Well, last week’s rant on the State Of Cheryl and Toni was rather timely. “Bizarrodale” corrects a lot of — but not all — the problems I’ve highlighted in the show’s queer representation. It’s one of the horniest episodes Riverdale has ever done and also one of the gayest! A delightful combination if you ask me! And it certainly isn’t perfect, but it does deliver some much needed character development for Cheryl, Toni, their relationship, and Riverdale’s other queer characters, including Moose and Kevin. JUGHEAD’S HOT (KINDA EVIL) MOM ALSO RETURNS. Overall, I feel very personally pandered to in this episode, and I appreciate it.
Kevin and Moose have been dating in secret since summer, which Kevin declares is FOREVER, which both speaks to the fact that they are indeed in high school when relationships that last longer than a month are considered long-term and also to the fact of queer temporality. By gay standards, they are practically married. But there’s one issue: Moose still isn’t out. And because he has walls up about his queerness, he has walls up with Kevin. And Kevin’s at a breaking point where he wants more. Cheryl steps in to suggest he get on Bumble in a hilarious bit of product placement, but Kevin isn’t having it! He likes Moose! He wants to be with Moose! It’s very sweet.
But then Cheryl does something not so sweet and practically outs Moose to the whole school, reporting a gossip blind item that is not so vague. It’s a terrible thing to do, but it seems consistent with Cheryl. She intentionally wreaks havoc, often for personal gain, and in this instance, outing Moose is partially a response to her mother’s homophobia. Penelope’s latest tirade has been to change the admissions policy at Highsmith College, where all the Blossom women have gone for generations, so that legacy students are no longer admitted (btw, Penelope at one point says “the price of salt” which is, of course, the novel that Carol was based on, written by Patricia Highsmith… we love a gay easter egg!). She states rather bluntly that she doesn’t think Cheryl should be able to go to the school because she’s gay.
Cheryl wants to stick it to homophobia. According to her, being gay is rapturous… agreed! But she overcorrects. Even if she didn’t have malicious intent, it was incredibly selfish and wrong for her to out Moose, and she gets her comeuppance when Toni points that out to her. The argument about Moose sparks something bigger, and we finally see the emotional ripple effects of their banishment from the Serpents. For Toni, her biological family didn’t completely accept her queerness, but the Serpents did. They provided safety and allowed her to be her full self. Cheryl doesn’t quite understand that (because frankly, the first and only time Cheryl has likely experienced that kind of love and acceptance has been with Toni).
In a way, this is all a very big turning point for Cheryl as she finally realizes that the chaos she so gleefully brews has actual ramifications. She hurt people, and she sets out to make it right, especially for Toni, who she genuinely does love and want to take care of. She donates her interview time with the Highsmith headmistress to Toni. She apologizes to Moose, who does end up coming out to his dad, and tells him that she took something important away from him.
Then Moose and Kevin reserve the bunker for sex! Which is presumably a thing that Cheryl and Toni also do from time to time given that Cheryl divulges the information that a lot of people have had sex in that bunker bed. Meanwhile, the adults of Riverdale have all been summoned by the Gargoyle King to finish Ascension Night. But with the Midnight Club all occupied at the school, that leaves their kids vulnerable, which takes them way too long to figure out.
They frantically try calling their children but surprise: LITERALLY EVERYONE IS HAVING SEX! Jughead and Betty, who are barely in the episode, are getting it on. Veronica is straddling Reggie. Toni and Cheryl are out here looking like gay vampires in a lingerie ad. Kevin and Moose are making full use of that bunker reservation (they both brought candles! It’s very cute!). Archie is… well Archie is helping Josie practice for her Juilliard audition, and they don’t kiss until episode’s end (yawn… why can’t Archie just be friends with the women in his life and also why has he kissed his way through every Pussycat). Honestly, the sex montage is great and reminds me a lot of How To Get Away With Murder in its indulgent horniness. And hey 50% queer sex is a pretty remarkable ratio! Finally Riverdale is delivering on its campy gay gothic aesthetic with some actual gay erotica!!!!!
That said, the episode still falls into some weird genre tropes when it comes to Moose’s father. Moose and Kevin are immediately kidnapped by masked Gargoyles after having sex which in and of itself is a pretty disturbing message in the way it seems like they’re being punished for sleeping together. They’re brought to a Gargoyle King, who is not the Gargoyle King. It’s Moose’s dad, and the Gargoyle minions are all kids from the RROTC program. Moose’s dad tricked them by way of the game into helping him scare Moose… because Moose’s dad is gay and tried to kiss Tom Keller years ago but was rejected and then also sent to the Sisters of Quiet Mercy where he underwent the hellish gay conversion therapy program that Toni rescued Cheryl from. Now that Sierra McCoy and Tom Keller are getting married and his own son is with Kevin, he wanted to destroy for them what he couldn’t have himself.
The whole closeted gay revenge story is well trodden territory, and it leaves little room for nuance. It’s especially frustrating here, because it all unfolds in a scene between Moose’s dad and… FP. It’s very clumsy and heavy-handed, and the way the complicated emotions at its heart are unspooled just doesn’t feel right. It’d be much more effective (and logical) to hit these emotional beats in a scene between Moose and his dad.
So it certainly isn’t perfect, but “Bizarrodale” is a step in the right direction for Riverdale in its treatment of Cheryl and Toni. They’re starting to make more sense as a couple, particularly in how much they serve as each other’s caretakers because of their lack of familial support. It actually makes sense that their relationship intensified so quickly to the point where they’re literally living together as high school students. Toni is the only family Cheryl has. And by the end of the episode, they start a new gang… I think of all queer women?! That certainly seems to be the implication, and I choose to believe it until told otherwise!!! Riverdale has a gang of goth dykes. CHRISTMAS CAME EARLY!!!!
That said, it’s a huge bummer that this Kevin/Moose storyline ends with Moose being sent away to live with his aunt. Their goodbye is heartbreaking but truncated. And it also sort of plays into that weird thing I highlighted last week where it seems like Riverdale is only interested in telling queer stories centered on coming out. Now that Moose is out of the closet, it’s the end of his and Kevin’s arc for now? What?
As far as plot goes, we’re not supposed to believe that Moose’s dad is the Gargoyle King who summoned the original Midnight Club. That’s yet another Gargoyle King, so we’re getting into some dicey “A could be anyone” Pretty Little Liars territory. And meanwhile, Gladys Jones is back in town and looking hotter than ever!!!! She’s the secret buyer who Hermione tells Veronica and Reggie they now owe a ton of money since they took it upon themselves to burn the Lodge Jingle Jangle operation. Gladys Jones might be the first character to give Hiram Lodge a true run for his money in terms of nefarious scheming. She and Jelly Bean are up to something, playing FP so that they have the town sheriff on their side. The power struggle in Riverdale just got thornier, and Gladys came to play.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but this is the first episode where Cheryl has said outright that she’s a lesbian, no? Exciting!!! Remember when I called Cheryl being a lesbian over a year ago? One of my finest accomplishments. But also I couldn’t help but think of Erin’s call to end flannel as a lesbian signifier during that overhead shot of Cheryl and Toni in bed where Cheryl is literally wearing flannel over her lacy lingerie while wrapped in silk sheets! It’s like, we get it, Cheryl Blossom is a lesbian.