1st Anniversary Character Posting Board Party - Riley
OnM - July 11, 2001

Reconstructing Riley - Duty, Love, Perception and Reality - Part I


It was late June and I was thinking about this essay, just pondering some general thoughts and outlines, when this song by Peter Himmelman came on the radio. Almost immediately this vision appeared in my imagination, where these words well up from Riley's soul and pass through his conscious mind, as he lies beside Buffy in bed, silently watching her sleep. It just seemed to sum up some of the essence of the man, reflected in his feelings towards the woman he loves:

With you I can see / past the lies and greed in this burned out city With you I can run / from the shell-shocked demons dancin' in my head You give me strength / when my legs are tired You feed my soul / when I'm uninspired

With you I can speak / in a voice that rings with love and mercy With you I can stand / no matter where the howlin' wind of change may blow I lie in bed and I watch you sleep / There is no dream that I would not keep with you

There is no face that I love as much / There is no dream that I could not touch / with you

With you I can love / with a heat that defies explanation With you I can sleep / like an infant held up in its mother's arms I know you well / and you know me too There's no hope so lost / that it can't be touched with you


The scene is in Xander's basement. Finally possessed of a decent job that he seems to have a genuine talent for, Xander is bidding the much-despised digs farewell, as he and Anya ready their new apartment. It's moving day, and the Scoobies are gathered to help.

After piling her up with boxes, and getting a 'Fine-- I'm just your slave' comment from Anya, Xander and Riley are alone in the basement. Xander turns to Riley, and gives a wry smile. The following conversation ensues:

X: How is it that she can always make me feel that Suave Xander has left the building?

R: You two have your friction, but she digs the whole package. It's obvious.

X: Still, I do envy you sometimes. I mean, for the sanity. Not that I'm still into Buffy. Not that I ever was.

R: (smiles): Hey, I'm well aware of how lucky I am. Like, lottery lucky. Buffy's like nobody else in the world. When I'm with her, it's like I'm split in two-- half of me is just on fire, going crazy if I'm not touching her. The other half is so still and peaceful, just perfectly content. Just knows: this is the one.

R: (pauses in his reverie, turns to Xander): But she doesn't love me.

He says it without bitterness, merely with quiet acceptance. Xander doesn't know what to say. Buffy and Dawn reenter, Dawn goes for a nearby box as Buffy moves to Riley.

B: You got more for me to carry?

R: You can help me pack this.

B: Sure.

Buffy gives Riley a quick, casual kiss and then they pack the box together. Xander watches.


Such is the manner of Riley's body language, and the forlorn look on his face, that even though we are shocked to hear these words actually spoken aloud, many of us instinctively feel that they are true, and at the time I counted myself among them. There is little doubt that Riley believes this sad aphorism with all his heart, a heart that has just spoken so eloquently of the degree of love that he feels for Buffy. But is it true? Furthermore, if it is not true, why does Riley feel with such certainty that it is, and what does this say about Riley's perceptions of himself as reflected in his relationship with Buffy? After all, he gives not the slightest indication that he intends to break up with her-- love him or not, he seems to define his total self-worth at this stage in his life by his love of Buffy.

So after starting near the beginning of the end, we will now go back to the beginning itself and try to outline just how this strange state of affairs came about, and then follow it to its ultimate(?) resolution when the two finally do seperate their entanglements, at least for the moment. In doing so, I will attempt to define just who I believe Riley is, and how I feel that he is misunderstood, for part of the problem with defining Riley is that there is no possibility of doing so without also involving Buffy. This is because the man we speak of today did not truly exist before he met the love of his life-- Riley was only a potential waiting to be realized, and as with so many others whose lives Buffy has touched, what they once were is not what they are now, or what they are becoming.


Part of the overall richness of the Buffy universe is that the writing carries a scope beyond that necessary to simply define a given episode, plotline or character. When we view an ep for the first time, we are caught up in the moment, and so often don't see clues that predict or expand upon the ultimate destination of the story arc. Such is the case when we first meet the character of Riley Finn, which takes place in the first outing of the fourth season, 'The Freshman'.

Buffy and Willow are on the campus of UC Sunnydale, having met up after wandering about seperately for a short while. Willow is so excited about her new adventures in gathering knowledge that she describes the occasion (humorously, and rather unintentionally) in terms of a sexual release. Buffy, on the other hand, is overwhelmed and feels distinctly out of her element. As they are gathering books and supplies for the coming term, one book that Buffy requires for her psych class is stacked atop a set of very tall shelves. She has to stretch to reach it and in doing so manages to knock the books over onto the head of a very tall, and very handsome upperclassman, whom we shortly discover is one 'Riley Finn'.

This first meeting seems to tell us more about Buffy and Willow than it does Riley, for he appears to be nothing more than a pleasant, reasonably intelligent, but otherwise average student. Such is not the case, however, with the benefit of hindsight.

The reactions to the book-dropping incident are predictable-- Buffy is flustered and apologetic, her clumsiness (as always, supremely ironic in terms of the physical gifts of her Slayer alter-ego) an expression of just how out of place she considers herself in the college environment. Willow, on the other hand, gets to be suave and charming, and Buffy's already wounded ego deflates further when the very attractive man in front of her latches on to Willow's obvious scholastic self-assurance, and interacts with her in a slightly flirtatious manner.

We don't realize it at this moment, but a significant clue has just been presented as to what makes Riley Finn tick. Behind the hunky-looking, solidly masculine exterior is a man who carries several deep and well defined character traits. One of these is a sense of duty, and a solid feeling of having a place in the world, a purpose. The other is less conventional, but more interesting in many ways-- Riley respects authority in general, and loses none of that respect even when it's presented to him in a person of female gender.

In a better world, this wouldn't be a contradiction, but in our conventional, early 21st Century realverse, it certainly still is perceived as such. Men carry authority, women do not. Men who have respect for women of power are seen as being less masculine, regardless of the personal merits of the woman whose authority they respect. Later on, as the season progresses, we will see this expression of our society's 'conventional wisdom' played out in the interactions of Riley with the other members of his paramilitary group, 'The Initiative'. When push comes to shove near the end of season four, 'Initiative-Riley' will be viewed as a traitor to both his duty and his gender for choosing to follow the authority of his 'girlfriend' rather than that of the other men about him.

The fact that he is eminently correct in doing so continues the Buffyverse tradition of putting a stake through the heart of 'conventional wisdom', but this doesn't mean all will turn out rosy for the newly enlightened. Making the correct choice doesn't guarantee freedom from pain. Sometimes, many times in fact, it precipitates it, and the best you can do about it is to minimize the hurt and get on with your life.


In the popular quote by Robert Browning-- 'A man's reach should exceed his grasp, or else what's Heaven for?'-- we are presented with a key to one of the primary subtexts of the initial meeting between Riley and Buffy, and I'd like to go into this a bit because I think it frames the events that come after with an essential perspective.

If one considers the Biblical creation mythology of Adam And Eve, it seems that the primary interpretation would be that some types of knowledge should not be sought out and investigated. God gives Adam and Eve a paradise to live in, free of age, suffering and death. In return, God asks only that his creations not partake of the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Satan then tempts Eve to disobey God's will and partake of this fruit. Eve does so, tempts Adam, and so causes their fall from Grace (and, metaphorically, of course, all of humanity's).

I have a big, big problem with this concept, and my guess is that Joss does also. Why does the act of striving for knowledge guarantee that evil will result, or at minimum a fall from a 'Grace' that is essentially imposed, not chosen freely. If one does not know the difference between Good and Evil, then there is none. A sentient being acting without this knowledge is merely another animal, who acts on instincts, and thus garners neither credit nor blame for any actions they may persue. It could be reasoned that this was exactly Satan's point-- and even if he's evil, that doesn't mean he can't speak a truth.

