Revisiting Some of the Most Sapphic Moments in Riverdale History

Riverdale In Review with cherries next to it

Tonight, Riverdale ends its seven-season run. You can expect a review of the series finale by yours truly tomorrow, but for now, I wanted to reflect on some of the most homoerotic moments in the show’s history. This is a show that delivered us gorgeous lines of poetry like “I’ll lock this saucy sapphic wench in the chapel if you’re not back within an hour with the vicar!” I will miss it dearly.

Earlier this week, I presented 10 essential episodes to revisit during Riverdale‘s final week. Some of those episodes contain scenes that I’ll revisit below, delving deeper into specific Sapphic scenes and images that are forever emblazoned in my brain. Let’s take a walk down gay memory lane, shall we?

This list is long, but it is far from exhaustive, because let’s be real, from meaningful looks to instances of intimate touch or sexual tension, Riverdale‘s Sapphic moments are too numerous to round up in one place!

Betty and Veronica kiss, Chapter One: The River’s Edge

Betty and Veronica kiss

Fans have a range of ambivalent feelings about this kiss, which is technically a stunt Veronica initiates during cheerleading tryouts in the pilot when Cheryl accuses Betty and Veronica of being too boring. “Check your sell-by date, ladies, faux lesbian kissing hasn’t been taboo since 1994,” Cheryl replies, calling out the performative nature of the kiss.

But was it really just an act? I think the sexualities and desires of Riverdale‘s main characters — including the core four of Archie, Jughead, Betty, and Veronica — have always been more complex than initially meets the eye. The kiss could be viewed as textbook queerbaiting. But an alternative reading, and one I prefer, is that Veronica was acting on a genuine desire in a way that felt accessible to her. I think of the Carmen Maria Machado essay on Jennifer’s Body, bisexuality, and what arguments about queerbaiting sometimes miss. She writes:

I went to college in 2004. I saw so many allegedly straight girls kissing each other at frat parties it would’ve made you want to burn down an Abercrombie & Fitch. Sometimes it was stiff and strange and sometimes it was organic, and yet far be it from me to say who really wanted what, or if the kiss itself wasn’t a gateway, or if one of them (or both!) wouldn’t be wrist-deep in a date in twelve years’ time. People always talked cynically about this gesture as if men were the reason, but it felt like no one ever considered that men were the excuse.

Machado goes on to quote José Esteban Muñoz’s Cruising Utopia: “We can understand queerness itself as being filled with the intention to be lost. To accept loss is to accept the way in which one’s queerness will always render one lost to a world of heterosexual imperatives, codes, and laws . . . [to] veer away from heterosexuality’s path.” “A girl kissing her best friend,” Machado writes, “because she wants to see how it feels, because she’s curious, because a boy is nearby, because she’s in love, because she once bent her mouth to her best friend’s bleeding hand in supplication and this just feels like the next logical step — is the acceptance of loss, the veering from the path. No matter where she goes afterward.”

I’m sure you did not expect me to quote queer theory in a piece about Riverdale‘s gayest moments, but here we are! Is this Betty/Veronica kiss all an act or is it an acting out of real desires? There aren’t even boys present for it; the kiss is for Cheryl, a character who eventually does come out as queer. And then, in season seven, we see Betty become lost in queer fantasies about Veronica over and over, further cementing the idea that there’s something more to their friendship, even if it’s never explicitly explored. But we’ll get to that later.

Also, shortly after they kiss, there’s a close up of Veronica zipping Betty into her cheerleading uniform that reads as another instance of physical intimacy, further complicating that kiss. A lot of the locker room scenes on this show ping as homoerotic — including for the boys.

Veronica zips up Betty in her cheerleading uniform on Riverdale.

It also feels significant that Veronica and Betty’s arc in the pilot hits a lot of the same beats as Veronica and Archie’s arc. Veronica is the new girl at school, and she instantly has chemistry with both Archie and Betty — and, in some ways, that chemistry with Betty is actually more potent and narratively significant.

Cheryl does Betty’s makeup, Chapter Two: A Touch of Evil

Cheryl does Betty's makeup in Riverdale

Yes, technically Cheryl is just cozying up to Betty to get intel on Polly, and yes, the Cheryl/Veronica dance-off is the more overtly homoerotic moment of this episode, but Cheryl is practically straddling Betty as she pumps her for information. Also, doing another girl’s makeup is theeeee classic closeted femme tradition. It was such an easy and socially acceptable way to touch another girl or be touched by her intimately. There are a lot of ways Cheryl could have chosen to interrogate Betty; the fact that she specifically chooses this? She didn’t have to make it this intimate! As such, this early scene was one of the first times when I personally clocked that Cheryl could be queer, and I made sure to tell anyone who would listen. I’m so glad I eventually turned out to be correct!!

