Fans found themselves instantly falling in love with and wanting more from Vanessa Morgan’s portrayal of Toni Topaz as soon as she came onto our screens on Riverdale. Toni was first introduced in season 2, episode 3 “Chapter Sixteen: The Watcher in the Woods,” and became a series regular in season 3. Her portrayal provides representation as one of the only Black series regulars currently on Riverdale as well as her character being openly bisexual. So let’s take a look back at her journey and what we hope to see for the character going forward.
When we first meet Toni, she introduces herself as Jughead’s tour guide for Southside High. She gives both him and the audience some insight into the Serpents. Their friendship begins as they restart the school newspaper, bonding over true crime. While trying to crack the Black Hood’s code with Jughead, Betty, and Kevin, Toni calls out Betty and the Northsiders’ privilege, hinting at her interest in activism and justice. After Jughead officially becomes a Serpent, the two kiss and we find out later that Toni spent the night. She mentions how her uncle is locking her out, leaving her without a place to stay, and Jughead assures her that she can keep crashing with him. During a discussion about their night together, Toni confidently states she’s not interested in being anyone’s rebound before adding that she’s more into girls anyway. Morgan has confirmed that her character is bisexual.
When Betty inquires about joining the Serpents, Toni fills her in on a sexist and misogynist tradition known as the Serpent dance, sharing that she had tried to get it outlawed. Soon enough, Toni and the rest of the Serpents are transferred to Riverdale High, finally allowing us to see her interact with the other Riverdale characters such as Cheryl and Veronica. We are finally introduced to one of Toni’s family members in 2×11 when Jughead interviews her grandfather for a history report about the oldest living Serpent. Her grandfather tells him and us about the Uktenas, before Toni comments about the whitewashing of history. During Pickens Day, Toni’s activist roots are shown in full swing as she takes charge to stand up for the silenced and dead that her grandfather spoke about, the Serpents backing her with Toni leading. As a viewer, I would have loved and still would love more of this. Let Toni be passionate and lead! It’s made clear she cares about so many different issues yet we never really get much from that.
We get introduced to Choni in episode 2×14; Toni finds Cheryl in the bathroom after the redhead dropped a bomb on the core four during their couples only weekend. Cheryl gives Toni her usual mean girl act, but Toni isn’t phased by it at all, asking Cheryl to tell her what’s really bothering her. Naturally, Cheryl storms our. Later in the episode, the two end up running into each other at the movies and see Love, Simon together. The film moves Cheryl and the two end up having a very sweet and emotional moment at Pop’s. It’s one of their most famous moments and shows how genuine Toni is as she listens to Cheryl open up about a past love for the first time despite their rough start.
When Toni suspects that Penelope did something to her daughter, she teams up with Veronica in 2×17, introducing a duo that fans are still dying to see more from. We see Toni’s devotion and love so much with this storyline, determined to rescue Cheryl. The two share their first kiss, which is so beautifully done and will never be forgotten by any Riverdale fan. In case you need a specific example of Toni’s loyalty, take a look at 2×20 when she and the rest of the Serpents are trying to protect Fangs after he was accused of a murder he didn’t commit.
After going against Jughead’s rule banning crime of any kind and stealing a Glamourge egg from the Lodge’s apartment, Toni and Cheryl are told to turn in their jackets and go. We see a rare moment of emotion and vulnerability from Toni as she voices that she’s a Serpent by blood and he can’t take that away from her. In 3×12, we see Toni react to her SAT scores, which might be a small detail but it was needed. Everything is going well for her and Cheryl until the other female outs Moose during the announcements at school. The couple gets into a fight, Toni sharing why what Cheryl did hurt her so much; her uncle hated the fact that Toni dated girls, stressing that was why the Serpents were so important to her and they were her legacy. This is one of the first times we see Toni really getting to talk and speak up about her side of things. Cheryl gives her interview for Highsmith College to Toni and forms a gang for them to start their own family, determined to make things right. Jughead does ask Toni to come back to the Serpents in 3×13, but she won’t consider it without him making her queen, which she deserves, adding how the Pretty Poisons are allowing her to finally lead.
In 3×15, Toni finally gets the chance to express some valid concerns in her relationship with Cheryl, saying she thinks Cheryl has an issue with Toni being in charge of the group rather than her. She also shares that she can’t spend all of her time in Cheryl’s house, which Cheryl takes the wrong way. Moving out ends up being the result, but after a Heathers musical episode and a heart-to-heart, Choni is back on until Cheryl joins the farm. In 3×18, in order to save her relationship with Cheryl, Toni “joins” the farm, although she seems to be reporting back to Betty. Unfortunately, she had been faking it the whole time, Edgar already ensuring that he had gotten in her head as well by providing her the “family” she had been searching for.
