as small as Riverdale has a lively and well-known culture of anonymous gay sex in the forest, but we all accepted Veronica Lodge (Camila Mendes) and her sex pearls, so go with Riverdale on this one.
It’s easy to see both sides of Kevin and Betty’s conflict. Betty is terrified to know her closest friend is looking for sex in the exact same woods where a madman is shooting people he perceives to be “sinners.” Considering the fact the Black Hood shot Moose Mason (Cody Kearsley) and Midge Klump (Emilija Baranac) for hooking up in Fox Forest's Lovers' Lane, it’s possible Kevin could meet a similar, or worse, fate, if he came face-to-face with the killer. Any friend would be concerned for their loved one.
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But, Kevin also has his own needs. As a young gay man who’s just come into his own both sexually and appearance-wise, he’s desperate for the kind of attention he never got before. The teenager isn’t into the deceptive qualities of Riverdale’s fake version of Grinder, GrindEm, and enjoys the rush he gets in Fox Forest. As Moose, who can be read as bisexual or performatively straight in season 2, tells Kevin, “Guys like us… in a town like Riverdale. We don’t have a lot of options. So, even if something bad could happen, we go for it. Because what if, for 10 minutes, or maybe even just for 2 minutes, we’re not alone?” Kevin’s knowing smile shows just how perfectly Moose, who is a former hookup buddy, has captured his state of mind.
That idea of loneliness for “accepted” LGBTQ people like Kevin is what drives his tension with Betty. During the friends' big confrontation in the woods, Betty screams at Kevin he should have “more respect” for himself. That kind of shaming completely erases the reality of Kevin’s unfair playing ground when it comes to sex and romance for a “guy like him,” to quote Moose, in a place like Riverdale. Yes, Kevin’s friends still accept him and his sexuality, but they want him to express it on their terms. That’s why Veronica took Kevin out clubbing during a war of wills with her mom Hermione Lodge (Marisol Nichols). In that situation, Kevin was serving as her so-called “best gay,” with his sexuality filling a role in her odd revenge plan. He wasn't a person, he was a prop. Betty isn’t looking for the same thing right now. Instead, in “Woods,” she wants Kevin to follow a similar romantic path as her, because that’s what would make her comfortable. But, Kevin’s exploration of his own sexuality isn’t up for public debate.
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That’s why Kevin’s response to Betty’s unintentionally cruel comments is a reminder we should all carry with us. “You act like we’ve got the same set of options,” Kevin yells. But, they don’t. Betty spends her time sipping milkshakes and trying to choose between impossibly buff athlete-musician Archie Andrews (KJ Apa) and cute, brooding weirdo Jughead Jones (Cole Sprouse). That is, “except for when you’re exploring your BDSM sexuality,” Kevin rages at his pal, bringing up the infamous Dark Betty moment from “Body Double” in season 1. “Which, you’re allowed to do,” Kevin points out to his straight, cardigan-wearing friend. He’s right, since Betty introduced her dominatrix-light alter-ego in front of both Veronica and school creep Chuck Clayton (Jordan Calloway), both of whom were all about Dark Betty until she started partially drowning people in hot tubs. On the other hand, Kevin is hiding a relatively less kinky habit from his loved ones to avoid them heaping shame onto his activities. The fact that Kevin has to explain all of this proves Betty hasn't tried to see things from her friend's perspective once.
In the same way people were wrong to claim America entered a post-racial utopia the moment Barack Obama was elected president, we’re wrong to pretend we’re now living in a post-homophobia world because everyone loves Ellen DeGeneres and Neil Patrick Harris. Rather, respectability politics are rampant for anyone who doesn’t happen to be white, straight, and cisgender, Kevin included. The general consensus for people who don't fall into those very tight parameters are, “By all means, be you, but in the way I would most prefer.” And, Kevin doesn’t have to act like that’s an okay ultimatum for his friends to accept him.
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The close of Kevin and Betty’s “Watcher In The Woods” story is sad, because the latter’s choice to snitch to to Kevin’s dad Sheriff Keller (Martin Cummins) about her BFF’s cruising ends their friendship. But, if Betty’s default reaction to Kevin’s sexuality was shame and judgement, were they ever even friends at all?
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