Buffy is symbolically reaching for knowledge when she stretches out to grasp the psych textbook. Conventional wisdom (God's wisdom?) might have been interpreted that she should concentrate on her main purpose in life (slaying) and not go to college, not take Psych 105 with Professor Walsh, not open herself to the world beyond her 'duty'. Buffy is very fearful about taking this next step, but she takes it anyway. In doing so, in the scene with the book, her attempts to become less a creature of instinct and more a being of self-actualization have the consequences of initiating her personal involvement with the 'real' Adam of the story, not the false one to come later.

Initially, Riley is not tempted, because he does not see anything particularly special in Buffy. As this changes over the course of season four, we see that he does eventually accept the offer she presents, and in so doing leaves the safety of his 'paradise' of secure belonging to an predetermined, externally created worldview. This causes him great pain, which also reflects back from him onto Buffy. The difference in this Jossian 'creation' mythology from the Biblical one is that the pain is deemed necessary because it brings growth and freedom, and that on balance it is better to willingly choose to do good than to be directed to do so by others.


After 'The Freshman', Riley pretty much disappears for several episodes to allow some other, more Buffy-centric elements of the season's story arc to be put into place. First, she must deal with a nearly-literal 'roommate from hell' ('Living Conditions'), then a new boyfriend who will betray her in a pedestrian and demoralizing fashion (Parker in 'THLOD' & 'Fear, Itself'), the general scholastic stress of college life, and the changing relationships of her friends in the SG. Looming on the horizon is yet another betrayal from another 'lover', Maggie Walsh and the Initiative.

During this time, what we do see of Riley reinforces the notion that he is a decent, caring individual with a solid sense of self. In 'Fear Itself', he gives Buffy excellent advise in telling her that she must try to balance her work and her life. While he means schoolwork (having no idea at this point who Buffy *really* is), the message is right on. The contrast between his mature Superego and Parker's nominally-functioning Id is quite revealing, and as Buffy gradually gets over her loss of self-esteem from her well-intentioned but misguided fling with Parker, Riley's increasingly apparent 'normality' becomes more and more of an attraction.

The scholastic year progresses, and Buffy gains more confidence. She even eventually wins praise for her mind from Professor Walsh, and in turn becomes less fearful and more admiring of this intense and demanding adult figure. Riley seems to sense this growing self-assurance on Buffy's part, and in keeping with his tendencies to be attracted to powerful women, finds himself becoming increasingly drawn to her. A critical turning point in this regard occurs in 'The Initiative', when Willow, who is despondant over Oz leaving town to try to gain control over his inner wolf, attempts to explain to professor Walsh that Oz will be returning. The professor is unmoved:

"Riley. I noticed you left off a name today in roll call. Osbourne, Daniel Osbourne, Oz?"

"He's not in this class anymore. I hear he dropped out," replies Riley, who, unknowing of the backstory, thinks this is an innocent question.

Willow looks very distressed. "Oh, well you heard way wrong then. I mean, he's not gone. He--he left temporarily to work out a few things. I know that sounds lame in its vagueness, but I assure you, Oz will be back."

Walsh strides up to where Willow and Riley are. Her demeanor is cold enough to drop the room temperature several degrees. "Not to my class, he won't. An educated guess. You know the rules, you know I hate exceptions, and yet somehow you feel your exception is exceptional."

"Oh, but-- "

Walsh cuts her off abruptly. "It is. To you. But since I'm neither a freshman nor a narcissist, I have to consider the whole class. If your friend can't respect my schedule, I think it's best he not come back."

Willow, looking even more hurt and miserable, walks off. Buffy, who's been watching from the sidelines, and who now looks very angry, fixes Walsh with a steely glare.

"You know, for someone who teaches human behavior, you might try showing some."

Walsh seems neither particularly amused nor perturbed at this obvious challenge. Riley seems stunned.

"It's not my job to coddle my students," Walsh answers evenly, returning the challenge. Buffy's glare continues, unfalteringly and intensely, her face tightened in obvious disgust..

"You're right. A human being in pain has *nothing* to do with your job."

Buffy stalks off. Riley, still in abject disbelief over what he's just heard take place, looks at Walsh, unsure what to say. Walsh looks over at him, and her upbeat response only serves to confuse him further.

"I like her."

Riley, grasping for a truly cogent comment, can only come up with, "Really? You don't think she's a little-- peculiar?"


In just a few short minutes, Riley has radically evolved his opinion of just who this strange young woman is, and begins his quest to know her better. It has been obvious since we first met him and Professor Walsh that he admires, respects, even slightly fears her, considers her a powerful individual who could/should never be challenged in such a manner, but here is this harmless looking, petite little blonde woman doing exactly that, and never backing down for a second. The first offering of forbidden fruit has just appeared before him, and he will spend the rest of this episode trying to segue into meeting with her socially, finally doing so the next morning after the commando raid on the dorm in an attempt to capture Spike. This time the interaction goes more positively, with Buffy expressing some interest in Riley, although admitting to him she finds him 'peculiar'.

Next we move on to 'Pangs' & 'Something Blue', where respectively Buffy and the SG have to fight Hus, the Native American vengeance spirit, and Willow casts a 'work my will' spell that goes very wrong. Riley has only short interactions with Buffy in these eps, but his meet-ups with his new and peculiar girlfriend only serve to confuse him more, in particular as Buffy falls under Willow's spell and plans to marry Spike.

Two things do occur that set the stage for future eps-- one, the overall theme of ambiguity in determining just what constitutes true evil-doing and what is instead possibly justifiable anger on the part of those who have been wronged and are seeking justice or retribution. This will relate to Riley's difficulties in seeing the demon world in other than black and white, either/or terms. Two, the apparent unity of purpose of the Initiative will be revealed as far more fractious, with various members, including Riley's friend Forrest, acting against Riley's wishes and indeed against the supposed high moral purpose the Initiative attempts to honor.

One example foreshadows this clearly, as Forrest, Riley and Graham are out on patrol, and are also making plans for the Thanksgiving holiday. Riley feels duty-bound to achieve Maggie Walsh's goal of capturing Spike. His friends are more willing to let things slide a bit, rationalizing that Hostile 17 is not that much of a threat. The conversation:

R: We'll do one more sweep, then cash it in.

F: I gotta pack tonight. You got a flight?

R: Wednesday night. Professor Walsh wants me here for the debriefing.

F: That's a pretty short thanksgiving.

R: Hey, with a hostile on the loose, we're lucky to be going home at all.

F: It's neutered. The implant works great. He can't hurt a single living thing.

R: As long as he knows about the initiative, he's a threat. We do this the professor's way.

F: (coughing the words): Mama's boy.

R: That's a nasty cough. You might need to spend the weekend in quarantine.

F: Oh, no. I'm done coughing.

R: I just don't want anyone getting sick. (he pats Forrest on the arm)


Riley still ardently believes in his cause, and in Maggie Walsh's leadership. You could argue that this is a foolish and naive position to take, but first, we as the viewers are privy to information that Riley doesn't have, and second, it is a part of Riley's belief system at this point in time that the people who lead him and the others are in this position because they both deserve and earned it.

In 'Something Blue', Buffy meets Riley when he is helping to put up a large banner for the campus 'Lesbian Alliance'. Buffy jokingly asks if there is something that she should know about him, and he jokes back that 'yes, I am a lesbian'. Most interpretations of the banner-hanging scene see it as a foreshadowing for Willow's introduction to Tara in 'Hush'. Interestingly, I feel there is an additional subtext present with this scene that does involve Riley, which may be that Joss is referring to Riley's atypical respect for women being manifested as if he integrates his sexual and social relationships to women in the manner of another woman, rather than a male. Thus, Riley is a 'lesbian'. I don't think that this is a dig, but rather a complement towards what Joss views as Riley's acceptance of strong females.

The B/R 'ship sails into warmer waters as Riley invites Buffy to a picnic, and also sincerely impresses her by referring to her as mysterious and beautiful. He admits to feeling a bit unsure as to how to deal with her (the mysterious aspect, that is) and that he 'rehearses' before speaking to her. Later when Willow and Buffy talk, Buffy tells Willow that she feels good about Riley, that he is a good man and wouldn't hurt her. Unfortunately, she betrays her limited dealings in the realverse of love when she also wonders whether the hurt is part and parcel of the intensity of the relationship, and if so, will her time with 'Joe-Normal' Riley lack that wild intensity and passion she's experienced previously.