Betty exposes the truth about the farm harvesting organs to Cheryl as Toni is being prepped for her surgery. This snaps Cheryl out of it and she runs to save Toni. The two try to escape, but Cheryl sacrifices herself so Toni can get out. Despite their beautiful reunion in the end, there is a lasting consequence of the farm that will play a big part in their future storyline: Cheryl finding and keeping Jason’s body.
Entering season 4, we find out Toni is Acting Student Body Vice-President, but sadly we don’t actually see much done with this title. Soon, Toni discovers Cheryl’s secret and it is clear that she is rightfully horrified. Toni tries to push Cheryl to act on her promise to say goodbye to Jason, but it is not an easy task. They do bury him, but this only leads to the introduction of Julian, who would have been Cheryl’s triplet. This leads to Cheryl getting her way, but Toni is still very much not on board with the whole thing, making it as if Toni’s opinions on the subject (despite also living there) really don’t matter. Despite Jason being brought back in the house, Julian is still “haunting” them.
Cheryl’s uncle discovers Jason’s body in the chapel and the fight quickly becomes physical, the man threatening to take her to the authorities. In defense, Toni accidentally kills him. Despite the potential for this to be a huge storyline for Toni, we only get one scene expressing her feelings over what happened in 4×07. Now it is normally for events like this to come and go in Riverdale, however what was the point of having Toni do this if not to explore it? In the next episode, the characters get therapy sessions, which are much needed by everyone. It’s definitely a nice idea, but an hour episode is definitely not enough time for the concept or all of the characters to get a chance. One of the characters left out? Toni.
Cheryl finally comes to terms that they need to bury Jason, putting an end to the storyline. Although, somehow her next storyline is even worse. Toni, Kevin, Fangs, and Reggie begin making tickle videos for money — and that’s all I’ll be saying on that subject. There is however one aspect of the story that has some value. Cheryl tells Toni about when Nick tried to sexually assault her. This leads to Toni sharing that a similar experience happened to her before she moved to Riverdale. She doesn’t get to actually say much about it, which is again a wasted opportunity to give some background to the character, but she does tell Cheryl that coping took a while and a lot of help before assuring her girlfriend that she’ll get through it too. Toni does get revenge on Nick, threatening to ruin him with the video she has if Nick ever assaults another woman.
Now, you might have noticed something while reading this: as the seasons go on, Toni gets less and less screentime and even less of an actual storyline of her own. Morgan spoke out about this on Twitter back in 2020, calling out how Black characters are often used as sidekicks in one-dimensional roles to white leads.
She also added how she is only used in ads for diversity but not in the actual show, which is a very common problem with many shows and films. Fans did not hesitate to voice their support for Morgan and desire for Toni to receive better treatment. The showrunner for Riverdale, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, responded to Morgan and promised to do better for her and all of the other actors/characters of color.
This all finally brings us to season 5. So has Toni been treated better so far? Let’s take a look. Quick side note, the first three episodes of season 5 were meant to be part of season 4, but were postponed due to COVID.
In the season 5 premiere, we see Choni’s desire to be prom queens as well as Toni’s want to be Serpent Queen. Cheryl suggests hosting a dinner before prom, adding that they should invite their families, but Toni doesn’t think it’s a good idea. Toni’s Nana is introduced, but Toni is blindsided as we find out that Cheryl already stopped by to visit the older woman. The Topaz family does not want Toni to date a Blossom due to the family’s bad history. Toni immediately tries to defend her girlfriend, but her Nana simply states that she will not allow her granddaughter to date Cheryl. Toni and Cheryl do discuss this, Toni saying that her Nana does not even want Toni to go to prom with Cheryl, disapproving of their relationship completely.
This leaves Cheryl unsure if Toni will show up at all, but in the end she does and the couple pose for some adorable prom pictures. They win prom queens, which makes them the first openly gay couple to be given the title of prom royalty at Riverdale High. Unfortunately, they do have some more important things to resolve after the event. Toni lets Cheryl know that she can’t go home with her, only picking Cheryl for prom night, and that she had to be home by midnight or her Nana would never speak to her again. She does assure her girlfriend that they will be able to work it out with some time. In 5×02, we see Toni apologize to Cheryl for how everything went after prom before promising to keep trying to get through to her Nana. Yet we don’t actually see any of it. Instead, this plot ends up becoming fully about Cheryl. Again, this would have been another opportunity to get some real insight into the Topaz family and Toni’s relationship with them.
