Discover more from Yes, We're Still Watching
Subverting the Love Triangle
The core four Riverdale characters falling in love then going their separate ways is the most realistic part of that show
Warning: Riverdale finale spoilers!
When I was a kid, there were two things I would spend my hard-earned money on: $1.99 episodes of shows like The Suite Life of Zack and Cody and That’s So Raven on iTunes, and Archie comics.
I’d pour over those books, the corners of the pages becoming frail and crowded with indentations as I flipped through them, dog-eared, set the comics down and started over. I didn’t have Disney or Nickelodeon (hence me spending a disgusting amount of money to watch, on a teeny tiny iPod, only the few episodes from those channels a fifth grader can afford), but I had Betty and Veronica, and less importantly, Archie, Jughead and Reggie. Sometimes Sabrina the teenage witch would show up, or Josie and the Pussycats. And that was all well and good, but there was really only one reason I read the comics: The sexy, fun, extremely frustrating love triangle between Archie, Veronica and Betty.
Inspired by the Andy Hardy films of the 1930s, the character of Archibald (Archie) Andrews made his first appearance in the 1940s. He’s technically the main character of the comics, and I say technically because I never once cared about what happened to him. The stories revolve around him navigating teenage life alongside his best friend, Jughead Jones — who is constantly focused on scarfing down burgers at the local soda shop Pop’s — and amid a rivalry with smart ass Reggie Mantle. But what I really tuned in for was Archie’s romantic mess with his neighbor Betty Cooper, both a literal and figurative “girl next door,” and Veronica Lodge, gorgeous-and-she-knows-it rich girl in town. To me, those two frenemies are the real stars.
At bookstores, I would quickly skip by the Archie digests, digging for any books that focused on Betty and Veronica. And as I’ve written before, we use entertainment as a way to put ourselves into buckets and simplify the process of figuring out who we are: I wanted to be Veronica, who was unpredictable and beautiful, but I feared I was Betty, who was overlooked and followed the rules. It was pretty evident — at least to me — that Archie was way more into Veronica. Who wouldn’t be? But in addition to using the trope simply to learn more about myself, I loved it for the tension. I was excited to pick up an issue and discover who Archie would take out for an ice cream cone that day, or who he’d stress over buying a gift for. It also breathed life into the two girls’ friendship; they’d fight over the same boy, but they would always come back to one another, bickering and teasing, but loving, too.
The comics have changed throughout the years, but I always stuck to the originals, probably as a sense of comfort: I was growing up and changing, but these characters never would.
Until the CW got a hold of them, that is. In 2017, when the network put out a dark re-imagining of the Archie comics, I was intrigued. I was also going through the phase that everyone who has had the unfortunate experience of being attracted to a man has gone through which is called “having a crush on one of the Sprouse twins.”
The first season started as a Twin Peaks-like mystery thanks to the murder of popular girl Cheryl Blossom’s brother Jason. They teased Betty and Veronica’s jealous feud over Archie, but abandoned it pretty quickly in lieu of giving all the characters personalities that would make for good TV. Jughead, for example, was a writer, narrating the show in what I’m sure he thought were impressive prose, instead of having his whole personality be based on the fact that he liked to eat. Over time, Riverdale went completely wacky-kooky, and became a bit of a punching bag for the internet thanks to lines like, “That means you haven’t known the triumphs and defeats, the epic highs and lows of high school football.” (Note that Archie said this to a man who had just told him he had to drop out of school in the fourth grade to run drugs to support his grandmother.) Unfortunately every time for the rest of my life that someone says the word “weird,” I’m going to picture Cole Sprouse as Jughead saying, “I’m a weirdo. I don’t fit in and I don’t want to fit in.” Now that my crush has faded and we are post-Cole’s Call Her Daddy interview, this is cruel and unusual punishment.
But from the beginning, Riverdale undermined the reason I loved following Archie and his friends in the first place: the love triangle. The subversion of the classic trope was most obvious by the inclusion of Jughead, whose relationship with Betty became a fan favorite (dubbed Bughead). Then a new favorite couple replaced them when Betty and Archie went from friends to lovers (Barchie). Some viewers loved Varchie, too, and even Vughead.
