Kevin Keller’s spring awakening has finally arrived on Riverdale and it’s about freakin’ time. Since the show’s inception, LGBTQ+ fans have grumbled online about Kevin being sidelined; a complaint triggered by his status in the pilot as a delightfully sassy but decidedly one-dimensional, one-liner machine. His sexuality was apparent and he had a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it flirtation with Moose (more on that in a bit), but his character’s purpose at the time was mostly to deliver the show’s hook: “Archie got hot.”
Even when Riverdale gave Kevin his very own Romeo from the wrong side of the tracks, Southside Serpent Joaquin, the relationship fell apart as quickly as it started. (RIP Joavin.) Then last week in episode three of the show’s second season, Riverdale finally gave Kevin a queer storyline complex enough to live up to his status as the first gay character in the Archie universe.
“Chapter Sixteen: The Watcher in the Woods” opens with Kevin (played by actor Casey Cott) jogging through Fox Forest on the prowl for boys. As per usual, the scene is padded with exactly no subtlety—Kevin finds himself another tank-topped twink to make out with as Jughead muses about fairytales in his voiceover.
If this were another teen soap, a cruising storyline would feel alarmingly dated, but in Riverdale’s “pale pink world of milkshakes and first kisses” (thanks for that gem, Kevin), it actually feels fitting to have Kevin channel the loneliness and lust of being one of the very few out boys in his small town into a sexual pursuit that dominated queer life in more repressive times.
Though the show is toeing the line of queer stereotypes by having its sole gay character be the only teen in Riverdale to experiment with dangerous sex it drives home a salient point: the sex available to young gay men—and especially to young gay men in small towns—comes with a set of risks that just don’t apply to their hetero friends. So when Betty won’t drop her crusade against Kevin’s cruising, her inability to empathize feels misguided and ignorant.
Their fight highlights the limitations of the straight girl-gay guy BFFship: despite the omnipresence of the Bettys in our lives, there are parts of the queer experience that are impossible to grasp unless you’ve lived them.
When Betty catches Kevin in the woods and tells him she wants him to have more respect for himself, it’s both infuriating and heartbreaking. Betty’s besties with Kevin, but she can’t see far enough past her hetero worldview to understand the situation he’s in.
That scene shows Riverdale’s potential to ground its outlandishly soapy impulses with moments of teendom that ring true. Because, yes, Betty is right. In our neo-noir world of ridiculousness, there’s a moral crusader serial killer on the loose and not wandering through the woods looking for anonymous gay sex is a totally reasonable ask of a friend. But amidst all that, Betty’s temporary breakup with Kevin finally does something Riverdale has been failing at: showing what it feels like to be Kevin Keller in its world.
With Casey Cott bumped up to series regular this season, there’s hopefully a lot more Kevin on the way. And hopefully a little more Moose, too. As the show gave Kevin some shine last week, it also returned to the towering jock, fifteen episodes after we discovered a hint of romance between them. In Chapter Sixteen, we learn Moose has valid feelings towards both Kevin and Midge, suggesting we may get something more interesting than a new gay Riverdale resident: a teenage boy who’s not queer, but questioning.
Now these are fairytales worth paying attention to.