Of course, during this same episode, Spike is hiding out from the Initiative with some reluctant help from the SG-- Buffy is even feeding him blood while he's chained up in Giles' bathtub-- ironically begging the question of whether Buffy is getting enough 'intensity'in her life. She, along with the rest of the SG are also missing the fact that Willow is still devastated by her breakup with Oz, and as Spike accurately declares, is 'hanging by a thread'. Thus we should take with several grains of salt just how experienced Buffy is in predicting whether a relationship will be a good one or not, and for what reasons.

Near the end of the ep, Buffy reassures Riley that her bizarre behavior in supposedly dating/marrying Spike was all just a game she was playing to get his attention. That he accepts this questionable theory and is still as smitten with her as ever is important in that when he finally comes to discover just who Buffy really is in the following ep, 'Hush', taking that next-- and very huge-- step in his relationship becomes reasonably possible.


We arrive at the events in 'Hush' & 'Doomed', and these become pivotal eps of the entire season in many more ways than I'll take time to detail here, so as to keep the main focus on Riley. Suffice it to say that the mainly seperate twin story threads of Initiative and Scooby Gang finally meet, and the result will dramatically change many lives, some for better, some for worse.

The Initiative relies on science, technology and 'reason' to underpin it's works in defending the world against the HST's. Buffy and the SG are not unwilling to use these tools, but they are also aware that such means have severe limits in a universe where magic and mysticism are real, something the Initiative doesn't recognize or even believe in, summed up nicely in Forrest's comment that the HST's are 'just animals'. At the point in time where he makes this comment, Riley is starting to have a few doubts, having just been introduced to the concept of Vampire Slayers, and that his new girlfriend happens to be this 'Chosen One'. The offered apple of Knowledge of Good and Evil has been accepted, and bitten into, and while Riley doesn't realize it, he has just acted to cast himself out of 'paradise'.

I will reiterate here that I do not see this as a bad thing, in fact it is necessary for this to occur for Riley to grow, a process that will take the rest of the season to seek some resolution. I would suggest that Joss reveals this alternate take on the Adam/Eve mythos in unmistakable terms when in the beginning of 'Hush', Riley states "If I kiss you, it'll make the sun go down", and Buffy comments "Fortune favors the brave".

Ironies continue in that while Buffy may have offered Riley the apple, she isn't too pleased with the results of the bite either. Still wary of her past tumultuous/doomed relationships, the shock of finding out that Riley isn't 'normal' makes her anything but delighted. When they meet up by accident out on the streets of Sunnydale as the ep progresses, Buffy tries to break up with Riley, certain that the 'ship is 'doomed':

B: I really thought that you were a nice, normal guy.

R: I *am* a nice, normal guy.

B: Maybe by this town's standards, but I'm not grading on a curve.

Riley is having none of it, though. His desire for this strange young woman has only been fueled by her now obviously supernatural nature, and the strengths and dangers it portends. Far later on, during season five, Riley is accused by the SG of wanting to be 'danger man', but this is an element of Riley's basic nature, a way to let himself feel he's both alive in the Id sense and serving the forces of good in the Superego sense.

Mystery is usually a preface to danger, and the mysterious quality Buffy possesses is what drew him to her in the first place. Riley has in fact done exactly the right thing in understanding this element of himself, and the need to harness it for constructive purposes. While the Initiative turns out to be corrupt and unworthy of his innate desire to do good and 'have an adventure', that does not negate the instinct. Buffy possesses many of the same instincts, but she pushes them away rather then trying to accept and divert them in useful ways. Riley accepts his 'danger man' needs, Buffy resents hers. Their close personal relationship is one means to deal with this very non-trivial issue, and each learns from the other things that will make them more balanced individuals, although this largely will not occur for Buffy until season five.

Buffy does finally relent, and decides to stay with Riley, whose assertive and self-confident behavior acts to reassure her. The SG, now aware that Riley is one of the Initiative soldiers, accepts him as one of the 'good guys' who will work by their side, after some initial fears that the Initiative may have been acting to evil ends, which of course turns out to be true as the season progresses.


'A New Man', 'The I in Team' & 'Goodbye Iowa' form a sort of trilogy within the overall story arc of the season. Riley wants Buffy to join the Initiative, certain that her demon-fighting talents will be of great use to the cause. When she does join, tests run to determine her strengths and capabilities both impress and unnerve Maggie Walsh, who finally gets to see just how formidible Buffy actually is in combat situations. She realizes that not only does Buffy have the ability to distract Riley from what she sees as his destiny, but is in fact strong and capable enough to become a very serious enemy to the Initiative if she were to decide it's motives were questionable or could possibly cause harm to Riley.

Riley, of course, knows nothing as to what Walsh's Project 314 entails, or his eventual role in it, and is ecstatic that Buffy has proven to be everything he claimed her to be. His awe of her keeps growing as he learns more and more of her past accomplishments as Slayer, aptly summed up in his statement:

"I suddenly find myself needing to know the plural of apocalypse."

To his credit, he continues to accept the challenge she presents to him, becoming more and more assertive with her despite a situation that should intimidate the hell out of any normal human male.

R: I'm not even sure that I could take you.

B: That depends on your meaning.

When Ethan Rayne shows up, Riley gets to see firsthand what will soon become a pattern when Buffy and the Initiative cross paths-- Buffy takes charge, and expects him to follow or get out of the way. This is disconcerting to him not because he distrusts Buffy's judgement, but because it means that he must decide whether to follow the orders of the Initiative or not when they conflict with Buffy's plans. This situation is entirely new to him, and he also is starting to pick up, at least subconsiously, on the fact that Walsh doesn't like having her golden boy pulled in two directions at once.

The matter comes to a head when Walsh, upset that Buffy asked too many awkward questions at a mission briefing, and later that night, while watching them make very passionate love (via an obviously hidden camera planted in Riley's room) , realizes that if push comes to shove, Riley will almost certainly choose Buffy over her, an intolerable option. She plots to have Buffy killed, and claim to Riley that it was all a tragic accident.

The plan itself was well crafted, but Walsh severely underestimates Buffy's abilities, and she not only survives, but Riley returns to the Initiative and hears the 'news' that Buffy is dead at the worst possible time-- as the reputedly dearly departed reappears on the security monitor and makes it plain that Maggie is in for some very serious heartache in return for this nasty little treachery. Riley, seeing Buffy alive, realizes that there are things worse than evil HSTs afoot, and stalks off angry and confused. Walsh calls out to him, but there is no way to repair the damage-- Riley has left his 'mother', and there's no going home again. She goes back to room 314, and presents a vitriolic speech to some unseen individual in the room, stating that 'some little bitch isn't going to destroy everything I've worked for', but the unseen entity turns out to be her other 'son', Adam, who promptly kills her without compunction or even the slightest hint of emotion.

When Buffy informs the SG about the attempt on her life, they assume that Riley may be involved, but Buffy is skeptical, pinning the blame on Walsh. As they are debating the issue, Riley comes in and tries to figure out what happened. Even though the evidence damning Walsh is overwhelming, Riley refuses to accept that the Inititive itself is up to anything evil-- his sense of duty and loyalty to his brothers in arms is too strong to sway him, and he leaves, walking alone throught the long night, trying to cope. Riley finally arrive back home at the frat house and meets up with Forrest. When he explains what has happened, and that Professor Walsh tried to have Buffy killed, his friend's reaction startles him-- Forrest suggests that if Walsh thought Buffy should die, then there was probably a good reason for it. Thus, betrayal follows betrayal. Graham then bursts in, informing them that Walsh has been murdered.

