This Riverdale recap was written throughout the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. With out the labor of the writers and actors who’re at present on strike, TV exhibits like this one wouldn’t be attainable, and Autostraddle is grateful for the artists who do that work. This recap comprises spoilers for Riverdale season seven, episode 16, “Stag.”
Simply once I assume the ultimate season of Riverdale can’t get any higher, it surprises me. I’ve even come to adore the Fifties setting, even when it means characters have a tendency to talk in charmingly goofy colloquialisms, anachronisms, and American historical past 101 classes. The truth is, this week, Archie Andrews learns concerning the beatniks! He’s very excited by these authors and artists who eschewed conference, and Clay even teaches him the phrase heteronormativity. As a reminder, Archie is experimenting with poetry slightly than soccer lately. And that experimentation finally ends up increasing to sexuality as nicely. Sure, I do consider “Stag” confirms some bisexual leanings for our pricey Archie, who’s grappling with the very fact of his personal squareness and finds himself in one thing of a situationship along with his greatest pal Reggie. There’s so much occurring on this ultimate season, which appears decided to check out each attainable pairing the present has to supply, successfully making each single character queer — even when it thus far has solely performed out in fantasy for some.
I discover it fascinating that this 50s-set season has been obsessive about intercourse, sexuality, and sexual disgrace and repression, as a result of it actually highlights simply how a lot the tradition wars of our actual world as we speak are cyclical of the previous. A lot of what the kids take care of on this season of Riverdale is acquainted in our actual world context. “Stag” sees Jughead preventing towards fascist oppression on the town when a brand new code emerges explicitly banning sure subjects — particularly, violence and intercourse — from any comedian books produced in Riverdale. The adults implementing these restrictions — together with Cheryl’s evil father Clifford Blossom — use all the identical speaking factors widespread with the far proper lately about e book bans and what material is “acceptable” for kids. This season of Riverdale is definitely essentially the most well timed depiction of censorship and restrictions on artwork and teenage autonomy I’ve seen on tv lately.
“Stag” brings the sexual exploration themes of the season again to the forefront. New queer character Lizzo introduces Toni and Cheryl, who’ve been courting on the downlow, sometimes utilizing secret boyfriends Clay and Kevin as a part of lavender preparations, to the underground lesbian pinup journal Femme-and-In Journal. The images encourage Cheryl and Toni to have a pinup shoot of their very own, with Cheryl planning to show one of many ensuing images into a large oil portray within the model of the pulp novels she and Toni have been burying their little queer noses in. Throughout mentioned photoshoot, Toni at one level holds up considered one of these in-universe pulp novels, and it’s known as….THE COST OF PEPPER. As in, an apparent and hilariously exact riff on The Worth of Salt by Patricia Highsmith.
THE COST! OF PEPPER!
I needed to pause my tv and course of this for not less than 45 seconds. It’s simply so foolish, so good, so Riverdale.
Whereas Cheryl and Toni are bonding over being scorching collectively, the remainder of the Riverdale teenagers are grappling with sexuality and want as nicely. We don’t get a ton of concrete content material on the continued Betty/Veronica entrance, however this episode little question continues their amorphous and scintillating arc as greatest mates who’re additionally undeniably one thing greater than greatest mates. When Veronica learns the boys on the town are all riled up over a “stag” film (additionally known as “people who smoke” and primarily retro pornos that had been black-and-white, quick, and silent) Julian Blossom acquired his palms on, she insists she desires to attend the viewing herself and produce alongside a pal. That pal, in fact, is Betty. However whereas I assumed this may result in Veronica and Betty persevering with to really feel curiosities about one another, it truly will get so much messier. The movie begins, and Betty cuts it quick, recognizing her sister Polly because the star. Quickly, she learns her sister is definitely a world well-known burlesque dancer underneath the stage identify POLLY AMOROUS. And whereas Betty initially appears to have some internalized disgrace and stigma towards what her sister does, she rapidly comes round on it, feeling empowered by her sister’s sexual liberation and likewise coming to know Alice’s strict grip on her personal needs and libido as a harsh response to Polly’s life. Realizing simply how deep her mom’s hatred of something sexual runs, Betty lastly stands as much as Alice at episode’s finish.
However earlier than that, Betty and Veronica plan a particular efficiency on the Babylonian (Veronica’s movie show, as a result of sure, irrespective of what number of iterations of Veronica there have been over the course of the sequence, Teen Enterprise Proprietor has been a constant throughline) for the one and solely Polly Amorous to showcase her expertise. What follows is a burlesque efficiency set to “Rose’s Flip” — considered one of my private favourite showtunes of all time — by which Betty finally ends up imagining herself within the place of her sister. Betty’s fantasies all season have been a few of my favourite storytelling. I like the intricate nature of this second right here; Betty is barely capable of entry her true needs by projecting herself onto her sister. Isn’t sexuality simply unusual and uncomfortable like that typically?
And after a full season of homoerotic friendship between Archie and Reggie, the 2 boys lastly transfer their dynamic from a subtextual area to a really embodied one. When Julian makes an attempt to “prank” them by giving them a stag film about two boys wrestling, Archie and Reggie are confused at first, however their confusion offers method rapidly to curiosity. They hold watching, collectively. Later within the bed room they share, they marvel aloud about issues, like whether or not Kevin and Clay are collectively (which, clearly, they’re) and if there might be room for sexual experimentation between boys. Archie posits that there could possibly be some “wiggle room” between straight and homosexual. And when their poetry trainer Ms. Grundy (who fortunately isn’t having a relationship with Archie this timeline round) challenges her college students (Archie, Betty, and Clay) to do one thing they’ve by no means finished earlier than and keep up all night time to see the solar rise, Archie finally ends up inviting Reggie alongside to go to a intercourse employee, who the boys see collectively. We aren’t privy to precisely what occurs in that room, however it’s protected to imagine the traces between a platonic broship and queer want had been blurred. After, as Archie and Reggie watch the solar rise, they inform one another “I like you.” It’s a surprisingly tender second, one which once more makes me really feel as if Riverdale is doing rather more with these relationship shakeups and sexual curiosities than simply fundamental fanservice. It’s all shockingly natural storytelling — sexy and ridiculous, positive, however not pandering or salacious. (The truth is, the one second that actually seems like empty fanservice within the episode is the Veronica/Jughead kiss, however I’m not too mad about it.)
In each the Archie/Reggie and Veronica/Betty arcs, there’s a lot nuance and complexity to those distinctly queer friendships and to how these characters are beginning to discover their sexualities past the confines of inflexible Fifties heteronormativity. In some methods, these storylines really feel extra queer than a few of the beats we get from Cheryl/Toni and Clay/Kevin. With beforehand believed to be straight characters like Archie, Betty, Veronica, and Reggie, Riverdale is quietly blowing up all the pieces we would have as soon as assumed about them, the characters every questioning their very own needs in visceral methods with actual stakes to all of it, even when it unfolds considerably on the periphery. After all I like the overtly erotic and femme lesbian aesthetics of Toni and Cheryl’s photoshoot, however I’m virtually extra invested within the sexy-strange nature of Betty imagining herself as her sister, of Veronica wanting nothing greater than for her greatest pal to be by her facet when she watches porn for the primary time.
However on the finish of the day, nothing tops The Value of Pepper. The Value of Pepper instantly belongs within the Riverdale corridor of fame. Good golly, I’m gonna miss this present when it’s over.
Now, get pleasure from Archie studying the phrase heteronormativity: