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Riverdale Recap: The Big Problem With Toni Topaz

Warning: Spoilers for Riverdale season two, episode six, “Death Proof,” are ahead.

“In Riverdale everyone wears a mask, not just the black hood. But every so often the mask slips and our true selves are laid bare for all the world to see. Xoxo, Jughead.” Just kidding, he didn’t really say that last part. But this week’s narration is definitely on point. Of course we’ve got the Black Hood who wears a literal mask, but we also have Betty Cooper, whose righteous persona we saw slip under last week’s pressure from BH when she calmly delivered Nick St. Clair on a plate. Now, we have the mysterious Sugar Man, the drug dealer providing the Ghoulies with Jingle Jangle and the Black Hood’s next target.

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I’m going to cut right to the chase. This episode is pretty much an extension of last week’s, meant to wrap up the various plot points and bring our most crucial relationships back together. As it goes, Betty comes clean with Veronica and Jughead, Archie has to work with Jug to stop the Serpents from joining the evil Ghoulies’ drug trade, and Betty is sent on a quest from the Black Hood to identify the name of a drug dealer called the Sugar Man… with the help of Veronica and Cheryl. In the middle, we’ve got a ridiculous drag race, our kids are busted for their Jingle Jangle party, and Nick St. Clair gets what’s coming to him. But there’s also a more serious topic I’d like to address, so let’s get started:

Nick St. Clair pays for his crime, but not the way you think.

After giving Nick’s name to the Black Hood, Betty immediately rushes to the Five Seasons to warn him and his family. It turns out, he’s fine. BH says he’s not one of “Riverdale’s sons,” but he was happy to see the “real Betty Cooper.” Cool cool cool. But even though Hiram and Hermione call the cops on Nick, he looks like he might get off completely scot free, because Penelope Blossom does not believe her daughter and tells everyone to keep it quiet, which is very upsetting. Luckily, Veronica ends up telling her parents about what he tried to do to her the night before his incident with Cheryl. They are… less than pleased. We learn at the end of the episode that the St. Clairs’ car was run off the road and Nick will be in recovery for months. As Veronica says, “Oh well. Karma’s a bitch.”

Reggie (Charles Melton) can make this face at me any day.

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Honestly forget Bughead, give me Rosie.

Alice Cooper calls all the kids and parents to address the “motley crew of liars, dope fiends, and fornicators” that attended Nick St. Clair’s party. For some reason, Reggie readily admits that he provided the jingle jangle. Even though Sheriff Keller is there, he won’t be arrested as long as he tells them where he got the drugs. It turns out he has a South Side contact. Mayor McCoy promises to bring down the South Side even if she has to arrest every teen at South Side High (which seems excessive but OK) and the rest of the kids are forced to pick up trash in a random, needle-infested park…

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Which is where we get the next hints of romance between Reggie and Josie, mainly consisting of flirty banter like “I get you’re pretty much Beyoncé, but today you’re just like us commoners.” I’m still so here for it. If my twitter exchange with actress Ashleigh Murray is anything to go by, so is she:

Kids without driver’s licenses win a drag race.

Archie knows Mayor McCoy will make good on her promise to take down the South Side and manages to grab Jughead from school right before she and Keller raid the campus, arresting everyone they can catch.

Apparently, this means war and the Serpents, led by Tallboy, decide to join forces with the Ghoulies. So Archie and Jughead go to consult with FP (behind prison glass, of course.)

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FP Jones (Skeet Ulrich)

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One question: why didn’t they do this BEFORE Jughead decided joining the Serpents was the only way to keep the peace?

Anyway, FP gives this helpful piece of advice, “If there’s one thing Ghoulies love it’s there crazy, souped up retro cars and hearses. You catch my Riverdale drift boys?” (They didn’t.) FP tells them to challenge the Ghoulies for complete control of the South Side. This seems like a horrible idea. Sure, let’s throw a couple of teenagers who have never taken a driver’s ed course into a race against the crew who apparently does this for fun!

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It did give us a good excuse to see mechanic Betty at work again (my favorite Betty), where she tells Jughead that she never meant to hurt him and promises to tell him everything. She also throws this shade at Reggie, who’s letting Jughead use his car, for seemingly no reason, “His car’s a lot like him, it’s beautiful to look at but not much going on under the hood.” Rude.

Cut to the drag race and it’s pretty much the tractor chicken scene from Footloose and I have no idea how to feel about it. Cheryl gets the Fast & Furious flag girl moment she was born for and Jughead and Archie face off against two Ghoulies in a gorgeous car. Little did we know, Archie had tipped off the cops, so when it’s time to go over the bridge, he pulls over their car and let’s the Ghoulies take the fall. Of course, Jughead is furious. Apparently they won (how can you win a race that wasn’t finished?), but he’s sure the Ghoulies will eventually retaliate. Yeah, no shit.

