I remember when people were up in arms about the fact that Black Lightning wasn’t going to be a part of the Berlanti-verse alongside The Flash and Arrow. Even though I don’t watch either of those shows, the news did sound like CW was making a negative “Whites Only” distinction between the Berlanti-verse and Black Lightning. However, after watching the Black Lightning premiere, I’m actually quite glad that Jefferson Pierce/Black Lightning (Cress Williams) has his own universe to play in. With the salient themes the show wants to get across, it needs a specific, concentrated point of view, and getting bogged down in the more comic booky setup established by The Flash and Arrow would, in my opinion, get in the way.
The show, brought to us by Maria Brock-Akil and Salim Akil, has a pointed message: too often, black pain is ignored or stuffed down, either to keep the peace or just so to stay alive. But at some point, enough is enough, and black pain turns into black power. In this case, that power is taken from subtext to text, with Jefferson revisiting his ability to generate and control lightning.
Jefferson’s pain isn’t just hinted at; it’s shown to us in stark moments, like the opening sequence which shows Jefferson as a well-regarded principal in his town and a few minutes later, he’s the victim of a racist police pullover. The pain is both external and internal, when his oldest daughter Anissa (Nafessa Williams) argues with him about his style of protesting–which could be critiqued as playing to respectability politics–versus her style of protesting, which is much more in line with today’s Black Lives Matter movement and other grassroots movements.
— Black Lightning (@blacklightning) January 17, 2018
This particular argument is something I feel will come up in the show over and over again, as it’s an argument that is happening in the real world all the time. It’s a discussion I often argue with myself over–technically I’m a “millennial,” but I’m of the older set; I’m much closer to Generation X than I am millennials, and on top of that, I’m someone who has always felt older than her age. I understand why Jefferson is more concerned with what looks like “keeping the peace” and focusing more on education and, to be blunt, status. For Jefferson, the way out of the existential predicament African Americans are in is through higher learning, and for many of us, including me, that’s what we were taught. I feel like I’m of the last generation when The United Negro College Fund was prominently on TV, drilling the catchphrase “A mind is a terrible thing to waste” in our heads. We were literally taught that the only path forward for us, the only path towards being treated with humanity and dignity, was through attending college, attaining that quintessential “good job with a 401K,” and getting that house in the suburbs.
However, there’s the other side of me that knows that protests are the only way we’ve been able to attain even that level of privileged thinking. The blood sacrificed for us to even establish a college fund means something, and to honor that, we have to continue putting ourselves on the front lines in whatever way we can. We have to fight for ourselves and our humanity, otherwise, the rights we have will be taken away from us. The Black Lives Matter movement and other movements like it are essential to the ongoing conversation our nation has had about race, privilege, power, and humanity.
But, as Jefferson pointedly said to Anissa, many young activists forget that the same older people they deride for playing “respectability politics” were fighting the good fight longer than they’ve been alive. The disconnect between the generations sometimes results in unnecessary animosity, with both sides not wanting to come together in the middle and recognize the similarities. The Black Lives Matter Movement, Movement for Black Lives, Dream Defenders, and others are just the ideological grandchildren of SNCC, CORE, the NAACP, the Black Panther Party, and others. Recognizing the history shared and coming together to develop solutions for going forward should be part of today’s activist movement instead of the isolation and chiding I’ve seen among some younger activists and some of the older generation.
It’s this combustible combination of a society gone rampant with fear and police brutality coupled with activism in the social media age that have put Jefferson between a rock and a hard place. At his core, he is an activist. A vigilante, even–Black Lightning is the scourge of the police, but beloved by many in his city. But as a father and a man who wants to reconcile with his wife Lynn (Christine Adams) after his do-gooding split them apart, Jefferson just wants to be able to work, come home, and have his family safe in America. He’s a hero who doesn’t want to be a hero, but is often called to be one. I think that’s one of the more interesting things about Jefferson as a character. It’s similar to how Marvel’s Luke Cage didn’t want to be a hero, but was called to be because the community needed him.
