For years now, Kevin Keller has been a sensitive topic among fans of Riverdale. Before Cheryl Blossom came out and Toni Topaz came on the scene, he served as the standard-bearer for queer representation, and his treatment decided the series’ relationship to an identity that not only includes many viewers, but counts as a cause of paramount importance. That Kevin spends season after season largely sidelined in simplicity (witty, tasteful gay kid being a hide-bound if workable type) while the core cast gets motivations and complications has drawn outrage for a growing slice of the audience, and every now and then, the writing staff makes a gesture towards remedying this offense.
Kevin receives his most substantive plotline this week, one designed beyond any doubt to imbue him with the depth he’s historically lacked. Regrettably, actor Casey Cott is not quite up to the challenge. Even more regrettably, his internal struggle revolves around the idea that promiscuity originates from some hole of the soul in need of filling, a dusty notion informed by a retrograde politics. And more regrettably still, the poor guy has to be the survivor of a hate crime thrown in out of nowhere and photographed with no delicacy whatsoever just to get some face time. His crisis of conscience hits the lowest point of an episode that mostly fares better with characters torn up about what to do, though the Bulldog football team and the newly introduced “Lerman Logan” (?) have the benefit of contained development that doesn’t need to go beyond this week. It’s just a shame that the writing staff treats Kevin the same way.
He’s been going through a lot lately, what with the headlong leap into and sudden pullback from family planning. Anyone invested in Kevin’s fate will want to know why, but the explanation we get is no more involved than “mom stuff.” After his compulsive cruising puts him on the receiving end of a beatdown from a homophobe evidently blind to the steam room’s gay porno vibe, he gets to deliver an episode-commanding monologue to his father in which he explains that his mother’s treatment of him created a void that could only be patched with no-strings-attached sex. Cott puts his back into it, comporting himself as well as could be expected from such thin material. Even so, it’s hard to believe that Kevin’s presence in the show will change after this week, that his newfound complexity will bring him more meaningful action instead of checking off an obligation and setting him back aside.
On the lighter end of things, the epic highs and lows of high school football touch a new generation of youths in need of something to live for. There’s a Big Game coming up between the bad luck Bulldogs — a reference point that the episode beats us all to the punch in making itself — and their nemeses, the Hiram-funded and -coached SoDale Stallions. While I have not myself seen Friday Night Lights, my viewing companions inform me that that’s the thing this plotline has been modeled after, the preponderance of inspirational speeches from Coach Archie and visiting pal T-Dubs a nod to Kyle Chandler’s penchant for the same. The stakes rise, as Veronica puts ten grand on the line for the first Bulldog willing to take charge and Hiram poaches their star player, but that doesn’t add much gravity to the anticlimactic game sequence. When our underdogs at Riverdale High pull it out in the final moments, their triumph means little. More to the point, this sporting detour lacks the self-serious comedy we can usually rely on from the football scenes. The prison game may have been mocked (by small-minded people!), but it’s also one of the show’s most indelible moments.
Albeit separately, Betty and Jughead continue their respective investigations, getting closer and closer to the truth — which will hopefully be more juicy than what’s come so far. A short story titled “As Above, So Below” piques Jughead’s curiosity and gets him chasing after the troubled Lerman Logan, an easy fit for the theory that alien abduction accounts disguise trauma too terrible to be reckoned with directly. Betty gets hard confirmation that Polly’s really, actually dead this time. Probably. Maybe. We don’t have a body, but the blood matches. In both cases, the episode operates from a presumption of our interest in characters the show has never made into vital quantities. The flip-flopping question of whether Polly lives or dies only matters to us insofar as it affects Betty, and her rampage of revenge fizzles out just as quickly as it begins. Same goes for Jughead; until we get some quality time with the Mothman or his representatives, how our boy reacts to this investigation is all we have to savor, and his creep toward full-blown madness has been agonizingly gradual. The unavoidable Scooby-Doo mode could be leaned into with more purpose, too. For starters, where are the suspects for us to scrutinize?
The production number that breaks up the football game leads Cheryl Blossom to grouse about how they, the real entertainment, have been sidelined by a more tedious goings-on. This can be taken easily enough as a non-conscious self-assessment, as the campier fun that makes “Stupid Love” the episode highlight gets back-burnered in favor of the lugubrious. And in Kevin’s case, that might even be an improvement.
- I love Logan Lerman just as, if not more than, the next guy who saw both Indignation and Shirley. But, uh, what? Is this in reference to something? Does one of the writers just have a serious crush on the Lermster, and this is their way of signaling to him? Any interviewer worth their salts will ask about this.
- Credit due to Lady Gaga: during the River Vixens’ performance of “Stupid Love,” a song I have never heard before, I caught myself thinking that it sounded just like her. She’s got a distinctive sound even when covered, which is way more than most pop stars these days can say for themselves.
- Only this week did I realize that her involvement with the FBI makes Betty an “Agent Cooper.” Is this the first time we’ve heard someone say it out loud?
- Unexpected read of the week goes to the crazy old coot who talks about the Mothman, for the gristle he massages into the phrase “caught in that stasis.”
- Not clear on why this episode appears to have been named after either 1. the middling Karyn Kusama film from 2018, or 2. Dan Bejar’s critically acclaimed side project rock band. Any thoughts?