In Walsh's laboratory, they find her body, obiously impaled by something very stake-like. Forrest sees this as more proof that Buffy is responsible, and confronts Riley with increasing agression. Riley sticks to his guns, although he is getting wound tighter and tighter. Everything he believed in, trusted, loved, stood up for and defended is falling down around him. He is as certain as he has ever been of anything in his life that Buffy could not have done this, but the alternative is nearly as bad-- the Initiative is corrupt, his friends and leaders are turning against him, and for what? His love of a woman?

Riley would be even more upset if he knew that part of the anxiety besetting him at this moment was due to withdrawal effects from the drugs planted surreptitiously in his food by Walsh to prepare him for his 'ultimate destiny'. Thus, the insults continue to be piled upon injury, as Riley, still seeking answers, locates Buffy in Willy's Bar, where she is prodding Willy for info on the whereabouts of Adam. He is becoming seriously unhinged as the collective effects of drug withdrawal and the death of his idealism combine, and threatens Willy, then Buffy, then a harmless human woman trying to run out of the bar to escape the crazy 'army guy' who is brandishing a gun and shouting.

I find it odd that some BtVS fans refer to Riley by Spike's derogatory appellation, 'Captain Cardboard', implying that down deep he isn't made of very stern stuff, when despite everything that is happening he regains enough control of himself in the bar to stand down from his threatening behavior and allow Buffy to help him. *This is not the act of a weak person*. Even though this moment is unquestionably the emotional nadir of his entire life, a part of him remains rational enough to realize that he's irrational. One could argue that he didn't shoot because Buffy gave him a reason not to, but that isn't the way people act when they are truly out of control-- *nothing* gets through to them, not love, not logic. I find it sad that people see a good man who attempts to keep himself on an even keel, and then decry his 'lack of passion'.

Buffy and Xander break into the 314 lab, trying to find out what Walsh was doing to Riley. Adam shows up, and injures Riley in the fight that ensues after Adam reveals at least some of Maggie's plan, and Riley's part in all of it. Buffy and Xander are expelled from the lab, and Riley is taken to the med center. He is shaking uncontrollably, and his wounded hand clutches Buffy's scarf, desperately hanging on to the one and only thing left in his life that he feels he can trust.



Reconstructing Riley - Duty, Love, Perception and Reality - Part II


The next two episodes, 'This Year's Girl' & 'Who Are You' are primarily organized around the conflict between Buffy and the rogue slayer Faith, and the havoc she wreaks upon waking from her long coma. Riley's character seems to be in the background, but in reality he is one of the key players in this particular drama, and this occurs because of his basic nature, and because the love that Buffy has given him gets passed along to another in a very unexpected way.

Faith awakes from her coma, and upon finding that Mayor Wilkins is dead, goes gunning for Buffy. She lays low for a period of time, gathering information on the current status of B. and the SG, finding out among other things that Buffy has a new boyfriend, which does not sit well with her, since Buffy's attempt to kill her was purportedly to save Angel, and now he seems to be out of the picture.

Meanwhile, Riley is feeling somewhat better, although still weakened by his Adam-inflicted injury, and attempts to leave the Initiative to go and see Buffy. His friend, Forrest, again objects strenuously at this, making it plain his hatred for the person he clearly sees as causing the Cause to unravel. Riley defies him and leaves anyway, making it equally plain where-- and with whom-- his loyalties now lie. Riley has evolved to a point where he now differentiates between the collective actions of a group, and the individuals that make it up, realizing for the first time how his blind sense of duty and loyalty to an otherwise righteous cause has in fact allowed him to be shamelessly used and manipulated merely to serve the ulterior motives of his so-called 'superiors'.

Placing a possible feminist spin on this is intriguing. Typically, male heroes who find themselves in Riley's position seek solace or advice from other alpha males. Any aid, comfort and advice from the women in their lives-- should they even have women in their lives, since nearly all of these stereotypical men become 'lone wolves' after breaking apart from their former associations-- is limited to some random and generally meaningless sexual interaction. Even then, this sexual interaction is often seen as a negative value, inevitably reminding them that comfort will lead to betrayal, and so repeat the cycle. It is therefore better to pull away from society completely, write your own rules, do your own thing, beholden to nothing and to no one.

Does this sound familiar? Yes, in this mythology the 'lone wolf' isn't Riley, it's Faith, who was previously allied with a supposedly righteous cause that eventually betrayed her, causing her to pull away from society and trust only herself and her own instincts. Thus, she and Riley share an immense commonality without ever realizing it, and the final resolution of this mini-arc occurs in a transfer of power from Riley to Faith that effectively saves her from her downward spiral into the clutches of darkness and evil.

All this happens because Riley has the good sense to realize that Buffy, having allowed him to taste the apple of knowledge, is now leading the way in showing him how to deal with the consequences. He sees through his fear and trepidations that this 'alpha female' is worthy of trust, while the 'alpha males' in his former company are either not trustworthy, or suspect at best. He again defies the gender role of his creation, and puts his faith in 'Eve'. This is doubly significant in that he previously trusted and respected Maggie Walsh, also a powerful female who sought to 'enlighten' him, and found that hers was the highest betrayal of all, yet this does not poison him towards relating with women of power.

Going back to the story, Faith and Buffy have now switched bodies, and Riley moves into the background again for the moment. Faith, finally getting what she wants more than anything in the world (though she would never admit it even to herself), is now 'Buffy', the one, the only, the respected and admired Chosen One. Many BtVS philosophers have wondered at whether there was ever a subliminal lesbian context existant between Faith and Buffy, that Faith may have even loved Buffy, whether she thought of it consciously or not. I'll not get into that subtext here, it's a whole essay in and of itself, but I will note that it is hard to deny that Faith admires Buffy on at least a subconscious level, that her own lack of self esteem which she tries to make up for with arrogance and bravado covers up for this simple fact.

Stop and think-- of all the gifts that Mayor Wilkins could have bequeathed to Faith, why the one he chose? Why not just give her some form of Buffy-specific Slayer Kryptonite, and let her kill Buffy and be done with it? Because, whatever great evil the Mayor was capable of, there is no doubt that his love for Faith was genuine, and his insight into her psyche allowed him to realize that the only way his 'daughter' would be truly happy (barring his success in becoming fully demonic and taking over the world in the Ascension) would be for her to become the one thing she desires more than anything else-- to be admired, respected, gifted with love-- i.e., Buffy. Knowing this truth causes him to present the perfect weapon to her in order to defeat her nemesis, by becoming her.

Just as prophesies are 'tricky things', fate can turn aside even the best laid plans. Faith's original strategy to get the hell out of Dodge fall prey to her desire to exact some revenge on Buffy and the SG. The final coup de grace occurs to her after Willow innocently suggests that she go visit Riley. What could be better retribution for betrayal than to victimize Buffy by sleeping with her new boy-toy? It's perfect.

Except the unexpected happens, and Faith is totally unprepared. She assumes that Riley is just like all the other men in her past life, either victimizers, users or simply clueless (such as Xander). She attempts a seduction intended to not only give herself some orgasmic jollies, but to prove, once again, that all men are beasts. But Riley won't play this game.

F: You're hurt.

R: I'm not that bad. I guess those drugs the professor was feeding me really did make me stronger. I'm healing pretty quick.

F: Well, why don't we give you a test drive?

R: Wouldn't say no.

She crawls back onto the bed, back to him as she says, "How do you want me?" She turns and sits, waiting for him to follow.

"How do I..." He sits close to her. She comes in close to him.

"What do you want to do with this body? What nasty little desire have you been itching to try out? Am I a bad girl? Do you wanna hurt me?

He sits back a bit, eyes her curiously, not entirely happy. "What are we playing at here?"

"I'm Buffy."

"Okay, then I'll be Riley"

"Hey, if you don't wanna play..." She is starting to get up as she says this. He grabs her arm.

"Right. I don't wanna play." He kisses her with tender passion. She responds in kind.

