Riley Finn was a military officer who worked for the Initiative in season 4 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. He was also a love interest of Buffy Summers after Angel left Sunnydale. Riley was seen by many as being quite bland, relying on his good looks more than his personality to get him places.
That said, he was generally friendly and easygoing, and Buffy believed he offered a stable pair of hands amidst her usually turbulent love life.
Although at first he was an agent for military group The Initiative, he later went freelance after seeing the level of corruption inside it, choosing to work with Buffy and the Scooby Gang on their missions instead.
Riley was portrayed onscreen by Marc Blucas, and appeared in many episodes over seasons 4-6. He was one of Buffy’s serious relationships, so was heavily involved in her life and work.
Riley was born in Huxley, a small city in Iowa. He had a rural upbringing, and had strong female role models growing up. He spent a lot of time with his family, including visits to his grandparents’ house on Thanksgiving. He joined the United States Armed Forces as a teenager, where he received specialized training.
Riley was selected to join a covert government organization called the Initiative, which carried out experiments on demons for research purposes. The Initiative was based under UC Sunnydale, so Riley and the other officers would pose as students there to maintain the organization’s cover.
In 1999, Riley was also working as a teaching assistant to Professor Maggie Walsh, who taught at the college and was a respected scientist for the Initiative.
Here, he met Buffy when a pile of her books fell out of her hands and landed on him. The two eventually developed an attraction towards each other after an uncertain start, and embarked upon a romantic relationship.
Buffy was unaware of Riley’s double life at this point, and he didn’t know that she was the Slayer – they each made efforts to keep the other in the dark. However, the truth was revealed when they were both working to bring down the Gentlemen, a band of demons who had stolen everyone’s voices, and ended up face to face with each other’s weapons.
Buffy had wanted Riley to be just a regular guy who could provide an escape from her hectic life, but she was nevertheless relieved that he was able to protect himself from supernatural threats.
Buffy and Riley hunted vampires together, and Riley introduced her to the Initiative. Maggie Walsh was impressed by her at first, but soon found her maverick approach troublesome and thought she was leading Riley astray. Maggie staged a pretend mission to get Buffy killed, but it didn’t work.
Riley felt betrayed and left her, but was still distressed when he learned that she had been killed by her own human-demon creation, Adam.
This, along with finding out the extent of the corruption in the organization and the way they treated some of the subjects, prompted Riley to turn his back on the Initiative, and was relieved of his position completely when it was destroyed in 2000.
Riley then worked full-time with the Scooby Gang, but couldn’t quite get over the fact that Buffy was stronger than him. He pushed himself further and further physically to try and match her, feeling inadequate in comparison to her past boyfriends.
He grew frustrated that Buffy wasn’t fully letting him into her world or trusting him as much as he wanted her to, and began to doubt that she truly loved him.
Buffy then found out from Spike that Riley was visiting illicit vampire brothels, and was disgusted by his penchant for being bitten by vampires. Their relationship was beyond repair at this point.
When Buffy and Riley broke up due to various issues in their relationship, Riley rejoined the military and left Sunnydale. He was posted to South America, where he met fellow agent Sam and married her.
Four months after the wedding, the pair arrived briefly in Sunnydale while tracking a demon whose eggs could destroy the whole town.
Riley was naturally outgoing and comfortable taking on leadership roles, which he did both in the military and on patrols with the Scooby Gang. He was rigid in his thinking, and always thought his point of view was the only right one.
For example, his training with the Initiative had taught him that all demons were evil, no matter what. For this reason, he was confused and angry that Buffy had had romances with vampires and Willow had been with a werewolf.
He slowly became more open-minded after spending time with Buffy and her friends and seeing a more nuanced perspective on the world.
Riley was shown to be very insecure in his masculinity, and hated that Buffy was stronger than him. This manifested at many stages throughout the show, and became a point of contention in their relationship.
He didn’t get on with either Angel or Spike, both of whom had at some point been romantically involved with Buffy.
Spike noticed Riley’s insecurities and played on them, even telling him that he and Buffy were closer than they actually were at that time just to annoy him. This made Riley very angry, as he wanted to be the only one that Buffy needed.
