Let’s Ponder Teenage Fantasies And Riverdale’s Problem With Kevin Keller

by Erik Amaya


It would be nice for Kevin Keller (Casey Cott) to end an episode of Riverdale happier than when it began.
But it seems there is no hope for the perpetually lovelorn and only gay male character in the main Riverdale gang. To be fair, it is not easy being a gay teenager — something the show occasionally touches on despite its noirish fantasy high school setting — but Kevin’s storylines are dominated by attempts to normalize his identity and the price he pays in trying to do so.
Again, that’s certainly realistic, but Riverdale is not about realism. Consider the way Cheryl (Madelaine Petsch) callously outs Moose Mason (Cody Kearsley) after Kevin tells her about the continuing problem in their relationship — Moose’s refusal to be truthful to his father, the ROTC instructor. The show tells us she was wrong to do it because, y’know, it is actually wrong. But just as Cheryl gets distracted when Toni (Vanessa Morgan) calls her out on her mistake by noticing it was their first fight, Riverdale immediately excuses Cheryl’s actions by putting her on a course to set things right with Toni and Moose and correcting a homophobic move committed by her own mother. Then, halfway through the episode, we’re left with Moose quasi-thanking her for taking away his autonomy in the situation. Sure, he still says it was wrong, but it seems Cheryl learned nothing in the end.
Which is sort of fine for Cheryl as she is part of Riverdale‘s more absurd elements. Look at how theatrical and weird her dialogue is when placed next to Kevin’s more naturalistic thoughts on his troubles. As a creature of the show’s teenager fantasy, she is supposed to win against the forces of homophobia represented by Penelope (Nathalie Boltt) every time.
Nevertheless, placing her in the story while not giving her a proper learning moment (or even acknowledging her style of action is inappropriate in this instance) is a mistake.
Getting back to Kevin and Moose, the show nearly manages to illustrate one of the risks teenagers face by coming out: the potentially violent reaction of their family. In a Riverdale context, this means Moose’s father uses the Gargoyle King iconography to shame and terrorize both Kevin and his own son. We subsequently learn he was attracted to Kevin’s father Tom (Martin Cummins) when they were in high school, but soon found himself in the Sisters of Quiet Mercy’s gay conversion program. While tragic for the character, it smacks of an old trope in movies and television: the gay spree killer. The show unequivocally states conversion therapy is wrong while shipping Moose off to Glendale; his father still got his way. Again, it is a realistic move — why would Moose want to stay in town after the trauma he just experienced? — but it leaves Kevin in the isolation he always seems to find for being a gay teen in Riverdale.
Which is realistic and fine, but when contrasted with Cheryl’s continuing trend of victories after coming out, it seems a little unbalanced. So much so, it overtakes other notions within the episode, like the characters obsessing over their legacies, Gladys Jones’s (Gina Gershon) return to town, the Midnight Club reuniting and Jughead (Cole Sprouse) noticing the prevalence of Gargoyle Kings in town while still missing the one who murdered Principal Featherhead. Oh, and then there’s Archie (KJ Apa) and Josie (Ashleigh Murray) getting together.
But let’s ponder the show’s treatment of Kevin as we watch a preview for the next episode. Gladys continues with her scheming while the rift between Jughead  and Toni widens. Cheryl trains an army (!) and Archie gets back in the ring because what else is he going to do at this point?

Riverdale returns February 27th on The CW.

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