At this point we cut to Tara's room, where she and Willow are doing the spell to locate Buffy. Willow is making the transition into the netherworld, Tara serving as her anchor to reality. She falls backward, and seconds later is gripped in what appears to be the throes of sexual release. The scene cuts back to Riley and Faith-as-Buffy in bed, where they appear to be in the aftermath of that climax. Uncharacteristically, Faith is on the bottom, Riley is on the top. The only light now is the moonlight pouring in through the window. They are both breathing heavily, slowing down. He is looking into her eyes, hands by her head, stroking her hair, her face, completely focused on her. She looks at him with equal focus. Riley speaks first, very softly:

"I love you."

A reaction swells within her-- surprise, confusion, almost panic as she suddenly is struggling, fighting to get out from under him, barely forming the words, "No... No... Get--", as she scrambles out of bed, crossing the room to the window, standing there silhouetted, freaking out.

"Buffy... what? What's wrong?"

Riley sits on the bed, uncomprehending. (...that he has just stated the words Faith has never before heard uttered with such obvious, undeniable sincerity...) (the addition in ellipses is mine)

F: Who are you? What do you want from her? ( she is anxious, almost muttering it )

R: Should I not have...

F: This is meaningless.

R: You're shaking...

He comes to her, pulling the blanket with him, and wraps it around the both of them. A moment, and the shaking subsides.

R: What happened?

She rests her head on his chest. Stares at nothing.


He holds her, kissing the top of her head.


Later, Riley's gift begins to have an effect on Faith, despite her best efforts to disregard what happened. When she meets up and argues with Forrest as she is leaving the house, she angrily snaps at him that "I'm not a killer! I'm a Slayer. You don't know the first thing about me." Later still, at the airport, she is dressed in soft, Buffy-at-her-most-feminine garb, and hesitates to board her plane when she hears about the vamp hostages being held in a Sunnydale church. There is no good reason for her to respond to this crisis, she isn't really Buffy, but... she goes anyway, missing her plane.

She meets Riley at the church-- he happened to be going there anyway for the normal reasons, and stumbled into the vamp attack-- and she makes the very revealing comment when he attempts to help her go after the vamps, "I can't use you." No, she can't. Riley can be tricked into being used by others, but he isn't a user, and Faith now knows this. Riley is a good man, a creature she didn't believe existed. And if Riley exists, and this good man loves Buffy, then Buffy must be a good woman. This being the case, and now that she effectively *is* Buffy, there is simply no alternative but to do the right thing.

Of course, the glory is short lived. Even possessed of both her Slayer-strength and her new conviction of finally belonging to a world that will care for her, the one vamp, Adam's 'first', is surprisingly strong and is beating her. She is struggling to keep up when suddenly the real Buffy (in her old body) appears and stakes the vamp. They fight, the bodies get switched back, Faith runs away in despair.

Buffy informs Riley of what took place, and here we learn that Riley seems to understand what happened better than Buffy. Buffy is stunned that Riley wouldn't recognize 'her,' meaning Faith, meaning that it wasn't Buffy he was making love to, despite the body switch. Buffy has had some valid disagreements with Riley before, but here she is clearly off the mark in her presumptions. Riley has had only minimal exposure to magic-- a mere few weeks back, he didn't even know that it existed. It is patently unreasonable for him to assume that someone who looks like, feels like, smells and tastes like, and except for some minor quirky behavior (which of course Buffy *never* exhibited before!) acts in all regards like his beloved is, in fact, some other woman entirely. Yet Buffy seems unable to get over the fact that he slept with her 'enemy'. This will cause them some friction until after 'Superstar', when Jonathan gives her advice that causes her to reconsider her thinking and move forward, that she and Riley have something too good going between them to get hung up over this issue, and that it is really her own insecurity talking.

Because what really gets Buffy unnerved about Faith sleeping with Riley is that if Faith could pull this off, then Faith is far more like her than she cares to admit. Buffy is also unaware, and probably remains so to the current day, that Riley is the one whose innate decency and caring saved Faith from a fate truly worse than death-- the loss of her soul.


In 'Where the Wild Things Are' Riley seems to be back in Buffy's good graces again, certainly if the amount of sexual activity they engage in is any indication. This ep is really about the results of sexual obsessions, and how attempting to frustrate or vilify this natural human need leads to all sorts of problems, some of which can become quite serious. Speaking via metaphor, B/R's loss of their seperate selves into a physical/spiritual unity to the exclusion of the outside world is an indication that no matter how much they love one another, they have a higher calling to meet. It is interesting that they are ultimately rescued from themselves by the couple that we normally expect to behave in an over-sexualized manner, namely Xander and Anya. As jenoff notes in his review of this ep, (see my references list at the end of the essay) it seems that only hidden or secret sex brings out the poltergeists. Hummmm.... but onward, now, to 'New Moon Rising'.

Riley seems at least partly back in the good graces of the Initiative, but only partly, what with both Forrest and some of the Ini. leadership still watching him suspiciously. Things get stirred up when Oz returns to town, having managed to cure himself of his full-moon wolfiness. While walking on patrol, Buffy fills Riley in on Willow's past relationship with Oz, and Riley perturbs her with his take on demonic types mixing it up with normal humans:

R: Oz is a werewolf and Willow was *dating* him?

B: Well, yeah. Hence the high emotion.

R: Man. You're kidding me.

B: (growing defensive): It wasn't like he was bad all the time. He only changed three nights a month. I mean, besides the wolf thing, Oz is a great guy.

R: That's a big 'besides', Buffy. Gotta say, I'm surprised. I didn't think Willow was that kind of girl.

B: (offended): What kind of girl?

R: Into dangerous guys. She seems smarter than that.

B: Oz is *not* dangerous. Something happened to him that wasn't his fault. God, I never knew you were such a bigot.

R: Whoa! How did we get to bigot? I'm just saying that it's a little weird to date anyone who tries to eat you once a month.

B: (angrily): Love isn't logical, Rye. People can't just be Joe Sensible about it. God knows I haven't been.

R: We're not talking about you...

B: How 'bout we don't talk about it at all. Let's just patrol.

Riley soon finds out that Buffy's point should be well taken, after Oz, in wolf form, gets captured by the Ini. and taken into the lab for 'medical testing'. Riley wants to kill the wolf creature, certain that it is the one that attacked his men, but the wolf morphs back into Oz just as he points a gun at the beast. Riley's bloodlust subsides at the sight of the naked and defenseless human sitting inside the cage. The Ini doctors are unmoved, just simply more curious than ever. Riley again finds himself on the outside looking in as he tries to dissuade the doctors from torturing Oz to find out what makes him turn into the wolf. He later attempts to help Oz escape, and fails, causing himself to be arrested by Col. McNamara, the current head of the Initiative who was sent to replace Maggie Walsh. McNamara is much like Riley used to be, all loyalty and by-the-books, but without Riley's common sense or compassion. He has no interest in hearing Riley's defense of his actions, and states that he cannot fathom why a promising soldier such as Riley would throw his career away for, as he puts it, a 'bunch of anarchists', meaning of course Buffy and her friends.

MacNamara gets his answer when Buffy, Xander and Willow sneak into the Ini complex and rescue Oz and the now imprisoned Riley.

R: How did you...

B: Talk, later. Stealthy escape now.

R: Buffy, I leave now, I can't ever come back.

He pauses, thinks.

R: Just wanted to hear it out loud...

They go.

As they complete the retreat from the Ini, Riley is the last one to leave the elevator. McNamara glares at him, barely able to suppress his rage at this flagrant disloyalty.

"You're a dead man, Finn."

"No sir, I'm an anarchist."

He punches McNamara and drops him, walks away.


Riley and Buffy are setting up a hideaway in the least damaged part of the old high school, figuring the Ini. is less likely to find him there. After settling in a bit, they talk:

B: Quite a day. Woke up to a big bowl of Wheaties, now you're a fugitive.

R: Could be worse. At least I've got a hottie girlfriend to keep me warm on the lam.

B: True, but...

R: Seriously? I don't know. I'm sorry it had to end that way. But I'm glad to know where I stand, finally. (Pauses) I was wrong about Oz. I was being a bigot.