Sure, eventually we find out these two are cousins, but we don’t know that yet! And Polly and Jason being distant cousins didn’t prevent them from being a romantic pairing on the show SO. The fact that a sign literally says LOVE behind them really drives home the gay optics of this scene.

Veronica reacts to the first appearance of Dark Betty, Chapter Three: Body Double

Dark Betty in Riverdale

Veronica in a black bathing suit looking curiously at Betty in Riverdale

I always wished Riverdale would do a little more with “Dark Betty,” but her first appearance remains iconic. Veronica and Betty team up to take down bad guy Chuck. And not only do we see Chuck’s reaction to Betty waltzing into the pool house in a black bra and brown bob, but we see it unfold through Veronica’s gaze as well. Her reaction is ambiguous; there’s fear and curiosity there. It also feels worth noting that Betty’s bob actually makes her look more like Veronica, and this doubling/emulation in and of itself feels very queer.

Cheryl brings Polly to prom, Chapter Eleven: To Riverdale and Back Again

Cheryl does Polly's makeup on Riverdale

Enemies-turned-co-conspirators Cheryl and Polly decide not only to attend prom together but to also run as co-queens. (Cheryl running with someone as prom co-queens will become a Riverdale tradition.) First Betty, now Polly: Cheryl Blossom simply loves to do a Cooper girl’s makeup.

Betty threatens Cheryl and they both seem very into it, Chapter Fifteen: Nighthawks

Betty threatening Cheryl in Riverdale

Another homoerotic locker room moment! Betty threatens Cheryl, and Cheryl seems both afraid and…aroused? It’s never when Cheryl and Betty are getting along that they seem queer; it’s always when they’re menacing each other.

Toni comes out as bisexual, Chapter Nineteen: Death Proof

Toni Topaz says "I'm more into girls anyways" on Riverdale

After hooking up with Jughead, Toni tells him she’s not interested in being his post-Betty rebound and throws in a bit about how she’s more into girls anyway. By this point, the show already had out queer characters like Kevin and Moose. But this was the first explicit textual queer line for a woman on the show. And what a thrilling moment it was!

Cheryl and Toni have a Grease moment, Chapter Nineteen: Death Proof

Cheryl and Toni in Grease costumes on Riverdale

In the same episode where we learn Toni is bisexual, we also get this brief but powerful Grease cosplay moment between Cheryl and Toni, during which Toni very clearly eyes Cheryl up and down! As usual, Cheryl’s best and most compelling chemistry usually has a bit of venom to it. She loves an enemies to lovers trajectory.

Betty flexes her auto-repair skills, Chapter Nineteen: Death Proof

Betty Cooper fixing a car in Riverdale

Yes, this episode gets three shoutouts on this list, but it feels right that Riverdale‘s Grease-inspired chapter is rife with bisexual subtext and text. Every once in a while, Betty Cooper likes to remind us she’s an amateur car mechanic. And every time, I’m like: Just come out as bi already, Betty!

Cheryl sketches a portrait of her and Josie, Chapter Twenty: Tales from the Darkside

a sketched drawing of Cheryl and Josie on Riverdale

I know some folks have mixed feelings about the reveal that Cheryl is Josie’s stalker who left a pig heart in her locker, as it could be seen as playing into stereotypes about queer women as predators or a pathologization of the closet (Cheryl isn’t out at this point, but she comes out just seven episodes later). But I think it makes a lot of sense on a character level that Cheryl might have confusing and even disturbing ideas about what intimacy looks like. After the traumatic death of her brother (at the hands of her father), the abuse from her mother, and her tendency to push others away, she doesn’t have a great grasp on what healthy relationships look like. Whether she’s experiencing romantic feelings for Josie that scare her or just developing an obsession rooted in her own fractured sense of identity and intimacy, Cheryl’s fixation on Josie here feels distinctly queer, even if it’s also potentially toxic.

Something I talk about a lot is how it’s easy to make really self-destructive and damaging choices when we’re closeted. I see this as a complicated example of that rather than an implication that Cheryl’s dangerous or predatory due to latent queerness.

Cheryl comes out, Chapter Twenty-Seven: The Hills Have Eyes

Cheryl and Toni at the counter at Pop's in Riverdale

After a screening of Love, Simon at the town theater (literally!), Cheryl Blossom comes out to Toni over milkshakes, making all of my dreams come true! I received so many texts on the evening this episode aired, and I wish I could bottle and preserve the sheer elation I experienced at the confirmation that a character I was obsessed with and also knew in my heart was queer was indeed very queer.

Cheryl tells Toni all about her best friend Heather, who she loved in junior high. When her mother Penelope caught them in the same bed together, she called Cheryl a deviant. Love, Simon plugs aside, it’s a moving coming out scene!