He would display jealousy towards any men that Buffy was close to, and was always convinced that someone was trying to take her away from him.
Despite his insecurities and jealousy, Riley was notable for being a stable boyfriend option for Buffy. He represented a calm presence amidst her more tumultuous relationships with vampires and various other destructive influences.
He was friendly and polite to everyone, unless they managed to get under his skin. Buffy was able to depend on him throughout her mother’s illness, which was a great help to her, as she needed a lot of support at that time.
He also had a reckless side, though, and would frequently visit a secret bar to let vampires feed on his blood. He started doing this because he wanted to know the feeling Buffy experienced when Angel and Dracula drank from her.
Riley had a stereotypical jock appearance, with dark blond hair and a chiseled jawline. He was incredibly athletic, due to his extensive military training and active lifestyle. His boyish heart-throb haircut in his early episodes helped him blend in with the actual college students and made him look young.
Riley was often seen in combat clothing, favoring dark green t-shirts and camo gear, as well as his specialist uniform for when he was carrying out operations. In college, he would dress much like any other student, with more comfy t-shirts and casual jeans.
When he returned in season 6, his new uniform consisted of all black clothing, including a turtleneck sweater.
In contrast to Angel’s constant brooding, Riley often had a smile on his face and seemed approachable, which endeared him to people. He maintained open body language that helped him come across as relaxed and jovial.
This meant he found it easy to gain people’s trust, particularly with the Scooby Gang.
During his mentorship, Maggie Walsh secretly fed him drugs to enhance his physical strength, as she wanted to create a half-human, half-mechanical monster from him. Along with Adam, he would then be a supersoldier, combining the adaptability of humans with advanced technology and demon strength.
The drugs blocked off his pain receptors so he didn’t feel hurt when harmed. She also implanted him with a chip to modify his behavior, leaving his actions at the will of whomever controlled the device once activated.
Adam used the chip to subdue Riley during their showdown in the Initiative vaults, but Riley managed to gouge the chip out of his arm to release its hold over him.
After he stopped being fed the drugs, he no longer had the superhuman strength, but he still retained all the military training he had received previously.
He was well-versed in strategies, weapons, and combat, as well as having specific experience in vampire hunting. He was valuable when patrolling with the Scooby Gang, as he was physically able to fight the vampires and demons they would come across.
His first aid knowledge was robust, so he could treat any wounds that members of the Gang sustained.
Because of his government connections, Riley was a useful man to know. He could be contacted in situations where Buffy needed assistance, such as when Spike’s chip kept malfunctioning.
He was able to send in a military unit to help them, showing the amount of influence he still held in those circles.
Buffy Summers – Buffy and Riley met in college, when Buffy was a freshman and Riley was a teaching assistant to Professor Maggice Walsh. Riley found Buffy odd at first, but soon realized that he had developed an attraction to her, even though he still found her mysterious.
He sought advice from his friends and Willow on how to approach her, eventually trying to make a move but ending up fumbling his words.
The relationship had many layers, as they both struggled to hide their secret lives from each other, but they found it easier once everything was out in the open.
Sam – at some point between leaving Sunnydale in season 5 and returning in season 6, Riley married Samantha, a female military officer whom he met while hunting demons in South America.
The two were just colleagues at first, but fell in love gradually as they talked about their lives with and supported one another. Riley found it comforting to have someone from the same world as him, and they made a strong team.
It was good for him to be with someone who didn’t have special powers, and who was his equal in all aspects.
Maggie Walsh – Riley saw Professor Maggie Walsh as a mother figure, and he was mentored by her at the Initiative. He was her favorite commando, and she would always choose him to lead missions.
Riley would never question orders from Maggie and believed that she had taught him a great deal. He was heartbroken when he learnt that Maggie had tried to kill Buffy, as he refused to accept that she could do something like that.
Even after her betrayal, Riley took the news of her death very badly and still referred to her as a “brilliant woman”.
Xander Harris – Riley was initially wary of Xander, as he spent a lot of time with Buffy and Riley was unsure if the two were more than friends in some way.
Over time, Riley and Xander developed a brotherly bond, and they both identified with being the ‘normal’ men in a group that contained various vampires and werewolves – they could relate to each other amid all the supernatural chaos they found themselves wrapped up in.
