Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Watch This! Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Pt. 3)

When Angel left the show and went off to his own spin off, there was a kind of boyfriend vacuum around Buffy that just had to be filled. Enter Riley Finn, the very bland anti-angel college boyfriend.

I liked a lot of things about seasons four and five. I liked seeing Buffy go on to college and mature as an adult. I liked that the show allowed her to develop and gave her new, more adult challenges to cope with. I liked that the plot itself took some risks and went in very different directions, instead of sticking with the constant monster-of-the-week format. What I did not like, one little bit, was the romantic subplot of Riley Finn.

As previously stated, Riley is written to be as anti-Angel as possible--he's human, entirely good, a faithful boyfriend that offers Buffy a kind of stability that she's never had a chance at before. As the show progresses, Riley is given a bit more depth, getting in over his head in the supernatural world and ending up fairly damaged. But however tortured the writers tried to make him, he always failed to do the one very important thing (at least in my mind), which is challenge Buffy in any way.

The normal, familiar boyfriend vs. the challenging, complicated boyfriend has been done often enough that we can safely call it a cliché. If you go through the list of well known love triangles, you'll find that this conflict is often the basis of the triangle. The most familiar of all--Edward vs. Jacob, does it with the least subtly of all. Jacob is not only the best friend/old friend of the family boy, but he out right says on multiple occasions that he's Bella's only choice at a normal life--she wouldn't need to change to be with him. The easy, comparatively normal choice is almost never the one that wins out. In fact, I'm having trouble thinking of a single occasion in which a heroine chose the normal, nice guy over Captain Tortured Pants. Why not? In short, because that would be boring.

Being with Riley is too easy for Buffy. He's entirely human and, until later in the story, pretty much without emotional baggage. He already knows about the supernatural world, so she doesn't have to explain her lifestyle to him, per se. She can sleep with him as much as she likes. Their relationship is completely dull. There are several episodes where you can feel the writers struggling to come up with a conflict for the two of them, and when they do it's always disappointing. Maybe Riley is insecure because Buffy is so much stronger than him? Okay, that just makes him seem like a whiney baby.

One of the things I did sort of appreciate about the Riley story arc is the fact that even the writers seemed to understand that he was only ever going to be a rebound boyfriend. They made sure that Buffy got emotionally involved, but always held something back, so you kind of knew that the relationship had an expiration date--and it could not come soon enough for me. I felt like the time spent with Riley might have been better spent with Buffy learning to be okay alone, and I could have done without the whole thing.

Lest you think that I'm hating on the "everyman" characters, I want to say that I'm all too eager for someone to subvert the cliché. I would love to see more everyday heroes presented as a viable choice for the heroine, instead of as the third wheel or the conflict that must be overcome in order to reach the real happy ending. It's worth stating, also, that I really like Xander--and he's as ordinary as they come. His lack of special powers is what lends him his charm, and I would love to see something similar in more of our male love interests.

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