There’s been a lot written about Jughead’s role in all this, mostly because Jughead had absolutely no interest in anyone in the comics. He spent many pages running from Ethel Muggs, a side character who was infatuated with him. But in 2016, the comics (which yes, are still coming out with new issues) gave confirmation to what many had long believed: Jughead is asexual. When just a few months later it was revealed that Jughead would be entangled in a heterosexual relationship on the show, many Archie comic fans and the asexual community were not pleased. But the writers ran with it, and Jughead’s romantic life became a major plot line.
The inclusion of Jughead turned the triangle, the crux of the comics, into a square, and while the reason for straying so far from the original text may not be clear, I do think it added to the show’s popularity. Perhaps the CW knew that many viewers were watching for Cole Sprouse (again, it was a different time) and making him an appealing, romantic lead would hook them. But it also allowed for the women to have more agency; the choice of who to lust after was no longer just up to Archie and that made for much more interesting female leads. Betty in the comics hardly strayed from the nice-girl archetype. Archie could choose her when he wanted, and Veronica could push her around. But in Riverdale, Betty quickly became a fan favorite as an investigative reporter for the school newspaper, teaming up with Jughead to constantly get to the truth and save her friends. Sometimes she chose Jughead, sometimes Archie, and often herself — a decision cartoon Betty was never given. Veronica’s character gained nuance with the subverted love triangle, too. Without all her energy on maintaining her pull on Archie, her character could focus on a rivalry with Cheryl, taking down her father and often being a really good friend.
The decision to ditch the triangle for this more complicated situation had me torn. A love triangle is exciting for a young person figuring out who they are, and I had read the comics during my early years. If a woman was up against another woman, as is the case in the Archie comics, I’d choose one to align with — one that probably didn’t actually reflect who I actually was. But if the woman was the object of two men’s affections, even better. In that case, I could imagine myself as the main character, an object of affection for not one but two people, and the one who gets to pick between them instead of waiting to be chosen. I did my seventh grade book report on The Vampire Diaries so you know I loved the Elena-Stefan-Damon drama from the beginning. I also dated a Jacob in high school, so when someone innocently wrote “Team Jacob” on my Formspring during the Twilight era, I did unfortunately make it my entire personality for a month.
As I’ve aged, I still love the triangle trope — even if it sometimes (often) plays into pretty misogynistic ideas. Someone please do some scientific research on the hold that The Summer I Turned Pretty, a show about a teenager hung up on two brothers she spends summers with, has on me and my many friends who are almost 30. And tell me why I was so emotionally invested in who Devi (yet another high schooler) would end up with at the end of Never Have I Ever. Or why I suffered such gut-wrenching whiplash watching Jane navigate Rafael versus Michael in Jane the Virgin. The list goes on…
But looking back, I think subversion was the right choice. We’re tired of the classic tale of two women fighting over a man — maybe it’s why we’re seeing more of two men and a woman (The Summer I Turned Pretty, for example). And hopefully we’ll get to see more interesting, less heteronormative versions of this trope on screen.
Despite the writers adding a lot more mystery to the plot than just who Archie would end up with, the Bughead/Barchie/Varchie shippers are fierce — and so the writers had to tie up loose ends. There have been supposed “endings” in the comics, like when Archie proposed to Veronica in an issue in 2009, but they are comics, which means they’re somewhat never ending. There are various universes, and ones with different conclusions. (This is MY Marvel Cinematic Universe.) All that being said, I was excited to see who Riverdale would pick as Archie’s ending.
The writers were, however, not excited to pick between Betty and Veronica. Instead, they concluded the series with a quad relationship: Archie, Veronica, Betty and Jughead had all been together throughout their entire senior year, before all splitting up. The decision was absolutely roasted by the internet, and criticized by the executive director of OPEN (Organization for Polyamory and Ethical Non-monogamy), who told TMZ, “It’s frustrating that Riverdale used its characters' non-monogamous relationship as a 'shocking twist' rather than engaging with an authentic portrayal of non-monogamy as simply being part of people's identities."