B: No you weren't. You we're thrown. You found out Willow was in kind of an unconventional relationship and it gave you a momentary wiggins. (She thinks of Willow and Tara) It happens.

R: Still, I was in a totally black and white space. People vs. monsters. Ain't like that. especially when it comes to love.

Buffy pauses, considers something.

B: I gotta tell you some stuff. About my past. It's not all stuff you're gonna like.

R: You can tell me anything.

B: I think so. I think I can.


Col. McNamara is speaking via a video hookup with a Mr. Ward, obviously a bigwig in some oversight group that keeps tabs on the Inititive. Ward is generally supportive of McNamara, but can't resist a little dig at him nonetheless:

Ward: The incident with Finn was unfortunate.

McN: Fell in with the bad crowd. Quite frankly, I don't think he was ever the soldier you all hoped he was. The boy thinks too much.


We now come to the season's end with 'The Yoko Factor' and 'Primeval'. Riley is still a fugitive from the Initiative, Adam's evil plans are proceeding with the sometime aid of Spike, who is doing a respectable job of planting the seeds of dissention in the ranks of the SG. Buffy has returned from a visit to L.A., where she meets with the aftermath of the conflict between Angel and Faith, and is none too pleased, even though Faith has finally done the unthinkable, and turned herself in to the police.

Xander tells Riley about Buffy and Angel, filling in a portion of the story that Buffy left out, fearing to upset Riley. Those fears soon prove valid, as Riley runs into Angel while out trying to surreptitiously help his previous comrades-in-arms fight off a large group of HST's. Thinking Angel's gone bad again-- and why that would have occurred-- Riley launches into a ferocious battle with him. Angel beats him down momentarily, not realizing this is Buffy's new squeeze, and goes off to the dorm to find her. When he does, he no sooner starts a conversation with her than Riley runs in. The fighting begins again, but Buffy seperates them. After retreating to the hall to speak to Angel privately, she returns to her room and the very chagrined Mr. Finn.

Riley is sure that Angel has turned evil again, and is distraught about what he thinks has caused this to occur. Buffy is equally shocked and dismayed that he would think for even one second that she would do such a thing, old boyfriend or no. She eventually reassures him that Angel is *not* evil again, and that he has nothing to fear from Angel in the competition department. She wonders why he is acting this way, asks if she has ever given him one reason not to trust her. He answers no.

Buffy: "Then why with the crazy?"

He lays it all on the line...

Riley: "Because I'm so in love with you I can't think straight."

She takes all this in, blown away, touches his face tenderly. They embrace for a long time, feeling the intensity of the moment. Then Buffy's face clouds-- Forrest. She is going to have to tell him that Forrest has been killed by Adam. She pauses, then does so, as gently as she can.

Although Riley and Forrest have been seriously at odds since Buffy came into his life, Riley still is shocked, and obviously grieves for his former friend. He softly moans, holds his head in his hands. Buffy does what she can to reassure him, tells Riley that they will find Adam, destroy him. Then, Riley stands up abruptly and states that "I have to go." His expression is blank, as if he was suddenly transformed into some kind of emotionless machine. He repeats his last words, and quickly exits the room.


Riley finds himself in Adam's cave, face to face with his 'brother', as Adam insists on referring to him. Adam reveals that professor Walsh did indeed 'chip' him, and that he is now under Adam's control. Riley attempts to fight the invisible force that is restraining him, but to no avail. Adam delivers a speech on how 'mother's' vision came to bring about this turn of events. The speech is revealing not only for explaining the immediate questions of how and why, but in subtext says quite a bit about how 'mother' views the world around her and her 'children', including, and especially, her favorite son Riley:

"Demons cling to old ways and ancient feuds, and they're hopeless with technology. Unworthy. Disappointed by demonkind, we turn to humans. Smart, adaptive, but emotional and weak. Blind. There is imperfection everywhere. Something must be done. Who will deliver us?

"Mother. She creates me-- demon strength, human will, high-grade titanium. Evolution through technology. I am the new standard for all living beings and our mother knew that. She saw our future, yours and mine. She saw that you were necessary. She saw the role that you will play by my side. Stand up."

Riley stands, having no choice.

"You see, we *are* brothers, after all."


Of course, Riley is about as much like Maggie's Adam as a normal human is like a vampire, except there is more latent humanity in most vamps than there is in the entirety of Adam. Riley has never been aware until this very moment just how supremely accurate Buffy's long ago accusation was that "For someone who teaches human behavior, you might try showing some." Maggie, in many ways, is worse than Adam. Adam, the vampires, and many other demons are largely 'programmed' entities, mostly primal in their instincts, blindly following their DNA. They exhibit no sense of morality because they are, like Parker, are Id-creatures. Adam is sentient, but is rather mistaken in thinking he is the next upward level of that sentience. He really doesn't have a clue as to the nature of what will eventually defeat him. He says he sees all, but he shares Maggie's characteristic blindness.

Maggie was human, and possessed of a soul, which in the Jossverse is intended to impel one to embrace the cause of good. Yet to her, any means necessary to achieve a goal was justifiable if that goal could be met, even if it caused pointless suffering for all the innocent bystanders who crossed her path. All of the truly noteworthy misanthropic tyrants of history would have been proud of how her 'vision' cut through the meaningless emotionality of her fellow, non-visionary humans, yet in the end that which she discredits as being of no value in her fellow humans is her downfall, as Riley and Buffy and all the other 'anarchists' in the SG exemplify those 'weaknesses'.

The SG has been driven apart by Spike, who manipulates their latent fears and self-doubts. This action is a temporary setback, for love and caring-- those sentiments Walsh and Adam do not understand in any intrinsic sense-- abound among the Scoobies. They really cannot be kept apart for very long, the ties between them are too solid. They overcome their self-doubts and band together, and it is also significant that the idea that ultimately saves the day comes from Xander, who, like Riley, is sometimes criticized by fans as being 'dull and ordinary', but whose quick wit enables him to often draw connections among disparate ideas that the others don't see-- any standup comedian will tell you that improvisation is the hardest thing in the world to pull off successfully.

One last time, the SG breaks into the Ini complex, but are captured by Col. McNamara and his troops. The subsequent verbal sparring in his control room shows just how painfully out of his depth he really is, his foolish and pig-headed behavior illustrating again that Riley is far too intelligent and emotionally deep an individual to have remained in the service of the military, or at least this part of it. McNamara sees things in terms of total black and white, as Riley recently claimed that he did, and will not listen to Buffy as she tries to clue him in to what is actually happening and what needs to be done to solve it. The argument is barely finished as things dissolve into chaos when Adam begins the real 'Initiative', executing his variant of Walsh's grand plan.

Buffy first goes to save Riley, who remains under chip control. She is having a hard time defending herself again the newly 'enhanced' Forrest, and in a supreme effort of will enabled by seeing his beloved in mortal danger, manages to cut his chest with a shard of glass and pull the chip from his body. Some viewers have claimed that this is a near impossibility, and therefore an example of a 'plothole', but they are missing the point, which is that it *is* a near impossibility. If it isn't, then it has little meaning symbolically. Riley's love for Buffy is so strong, that for at least this short, crucial moment in time he inherits the ability to execute a superhuman feat, one which Adam would have assured him is beyond the abilities of 'emotional, weak' humanity. Whether the momentary 'gift' was granted by the PTB, or emanated from Riley's own soul does not matter, it is still the stuff that defeats monsters.

Buffy leaves Riley with Forrest, knowing that Riley will not have closure unless he destroys the thing that has taken over the body of his friend, much as Gunn (in A:tS) knew that he and he alone had to destroy the vampire that was once his sister. She and the SG then unite to cast the enjoining spell that will draw on the power of the Primitive ('The First Slayer') and create an 'UberBuffy' to defeat Adam. After one of the most creatively visualized fight scenes in the history of the series, Adam stands uncomprehendingly as Buffy pulls the 'source' from his chest and destroys it-- stating "You could never hope to grasp the source of *our* power."