This calling is often the hallmark of black superheroes in both Marvel and DC Comics. Whereas some white or white-passing superheroes like Superman can think of heroism as a luxury, black superheroes arise because no one else will help them. A superhero has to be borne out of necessity. There was an episode of Superman: The Animated Series that shows the origins of Steel; in many ways, his story is the same; Superman wasn’t holding things down in Steel’s neck of the woods, and he had to rise up and take care of the crime in his community. What’s odd is that I don’t remember Superman ever getting called out on his oversight.
Overall, I feel Black Lightning is setting up to be, like Luke Cage was when it premiered in 2016, the superhero we need for these complicated and excruciating times. Black Lighting, like its Marvel counterpart, shows how these “feats of daring-do” can speak to our current fears and hopes. These characters might be fictional, but the carry a very real weight. They can also, when put in the right hands, carry messages to help us learn and grow and, hopefully, become better, more compassionate human beings towards each other.
A key moment of this is when we see how Anissa is affected by almost every black male villain in this episode calling her a bitch or pulling a gun out on her. Black men take a lot of abuse, no doubt, but black women take a very different and very specific kind of abuse, one that’s leveled by men outside and within the race. This type of abuse leveled against black women by black men can be intellectualized and understood–as shown on the last season of Underground, abuse within the black family can be traced back to slavery, when some black men would take out their aggression for their white slavemasters onto their black wives, who had no recourse for help or understanding outside of their home or in the nation at large. It’s shown in The Color Purple, in which Whoopi Goldberg’s character Celie is a constant victim and Oprah Winfrey’s character Sofia talks about the sexual and physical abuse she’s faced from every man in her life, including her own husband. But that doesn’t make the lasting effects of it in today’s society any less painful. After being jerked around, called ou of her name, kidnapped, almost forced into prostitution, and nearly killed, Anissa has had enough. Now, like her father, her own powers bubble up from black pain and become transmuted into strength.
— Black Lightning (@blacklightning) January 17, 2018
Black Lightning airs Tuesdays at 9/8c on CW.
Into the Badlands, Season 2 | Episode 3, “Red Sun, Silver Moon” | Aired Apr. 2, 2017
Into the Badlands is a show that just keeps getting better and better each episode. As Daniel Wu said in his recent interview with Nerds of Color, he wanted to bring Hong Kong-style martial arts to America, and I dare say he and the entire Into the Badlands team have more than succeeded.
Speaking of Geeks of Color, apparently my Sunny/Veil Twitter call-out got a shout-out in the article! That was a shock! I also didn’t even know about it at first–Alice Wong of The Disability Visibility Project DM’ed me about it. First, I’m flattered the Geeks of Color saw fit to include one of my random call-outs in their article. Second, I’m jealous they got to talk to Wu. I gotta get in on that…Hey, Daniel, if you read this, hit me up on Twitter; I’ve got a ton of questions to ask you about this season.
One of those questions is if Sunny’s unkempt hair was a sly nod to Bruce Lee. I remember that folks on Twitter caught that the Master’s room of mirrors was a callback to Lee in the classic Enter the Dragon, so during Episode 4’s airing, I started wondering if Sunny’s hair wasn’t also a callback to Lee himself. Compare Sunny’s outgrown hair/mustache/goatee combo to Lee’s hair/mustache/goatee combo:
If so, that’s pretty sneaky, sis. Or it could just be me reading too much into the looks that have been served on this show so far since 1) any man can have that hair and 2) if it was going to be an overt homage, maybe Wu’s hair probably would have been more mushroomy–since Sunny’s on the run, he clearly hasn’t been to any barber shops to get layers cut into his hair (although he knows how to give himself a mean buzzcut). However, this show is no stranger to detailed references–for instance, Wu said on Twitter that Sunny’s kill number of 404 is directly related to the Chinese meaning of the number 4, which means death. And I also still have questions about Sunny’s durag, seeing how much of a hip-hop head Wu is in real life, plus how much he’s repped the cross-cultural influences of the black diaspora on this show, so who knows how many in-jokes and references are laced into this show without our knowledge.