Graduation day has finally arrived! We see Toni showing her grandmother around the school, specifically her locker with special memories inside. Fangs and Sweetpea are also there with them, making viewers continue to wish we got more of this trio during their high school years. Before the scene ends, her Nana expresses how proud Toni’s family is of her. Later in the episode, Cheryl shares her new plan with Toni, which involves not going to college and staying behind to fix things. Her girlfriend insists that she isn’t going without Cheryl, but the redhead tells Toni that she will thrive there. Cheryl tells Toni how much she loves her, but adds that she does not want Toni to have to make the choice between a relationship or her family. Cheryl’s hope is that one day they can be together with her family’s blessing.
Jumping seven years into the future, we see the start of a new friendship blossoming: Toni and Archie. Fans immediately voiced their love for it, but unfortunately, it didn’t last very long so fingers crossed it comes back in 5b. Toni comments on how Archie is “all grown up,” and Archie praises how Toni is still a badass despite being pregnant. Toni tells him that she and the Serpents now own the Whyte Wyrm. Fangs, Kevin, and Sweet Pea join the duo and the group begins to catch each other up on their lives over the missing years. Toni shares she was originally going to work for Riverdale social services, but is now a guidance counselor at Riverdale High after they got shut down. Both jobs are definitely fitting for Toni as she is making a difference for the younger generation. She is also roommates with Fangs and Kevin. Sweet Pea revived the Serpents with Toni, who is now officially the Serpent Queen (FINALLY)!
After being asked, Toni tells Archie what happened between her and Cheryl during the time jump. When she returned from college, Toni had tried to check on her ex girlfriend a few times. Toni shares that she did go back recently and this time, Cheryl is glad to see Toni, asking if she can paint her. Toni agreed to ensure they got some time to talk. While Cheryl painted, Toni asked her questions. It doesn’t really get her any answers so Toni asked if Cheryl wanted to know about her, but Cheryl proves that she stayed up to date on Toni and her life.
Cheryl congratulates Toni on her pregnancy, not asking about the father. Toni says that she is completely out and open with her family now, which would’ve been a great scene to actually see as it would have been a big moment for the character. Toni continues to reveal that she’s spoken to her family about Cheryl, and that they acknowledge everything she has done to make up for her family’s wrongdoings. With this out in the open, Toni shares that she feels they’d approve of them being together like Cheryl had wanted.
In the present, Toni serves as a guide to the new Riverdale for both Archie and viewers. Later in the episode, Veronica, Jughead, and Betty return to the town after Archie calls them back. Toni volunteers to leave them to it, but Archie insists that Toni is as much a part of this as they are, which leads to Toni taking a seat next to Veronica. This small re-introduction could have been the perfect way to give Toni more relationships/friendships with the core four rather than simply keeping her in a constant storyline with Cheryl.
In 5×05, Hiram shares that he also sold Veronica’s speakeasy to Toni. Toni teams up with Alice, Archie, and Kevin to make sure that they won’t lose Riverdale High due to Hiram’s budget cuts. Toni suggests multiple ideas before adding that she’ll speak to the board before the vote. Hiram attempts to bribe Toni, but of course she doesn’t even entertain the thought. During another meeting to save the school, Toni reveals that Hiram is planning to get the town unincorporated and comes up with the idea of turning the school private so that they can choose whoever they want for teachers, but they’ll need an investor. Toni manages to convince her ex girlfriend to invest in her idea, allowing the plan to fully come together.
As expected, Toni delivers an amazing speech to the school board. She points out the need for equal access in education and declares that Riverdale will now be a private school. Closing it, she adds: “spread the news far and wide that Riverdale and its children will not be at the mercy of Hiram Lodge’s destructive whims.”
In 5×06, we see Toni proudly wearing her new HBIC shirt and leading the new Vixens down the school hall. She tells Archie that the Vixens are their own sports team apart from the football team, which was unable to be funded. Cheryl finds out and is definitely not amused. The redhead is waiting in Toni’s office to confront her for stealing the Vixens, but this seems to be exactly what Toni wanted. In the following episode, she offers to share control of the cheer team with Cheryl, making the two co-captains. However, Cheryl ends up going behind Toni’s back to have an extra Vixens practice, leading to the former couple get into a heated moment.