Toni supports Cheryl at her dead dad’s public will reading, Chapter Twenty-Eight: There Will Be Blood

Toni and Cheryl in very bisexual femme outfits in Riverdale

Almost immediately after coming out to her, Cheryl starts spending A LOT of time with Toni. In fact, it almost seems like Toni moves in with her right away? They’re maybe not officially dating yet, but I think inviting a girl to the public reading of your evil dead father’s secret will basically counts as going steady! Also, Toni helps Cheryl pick out a sexy outfit to wear before the two are interrupted by homophobic Penelope. But even Penelope’s ire is just further proof that something very gay is going on here.

Cheryl’s lesbian hairplay slumberparty, Chapter Twenty-Nine: Primary Colors

Toni, Cherul, Betty, Veronica, and Josie brush each other's hair in Riverdale

There are actually too many homoerotic hairplay sequences on this show to count, but this line of hair brushing at Cheryl’s requisite slumber party easily takes the cake as the #1 in that specific subgenre of queer images. Though they happen off screen, we also learn that this sleepover — which again, Cheryl tells the other girls is mandatory — features “parlor games.” It’s easy to imagine some of the games having a sensual bend to them, especially given the setting of Thistlehouse, Cheryl’s gothic manor that replaces her ancestral home that she burned to the ground as an act of revenge against her mother. It’s the perfect setting for some gothic-tinged queer activity!!! They all pretty much look like they’re doing vampirecore here.

Unfortunately, this episode does end with Penelope sending Cheryl to conversion therapy at the town’s evil nunnery, and Riverdale ends up biting off way more than it can chew with that storyline. But we’ll always have hairbrush train!

Cheryl and Toni’s first kiss, Chapter Thirty: The Noose Tightens

Toni and Cheryl kiss in Riverdale

Toni, Kevin, and Veronica (dressed in a catsuit!) break into the conversion therapy facility where Cheryl is trapped and get her the hell out. Toni and Cheryl kiss for the first time. I have mixed feelings about this kiss! I have mixed feelings about this conversion therapy storyline in general, especially because it’s revealed that out gay character Kevin knows about it but doesn’t seem to care that much?

Also, while there’s something lovely about the glow of the movie projector behind Toni and Cheryl as they’re kissing, the fact that their first kiss is only really seen in silhouette is a little frustrating. There’s a level of remove to it — just look how shadowy that screenshot is. It’s like you can barely see who’s kissing, and when you compare that to even the “fake” kiss between Betty and Veronica in the pilot, this kiss just lacks the closeness and emphasis of that one. Cheryl has so many big, bold, and literally colorful sequences on the show — the fact that this kiss is so dark and obscured feels wrong.

I love Choni a lot; I don’t say any of this to disparage the ship. I just sometimes feel as if some of Riverdale‘s most compelling queer moments are somewhat subtextual, whereas some of its actually explicit queer storytelling can feel less developed and more like instances of tokenizing queerness. Also, immediately after this kiss, subsequent episodes really didn’t show Cheryl and Toni interact very much at all, and a Choni number was even cut from the first musical episode, which aired right after this one. Queer viewers got a kiss and then…not a whole lot for several episodes! You would think Cheryl and Toni would especially have a lot to talk about after Toni rescued her from conversion therapy.

Cheryl saves Toni with her bow & arrow, Chapter Thirty-Four: Judgment Night

Cheryl with a bow & arrow in Riverdale

Now it’s Cheryl’s turn to save Toni! She dons Little Red Riding Hood drag and threatens villain Penny Peabody at arrow point, delivering a great Cheryl one-liner in the process: “Untie her, you Serpent hag.”

Toni tells Cheryl they should make it official, Chapter Thirty-Five: Brave New World

Toni and Cheryl talk in a hall in Riverdale.

By “make it official,” Toni means Cheryl becoming a Southside Serpent. But it can easily be read with a double meaning of also making their relationship official. Cheryl also gets her own custom red Serpents jacket, and joinging your girlfriend’s gang is definitely an important part of defining the relationship.

Cheryl lets the gang know she spent the summer riding on a motorcycle cross-country with Toni, Chapter Thirty-Six: Labor Day

Cheryl Blossom in a red bra and red jacket in Riverdale

In the season three premiere, Cheryl makes a grand entrance by walking into Pop’s in slow-motion and wearing her new red Serpents jacket, a red bra, no shirt, and jean short shorts. She tells the core four she spent the entire summer riding around the country on the back of Toni’s motorcycle. I wish we could have seen footage of this, but alas!

Young Alice gleefully beats up Young Penelope, Chapter Thirty-Nine: The Midnight Club

Young Alice beating up Young Penelope in Riverdale

I’m a big fan of this flashback episode of Riverdale in which the younger cast all play teen versions of the show’s adult characters. Lili Reinhart is especially great in the episode as a younger version of Alice Cooper, a bad girl from the Southside. She’s positively HORNY for the cat fight she instigates with young Penelope, and it’s delightful to watch.

