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Captain America
by Daniel Erenberg
16 Jan 03

Whenever a Buffy The Vampire Slayer fan is asked who has been their favorite of Buffy's boyfriends, one of two answers pop up. Inevitably, the answer is either Angel or Spike. Some fans identify with the torturously forbidden love between Buffy and Angel, sharing stolen kisses before Buffy had to return to her home. Who can forget Buffy telling Angel that "it's getting harder" to separate at night? Then, Angel lost his soul and Buffy was forced to send him to Hell. It was tragic and brilliant. Finally, however, Angel was sent to Los Angeles and the relationship was done.

The other half of the fan base would answer that their favorite of Buffy's boyfriends would have to be Spike. Buffy's relationship with Spike is the direct opposite of Buffy's relationship with Angel. There isn't a great deal of love involved and their need for one another is painted in various shades of gray. They want each other, they need each other, and they may or may not love each other. One thing's for sure though. The fans loved having Buffy in her second deeply brooding relationship with a vampire.

Something that distresses me deeply and, the knowledge of which, was the genesis of this article, is that I have never met a Buffy fan that, when asked who her favorite Buffy Boyfriend is, would close their eyes, think for a moment, and reply "Riley Finn".

Riley was the successor to Angel. He was introduced in the season four premiere, "The Freshman", yet another Joss Whedon masterwork. He won me over in this, his first appearance, in the charming scene where Buffy and Willow drop a book on his head.

Riley Finn, I thought, fit seamlessly into the Buffyverse and Marc Blucas seemed to play the part precisely as Mr. Whedon had written it. He was the Boy Wonder; the white bred Captain America of the Scooby Gang.

However, I soon found out that many of the hardcore fans weren't having any of it. They missed the bleak tragedy of Buffy's relationship with Angel. Also, as Riley was being initiated (pun intended) into the cast, there was something wrong. Oz (my all-time favorite Joss Whedon character) was written off of the show and, at the same time, Giles and Xander were getting far less screen time than in previous seasons.

Suddenly, newcomer Riley Finn, the Wonder Bread suburban commando, was the male lead. I think the fans really turned on him when, in "Who Are You?" vampires took hostages in a church and Riley Finn was on the scene - in his Sunday best. This guy was TOO good. There weren't many shades of gray about him, only shades of "the good old red, white, and blue".

Riley finished the season by quite heroically ripping a chip out of his chest with his bare hands. I ate this up but, still, Angel residue remained on the show and the fans were all skeptics.

Joss and company made their best attempt to rectify this by turning Riley dark in season five. I thought all involved did a spectacular job but Riley could never be fully accepted by the hardcore fans.

The moment for me that should have gained Riley some love and respect came at the end of the Xander-centric "The Replacement". Riley, talking to Xander in confidence about Buffy, with a deeply brooding, clenched jaw look on his face, almost resembling Angel in his physical appearance, tells him that Buffy doesn't love him.

This fascinating moment of pure clarity was followed by the familiar Joss Whedon credit screen and the episode was over. This moment got me pondering Riley's relationship with our favorite slayer. The answer I came up with was no, perhaps she didn't love him.

The next half season was filled from end to end with this new Dark Riley. He was almost more Batman than Captain America. He began to regularly attend a vampire hostel where he would let a vampire that he met in a bar feed on him. He craved the pain, something to get his mind off of his unrequited love. I even recall him staking a vamp after he let her taste him.

This Riley was something else! Marc Blucas was playing him with such an intricate intensity that the character was changing for the better. And I was a season four Riley supporter!

I don't understand why fans never took to Riley Finn. He was a character who I sided with when he fought Buffy verbally. This rarely occurs. Riley Finn was constantly evolving.

Finally, "Into The Woods", one of the top five episodes of season five. It was dreadfully painful to watch. Riley contemplates leaving Buffy and decides to give her an ultimatum: Come tell me you love me or I'm leaving. Then came the perfect scene in which Xander convinces her that Riley could be the love of her life.

Buffy runs her heart out only to find Riley in a helicopter, already in the air heading into the woods. Riley was gone.

The following episode (Triangle), not Buffy's finest hour, Marc Blucas was out of the opening credits and forgotten by the fans who rejoiced at his exit.

The fans never got a chance to love Riley Finn. However, I found him to be an incredibly well-developed character all the way through, from his Captain America Goes To Church look to his Batman Cavorting With Vampire Hookers personality.

Finally, a full year after "Into The Woods" aired, Riley returned to Sunnydale in Doug Petrie's "As You Were" sporting a new scar and a new wife. In this episode, he was very much a mixture of his season four and season five selves. He was finally a completely fleshed out character giving fans the best of both worlds. When he hopped into that helicopter at the close of the episode, in a scene stylishly reminiscent of "Into The Woods", I felt a twinge in heart. This was Riley Finn as he was always meant to be. But, I thought sadly, he's gone now.

Daniel Erenberg lives in a gothic-looking house in a suburb of Long Island shrouded by trees and darkness. His backyard is so overrun with shrubbery that he can't plant flowers in the soil. He's penned articles for numerous magazines (and a couple of websites for free). Currently, he's writing his first novel, entitled People That I've Long Since Forgotten. He's also written two plays, Little Room and Dystopia and a screenplay called Youth Or Consequence. He lives a fairly happy life alone and hankers constantly for the hour of eight P.M. to nine P.M. on Tuesday nights. You can contact Daniel on daniel@slayage.com.
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