Anyways, this was most definitely a Sunny-centric episode. Despite the episode having tons of action, it was very much an introspective look at Sunny, a man of few words, coming to terms with the person he could become. That person was Nathaniel aka Silver Moon (Sherman Augustus), a former Clipper who had found redemption with his wife and child. Or so he thought, until he came home one day and found that his former employer had killed them. Now, he roams the outlying lands almost like a wayward ronin. He’s someone’s who’s definitely lost tough with reality as well as his hope to ever have a normal life. He tells Sunny that Sunny, too, will suffer the same fate he’s suffered and that if he cares for Veil and his child at all, he won’t go looking for them, since trying to rescuing them will, in Nathaniel’s world, will only lead them to death.
However, Sunny’s not about to let that get in his head; he’s determined to get his family back from the Badlands’ clutches, and he quickly realizes that he and Bajie need to get out of Nathaniel’s lair as soon as possible.
But Nathaniel couldn’t leave well enough alone. He had been itching to fight Sunny the whole time after the both of them defeated the bounty hunters trailing Sunny and Bajie, and, like a spider toying with a fly in its web, he’d been housing Sunny and Bajie in order to get close to Sunny for one last good fight, a fight Nathaniel assumed would either send him to the gods or allow him to add Sunny to his kill tats as his golden thousandth’s kill.
It’s an amazing fight, ending with our guy defeating Nathaniel. But Sunny never wanted to kill him, and he still doesn’t. When he’s denied his honorable death (or assisted suicide, depending on how you look at it), Nathaniel goes to kill Sunny, enraged. But just as he’s about to strike Sunny, Bajie comes through with some boomerang blade action, slicing off Nathaniel’s hand.
Finally defeated, Nathaniel lets Sunny and Bajie go, still warning to Sunny about how his family will die because of him. Sunny can only look at this crumpled mess of a person and, while seeing some of himself reflected back, he defiantly says he’s not going to rest until he gets his family back. In a way, that’s also him saying he’s going to do whatever it takes not to let himself become Nathaniel.
Meanwhile, MK has been the same over-curious boy, getting his nose into things he has no business getting into. His god-like bunkmate, Tate (Jordan Bolger) tried to escape, and now the monks have to “cleanse” him, which means he has to endure a very painful process to get his special abilities taken away from him. I’m not sure how Tate is going to be afterwards, since he defined himself and his worth by his gift (remember, his clan worshipped him). Anyways, MK now believes the Master is lying to all of them and is scared of them. One could make the comparison of the Master’s deceit to the Ancient One’s deceit in Doctor Strange. However, the Master also has the same powers, so I don’t know why MK thinks the Master is afraid of them. Also, the Master has been trying to teach MK how to control his powers; the only reason she stopped the lessons is because he’d kill himself inside his own mind. Just because MK’s not strong enough yet doesn’t mean that the Master’s lying to him. Now, I would like to see the Master give an explanation for this “cleansing” stuff, though, since some stuff is starting to look suspect. But I don’t think the Master is being deceitful, unlike the Ancient One, who was totally deceitful in a major way.
Back in the Badlands, Veil is still taking care of Quinn, much to our confusion, until we see that she’s been lying to him the whole time. While she keeps showing him a healthy X-ray, his tumor is actually getting bigger every passing day. She’s just waiting for him to die. That’s a good plan, but it’d be an even better plan if she burned those doggone X-rays, because I don’t want her to lose Quinn’s trust, seeing how that’s the only thing keeping both her and Henry alive right now. Keeping those things in an unlocked drawer isn’t good enough, even if it is in a specialized X-ray development room.
