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Buffy the Vampire Slayer Opinion Article

BUFFY AND RILEY: "Breaking Up Is Hard to Do"

Opinion by DR76 posted over a year ago
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I have read many opinions regarding the breakup of vampire slayer Buffy Summers and her Season Four/Season Five boyfriend, Riley Finn on many discussion forums, blogs and message boards about ”BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER”. The prevailing viewpoint seemed to be that Riley had ruined the relationship with his behavior and attitude in Season Five. I might be one of the few fans of the show who might harbor another opinion. Then again, I might not. Let me explain.

At the end of Season Three, Buffy’s vampire paramour – Angel – had decided it would be safer for her if he left Sunnydale and her for good. Following Buffy’s graduation from high school, she enrolled in the University of California at Sunnydale. And not long after starting school, she met Riley Finn inside a student bookstore for the first time. As it turned out, Riley was not only a Teacher’s Assistant for one of the university’s instructors (Maggie Walsh), he was also an Army officer and demon hunter for a government-sponsored organization called ’The Initiative’. And unbeknownst to both Buffy and Riley, his mentor Dr. Walsh had been feeding him drugs to enhance his physical prowess. Not only did the couple spend most of Season Four coming to terms with Riley’s participation in the Initiative, but also dealing with Maggie Walsh’s other experiment – namely a human/demon cyborg hybrid named Adam. But after their adventures with the Initiative, Adam and other demons; Riley resigned from the Army and became part of the Scoobies.

But all was not as well as it seemed by the beginning of Season Five for Buffy and Riley. Buffy began sneaking away from Riley at nights to engage in her usual Slayer activities. She suddenly found herself the older sister of a fourteen year-old adolescent girl named Dawn, who was in reality a mystical object known as the Key transformed into human for by a group of monks and sent to Buffy from protection from a hell god named Glory. The drugs that Maggie Walsh had fed into Riley began having a deteriorating effect upon his health. Riley had the drugs removed from him via an operation by a former Initiative doctor and became slightly weaker. Buffy discovered that her mother, Joyce Summers, was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Worst of all, Riley began harboring suspicions that the blond vampire slayer did not really love him. It finally ended for Buffy and Riley in (5.10) “Into the Woods” when two things happened: 1) Riley was approached by his old friend, Graham Miller, to consider rejoining the Army and a new version of the Initiative; and 2) Buffy learned via chipped vampire Spike that Riley was seeing vampire whores who suck his blood for money. After a bitter fight between the two, Riley left Buffy and Sunnydale for good.

Ever since ”Into the Woods”, many ”BUFFY” fans have placed either most or all of the blame of the couple’s breakup upon Riley’s shoulders. First of all, many have accused his character of over-the-top machismo. They claimed that Riley could not handle being physically weaker than Buffy after his operation in (5.04) ”Out of My Mind”. They used his actions with the vampire whores as example that Riley tried to be “monstrous” enough to be a worthy mate for Buffy . . . and fell short.

I must admit that I found the above claims about Riley very hard to accept. Granted, he possessed a black-and-white view of the world before meeting Buffy. And this conservative viewpoint led him to join the Army, allow Maggie Walsh to recruit him into the Initiative and help the latter capture Oz in (4.19) “New Moon Rising”, despite Buffy’s protests. But Riley made bigger mistakes. After resigning his Army commission, Riley should have taken the time to make a life for himself outside of Buffy. He could have continued his studies at UC Sunnydale or try to become a teacher. Perhaps one of the reasons he failed to pursue another profession was that the only life he really wanted was in the military. I see nothing wrong with that. As long as Riley went through life with his eyes opened and without the naivety that Maggie Walsh had exploited in the past . . . he could be on the right track.

But Riley tried to make his life all about Buffy (just as Spike would attempt to do so between late Season Five and Season Seven) and it was another mistake on his part. Even worse, he failed to inform Buffy of his true feelings about everything – his lack of a direction in his life, the vampire whores and Buffy’s growing emotional distance - until it was too late. Quite simply, Riley made three major mistakes. He failed to make a new life for himself outside of Buffy, he cavorted with vampire whores in order to explore his inner darkness and most importantly, he failed to communicate with Buffy.

On the other hand, Buffy also contributed to her breakup with Riley. I suspect that she had been using Riley as rebound from Day One of their relationship. She was not only rebounding from Angel's departure, but also from the idea of a relationship with a supernatural being. To her, Riley was her ”Joe Normal”. And this was a mistake. There is a chance that some part of Buffy had deep feelings for him, but I doubt that it was enough for a long term relationship.

But the one thing that really annoyed me was Buffy's habit of treating Riley like fine china, following the operation to remove his physical enhancements in "Out of My Mind". So what if he had lost some of his strength? He was still a competent demon hunter. He certainly proved that in (5.07) "Fool For Love". Instead, Buffy treated him like a damsel-in-distress by insisting that the Scoobies help him hunt down the vampire that attacked her. In other words, she became ridiculously macho when it came to Riley. She failed to remember that Riley was an experienced demon hunter, who could help her deal with vampires, demons, etc. a little more effectively than the other Scoobies. It almost seemed as if Buffy was treating Riley with a patriarchal air. And that was a major mistake for her to make with a strong-willed personality like Riley. Another major mistake that Buffy made was like Riley, she failed to communicate with him. Many fans pointed out that Buffy was too busy dealing with Joyce’s illness and the appearance of a new sister to deal with Riley’s demons. But if Buffy could confide with Spike about Joyce’s illness in (5.08) “Shadow”, why did she wait so long to do the same with Riley? Why did she confide in Spike first?

I suspect that in the end, the real problem with Buffy and Riley was that emotionally, they were too similar to each other. Each, in their own way, possessed a . . . masculine personality. And instead of creating a balance between two people, it created conflict in the end. Neither of them were really honest with each other. Both had a problem with communicating
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Xeginy said:
This is the most articulate article I've read about Riley. I agree, it's a mistake to boil Riley down into some macho stereotype. Their relationship (or lack of one) is a lot more complicated than that.
posted over a year ago.