Over the years the show has received both praise and criticism for its LGBTQI representation, but will it make our two leading ladies canonically queer?
BY KATIE KIRKPATRICK, IMAGE BY NETFLIX
Riverdale has long been the most deranged show on television. From magic multiverses to cults, serial killers and musical numbers, its origins as a classic teen murder mystery seem like a distant memory. Amid the most recent season’s plots about super powers and biblical plagues, however, fans were left excited after a new revelation: main character Betty Cooper might just be bisexual and a teaser trailer hints that another character could be too…
Played by bisexual actor, Lili Reinhart, Betty started off as the embodiment of the girl next door: bouncing around with her trademark blonde ponytail, running the school newspaper and pining after her next door neighbour, football star Archie Andrews (KJ Apa). She’s had her share of wacky storylines, from discovering she has the “serial killer gene” and joining the FBI, to taking on a “Dark Betty” persona. The one constant, though, has been her love triangle between Archie and narrator Jughead Jones (Cole Sprouse) of “I’m weird, I’m a weirdo” fame.
In the recent season six episode “American Psychos”, however, it seems that Betty might find herself in a romantic predicament that’s a little less heterosexual. New character Agent Drake (Sophia Tatum), an FBI colleague, confesses her feelings for Betty and seems to awaken something in her. Betty reminds Drake that she isn’t available, but doesn’t deny that there may have been “vibes” between them, and later has a romantic dream about her. She confesses this attraction to best friend Veronica (Camila Mendes), explaining that she feels like she can be her full, dark self with Drake but not with Archie. Betty ends the episode still happily with her boyfriend and Archie is shown proposing in the trailer for the finale… but with Drake almost definitely returning, we get the sense this door isn’t closed.
but seriously bi betty i’m so here for it 👀#Riverdale— rach ✰︎ (@classypetsvh) May 23, 2022
Speaking about this new potential relationship, showrunner Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa said “We haven’t seen the last of Agent Drake, but we’re very protective of Betty and Archie.” Roberto described the sparks between Betty and Drake as a “weird, wild curveball complication”. While it sounds like a fully-fledged relationship might not be on the cards, it does seem like something is. And with a show as weird as Riverdale has become, it truly could be anything. Are Betty and Drake dating in another universe? Is Drake secretly a serial killer? In the final episode of this season, quite literally anything could happen – this is the show that had Archie fight a real life bear after all.
look I love barchie but it’s pride month let me enjoy this Drake and Betty moment #riverdale— no context riverdale (@nocontextrvd) June 13, 2022
Not only this, but the teaser for next week’s season finale showed a kiss between Veronica and lesbian character Cheryl (Madelaine Petsch), causing many fans on Twitter to get excited about the prospect of yet another newly bisexual character – Veronica has until this point been portrayed as straight. At the same time, however, many were wary towards this clip, predicting that it’ll be a plot vehicle rather than a romantic kiss.
A lot of this worry stems from a kiss between Veronica and Betty in season one. Clearly performative, the moment saw the show become the subject of many allegations of queerbaiting, especially since this kiss too was used in a trailer, leading viewers to expect these characters to be queer.
Riverdale has a bit of an unusual history with queerness. It’s had LGBTQI characters pretty much since its inception, beginning with Betty’s best friend Kevin and then introducing the hugely popular long-running WLW relationship between lesbian Cheryl and bisexual Toni (Vanessa Morgan). At the same time, however, its early seasons were often accused of queerbaiting: alongside Betty and Veronica, there was also a kiss between Archie and Joaquin (Rob Raco) that was explained away, giving some the impression that the show keeps queerness relegated to the sidelines, away from its four leads.
riverdale is obsessed with queerbaiting it’s actually crazy. they’ve had so many straight characters have gay kisses just for shock value 😭 very annoying— ً (@tcpazs) July 25, 2022
Riverdale also has an unusual relationship with its source material: the TV show is based on the Archie comics, taking the vast majority of its characters and many of their relationships from these, but introducing wildly different plots. Some fans claim that the show erases Jughead’s asexuality, which is made apparent in the comics. Back in season one, Roberto told MTV News that the TV show was like “an origin story” with the characters still “discovering their sexuality, their sexual selves”. At the time, he was clear that Jughead’s asexuality would be kept, but it seems the series has more than drifted away from this.
The show’s queer couples have divided fans, with some praising the show’s wide-ranging representation of gay, lesbian and bisexual characters, and others claiming these couples are given too little screen time and are over or under sexualised. One thing it has gotten right, though, is staying faithful to its characters identities: after coming out as a lesbian, Cheryl has only dated women, while bisexual characters Toni and Fangs have both dated men and women on the show.
With one episode left of the sixth season, who can say what will happen? The characters are set to face a world-ending comet, and it seems like the multiverse plot is far from finished. Maybe we’ll see a bisexual Betty or Veronica among the chaos… It would be far from the most unexpected thing the show has done.
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