R+E: That Surprise Reveal Of It Chapter 2, Explained
Welcome to 30 years of subtext.
It Chapter 2 introduced some pretty major changes to the mythology of the Stephen King franchise, but one of the biggest surprise reveals wasn't actually a huge departure from the source material at all. The revelation that Richie Tozier (Bill Hader, Finn Wolfhard) had in fact been harboring a secret crush on his friend Eddie Kapsbrak (James Ransome, Jack Dylan Glazer) may have seemed like it came totally out of left field--but only if you don't know your It universe history.
The truth is that Richie and Eddie's complicated relationship with one another has been a staple of Derry across every incarnation of the story to one degree or another. From the vague subtext included in It Chapter 1, to the decidedly more on the nose '90s miniseries, to the surreal original novel, Richie and Eddie always wind up defining each other the same way that characters like Beverly, Ben, and Bill define one another. The only major difference between It Chapter 2 and the other entries into the mythos is that It Chapter 2 finally made the unspoken implications, winks, and nods explicit. No more subtext--this time around, it's actual text.
Were you able to see it coming? Don't worry--even if you missed it the first few times around, we went back and gathered up all the clues, references, and nods to Richie and Eddie's relationship found all across the Stephen King multiverse. So brush off your film analysis skills, dig through your '90s nostalgia, and get ready for an It universe deep dive.
Richie vs. The Bowers Gang
In It Chapter 1, it's Richie who serves as the introductory target for the Bowers gang--he's singled out instantly and is then the first one attacked once the group leaves school that day. Isolated from any other context, it's pretty easy to read this scene as your run-of-the-mill '80s-flavored school bullying, but given the added information in It Chapter 2, with Richie's personal Bowers gang run-in at the movie theater, it's pretty obviously not a one-off. The Bowers crew has picked Richie out as an important target.
This is an example of something called queer "coding." It's not all that overt--sometimes coding can be more explicit, depending on the context--but it does work to set Richie apart from the rest of his friends. There's something different about him that's making him a target for bullies--and whatever it is, it's unique against the other things we see the Bowers gang victimize kids over (like Mike's family and living situation, Stanley's religion, or Ben's weight). For people in the audience who have some level of experience with being bullied in this way, it's not too difficult to start seeing some dots to connect, but only if you're really looking for them.
That's the real key to this sort of subtextual coding, queer or otherwise, of characters--it's a way to signify things to certain members of an audience while passing them off as innocuous to others, effectively sneaking traits and subtext by while maintaining some level of specially measured secrecy or deniability. For a story like It, which builds itself on esoteric themes like trauma, memory, identity, and loss of innocence, carefully coding various character traits behind layers of less-than-obvious signifiers becomes critical to establishing multifaceted meaning and emotional throughlines for readers and viewers.
Richie as the outsider's outsider
It Chapter 1's subtle queer coding of Richie doesn't end with the bullying--in fact, it actually gets a little more obvious as things progress. One of the major recurring themes across every iteration of this story is an exploration of the outsider. The Losers Club is composed of seven outsiders, but Richie is set apart two times over. Not only is he an outsider by default, as one of the Losers, he's also the only one of the seven who has no evidence of on-screen guardians--no mention of parents, no visit to a house or a bedroom, no oversight whatsoever. He's the only one in Chapter 1 who doesn't have a personalized Pennywise hallucination before they explore the house on Neibolt street. He's the only one who isn't honest about what he's afraid of, and he's the only one of the group to be lured into his Neibolt trap by a hallucination of another one of the Losers themselves.
These tiny details are easy to miss--and even easier to ignore--thanks to the way the movie (intentionally) glosses right by them. But none of this is accidental. It Chapter 1 made sure Richie was different from his friends--we just didn't learn why until Chapter 2.
Richie and Eddie's teasing
t's obvious through the first movie that Richie and Eddie have a different dynamic than the rest of the Losers. They're the two who are constantly mouthing off to one another, sniping at one another, and butting heads. If It were an after school special rather than a horror movie, it'd be easy to read their back-and-forths as the sort of pigtail-pulling flirting you see in coming-of-age stories that don't involve nearly dying to eldritch beings.
This dynamic was actually inspired by the book, which has Richie not only constantly teasing Eddie, but assigning him all sorts of affectionate, if condescending, nicknames. All the Losers in the movie (and Pennywise) call Eddie "Eds" at one point or another, but in the book, that's Richie's name for him--along with "Eddie Spaghetti"--both of which Eddie tends to playfully scoff at. Richie also used the pet name "Eddie-Bear," which in the movie is relegated to Eddie's mother. As if pet names and playful teasing weren't enough, the novel also features multiple scenes of Richie leaving it all on the table, pinching Eddie's cheeks and calling him "cute."
"That's 'cause they know how cute you are, Eds--just like me, I saw what a cutie you were the first time I met you."
The evolution of the script
The It remake's production history is fraught with creative changes--at one point, the project was helmed by Cary Joji Fukunaga, who penned a script alongside co-writer Chase Palmer that managed to survive Fukunaga's departure from the film.
The script went through a lot of changes, but even with the adjustments made to the script in its final form, screenwriter Gary Dauberman was able to confirm during the It Chapter 2 press junket in Los Angeles that Richie's story was planned from the beginning. "We always knew where we're going with this character," Dauberman said. "These conversations happening pretty pretty consistently throughout chapter one. And then going into chapter two [...] It wasn't like, 'Oh, wouldn't it be cool' or anything like that. It was just, for us it felt very organic."
