I, too, am overly invested in the lives of fictional television characters, like a teen with little to no control over their own life who takes ownership of other people’s creations and projects all of their issues onto them, and then loses their cool when what they think should happen–or what they need to happen–doesn’t.
That’s me, in all my middle-aged glory. Because I currently have little control and so I seek it elsewhere. In Riverdale. Because I simply cannot handle what’s going down in Hawkins.
I’m starting to almost maybe recover from Bughead’s break-up, as traumatizing as that was, because I keep watching the clip of Jug and Toni’s kissy time and thinking, “Man, if anyone needs some TLC, it’s that boy.” It’s the wrong girl, I know, but a need is a need and boy howdy does Jug have a neeeeed. Look at his broken face. Look at his broken soul. By GOD, somebody kiss that poor boy!
I’m sure the appeal of everyone’s favorite modern day Romeo and Juliet has something to do with just the right combination of writing and mood-setting and actor chemistry but there’s also the appeal of two broken souls finding their match. Betty and Jughead are both victims of their parents’ mistakes, neither nurtured appropriately, both lacking in that fundamental need for acceptance and affection and attention (see Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect). What they’ve found in each other was what was/is missing from their childhoods and I think that’s why their bond is so intense. Where Archie and Veronica are love and teen sexuality, Betty and Jughead are love and childhood emotional healing.
That’s why their breakup was so traumatizing for so many of its fans. And me. I’m also a traumatized fan. The tragedy wasn’t as much that a serial killer split them apart (figuratively… so far) as that the wounds within that had just started healing as a result of their union were violently ripped open again. They’re both suffering from being stabbed through an existing scab.
I don’t blame Jug one bit for accepting a consolation from a girl he thinks is capable of taking care of him. She’s already started to, warning him about sitting alone in the cafeteria, helping him at the school paper and in attempting to decode the cipher, tutoring him for his gang exams. Regardless of her actual intent–which I’ve read may be a bit on the shady side–Toni is there for him and Betty is not right now. He’s hurt and he’s broken and he needs comfort and she’s… there, making dramatic gang-family promises to die for him. So… that, up there, with the smoochie boochies happened. And it makes a lot of sense.
As does real life, drama screws with what’s established, what’s expected, and what’s best for us, throwing us into a pit of chaos and waiting for us to learn the lessons that’ll get us up and out. Jug will learn a lesson. So will Betty. So will Toni. So will I and so will all the kids out there stressing out over this.
The struggle is real, I know, because I feel it too. We’re connected to these characters because there’s a need within us that sees the need within them and it’s easier to really understand what we’re going through when we watch it happen to others. But whatever harshness the writers throw at our favorite fictional characters doesn’t have to be a reflection on our character. We can make choices based on insight and logic and the advice of our support system whereas they are slaves to their creators and only exist for our viewing pleasure.
So rather than getting unreasonably angry at actors or showrunners, maybe we can take this as an opportunity to imagine or reassess what we would do or have done in similar* circumstances. That’s the point of fiction, after all: to help us understand ourselves, to make sense of life, to connect all of humanity through archetypes. And the best kinds of stories are the ones that affect us as deeply as this one has.
*Similar, not the exact same, because I’m married and nobody in my marriage better be kissin’ nobody else.