Xander admitted to feeling like the one who isn’t special, with everyone else around him having powers or abilities in some way, which Riley also empathized with (especially with his girlfriend being the Slayer).
Xander looked up to Riley because he was in the military, and Xander had previously gained military knowledge after being subjected to a spell on Halloween which caused him to take on the traits of his costume.
Xander fully supported Riley’s relationship with Buffy, believing that he was a good match for her.
Dawn Summers – Riley got on with Dawn and saw her as a younger sister. He defended her at times when Buffy was angry with her, pointing out that she couldn’t be expected to have as much knowledge as the others as she was still a child.
For example, Dawn accidentally invited Harmony inside the Summers residence and Buffy was furious, but Riley insisted that she hadn’t meant to cause any harm.
Dawn believed that Riley was a healthier boyfriend for Buffy than Angel was, telling him that she didn’t cry as much with him as she did with Angel.
Unfortunately, this caused Riley to doubt that Buffy actually loved him, although it had been a well-meaning observation. Riley was always on hand to look after Dawn when needed, particularly when Joyce was in hospital.
Spike – Riley absolutely despised Spike, and became angry when he found out that Spike and Buffy had been intimate. Although he tried to hide it, he was clearly affected – he had been the first to realize that Spike had feelings for Buffy early on, but was sure she would never reciprocate.
Riley saw Spike only as a monster, as he was known to the Initiative as Hostile 17. Spike loved to wind up Riley at every opportunity, making up nicknames for him such as Captain Cardboard, in reference to finding Riley boring.
He was also angry at Riley and the Initiative in general, as they had been responsible for putting a chip in his head and making him unable to hurt humans.
However, the two have been cooperative on occasion, when missions with the Scooby Gang required them to be.
Angel – Riley felt immediately threatened by Angel as Buffy had briefly explained their relationship to him. This feeling only intensified when he found out from Xander that Angel had lost his soul when the two of them slept together.
Riley was sure that Buffy would sleep with Angel again when she was visiting LA. The two men first met in person when Angel was confronted by Initiative soldiers on his way to speak with Buffy.
Their acquaintance was hostile from the get-go, with Angel acting aggressively when Riley tried to prevent him from seeing Buffy; so much so that Riley thought he had lost his soul again.
They were both jealous of each other, and Riley couldn’t understand why Angel held so much influence over Buffy.
Riley was mainly seen throughout season 4 and the first half of season 5, although he was mentioned many times across the rest of season 5 and made a brief reappearance in season 6. Here are all his episodes in order:
- Season 4 Episode 1 – The Freshman
- Season 4 Episode 4 – Fear, Itself
- Season 4 Episode 5 – Beer Bad
- Season 4 Episode 6 – Wild at Heart
- Season 4 Episode 7 – The Initiative
- Season 4 Episode 8 – Pangs
- Season 4 Episode 9 – Something Blue
- Season 4 Episode 10 – Hush
- Season 4 Episode 11 – Doomed
- Season 4 Episode 12 – A New Man
- Season 4 Episode 13 – The I in Team
- Season 4 Episode 14 – Goodbye Iowa
- Season 4 Episode 15 – This Year’s Girl
- Season 4 Episode 16 – Who Are You?
- Season 4 Episode 17 – Superstar
- Season 4 Episode 18 – Where the Wild Things Are
- Season 4 Episode 19 – New Moon Rising
- Season 4 Episode 20 – The Yoko Factor
- Season 4 Episode 21 – Primeval
- Season 4 Episode 22 – Restless
- Season 5 Episode 1 – Buffy vs. Dracula
- Season 5 Episode 2 – Real Me
- Season 5 Episode 3 – The Replacement
- Season 5 Episode 4 – Out of My Mind
- Season 5 Episode 5 – No Place Like Home
- Season 5 Episode 6 – Family
- Season 5 Episode 7 – Fool for Love
- Season 5 Episode 8 – Shadow
- Season 5 Episode 9 – Listening to Fear
- Season 5 Episode 10 – Into the Woods
- Season 6 Episode 15 – As You Were
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