Eddie in the miniseries
Richie's sexuality may be a large component of the movie, but Eddie's was the de facto focus of his arc in the '90s miniseries--and not without reason. The original novel plays pretty coy with Eddie's own coding--he's given some stereotypical markers, like an effeminate build and later, advances made by (hallucinatory) men, and a marriage to a woman who is clearly a surrogate for his mother (a gag that was transcribed for Chapter 2 in the most literal way possible: the same actor plays both his mother and his wife in the movies)--but in the latest movies, it's subtle enough that, like Richie in Chapter 1, it's easy to miss if you're not looking for it. The '90s miniseries, on the other hand, is considerably less so.
Miniseries Eddie's wife was deleted entirely, in favor of him still living with his mother as an adult. He later gets an added scene in the sewers where he tearfully confesses that he's never been in a meaningful relationship because the only people he's ever loved are the Losers. At one point, a Pennywise hallucination teases him "how's your sex life? What's your sex life?" The intent for Eddie to be read as deeply repressed and extremely closeted is clear--especially for any members of the audience who were already clued in thanks to a familiarity with the book.
Richie's "fear of clowns"
Richie's strange Chapter 1 status as the only Loser who never experienced an on-screen pre-Neibolt Pennywise episode sets him up for an interesting reveal. As each kid confesses their respective fears and how Pennywise exploited them, when it gets to Richie, he confesses that he's got a fear of clowns. Pretty normal, right? And extremely easy to take at face value--after all, it's a movie about scary clowns, so that's basically a given, right?
Except in Richie's case, it's not exactly true. Right off the bat as things start going off the rails in Bill, Eddie, and Richie's first Neibolt excursion, signs of Richie's lie start cropping up. He finds his own missing person poster, and then later is lured (significantly, by a hallucination of Eddie) into a room full of clown dolls. He's clearly unsettled--but it's not the sort of white-knuckled terror we've been seeing from any of the other Losers in their custom-built Pennywise nightmares. In fact, Richie seems to acclimate to the clown dolls remarkably quickly. It's not until he spots an open casket at the other end of the room that things start to take a turn for the worst. It all comes to a crescendo when he finds a doll made to look like him in the casket, freaking him out enough to prompt a real Pennywise attack.
Now, obviously, seeing a doll of yourself in an open coffin is scary, and would be scary to anyone, the same way everyone would be scared by an attack from Stan's painting lady or Eddie's lepper. The strange--and unifying--factor here is that Richie's scares both came from reflections of himself. He's the only Loser with this sort of experience--and while the surface level reading here is to see that he's scared of his own mortality (and, again, who isn't?), digging deeper into these moments hints at a more pressing truth. Richie's fear--his really, spine-tingling Pennywise-addled fear--isn't clowns or dolls or even seeing his own death; it's himself. Funny how that happens when you're hiding something major about yourself, huh? This fear is emphasized even harder in Chapter 2 when Pennywise is able to taunt the now grown up Richie with a few simple nods to "knowing his dirty little secret."
Eddie's death across all three incarnations of the story is a pretty major--and majorly overt--moment for both he and Richie. Not only is it absurdly tragic--next to Stan, Eddie's the only Loser not to make it through the final fight--it's also massively revealing.
In the novel, the scene breaks down like this: Eddie, in a last-ditch effort to save his friends, makes a play using his placebo inhaler and the "power of belief" (a theme used in both the book and Chapter 2) to blast a spider-form Pennywise with "battery acid." But in the process, Pennywise is able to get its mouth around Eddie's arm and, similar to Georgie's final moments, bite it clean off. As Eddie succumbs to blood loss, Richie is the last person he speaks to, stroking Richie's face and, pointedly, attempting some sort of confession. "You know, I…I…" Is as far as he gets before dying. Richie, later, kisses Eddie's corpse on the cheek and flies into a rage. Bev asks him why, to which he responds "I don't know." But the prose implies otherwise with the line, "but he knew well enough."
The miniseries incarnation of the scene is less emotionally fraught--there's no kiss, no arm severing, and only a brief moment for the Losers to grieve. But, after the fight is done, each character gets a little epilogue--some borrowed from the book, others, like Richie's, invented for the show. He leaves Derry and becomes an actor with a co-star who "any of the [Losers] would have told you, looks and acts a lot like Eddie Kapsbrak."
Then, of course, in Chapter 2, the only incarnation of the story where Richie's feelings are very literally spelled out on screen--well, if you thought Eddie's death could be any more tragic, Bill Hader's broken-hearted sobbing surrounded by his surviving friends definitely does the trick.
So what does this mean?
The problem, unfortunately, is in the wake of Chapter 2's spotlight on Richie's sexuality. While the movie does the work of elevating the subtext to text, it never actually commits to putting the spotlight on that part of Richie's story. He's never allowed to come out to his friends and his final moments are just as heartbreaking as his grieving in the quarry--a reminder of his lost love, with no clear indication of what he plans to do next or where he plans to go. Stacked up next to the remaining Losers, Bev and Ben who now live happily on a boat, Bill who's back to work at home, Mike who's finally escaping Derry, Richie is the only character still caught in the tragedy of his experience, re-craving the E next to his R on the kissing bridge.
It's fantastic, and more than welcome, that It Chapter 2 decided to explicitly make Richie queer--but, considering it's taken three decades of constant hedging and passive coding to get here, it could--and probably should--have been a much more centralized theme of the new film, rather than a half-heartedly emphasized side plot.