Cheryl asks Toni to move in with her, Chapter Forty-Three: Outbreak

Toni's hand is on Cheryl's face in Riverdale

After a frightening opening when Toni collapses at Vixens practice, Cheryl brings her home to Thistlehouse to recuperate and then asks her to move in with her. I want to enjoy this moment more, but season three really drives home just how differently Cheryl and Toni are treated as a couple than a lot of the other romantic pairings on the show. We rarely see them kiss, never see them have sex, and now they’re moving in together? Toni says she wants to be the big spoon, which actually makes me think Toni might be the bottom, but I digress!

Early on in the arc of Choni, it felt like the couple was rendered both too chaste and too adult. We don’t really get to see the same brand of steamy teenage love between them that we get to see with the others. They mostly just wear coordinated outfits and appear in scenes near each other, sometimes touching sometimes not, and aren’t really developed fully as a couple on an emotional level or a sexual one — which only stands out because the show is so horny in so many other ways!

Jughead’s hot mom appears, Chapter Forty-Three: Outbreak

Gina Gershon as Jughead's mom in Riverdale

I’d be remiss not to also mention this scene from “Outbreak”: Meeting Jughead’s hot mean mom, played by Gina Gershon. Listen, she’s never officially established as a queer character, but we meet her as she’s literally welding.

Cheryl and Toni get off on stealing from the rich, Chapter Forty-Four: No Exit

Cheryl and Toni on a bed of cash in Riverdale

This episode picks up after a one-month time jump, and Jughead’s signature narration catches us up on the lives of all the characters. Archie is living his best flannel lesbian life at a cabin in the mountains with his dog. And Cheryl and Toni are taking their relationship to the next level: regularly dressing in catsuits and stealing from Riverdale’s richest townspeople. How do they celebrate said victories? By having sex on a bed covered in cash, naturally. We cut away before we see much, but this feels like the first Choni sex scene, brief as it may be. And I love that it happens right at the start of the episode. More episodes of television should start with gay sex.

Cheryl and Toni being rapturously gay together, Chapter Forty-Seven: Bizarrodale

Toni and Cheryl in bed together, wrapped in red silk sheets in Riverdale

Toni has fully moved into Thistlehouse, and here we have her and Cheryl in post-coital bliss. Is Cheryl’s flannel over a red lacey bra a little on-the-nose? Sure. But it was great to finally see these two experiencing an actual intimate moment, especially as they were glaringly left out of the previous episode, which emulated noir and would have been a great chance for a Bound-esque Choni homage.

This scene is followed by the couple’s first real fight, sparked by Cheryl intentionally outing Moose during morning announcements. After coming out, Cheryl is able to be her more authentic self, but she doesn’t shed her mean girl tendencies, and we see that surface here. Toni opens up to her about how she was rejected by her uncle for liking girls and why that’s a big part of her joining the Serpents, who provided a support network. Cheryl then surprises Toni at the end of the episode with…

Cheryl gifts Toni a gay girl gang, Chapter Forty-Seven: Bizarrodale

The Pretty Poisons from Riverdale

I don’t think it’s ever explicitly stated that the Pretty Poisons — the girl gang led by Toni and Cheryl — are all queer, but I mean look at them!!!!

Cheryl teaches the Pretty Poisons archery, Chapter Forty-Eight: Requiem for a Welterweight

Cheryl kisses Toni while wearing her bow and arrow in Riverdale

Cheryl jumps all the way into being a gang mom, teaching her Pretty Poisons how to nail targets with their bows and training them to be her little Sapphic army. She does not take it well when Toni informs her that Jughead referred to the Poisons as her vanity project. And the Pretty Poisons actually fully beat up Sweet Pea and Fangs in the episode, which Toni isn’t thrilled about but kinda rules tbh!

This tension between Cheryl and Toni about how to run the Poisons (Cheryl wants them to be gay, do crimes and Toni wants them to just sort of…be a family? idk) drives a wedge into their relationship. In the following episode, Cheryl actually asks Toni to move out. To be fair, they moved in together way too quickly! Especially given the fact that they are teenagers!

Cheryl and Toni process their breakup via song and dance, Chapter Fifty-One: Big Fun

Toni and Peaches dancing in Riverdale

The series’ second musical episode makes up for the fact that the first cut its Choni number by spotlighting Cheryl and Toni’s dramatic breakup. Toni considers having a rebound threesome with Sweet Pea and Peaches, one of the Pretty Poisons. At the last second, she decides she doesn’t actually want that, and she has a real conversation with Cheryl about what’s going on between them. Cheryl admits that her idea of love has been poisoned by her family, which was all or nothing when it came to their love.

By the end of the episode, they’re back together. The power of musicals!