But some fans say the ending made perfect sense for a show that was completely unpredictable from the beginning, inviting us into a world that had already been established back in the 40s, then turning it on its head in every episode. Besides, high schoolers falling in and out of love with one another then going their separate ways into adulthood is probably one of more realistic things to happen on Riverdale.
In true CW fashion, the writers left nothing about the characters’ lives up to the imagination in the series finale — thanks to a look back on their lives that spanned decades — and that was their biggest mistake. In real life, love triangles (or squares) have to end eventually. But that was the beauty and escape of the Archie comics: those characters, and their indecisive adolescence, will live on forever.
Question: What’s a romance that writers shoehorned into a show but really should have left out?
Mallika: Benson and Stabler, members of an elite squad known as the Special Victims Unit. Can we not just have a strong working relationship between a man and a woman without making them kiss??? (Yes I WILL be saying the same thing if Carmy and Sydney from The Bear actually get together next season, as some fans want.) The worst part about this is that after more than 20 years on air, and at least 10 years since Stabler left the show, Law and Order: SVU brought Stabler back, gave him a brand new job, killed his wife and made him almost put the moves on Benson all within a few episodes. We all know this man is impulsive (i.e. beating up suspects in every other episode for often no reason) but c’mon. I say almost because… they didn’t even actually kiss! This is a will-they-won’t-they I will not be supporting.
Rachel: True Blood was really trying to tell us from day one that we should care about Sookie and Bill. No sir, Alan Ball, I didn’t buy it for a second! Anna Paquin and Stephen Moyer may have had enough chemistry in real life to get married and have twins but Bill was the most boring dead thing since the Eucharist. My other answer (because at this point you all know I can never have just one) is literally anyone Gossip Girl wanted to pair with Rufus Humphrey who wasn’t Lily van der Woodsen. That waffle-loving washed-up rockstar of a man was already mostly dead to me after he drove Jenny to emancipation. The only sliver of redemption he had was his relationship with the most underrated character on the show, Lily, who never once failed to serve incredible Upper East Side LOOKS and attitude even though she often failed to parent and that is why she is mother to ME. You’re telling me this man ended up with that one girl who pretended to be someone’s cousin just for clout? I mean, serves him right bringing Dan’s nonsense into the world.
It’s been a month and a half since the SAG-AFTRA strike began, and so it was just a matter of time before a celebrity accidentally scabbed. The question was who. Would it be yeah-people-are-gonna-die-which-is-terrible-but-like-inevitable-? Vanessa Hudgens? Would it be Gal Gadot in lieu of commissioning another Imagine video?(Honestly, we’d take the scabbing.) We could see wildcard Jared Leto in the danger zone, or Miles Teller has been pretty quiet lately… But in the end it was Selena Gomez. Gomez, whose show Only Murders in the Building premiered its third season last month, hasn’t been spotted on the picket lines, which is OK, she’s probably busy like all of us zooming in on Justin Bieber’s yellow crocs in these absolutely life-changing photographs of Gomez’s ex-beau and his wife, glazed-donut-fanatic Hailey Bieber, walking to Krispy Kreme (we personally think dressing like you’re helping your mom get groceries out of the car is exactly the right attire for the Times Square Krispy Kreme). But Gomez pissed some people off this week when she posted a brief video of her seemingly on the set of OMITB with the caption “Missing and wanting @onlymurdershulu.” She deleted the post after some fans reminded her she’s on strike. This isn’t the first time the former Disney star has come off as tone deaf. She had some interesting comments on the Black Lives Matter protests back in 2016. Her heart was probably in the right place though… it might just be time to hit the streets with a sign that says “Bob Iger is a Bad Liar” or something, idk let’s workshop.
Warner Bros. Discovery is planning to test out CNN breaking news alerts on the HBO platform. In other words, you could be minding your business, watching Jennifer Coolidge running around that yacht on White Lotus and then BOOM! Breaking news! Ron DeSantis is once again doing something heinous. One Twitter user put together a video of what could be our future. TV is the ONE good thing we still have, dammit! Let us live!
The good news is that next year we won’t have to endure cringe of the century again which was The Weeknd’s acting on The Idol. HBO cancelled the show after one season, and no one was surprised. What did come as a shock though was the cancellation of Hulu’s The Great, which will not be coming back for season four.