Toni cancels the next meeting so that the two of them could talk. She finally gets the chance to voice her feelings in regards to Cheryl’s recent behavior. She calls her ex out on her privilege and pleads with her to get it together so that she can stand with the good guys, fighting for what’s right.
In episode 8, Kevin, Fangs, and Toni share some big news with their friends: they’re having a baby! Toni says the three of them will be “one big, happy, nontraditional family.” Cheryl is not happy about this and takes it up with Toni on her office. The redhead is clearly hurt about Toni keeping it a secret from her. Toni says she did want to tell Cheryl but wasn’t sure their relationship was in a place where she could. She reveals the idea of the pregnancy was all hers and opens up about finding out that she has a medical condition, which would make it harder for her to get pregnant as she gets older. Toni adds that Fangs is family to her so when Kevin and Fangs had started looking to adopt or get a surrogate, Toni volunteered herself. This is honestly one of my favorite moments of the time jump for Toni so far and one of the reasons I really hope we get to see Toni’s journey as a mother.
Later on, Cheryl apologizes for her earlier behavior, asking for a do over and to host a celebration for the new family to be. Except, that’s not exactly what ends up happening; it’s actually a key party. Naturally, Cheryl and Toni end up being the only two left at the party. Cheryl gives Toni her “super surprise,” which is a nursery in Thornhill. Toni is shocked and Cheryl explains that this their path forward. All this time in Thornhill, Cheryl was trying to make it a safe place for Toni’s baby. Toni finally gets to express how she felt “trapped” all those years ago with Cheryl’s dead brothers, which is a trauma the couple and Toni never got to properly deal with. It’s definitely a step in the right direction when it comes to giving Toni an actual voice on these things.
Morgan does not appear in any remaining episodes of 5a due to being on maternity leave, which led to her character being written off as having to stay on bedrest. However, she will return in the second half of the season. So let’s take a moment to discuss what we hope to see from that.
Lack of Backstory: Unlike many of the other series regulars, even Kevin and Reggie, we barely have any real knowledge when it comes to Toni’s backstory or family. We’ve met a few family members, but the storylines are never fully fleshed out or connect to a bigger picture. We don’t even know about her parents. The lack of family has been something commented on multiple times throughout the show by both Toni and then the farm storyline. So for the hundredth time, please give Toni Topaz an actual backstory! Or at least explain why her family is so absent.
Potential for More Development: The first few episodes of the time jump have shown the potential that Toni could have if given her own storyline. There is so much that can be developed in terms of both her as a character as well as her relationships, both romantic (let Toni explore her sexuality more!) and platonic. Morgan is a strong enough actor to kill any storyline she’s given; she deserves some main storylines.
Toni Outside of Choni: Don’t get me wrong, I adore Choni, but Toni needs to get the chance to be her OWN person. Ever since she began dating Cheryl, her screentime was significantly reduced and almost all of it revolves around her girlfriend. Toni had so much more of a personality before being in a relationship with Cheryl. But here’s the thing — she should also be allowed to have BOTH. She should be able to have a main and successful relationship with equal screentime to the Bughead and Varchie while also getting her own storyline.
Becoming a Mother: Toni will officially be the first character on the series to be a parent and there is SO much to explore with this. Not exploring this properly would be a HUGE loss for the show and I sincerely hope we get to see every bit of Toni starting her own family, especially with how much we know it means to her.
Toni Has Not Been Reduced to Negative Stereotypes in the Black Community: Going back to Morgan’s tweet, she pointed out how tired she was of Black people being portrayed in the media as “thugs, dangerous or angry scary people.” Thankfully, Toni has not really ever been portrayed in this way and that needs to continue going forward. She has been shown as smart, creative, passionate, and loyal. Even with being part of the Serpents, she turned that into a positive message of them being her family.
Before I end this piece, I want to discuss one more point:
Toni Topaz is a Great Role Model Character: One has to ask themselves, despite not getting the screentime or even lines she deserves, why do fans adore the character so much and fight for better treatment? Well, I think this goes along with my points about representation. This character represents so many good qualities and allows the Black and LGBTQ+ community to see a genuinely inspiring character to look up to. She is loyal, determined, brave, loving, fierce, and kind. While there is much work needed to be done, the qualities of this character shine through and are really valuable to viewers who see themselves in her.
Huge thank you to Vanessa for fighting for Toni to get the treatment she deserves. Toni continues to provide representation for so many, which will only continue as the show keeps growing. I cannot wait to see what the future holds for both Morgan as an actress outside of Riverdale as well as the character of Toni Topaz.
Riverdale will return with new episodes on Wednesday, August 11.