Toni distracts Cheryl from The Farm via sex, Chapter Fifty-Three: Jawbreaker

Toni and Cheryl kiss in Riverdale

In addition to becoming a gang mom in season three, Cheryl also becomes embroiled in a cult when they convince her Jason is alive. Desperate to cling to the memories of her dead brother, Cheryl loses herself to The Farm. Toni doesn’t know how to best support her girlfriend, but she knows The Farm is bad news. She attempts to distract Cheryl from the cult by making moves on her, and it almost works! Cheryl misses a cult meeting. But unfortunately, she’s only pulled in deeper when asked to choose between Toni and The Farm. Classic cult tactics! Toni then also decides to join The Farm so she can stay close to Cheryl.

Cheryl and Toni run for co-prom queens, Chapter Fifty-Five: Prom Night

Toni and Cheryl dancing at prom together

Like I said, Cheryl loves a co-queen moment! Betty Cooper ultimately wins prom queen this time around, but we aat least get Cheryl and Toni dancing together in their dependably over-the-top prom looks.

Veronica, Cheryl, and Toni perform “All That Jazz”, Chapter Fifty-Nine: Fast Times at Riverdale High

Veronica, Cheryl, and Toni dancing on stage in Riverdale

Honestly, I could include most of Riverdale‘s musical numbers on this list. Not only does this series deliver several actual musical episodes, but it also just loves a random musical interlude dropped into the middle of an episode. And even though sometimes the thematic underpinnings of the songs chosen are a bit of a stretch on a narrative level, these sequences always feature very Sapphic, very erotic choreography.

Cheryl and Toni conspire to push evil Blossoms out of their home under the threat of cannibalism, Chapter Sixty-Four: The Ice Storm

Toni and Cheryl sit at a dining table in Riverdale

Cheryl and Toni’s relationship takes a twisted turn in season four when Cheryl gaslights Toni by making her believe their house is being haunted by her dead brother. There are clear reasons for Cheryl’s behavior throughout the season — namely, long-festering familial trauma — but that doesn’t make them excusable. I found myself rooting against Cheryl and Toni in season four, and that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. I preferred this messy, troubling storytelling to the stretches of season three when they just didn’t have real, meaningful storylines at all. The problems in their relationship were what made the relationship interesting to me.

A pair of evil Blossoms arrive at Thistlehouse, and Cheryl and Toni eventually have to scare them off by making them believe they’ve eaten human meat pies. It’s a devilish trick, and it’s nice to see our girls up to their old habits of being gay, doing crimes together. But Cheryl’s unhealthy coping mechanisms are worsening at this point in the series. And even though she and Toni still connect on a sexual level, there’s a ton of disarray in their relationship emotionally.

Hermosa, Toni, and Cheryl on the dance floor, Chapter Seventy: The Ides of March

Cheryl, Hermosa, and Toni dancing in the club in Riverdale

Veronica’s secret sister Hermosa arrives in season four to shake things up. She attempts to spy on Cheryl and Veronica’s burgeoning rum business, but Toni and Cheryl are onto her. They dance with her, but it’s less about seduction and more about DECEPTION. Which is even hotter, in a way. Again, Cheryl and Toni are at their best when scheming.

Archie’s mom gets a girlfriend, Chapter Seventy-One: How to Get Away with Murder

Mary Andrews with her butch blonde girlfriend on Riverdale

Listen, Mary Andrews is not who I predicted might be Riverdale‘s first queer mom, but here we are! Every time I rewatch season one, I become convinced something happened between Hermione Lodge and Alice Cooper when they were teens, but alas, nothing officially comes to fruition in that regard. Instead, we get Archie’s mom awkwardly introducing Archie to her new girlfriend. Good for you, Mrs. Andrews!

Cheryl and Toni — at last — are prom queens, Chapter Seventy-Seven: Climax

Cheryl and Toni hug in their prom crowns in Riverdale

All of Cheryl’s gay co-prom queen dreams finally come true in the season five finale, but it’s a bittersweet conclusion to Riverdale‘s last prom. Cheryl learns Toni’s family doesn’t approve of their relationship — not because of their queerness, but because Cheryl is a Blossom, and her ancestors are responsible for the genocide in Riverdale that still affects Toni’s family to this day. That is…all very understandable! But even though Riverdale has a teen soap format, this feels like such a huge bomb to drop on its central queer relationship out of nowhere. For much of season four leading up to this, it was as if the writers only knew how to make Choni sexy or traumatized. Those were the only two options for most of their scenes together. As I wrote at the time: We got co- queer prom queens, but at what cost?

They don’t break up right away, and Cheryl sets herself on a path to try to distance herself from the bloody Blossom legacy. But then two episodes later, they do break up. And even though it’s a conclusion that makes sense for them at this point in the series, like much of the Choni arc from season three to now, it feels unevenly plotted.