Quinn’s still being Quinn, but he’s also…changing? I’m not saying he’s the bee’s knees all of a sudden, but if he were the same Quinn we knew from the past season, he would have killed that guy who tried to escape. However, as a parallel to the monks who used violent means to control their underlings, Quinn actually gives this dude another chance. Of course, it wasn’t without some violence, since Quinn challenged the dude to cut him to prove his mettle. But the guy is still alive to tell the tale, and that’s more than we can say for the guy last week, who got stabbed through the eye for eyeing Veil.
Finally, The Widow is preparing for her showdown with the other Barons. Talking and being charming isn’t her strongest suit; she’s much more experienced in convincing people through her actions. But she has decided to take Waldo, not Tilda, as her second, despite Tilda being Regent. Perhaps it’s because Waldo is adept in talking politics; he helped Sunny in much the same way while still with Quinn, but his political mind can be put to much better use with The Widow, who does heed his counsel in a different way than Sunny did. (In some ways, Sunny’s a bit of a meathead, whereas The Widow uses her cunning and wit in, well, a more womanly–read: highly intelligent–fashion.)
The show ends right when we’re about to see this conference of sorts convene at Ryder and Jade’s residence. It’s supposed to be all talk, but we all know there’s not going to be much talking once someone gets offended.
• Is Jade a gold-digger or not? Ryder was her first love, and it’s not like she could turn down Quinn and think she could live afterwards. But something about her still seems…slimy? I don’t know. Maybe it’s because of how easily she was able to disgrace Lydia. But, again, she also had to do what she needed to to survive. So…IDK. Old-school Kanye once again comes in handy to explain situations, because I’m not saying Jade’s a gold-digger, but she ain’t messing with no broke….baron.
• Speaking of the upcoming barons, the next episode is going to be the one in which we meet Baroness Chau (Eleanor Matsuura) and Baron Hassan (Alan Wai). This is the second Asian female character we’ll have on the show, with Chipo Chung’s Master being the first (as well as the first black female warrior we’ve seen).
One thing that’s highly ironic about the show is that while it is intensely diverse, it’s severely lacked in Asian women. Perhaps this is from an overzealousness to right the wrongs black women characters have suffered in all forms of media (not to beat a dead horse, but again, I direct you to Wu’s anger towards the ending of Romeo Must Die). Perhaps it’s also from an overzealousness to portray white women as more than just stereotypical white privilege damsels, something the show does to varying degrees, depending on if you’re referring to a character like Jade, who still exists in that white privilege-plantation wife mode, or The Widow and Tilda, who never identified with such markers, or Lydia, who is now somewhere in between now that she’s been stripped of her plantation wife status.
Whatever the reason, the problem of a lack of Asian women in this world still remains. So, it’s good to see Chau come in this episode. Let’s hope we don’t see the last of her in this episode as well.
• Both Chau and Hassan are our first Asian barons, which opens up the world nicely to that barons don’t have to just be white. One of the things I liked about the first season was that it answered my question about if white folks were the only ones who could be barons, harkening back to America’s slavery past. For most of the season, it seemed that answer was “Yes,” until Jacobee came along. But even then, it seemed like a twist on a slavery past, in a similar vein to how Sunny and Veil are righting the wrongs of Jet Li and Aaliyah’s relationship in Romeo Must Die, it seemed like the writing was attempting to show us what a black man with power equal to that of a plantation owner could look like. It was an interesting mental exercise, to be sure, one that I wished lasted longer. Jacobee certainly could have stood to have more time on screen. Now, with Chau and Hassan, the picture is being painted even more clearly that anyone can become a baron, as long as you know how to fight for what you want.
(By the way, those two photos are from next week’s episode. Technically, you’re probably not supposed to show photos from upcoming episodes in a recap for the current episode, but who cares? I’m doing it.)