This action also mirrors the one where Riley himself pulls the chip out of his chest, in that the former action saves Riley-Adam, and the latter destroys Maggie-Adam. In my earlier Biblical creation analogy, I spoke of Riley as being a metaphorical Adam to Buffy's Eve. I have sometimes conjectured that this traditional mythology could be alternately interpreted as God presenting his creations with a test-- offer them the choice between 'paradise' and lack of will, or free will and the terrible and wonderful responsibility that comes with that freedom. God's original Adam failed that test, but Eve did not, and thereafter convinced her mate that the pain was worth the gain. Riley's 'Adam', having experienced firsthand the moral consequences of 'just following orders', and the amoral ends to which that can be taken, rejects the influence of the 'divine right' and thereby establishes that if he is going to die for somebody's sins, then they need to be his own, or for someone that he cares about. The analogy continues in that at first, he was happy to remain in the 'paradise' of the Initiative, doing good things (or so he thought) and following God's (Maggie's) advice. Buffy (Eve) presents him with a plan 'B', which after some trepidations, he ultimately accepts.

Thus, we grow.



Reconstructing Riley - Duty, Love, Perception and Reality - Part III


We are now finally near the last episode of season four, and Riley is being rewarded for his efforts by Mr. Ward and the oversight committee, who now realize that the Ini project has been a horrible mistake, and that it must be shut down:

"This was an experiment. The Initiative represented the government's interest in not only controlling the otherworldly menace but in harnessing it's power for our own military purposes. It is the considered opinion of this council that the experiment has failed.

"Once the prototype took control of the complex our soldiers suffered a forty percent casuality rate, and it seems that it was only through the actions of a deserter and a group of civilian insurrectionists that our losses were not total. I trust the irony of that is not lost on any of us.

"Maggie Walsh's vision was brilliant, but ultimately unsupportable. The demons cannot be harnessed, cannot be controlled. It is therefore our recommendation that this project be terminated, and all records concerning it be expunged. Civilians will be monitored, and we have the usual measures prepared should they try to go public. We don't think they will.

"The Initiative itself will be filled in with concrete. Burn it down, gentlemen. Burn it down and salt the earth. That's all."


Now, I am aware that the season officially ends with 'Restless', and that Riley appears in it, but I won't discuss his role therein, since by it's nature the whole episode is so wildly open to different meanings, and has already been discussed extensively. Feel free to post any new thoughts you may come up with on that still ongoing discussion, should you feel influenced by any of the things I've written here so far.


A bit of a preface is in order, before we launch into That Which Is Rileyness, S5. One of the unusual things that Joss has done with both BtVS and Angel is that, at least from S2 Buffy (the first full, 22 ep. season), the shows have appeared to occur in more or less real time, according to the calendar year. What this means is that while we, the fans, see the previous season's ender splicing neatly into the next season's opening ep, in the Buffyverse, three or four months of the summer have passed-- think back, and you will realize that this is always the case.

I mention this because I would like to point out that taking this into account for S4/S5 means that Buffy and Riley have enjoyed at least 3 or 4 months of what must have been a reasonably joyful relationship, if we are to judge by how they first appear to us in the S5 opening act, 'Buffy vs. Dracula', where they are playing on the beach, with Xander, Willow and Tara also present. Naturally, there is no drama without conflict, and just a commercial or five before this happy scene, the show's teaser presents us with Buffy and Riley in bed, Riley sleeping, Buffy getting up to 'hunt' and kill a vamp, then returning to bed with a satisfied look on her face.

This first 5-7 minutes of the program pretty much sets up the dynamic for the B/R ship for the remainder of season five. Both characters will undergo some transformational experiences, mostly as victims of circumstances beyond their respective controls, but also partly as personal attempts to gain greater understanding of themselves and their place in the world.

In 'B vs. D', we see a return of some of Riley's old insecurities when Drac pays a visit to the 'renowned killer' Buffy Summers, who is just a little too impressed with Drac's general famousness. He isn't entirely off base, since Drac does manage to get Buffy in his 'thrall' to some extent, even getting to bite and drink from her neck, where he notes the scar left by Angel. While of course she eventually resists and dusts (?) the Dark Prince, the incident does set things up for further difficulties as the season unfolds.

At the very end of 'B vs D', the character of Dawn is rather mystically and mysteriously introduced, and so some of Riley's interactions with the Summers' women expand to include her. Dawn sees him as being nice, but generally indifferent to her, treating her pretty much like the 'kid sister to his girlfriend', which of course is exactly what she is. Much later in the season, some well-meaning but misinterpreted comments that Dawn will make to him regarding 'how much better he is for her than Angel' will end up having a profound effect on how his relationship with Buffy ends, or at least radically changes form. By and large, however, there is not too much going on between them for most of the season. While it seems obvious that Riley should end up as a sort of protector/big brother figure to Dawn, that role is taken over by Spike, of all (un-)people, and there is a steadily increasing dynamic between Riley and Spike that forshadows Riley's eventual exit from Sunnydale in 'Into the Woods'.

This excerpt from the shooting script for 'Real Me', actually gives away quite a lot of things, with mid-summer 2001 benefit of hindsight, naturally:

R: Morning, Mrs. Summers. You look great.

J: Thank you, Riley. (Buffy goes and greets Riley as Joyce exits upstairs)

B: Suck up.

R: What, it's a nice outfit. Besides, 'I'm here to violate your firstborn' never goes over with the parents. Not sure why.

D: (in voiceover): Riley, my sister's boyfriend, is so into her. They're always kissing. And groping. (pause) I bet they've had sex.

R: (noticing Dawn watching ): Hey, kid.

D: I'm not a kid.

B: This is a surprise of the nice kind.

R: Now it's my turn to be surprised. Thought we had plans today.

B: Plans? We planned plans?

R: Well, you said 'come over and we'll hang'. Then I said ''kay'. Not the invasion of Normandy, but still a plan.

B: Oh, right, uh...

R: We're not hanging, are we?

B: Giles is on his way to pick me up.

R: (understanding): Slayer training.

B: Slayer shopping, actually. (defensive) But it's just as important.

R: I've no doubt. Okay, we'll hook up later.

B: You're not mad?

R: No, no, I'm plotting your death, but in a happy way.

B: (teeny bit worried): Oh, good...

R: (sincere): Buffy, I know what this means to you. I think it's great you've got this new mission. (he kisses her on the cheek and exits) See you tonight. (calls out) See you, kid!

D: I'm *not* a *kid*.

(REVERSE ANGLE ON BUFFY, in doorway, watching him go and feeling somehow guilty)


OK, you might want to go back and read that again. Yes, this is the second episode of the season, and this one little four-way conversation (Buffy/Joyce/Riley/Dawn) has just laid out about half of the main events of the rest of the season, and the comments that are most relevant are those that Riley makes, by the implications of what Dawn really turns out to be, that he complements Joyce who then 'exits upstairs', that he had plans with Buffy that get deferred, that he respects her 'new mission' and that he is 'plotting her death, but in a happy way'. Either this show's writers are having their keyboards possessed by the Buffyverse PTB, or they had the whole year planned in exacting detail before 'Real Me' was written. (Your call).

On to 'The Replacement', a mainly Xander-centric ep, but where several key scenes occur that involve Riley which have great significance for future B/R relations, one of which comes at the very end of the ep and is a bombshell if ever there was one. This scene establishes the beginning of a pattern whereby Buffy will increasingly distance her inner self from Riley, out of the best intentions (to protect him, just as it is her job to protect others) but to ultimately tragic consequences:

(Riley and Buffy are alone again)

B: I guess I should go. I'm thinking maybe the guy actually likes smelly places. So I'm going to do a whole tour de funky, starting with the sewers.

R: I'm coming with you.

B: Um...

R: I've never told you this about me, but I love the sewers. Probably get a place when I retire.

B: Riley, this Toth guy walks softly and carries a big blasty rod. He almost hurt Xander-- I'm not going to let him hurt you.