Toni’s serpent dance, Chapter Eighty: Purgatorio

Pregnant Toni Topaz doing a dance on stage with other Serpents in Riverdale

Riverdale famously time-jumps after its graduation episode in season five. Suddenly, all the characters are seven years older and have moved away from Riverdale. Except for Toni. She’s the Serpent Queen now, still lives in town, works at the high school, performs at the local speakeasy, is a graduate of Highsmith College (both a riff on Smith College and a shoutout to lesbian author Patricia Highsmith), and is pregnant! Her sexy pregnancy Serpent dance is very important to me! This is also a turning point in the series for Toni as a more fleshed out and central character on the show. At long last!

Cheryl also still lives in Riverdale, but the two have grown distant as Cheryl has lived a mostly reclusive life and believes herself to be cursed never to experience happiness due to her family’s violent past. She mostly does oil paintings now. It’s all very lesbi-gothic.

Toni brings back the Vixens, Chapter Eighty-Two: Back to School

Toni strutting in a hallway in her HBIC shirt in Riverdale

Toni Topaz dons her own version of ex-girlfriend Cheryl’s iconic HBIC shirt, and just like that becomes Riverdale‘s top queerleader.

Toni makes Cheryl prove herself with a dance-off, Chapter Eighty-Three: Fire in the Sky

Toni in her HBIC shirt at cheer practice on Riverdale

Toni and Cheryl’s new frenemy-exes dynamic in season five is a welcome development! It’s tense; it’s sexy; it’s very queer. Riverdale‘s dance-offs are some of my favorite moments on the show (the original Veronica x Cheryl one remains my favorite), and Toni knows she’s making a power play here. This results in them deciding to share the Vixens. Again, peak queerleader activity!

Cheryl gifts Toni a baby nursery in New Thornhill, Chapter Eighty-Four: Lock & Key

Cheryl stands looking sad in a baby nursery in Thornhill in Riverdale

Here’s the problem though: Toni never asked for this gothic nursery. Cheryl asks Toni to move into her manor after freaking out about the fact that Toni is having a baby with Fangs and Kevin. Instead of supporting her ex-girlfriend in this journey toward building a nontraditional queer family, Cheryl acts out and reverts back to old patterns. The crux of this episode is that Cheryl is throwing a key party for all the old friends, but I wish it delivered more steaminess with this premise! Instead, we mostly get queer angst. But I’ll take that, too. And fear not, because…

Cheryl kisses Minerva the art dealer, Chapter Eighty-Four: Lock & Key

Cheryl kisses Minerva in Riverdale

They key party may be a bust, but shortly after, Cheryl smooches up on Minerva, the art dealer she has been working with (and also scamming…Cheryl’s latest be gay, do crimes endeavor is counterfeiting artwork).

Cheryl and Minerva harvest some sweet sap, Chapter Eighty-Six: The Pincushion Man

Minerva holding Cheryl's hand in the woods in Riverdale

And no, it isn’t a euphemism! They frolic through the woods on their way to harvest some maple syrup, but when they arrive at a tree, it doesn’t produce anything. Cheryl’s Nana says it’s because of the Blossom curse. Maple won’t come if Cheryl is happy. The episode ends with the Blossom women suggesting they might need to sacrifice Minerva to break the curse, but she runs away before anything too macabre can happen. Talk about a dramatic lesbian breakup!

Melody has a girlfriend, Chapter Ninety-One: The Return of the Pussycats

Melody and her girlfriend in bed in Riverdale

Josie McCoy and her Pussycats return to Riverdale! Josie split off to pursue a solo career, and meanwhile Melody became a published author AND got a girlfriend. Statistically, it seemed certain that at least one of the Pussycats had to be queer.

Just everything about this episode, Chapter Ninety-Nine: The Witching Hour(s)

Betty and Cheryl kiss in Riverdale

Abigail hugs Thomasina in Riverdale

Cheryl and Sabrina on Riverdale

It’d be impossible to pick just one or even just three moments from this episode of Riverdale to highlight. The entire episode is a three-timeline Sapphic saga about queer witches from the Blossom bloodline through the ages. This episode was part of Riverdale‘s experimental five-episode run known as Rivervale, all leading up to the show’s 100th episode. The five episodes take place in a pocket universe of Riverdale‘s main universe and explicitly takes the show into a supernatural space. This installment is also a crossover event with Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.

Madelaine Petsch plays Abigail Blossom (1892), Poppy Blossom (1957), and Cheryl Blossom (present day), three Blossom women with interlocking queer stories through the centuries. Abigail has a secret lover in Thomasina, an ancestor of Toni of course. Poppy, meanwhile, runs a women’s group in the 50s and strikes up an illicit affair with married housewife Bitsy, played by Lili Reinhart.