• The set photographer’s field day: Into the Badlands is, of course, a show with some very gorgeous action scenes. But it’s also just a gorgeous show in general, so much so that set photographer Antony Platt had a field day just taking artistic photos of the actors, the Irish setting, and anything else Platt thought was worthy of a photo click. Just take a look at some of the photos that will certainly go in Platt’s photography portfolio.
At the risk of sounding like an elitist art school graduate, I don’t know if this gallery means much to non-artists, aside from the fact that you get more shots of the episode in this recap than you bargained for. But if you take a look at all of the press photos for this episode as well as the upcoming one, you can see the Platt is taking full advantage of his various subject matter and is acting like a kid in a candy store with these angles, compositions, portraits, and straight-up landscape shots that really have no purpose for a recapper, but all of the meaning for someone interested in photography and fine art in general.
The nail in the coffin regarding Platt having tons of fun being an artist on set is that the particular profile shot I used of Sunny in this recap is a duplicate–he took a second photo from the horizontal orientation, while the one I used is from the vertical. If I’m reading Platt right, he decided to go vertical because he’d get more of Daniel Wu’s body, which in turn gives more weight and pathos to the overall portrait. Also, he took advantage of the increased red-orange light, which is less strong on the horizontal picture. The horizontal one (the one I used for the featured image on the front page) gets the job done, but the vertical one has more subtle artistic touches.
Okay, art class over. Keep up the good work Platt, and keep that portfolio full.
That’s about it on this recap. What did you think of the episode? Give your opinions in the comments section below!
Riverdale Season 1 | Episode 8 | “The Outsiders” | Aired March 30, 2017
Yes, this is how I feel right now about Riverdale, and all of that got bottled up and compacted into this particular episode. Yes, Polly had her baby shower, she’s moved in with the Blossoms, Archie and Betty found out that Jughead’s dad is a Serpent, Kevin’s Serpent boyfriend Joaquin is having second thoughts about deceiving him, etc., etc. Now, let’s get to what really needs to be discussed: JUST WHERE IS THIS SHOW HEADING?!
I feel like this show is treating us like how Lisle Von Rhuman treated Madeline Ashton in Death Becomes Her. Riverdale is teasing us with a show beyond our wildest imaginations–inclusion, diversity, a fresh take on Archie and the gang, etc.–and it gives us what we think we want. But then, it comes back to us and says, “Now, a warning.” To which we say, like Madeline, “NOW a warning?!” For us, that warning would have been that the show would begin to lose its way and forget what made its characters great and, indeed, avatars for those who didn’t feel included in their everyday lives.
First of all, I feel like, and have always felt like, Riverdale has the potential to be amazing. There’s so much raw stuff inherent in the Archie Comics canon and it’s so frustrating to see how little the show is using what it could use. Instead, it’s pulling from every kind of pop culture reference from the past 30 years to show it’s “smart” and “edgy” and “hip.” And yet, it still comes off as dated and try-hard.
I think Emily Nussbaum hit the nail on the head in her review of the show for The New Yorker, “Archie’s and Veronica’s Misconceived Return to Riverdale,” in which she eviscerates the show for the reasons presented above. To quote her:
“…[S]even episodes in, it’s devolved into dull cosplay bracketed by bogus profundity. Betty and Veronica don kink-wear and roofie Chuck Clayton, a slut-shaming football player. The girls’ tart-tongued gay bestie, Kevin (a character from the new version of the comic strip), seduces a bi-curious Moose. Archie, when not working out shirtless, pursues a songwriting career. “Your songs,” a critical music professor sneers at him. “They’re juvenile. They’re repetitive.” That’s true of ‘Riverdale,’ too, but the show clearly knows it and doesn’t care. Every time a plot feels corny or prurient or preachy, there’s an acknowledgment in the dialogue. It gets exhausting, like hanging out with someone who keeps saying, ‘God, I’m such a nightmare!'”