But all’s well that ends well, because Betty is able to come clean to Jughead after and they’re back to curling up together on the couch, ignoring each other in favor of their laptops. That’s my kind of romance.

“I was born for this moment.”–Cheryl Blossom (Madelaine Petsch)

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Betty gets by with a little help from her friends.

Meanwhile, Betty of course has her own separate plot-line this episode. She ends up forced into another Black Hood game: find the identity of the drug dealing Sugar Man. If she fails, the Black Hood will start killing again. She finds Sheriff Keller at Pop’s and asks if he’s heard the name. Keller says it was Clifford Blossom…who’s dead. Veronica is alone at Pop’s for some reason and Betty decides to come clean over milkshakes.

All is immediately well between the friends (I mean, V’s life was threatened by a maniac serial killer, I’d cut Betty a break too), and V promises to help B find the mystery dealer.

Betty asks Cheryl if any of her father’s associates might be called the Sugar Man and Cheryl reveals that her mom used to tell her and Jason stories about a man who would steal them away if they were bad, but it was just a story. Betty and Veronica then try to purchase jingle jangle from a Ghoulie and follow them to their headquarters. That… doesn’t pan out.

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Luckily, at the last possible minute, Cheryl (whose daddy count is up to 6) and Penelope have a heart to heart and she gives Cheryl the name of the Sugar Man.

Surprise, the Sugar Man is Robert Phillips, the nice South Side teacher who chastized Jughead for joining the Serpents and denounced drugs… It looks like Jughead is right, everyone wears a mask. To be honest, none of this makes sense to me. Why does Cheryl care so much about this random drug dealer? Does she want Betty to like her that much? She pretty much allows her mom to take hush money from her would-be rapist in exchange for the name (even though Penelope rightfully throws the check into the flames afterwards). Maybe she’s connected to the Black Hood and that’s why she wants to help Betty complete her quest.

And the hunter becomes the hunted…

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The Black Hood is back.

When Betty tries to outmaneuver the Black Hood by getting Phillips arrested instead of giving his name to BH, she tells him:

“It’s my game now. A game that ends with me catching you. I found who killed Jason Blossom, I found out who the Sugar Man was. You’re next, Black Hood. I’m breathing down your neck. Can you feel it? Can you feel me?

A little creepy, but effective… or so we think. It turns out BH might have connections at the police station (score one for those who think Sheriff Keller is the killer) and he shows up outside the man’s cell with a gun. A shot goes off. Someone in the Riverdale writers’ room does not like teachers.

I have a concern about Toni Topaz.

After we see that Toni stayed the night at Jug’s trailer (wearing nothing but one of his t-shirts), the two grab breakfast and Toni puts an end to whatever was brewing between the two, presumably to leave room for Betty and Jughead to rekindle by the end of the episode. And let’s be honest, it wasn’t Jughead who seemed to regret what happened between them.

Jughead: Last night was–
Toni: A PG-13 grope session?
Jughead: Oof, way to knock a guy down a peg.
Toni: Look, cards on the table: you’re not over Betty. And I’m not interested in being anyone’s rebound. And besides, I’m more into girls anyways.

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We’ve known since Toni’s role was announced that she’d be bisexual, a reveal that many fans were thrilled about, considering significant bi-erasure in media and lack of representation. She’s also a woman of color, a departure from the all-too common thread of LGBTQ characters on television being portrayed as white and male. So what’s my problem?

This conversation seems to confirm my theory (that I’ve written about in previous recaps) that Toni’s interest in Jughead was deceptive. She wasn’t trying to get in between him and Betty out of pure desire, but to bring him further into the Serpent fold. And now that he’s a full-fledged member and broken up from Betty (at the time), she doesn’t need to push things any further.

There’s an unfortunate history of bi characters’ sexuality being used to manipulate and deceive. Think Catherine Tramell in Basic Instinct or Tyrell Wellick in Mr. Robot. Instead of a preference, Toni Topaz’s sexuality becomes a tool. She used Jughead, and has been coded as an adversary by viewers for attempting to separate the show’s largest ship. Plus by having Toni Topaz say, “I’m more into girls anyway,” Riverdale runs the risk of representing its bi character as simply unable to admit that she’s gay, another unfortunate form of bi erasure that’s a pattern in film and television. I hope there’s more to her story. It’s only been 6 episodes, and there is still plenty of time to prove me wrong.

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