The episode has horror, romance, and a ton of fun aesthetic details to flesh out the three settings. But most importantly, it’s queer as fuck. Cheryl comes from a long line of queer women with cursed love lives. Inherited trauma is kind of Cheryl’s whole thing, so that feels right.

Cheryl receives letters from Heather, Chapter One Hundred and Seven: In the Fog

Cheryl crying while reading letters in bed in Riverdale.

Let’s just say that things get a little weird in season six of Riverdale — yes, even by this show’s wild standards! Cheryl learns she’s pyrokinetic, and she tortures her mother in this episode using her powers. Before Cheryl is finally able to banish her mother for good, Penelope presents a final peace offering. Remember how Cheryl came out to Toni by telling her about her best friend from junior high who moved away after Penelope drove them apart? Apparently, she wrote Cheryl a series of love letters after moving, and Cheryl’s wicked mom kept the letters from her this whole time.

The pain of Cheryl’s past surfaces in such a gutting way here, and it’s a strikingly grounded scene amid all the supernatural chaos of the season. There are times when Cheryl’s arc feels overly tragic, but I think that works best in zoomed-in, fleshed-out moments like this where the emotional stakes are so raw and real.

Heather arrives at Thornhill, Chapter One Hundred and Nine: Venomous

Heather in Riverdale

Cheryl’s past comes crashing into her present when Heather arrives at her doorstep. And guess what! She’s a witch!

Heather and Cheryl kiss, Chapter One Hundred and Twelve: American Psychos

Heather and Cheryl kiss on Riverdale

Cheryl gets to act on her young, closeted queer desires that her mother tried so hard to stomp out of her in the back half of season six, when she and Heather pair doing witchcraft together with doing makeouts together. The witchy Sapphic vibes of Riverdale always felt like part of its fabric, but that becomes very literal in season six.

Heather casts a spell so that Abigail Blossom and Thomasina Topaz can be together in Cheryl and Toni’s bodies, Chapter One Hundred and Seventeen: Night of the Comet

Abigail kisses the neck of Thomasina on Riverdale

Yes, you read all of that correctly! This is honestly one of my favorite queer hookups in Riverdale history. Body-swapping, time-traveling, witchcraft — it’s so wonderfully over-the-top and matches the tone of the season, whereas sometimes past queer hookup scenes felt disconnected from the central narrative of the show. All television shows should get continuously queerer over time, and Riverdale does exactly that. By the time the show’s final season hits, it almost seems like everyone is queer.

New queer character Lizzo arrives in 1955, Chapter One Hundred and Nineteen: Skip, Hop, and Thump!

Lizzo on Riverdale wears leather and rides a motorcycle

The comet that hits at the end of season six triggers a cosmic event that sends the Riverdale characters back in time to the 1950s and also ages them down to teens again. Consequently, Cheryl and Kevin go back into the closet, which I have mixed feelings about. But we also meet a new queer character in Lizzo, who taunts Toni for going for the “straight-laced, square girls.”

Toni and Cheryl fantasy-makeout, Chapter One Hundred and Nineteen: Skip, Hop, and Thump!

Toni and Cheryl kiss in Riverdale

This episode also features a “makeout party” hosted by 1950s-ified Veronica. In a fantasy sequence, Cheryl and Toni act on their desires for each other, even if Cheryl isn’t ready to do so in their real lives. The things this final season is doing with fantasy and repressed desire are really intriguing!

Cheryl and Toni repeat the…future, Chapter One Hundred Twenty-Five: Hoop Dreams

Cheryl and Toni kiss against a blackboard in Riverdale

History begins to repeat itself with Cheryl and Toni’s arc in the 1950s…or, history begins to repeat…the future? Sometimes time travel storylines hurt my head. But the characters on Riverdale don’t remember their lives before the comet, so I suppose it’s more like they’ve been rebooted entirely.

Betty fantasizes about Veronica, Chapter One Hundred Twenty-Six: Betty & Veronica Double Digest

Betty pushes Veronica up against a locker

Betty’s arc in season seven largely concerns her struggles to understand herself sexually. She fantasizes about sex constantly — with all of her peers, including Veronica. These bisexual desires, even though they’re expressed entirely in a fantasy space, make for some of the most intricate queer storytelling the show has ever done. I’ve written a lot of words about it this summer. And it even made me reconsider that kiss from the pilot. Here’s some of what I wrote about this Betty storyline:

Sure, the show does have openly queer characters, even in this 1950s timeline, insinuating that if Betty is queer, she could just act on it more explicitly. The way Cheryl does, the way Toni does, the way Kevin does. But there isn’t a one-size-fits-all arc when it comes to queerness. And in some ways, I’m more personally drawn to Betty’s storyline in season seven than I have been to any queer storyline on the series that came before. Cheryl represents a queer youth I never had but wish I did. Betty represents the repressed queer youth I did have and, on some level, regret, even if it was out of my control.