It’s like the show desperately wants to prove that it’s new and fresh. “This isn’t your mom’s Archie!” is what it wants to say. But it’s consistently showing that it’s a a show that doesn’t realize that teenagers, in general, don’t talk in decades-old references, which makes it seem like this is a show actually for older Archie fans who recognize all of these references from their own childhoods. As Nussbaum said, the show brings up Lolita, Rebel without a Cause, Wild Things, Gossip Girl, Beverly Hills 90210, Pretty in Pink, Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill, and plenty of others they off-handedly mention in snarky asides. Like, what do you actually want to be, show! Are you for the young kids or are you for 30-year-olds? Make up your mind!
I have been growing frustrated by the plot becoming a spinning-of-the-wheels type situation. Jason’s killer is no closer to being found, and clues seem to keep simultaneously popping up and disappearing at the same doggone time. At this point, I’m not sure if I’ll even be shocked when I find out who the killer is because I’m just so bored with the whole procedural element. Again with the references, with the murder mystery itself, the show is trying to be Twin Peaks, another reference for someone much older than the target audience. But, if the show is trying to pull a Twin Peaks-ian surrealist-fest, then when are we actually going to get into the surrealism? Again, Archie Comics has tons of surrealist moments, and that’s not even counting the amount of side-universes they have. Surrealism could come in the form of simply introducing Sabrina, a teen witch who often wants to use her powers for good, but usually ends up messing things up and has to right everything back to how it was. Sabrina could come into town, learn about the murder mystery and, after becoming friends with Cheryl and learning of her sadness, reverse time so that Jason is still alive. That could also be a good opportunity to introduce Afterlife with Archie at this moment, since Jason would be, in a way, undead. There’s your second season.
Or, the show could become a true deconstruction of the idea of classic Americana, something it was billed as being but hasn’t truly delivered on yet. Instead of having Jughead tell us that’s what the show is every week in his voice overs, we could actually see some depth of character and real explorations of race, class, gender, sexuality, and anything else that could use a thorough prodding. I’d say that if Riverdale wanted to take notes from a show doing that right now, it’d be Atlanta. This show, like Riverdale, uses the backdrop of a well-known city to explore the underpinnings of American society and culture, and it does so in a specific, tailored way. It doesn’t have to prove to the audience that it’s “edgy”–it shows its edginess in each episode by delivering on its synopsis each week.
If any place needed a deconstruction, it would be a fictional town like Riverdale, which has stood as a the center for clean-cut “American” life, which usually means white life. With much of the cast race-bent, this would have been a great opportunity to see just how destructive and soul-wrenching it can be to live in a town in which you’re the minority (which, in turn, provides context for the larger conversation about living in a country which still harbors racism against you). We could see how some folks in the football stands might be surprised to see Reggie as the captain of the team. Or, there could be some townspeople who resent that Mayor McCoy won over the white candidate (something the character actually brings up in an episode). Or, we could get more insight into the life of Moose, who doesn’t yet have the courage to live his life as an out gay young man due to fear, pressure to be “manly” or what have you. We definitely could have used Chuck, Josie, and Trev to explore life for black kids in a majority-white town.
I write about this in my piece for Ebony, “Riverdale’s Woke Report Card: Does the Drama Get Its Black Characters Right?”. I give the show a passing grade, ultimately, but I still write about how the show really needs to do better by its black characters.
“Out of the Pussycats, Josie is the one who has been given the most screen time; Valerie has only just now started coming up the ranks, but only because of her relationship with Archie. Meanwhile, Melody still hasn’t spoken more than two words during the run of the series and Pop Tate and Mr. Weatherbee may have been racebent, but they also don’t say much either—and in the case of Pop Tate specifically, nothing at all. Pop Tate is a conundrum; even though it’s great to see more representation on screen, it’s also puzzling as to why he has to be characterized as a silent, kindly butler of sorts, even though he’s the owner of the teen hangout, The Chocklit Shoppe. Basically, Riverdale’s Pop Tate reminds me too much of Uncle Ben, and I don’t like it.”
