30 Day Challenge: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Day 6: Least Favorite Main Character

I know you probably guessed that this would be Xander, and normally, you’d be right, because fuck Xander and the fragile masculine toxicity he rode in on. Well, you’d be incorrect!

You know how on Parks and Recreation, there’s Mark Brendanewicz for the first two seasons? And how he disappears and the show gets better? And everyone kind of forgets he ever existed? Well, that’d be Captain Cardboard himself, Riley Finn.

Im Riley

Let me get this out of the way. I like Marc Blucas as an actor. I think he did a fine job playing Riley, and had the character not gone the way he did, I might have indeed gone with Xander here. He was this tiny bright spot in Buffy’s normally dismal life of death and beheadings, even if he was a demon hunter, and their relationship was a pleasant change from the broody Angel-Buffy pairing*. Riley was excited to see her and wasn’t put off by her strength. At first.

However. I don’t call him Captain Cardboard for nothing. He’s very bland, and I don’t know enough about Iowa to make a quippy comment about him hailing from that state except maybe that it’s Midwestern? He doesn’t really do much to change the world around Buffy like her other friends do. Willow is learning magic, Xander is growing up and proving himself useful in ways other than demon-fighting, Tara is a powerful witch, Dawn is basically turning into a Mini-Watcher. Riley is just … there, and ultimately becomes a damsel in distress with a control chip in his arm. But he wasn’t awful, and I was willing to learn more about him since he really did seem to be a stabilizing influence on my favorite vampire slayer.

But then Season Five really did a number on Riley. And it’s not that I didn’t understand his arc: Buffy’s Slayer powers made her an Other from the very beginning of the series, and her renewed focus on honing those very abilities at the beginning of the fifth season would be very intimidating for a guy who used to have similar, albeit artificially created, ones. But he turns into Douche Master 3000. And all because he didn’t remember the lessons he learned all the way back in Season Four’s “Hush.” Riley and Buffy do not communicate through the entire season, and although that’s as much Buffy’s fault as it is Riley’s, come on, her mother was freaking sick and she was having to deal with a whole heaping load of shit. She literally had the weight of the world on her shoulders, dude. Cut her some slack. But he didn’t even try to talk to her about his feelings; instead, he confided in … Xander for … reasons?

But that’s not even remotely my biggest issue with Riley. Buffy does have a tendency to pull away from people – being a Slayer does that to people – and while he says their relationship is deteriorating because of it, the real reason stems from the same idiotic complex Xander suffers from: he doesn’t like that he can’t save her from the Big Bads of the world. He wants her to need him, like the vampires he gets to feed off of him in exchange for feeling ~~**{ALIVE}**~~. And then he has the gall to give her an ultimatum: tell me you love and need me despite my insecurity or else I’m running off to the jungle with Army.

bite me buffy

When this happened during the show’s original run, I gave my TV screen a ton of side-eye at this little interaction because this show was ostensibly about feminism. Surely Buffy would see through that and be like, “Dude, accept the fact I’m tougher than you and still manage to love you, even though you essentially cheated on me with an entire brothel of vampires. If not, bye.” But inexplicably, Buffy taps Xander’s infinite relationship wisdom (??) and decides to declare her love to an already-departing Riley, who doesn’t hear her cries over the whipping of helicopter blades.

Which then brings us back to Brendanawicz. After a crying spell or two from Buffy, Riley isn’t even a thought for the rest of the season, and only after he makes one trip back to Sunnydale (with new wife in tow!) do we remember that a) he exists and b) he does military things again! Like … I did not miss him one bit and was glad to see him go a second time. He didn’t add anything else to the story that wasn’t already there: Xander’s emasculation at the thought of being “the weak one,” Willow’s addiction to power and subsequent withdrawal from it, the emotional connection between rescuer Buffy and victim Dawn, Spike’s romantic obsession with Buffy, etc. Riley was just Mark Brendanawicz in camo, an extraneous character that was thankfully written out for the betterment of the show.

Art Credit: Buffy Wiki, Once More with Extreme Prejudice, Giphy

* Like, I don’t care. Once I got past seventeen, the whole Angel-Buffy romance just got obnoxious. He’s literally over two-hundred years older than her and it’s creepy. #endrant

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