Betty and Veronica choose each other instead of Archie, Chapter One Hundred Thirty-One: Archie the Musical

Veronica and Betty kiss in the cosmos in Riverdale

Riverdale‘s final musical episode opts for original music, and Kevin has Betty and Veronica sing a love song. The episode initially sets things up as if they’re going to fight over Archie, but Betty and Veronica reject that storyline in favor of this one. It feels like a deliberate confrontation of the love triangle set up in the pilot.

Once again, Betty and Veronica kiss in a fantasy sequence. Again, the fact that it’s imagined makes it actually feel more real. So many characters are exploring possible bisexuality in this season — even Archie and Reggie.

The Cost of Pepper, Chapter One Hundred Thirty-Three: Stag

Toni and Cheryl kiss in Riverdale

A couple times in season seven, we see a copy of The Cost of Pepper, a spoof of The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith. In the episode “Stag,” Toni and Cheryl do an entire boudoir photoshoot together that prominently features the novel, and it’s peak Sapphic camp in a way only this show is capable of pulling off.

I mean, let’s be real, there’s a lot of queer shenanigans going on this episode largely about the characters discovering porn for the first time. Betty and Veronica also eagerly want to watch porn together — you know, as friends!

Cheryl teaches Betty to masturbate, Chapter One Hundred Thirty-Four: A Different Kind of Cat

Betty reads Femme and In magazine in the tub in Riverdale

Cheryl helps a pal out by introducing Betty to the wonders of self-pleasure. She’s really channeling Poppy Blossom by spreading sexual liberation to her fellow 1950s girlies! See, there are some good things about Blossom blood!

Cheryl also loans Betty a copy of Femme and In magazine, a feminist and lesbian mag she and Toni are fans of, and Betty brings it into the tub with her for a masturbation sesh. She’s literally getting off to a queer erotica magazine!!!

Cheryl comes out to her Vixens and they come out to her, Chapter One Hundred Thirty-Six: The Golden Age of Television

Cheryl and Toni stand wearing red in Riverdale

In the penultimate episode of the series, Cheryl tells the River Vixens she wants to stand in the light, opening up to them about going steady with Toni. In turn, some of her cheerleaders decide to tell her they want to stand in the light, too. Even in 1950, Cheryl’s Vixens are of course a bunch of homos! This show may have gone back in time, but that doesn’t stop it from ramping up the queerness!

And with that very long stroll through the show’s wild, dramatic, horny, and winding queer history, I’m finally ready to head into Riverdale’s last episode of all time tonight. What are some of your favorite (subtextual or explicit!) queer moments from the series?

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Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya

Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya is the managing editor of Autostraddle and a lesbian writer of essays, short stories, and pop culture criticism living in Orlando. She is the assistant managing editor of TriQuarterly, and her short stories appear or are forthcoming in McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, Joyland, Catapult, The Offing, and more. Some of her pop culture writing can be found at The A.V. Club, Vulture, The Cut, and others. You can follow her on Twitter or Instagram and learn more about her work on her website.

Kayla has written 807 articles for us.


  1. Okay so this absolutely would have been like PLL to me if it’d come out when I was a teenager.

    Also, I was looking for a show I could sew while watching and this concentrated pitch is appealing…

  2. I can’t Choni’s first sex scene was skipped after complaining that they weren’t allowed to have sex scenes in a prior section, even though it was the longest and most explicit on the show, and one the actresses fought for. Seems like a pretty important moment in the queer history of the show. Would have also liked to see something about Cheryl labeling herself a lesbian in S3 after so much debate prior, since the word queer was used five million times in this.

    I don’t really get your S4 summary of Choni. They were more emotionally solid in that season than ever, while not having a single sex scene? Regardless of what you feel about the Jason corpse plot, Toni was concerned about it for two episodes and then didn’t blink. She was ride or die that season and they were cute and domestic without any drama. Can’t imagine rooting against them.

    I usually understand the mentality that the subtextual, noncanon f/f ship is more compelling than the canon one on some shows (even if I don’t agree with it), but Riverdale is not one I can understand it for at all because all the friendships (and even enemy-ships) between women on the show were so inconsistent and shallow. For all your complaints about how underserved or uneven Choni was, Beronica was certainly no better, on a friendship level and certainly not the random and quickly dropped sexual subplot in s7. I get feeling represented by and feeling connected to Betty’s arc in S7 more than Cheryl’s, but Beronica, not so much.

    • Also can’t help but notice all the backhanded comments and complaints made about Choni and their storytelling throughout the series while just making excuses for the Beronica queerbait kiss in the pilot and praising the S7 arc without comment about how it led absolutely nowhere and was abruptly dropped for Veronica to get with Jughead and the cop out quad relationship.

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