The show proved my point once again by making Valerie merely a sounding board for Archie this episode. She had three lines, and not one of them was about her point of view or her opinion on the matter of Archie’s dad being driven to near bankruptcy. Instead, her lines were there just so Archie could say he was going to go after the Serpents, as well as to give the appearance that they’re in a loving, stable relationship (which we see in the previews for next week that that might not be the case after all). The next time we see Valerie, she and Melody are at Polly’s baby shower, saying nothing.
If the show wants to be actually inclusive, the least it could do is not make its brown and black characters set dressing or talking props. The most it could do is not create a problematic plotpoint of a black boy in handcuffs at the mercy of a white girl who is acting out a revenge fantasy.
Also for diversity, the show could do well to actually eliminate Bughead and reinstate Jughead as an aromatic, asexual boy, since that’s what he actually is.
Comics Alliance’s Andrew Wheeler wrote “Jughead, Bughead, and the Need for Asexual & Aromantic Heroes in Comics” to point out just how demoralizing Riverdale‘s asexual erasure is (and how it flies in the face of their “inclusion” standpoint).
Wheeler interviewed colorist Sigi Ironmonger (a grey-asexual nonbinary trans-man); webcomic creator Sarah “Neila” Elkins, (romantic asexual), webcomic creator Jayelle Anderson (demisexual) and literature student LuciAce (aroace) about their opinions on Jughead in the comics and in Riverdale. They mentioned how important it is to have asexual representation in the media, especially for young kids still figuring out who they are. As Elkins said:
“To me it’s important because, growing up, I didn’t know it was a possibility to be asexual. I thought there was something wrong with me that I wasn’t interested in the idea of having sex like other girls my age. Friends called me a ‘prude.’ These were good friends of mine, friends who were also queer, that didn’t know that asexuality is a queer identity. Even among the ‘weird kids’ I was the odd one out.
I think if there was more representation (or any) of asexual and aromantic characters in comics as well as other books aimed at young readers, and other media, that my friends, and myself, would have known I wasn’t broken or weird. I didn’t learn about asexuality as an orientation until I was out of college. I stumbled across it online and thought, “Oh, wow! That’s what I am! This makes so much sense!” I don’t want anyone else to have to go through that, so I write asexual characters in my stuff. I hope to write something in the future, be it a comic or a novel, that’s aimed at younger readers.”
They also discussed how disheartening it was to see Jughead and Betty actually become an item, erasing the canonical asexuality the character had before (and, as far as I’m concerned, has always had). To quote Ironmonger, Elkins, Anderson and LuciAce:
Ironmonger: “Honestly, as soon as I heard about the erasure, I’ve steered clear of the show, so I can’t speak of the storyline at all. I don’t watch a lot of TV as it is and I don’t feel like prioritizing something like that, you know? I don’t really understand a decision like that and I can’t stand shoe-horned relationships of any kind but especially at the expense of LGBTQ+ ones.”
Elkins: “I really had my hopes up about that show before it came out. I was so hopeful I know I dismissed friends who said “you know they’re just gonna screw it up, right?” My friends were right. They announced online that Jughead in Riverdale “wouldn’t be asexual” and that he’d “totally want sex” or something like that. It deflated the big hope balloon I had clung onto that we’d finally have some representation on TV in a show aimed at younger viewers. It was crushing. I can’t even bring myself to look at the commercials for the show. Each time I hear the music for them I mute the TV or change the channel.”
Anderson: “Getting rid of this trait in Jughead for the television show just perpetuates the cycle of normalizing often hypersexual behavior that doesn’t fit everyone’s life. Sometimes young people’s only role model are the characters they see on television, so it is important to show that asexuality is a thing, too.”
