I know, I know. Most of you are hate-reading this because of the headline. I get it. “How could you defend Toni Topaz? She ruined Bughead!” In every user poll I’ve seen, Toni is currently ranked the most hated character this season of Riverdale (beating out the dastardly Lodge parents and the freakin’ serial killer), even affording the actress death threats before the season even aired. (Pro-tip: don’t do that. Chill out.) That being said, I don’t think Toni is that bad. Here’s why: First off, when Jughead came to Southside High, he didn’t exactly have any friends; it’s a hostile environment for any kid, let alone the weirdo ex-northsider new kid. Not only did Toni volunteer to show him around the school, she treated him like a human being. Whereas the other Southside Serpents only seem to care about Jug in proportion to what he or his dad can offer him, Toni was there for him right off the bat. In a new and hostile world, a guide from the other side is crucial.
Secondly, yes, it’s clear she had feelings for Jug pretty early on – the two definitely clicked. However, she knew he was in a relationship with Betty and respected those boundaries. The only time that she crossed lines was in a northsider vs. southsider argument, where she was fed up – like all of southern Riverdale – with how they’re talked down to and blamed by the north like it’s an automatic reflex. Can you blame her for that? Just because all of the characters we like are northsiders so the southern ‘why are we always blamed down here’ conversation is an eyeroll , you can’t deny the outrage over the injustice would be valid and a daily frustration for anyone on the wrong side of the tracks. And let’s not forget that Toni didn’t make a move on our guy until after he was broken up! Is the timing great? No. But this is also a teen drama television show. Respect.
Furthermore, like it or not, Bughead has been slipping this season – shown to us with tiny clues throughout of their waning incompatibility. Remember at the Chock’lit Shoppe in the first episode, when Pop Tate offered food and Betty was disgusted at the idea of eating after a tragedy while Jughead simultaneously accepted the offer? There’s been moments of this all season long, showing that things have been changing between the couple, and that it predates Toni Topaz and is not her fault. Juggie is going through the most difficult changes in his life right now, and with changes comes growth – even if it’s not growth to the good side. It seems like the two have just been growing in different directions. And no, Toni didn’t convince him to be a Serpent, either. The only time she suggested he sit with them at lunch was for his protection, and when he didn’t do so he was later jumped by a Ghoulie gangster. She was just looking out for him! Also, when he was going through the trials to become a Serpent, she pulled him aside and urged him to reconsider that this is what he really wants. Toni understands the loss that being a gang member costs you, and she did not want Jug to do that without thinking it through. She has been consistently neutral while idiots like Sweet Pea make dumb decisions. As far as gang members go, she seems to be there for reasons of survival.
Ms. Topaz has the unfortunate position of being the girl that got between a world-class ‘couple goals’ ship – but if we rewatch the show from last season’s finale onward, it’s clear that ship was already sinking. Cool? Check. Nice? Check. Respectful? Check. Similar interests? Check. Mutual attraction? Check. She didn’t jump Jug — he kissed her back. Her only crime was falling for the same character we all have also fallen for, but despite that she has been respectful of his feelings and mindful of all personal and romantic boundaries. In a town like Riverdale, finding people like that isn’t so easy to come by. Yes, losing Bughead is devastating. But that aside, is Tughead really so bad?
Come at me in the comments! Stay tuned for Riverdale every 8/9c on The CW, or check it out on international Netflix or for free on The CW app. Check out more Riverdale recaps, reviews and fun stuff at The Game of Nerds!