R: I don't know. I don't like you facing off alone with these creeps who come gunning for you. I mean, first it was Dracula...

B: Dracula wasn't the first guy to come Buffy Hunting. Lots of baddies want the Slayer trophy kill. I can handle it.

R: I know... and if you want me to stay out of it, that's cool. But you can't blame me for worrying. Your job makes you a target. I mean, who knows how many bad guys are out there just waiting for a chance.

Later on, in act four, Buffy and Riley are in his car, racing to Xander's apartment:

B: Can't this thing go any faster? Ultimate Driving Machine my ass.

R: We're pushing 70.

B: Hey Riley. Do you wish... .

R: No.

B: No? You don't even know what I was going to say!

R: Yes, I do, You wanted to know if I wished you got hit by the Ferula-gemina. Got split in two.

B: Well, you have been kinda rankly about the whole 'Slayer' gig. Instead of Slayer Buffy you could have Buffy Buffy.

R: I *have* Buffy Buffy. Being the Slayer is part of who you are. You keep thinking I don't get that, but...

B: I just know how unfun it can be. Bad hours, frequent bruising, cranky monsters...

R: Buffy , if you lead a perfectly normal life, you wouldn't be half as crazy as you are. I gotta have that. I'm talking toes, elbows, the whole bad-ice-skating-movie obsession, everything. There's no part of you I'm not in love with.

( Buffy thinks about his answer. After a quiet beat, she allows herself a little smile.)

B: We better get there soon. If Xander kills himself, he's dead. (thinks) You know what I mean.


So there it is-- just how clearly, and in how many ways can he state it? Riley has never been shy about expressing his innermost feelings to Buffy. It seems impossible that she could miss the message that he's sending and I don't think she does, yet other than the time in L.A., when she did say to Angel that she loves and trusts Riley, I am still not sure she has ever stated it out loud to him, the man that she exhibits all the normal signs of love with. Why the holding back? It seems unlikely to me that it would be fear of commitment, so the only remaining emotion that I can see playing a role in this recitience would be fear of being unable to protect Riley from harm, and indeed the above excerpts suggest just this scenario. Riley accepts that Buffy has a dangerous job, one in which she could be badly hurt or even killed, which considering the conventional protectiveness most men feel towards their mate, is astoundingly adaptive and mature of him, to grant her this degree of space and not try to impose on her that which he knows she would resent. Buffy, however, seems afraid to grant Riley the same consideration, and he begins to sense this, and chafe at it, even though he understands intellectually why she feels this way.


So we are back to where I started at the beginning of this essay, with Riley in Xander's basement shocking us all with the remark that 'Buffy doesn't love me'. Is this true? No, I have come to believe that he was wrong, and that Buffy does love him, still loves him, but simply let her fear get in the way of her actual heart's desire. There is nothing harder than living through and then beyond the death of a lover or loved one. Buffy finds this out first hand when Joyce dies, and Buffy has to deal, knowing that there was nothing she could have done, but torturing herself anyway with '...if only I had'.

Buffy has dealt with death on a daily basis since she first answered her calling, but these deaths did not directly involve a loved one. Buffy is still very young and inexperienced in many ways and her only serious longer-term romantic relationships (Angel, and to some extent, Faith) were with people possessed of superhuman strengths and responsibilities, exactly like herself. She expected that they could look out for themselves and survive life on the hellmouth. Riley is different, or at least she perceives him as such, and since Riley is extremely capable for a human in term of slayage duties, he begins to resent this attitude. He doesn't see that he difference between him and the SG is that Buffy see them as friends and helpers who complement her skills and abilities, that they are a 'team', much like the one Riley fought beside when he was in the Initiative. The death of a brother (or sister) in arms, a friend, is devastating enough, but the emotional entanglement with a lover is several orders of magnitude higher. Buffy simply wasn't prepared to deal with this, yet. Her mistake was not in feeling this way, it was in not communicating it clearly to Riley by telling him why she was carrying these fears, and allowing him to help her deal with it as he did with his own fears of losing her. Riley does understand, as he says to Buffy in 'Out of My Mind':

"Loving you is the scariest thing I've ever done."


The rest, as they say, is history. The early signs of her illness are becoming apparent to Joyce, and with the tremendous emotional stress of dealing with the possible loss of her mother, Buffy never gets a chance to pursue working out what at this point are eminently solvable relationship problems with her lover. Riley gives Buffy the space to deal with this crisis, but in return he is not given the opportunity to care for her with the only thing he has that he can give, himself, and so provide a place for her to seek solace in her time of need. Buffy has always felt that it is part of her duty to be strong, to look out for all others first, a cause that she and Riley share, and one of the greatest reasons they are such a great potential match for one another. Whether it is just random circumstance or fate, the result is the same. Riley needs Buffy, and knows it, and accepts the consequences. Buffy needs Riley, but is afraid it will show weakness on her part, or that she will let him in only to see him die, and that is just too much to handle. All of which ends things with the age old musical question,

"Don't it always seem to go, that you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone?"


Final thoughts:

As you have undoubtably noted, I've concentrated mostly on the events of season four in this essay, since they are further out of mind for most of us (they certainly were for me, as I began to play back my tape collection, study the scripts, etc. etc.) I found that while I have always regarded both the character of Riley Finn and Season 4 of BtVS as representing high levels of the Jossian art form, my admiration has only been increased by reviewing it all again. I disagreed before, and now disagree more strongly so than ever, with those fans who decry this season, or Riley, as being a poor representaion of the worth of the series.

Everyone has their favorites, their likes and dislikes among characters. This is only natural and there is nothing wrong with any of these impressions, except when they are based on trying to cite specific reasons that come down to accusing the creators of the show of 'not doing their job' or doing 'sloppy work'. This is nonsense. Some people may not have liked this particular story, but the story was *extremely* well told.

You will also notice that I have omitted detailed discussion of the endgame of the B/R 'ship, including the involvement of Riley with vampSandy and later the vamp hookers. This topic has been extensively discussed fairly recently, and nothing I have read so far in terms of comments from other fans dissuades me from my original thinking on this matter, which is that Riley was desperate, and like other desperate people, he did foolish things. I consider this aberration just exactly that, similar to any otherwise healthy person who experiences physical or emotional difficulties and takes to drinking, drugs or other negative behavior as a refuge. Riley needed help, and if circumstances hadn't been what they were, I have no doubt he would have gotten his act together, and that Buffy would have eventually forgiven him. In a way, his taking off for Belize with the ex-Ini demon-hunting guys could be seen as another kind of 'drug', but at least it doesn't *have* to be a negative experience for him, and that is encouraging in itself.

As to Season 6, as always, I'm along for the ride. I'm hoping to see Riley again, maybe not right away, but I feel there is too much spark present for this fire not to burn brightly again.

Captain Cardboard? I say anyone Spike will sit down and share a beer with after getting a plastic stake in the heart can't be all bad.


References and resources used to help create whatever the hell this thing was/is:

1. The OnM personal off-air original-broadcast videotape collection of BtVS S4 & 5, and Angel S1 & 2.

2. Rayne's Buffy Shooting Script website (www.mustreadtv.com/buffyscripts/) Bless you, my child!

3. jenoff's TV reviews. (www3.sympatico.ca/jenoff/tvrev.htm) This is an incredible collection of summaries/analyses for the last 3 seasons of BtVS and Angel. Like any other Buffyphile, jenoff doesn't always get it exactly right, but he gets it right so often that it's scary. Amazing insights into the subtexts of the show and its characters. Download 'em, print 'em out, stick 'em in a 3-ring binder and read 'em. I guarantee it's worth your while.

4. The Buffy Cross and Stake, Buffyguide.com, Buffy News Wire, Above the Law, Little Willow's Slayground, The Council of Watchers (the site, not the one Quentin Travers heads) and a number of other websites for dropping interesting thoughts into my brain over the past year.

6. Last, but certainly not in the least, Masquerade, ATPoBtVS, and the other wonderful Buffyfreaks who hang out on the discussion board here. Bless you all!


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