LuciAce: “I’m really angry about the way they’re handling things. Having aroace representation on TV would have been huge, and instead, they… made him straight? Because apparently there aren’t enough allo straight characters on TV yet. I’ve never seen a character like myself on TV, and I would have been a die-hard fan of the show if they’d kept Jughead aroace and touch-averse like he is in the comics. As it is, the show just makes me furious and sad.”
The show seems to have an understanding of just how offensive Betty and Jughead as an item are, which seems evident in how they are doubling-down on shoving it down our throats (or so it seems, since the episodes have been filmed months before now). Having Jughead and Betty kiss in almost every scene seems and feels unnatural, just like how it felt unnatural when writers would try to give Jughead an interest in girls in certain comic book issues. Jughead’s characterization just isn’t one in which he’s a guy who is interested in the opposite or same sex like that, and that’s perfectly fine and normal. However, the show’s insistence on making him straight and sexual feels like a very 20th century thing to do. If we’re in an age where Kevin Keller can be proudly out as a gay teen, then we should also be in the age where Jughead can be proudly out an asexual aromantic teen. Teens in general, regardless of sexuality, shouldn’t be made to feel like they have to be in a relationship to be normal.
The last grievance I have is about that twist of a plotpoint with Hal Cooper, who apparently forced Alice Cooper to have an abortion. ¿¿Qué??
Why, what when and where did this plotpoint have to come up? Why have we had such little to show for Hal’s characterization until now? I know we had that part where he told Betty that Polly was with the Sisters for whatever dire reason they have, but I wish we had gotten the sense that Hal was a total abusive husband way before now. If that had been built up from the very beginning, that would have been really interesting and it would have given us more reason to try to understand Alice until this very episode. We would already know why she acted like someone driven to desperation–it’s because she’s been brainwashed by her husband’s fruitless demand for perfection from his family.
I guess what I’m getting at ultimately with this point is that for this to be a dramatic show about a murder, there are literally no dramatic stakes coming out of these characters. Yeah, we get it every once and a while, like with Jughead confronting his father and still trying to find some hope in his heart for him, and Cheryl coming to grips with her brother’s death. But the show is quickly losing the plot of both what it wants to say and who these characters are. The reason we have connected with these characters for 50+ years is because of their relatable cores. We all know some hapless goof like Archie, who is a great friend, but is endearingly clumsy (and sometimes emotionally tacky) all other areas of his life. We know someone like Jughead, who is so cool and interesting, yet they’re so enigmatic, you feel you know nothing about them. Veronica is definitely that person that many of us wish we could be–cool, rich, and a boy magnet–while Betty is who we feel we are at the present moment–the girl or boy next door, nice, loyal, but just “regular.” Their strengths and flaws are what make them so much fun, and either you see yourself or you see your best version of yourself in these characters. Right now, I’m not seeing anyone I relate to anymore. I was seeing it at the beginning of Riverdale, but now, as Nussbaum points out, all we’re getting is some great cosplay without the real commitment.
I’ll say that the only person in the main cast who feels like they are with their character in spirit is Cole Sprouse. Not too many of the main cast have read the comic books back to front, but Sprouse has said in many interviews how he studied his source material and, in so many words, came in with a gameplan as to how to approach Jughead from a position that would remain true to the character. However, the show itself is limiting him from actually playing Jughead the way he truly wants to play Jughead, I feel. While the powers that be want Jughead to be a sexual being, Sprouse has been advocating for Jughead to be canonically asexual, as he is in the comics. However, the powers that be aren’t hearing him, and it’s a shame, since not listening to the actor who knows the character is what could actually make this show a whole lot better and definitely a whole lot more interesting.
In short, I hope the show quits trying to prove that “It Goes There” like Degrassi and actually goes there. If this is going to be a teen murder mystery, then by all means, up the murder, up the mystery, and definitely up the characterizations, plots, and respect for the differences in others.