- Jul 29, 2016
The way Riley manhandles Buffy in Goodbye Iowa is quite concerning, not least because she says the words "let go of me" which she then has to repeatedly say to him again in "Into the Woods" when he keeps grabbing her during their final conversation. Riley definitely has issues, relating to him feeling emasculated by Buffy's strength and her being "stronger" than him, he wants Buffy to "need" him and hates it that he's the "weaker" partner in the relationship.I feel like Riley has some underlying sexist beliefs that come out in his insecurity around Buffy's strength, etc. They have this ongoing dynamic in Season 4 where Riley blows up about stuff and it's Buffy's job to comfort him that feels very gendered to me.
I think the Briley relationship actually shows subtle signs of being emotionally abusive. It starts off great (the honeymoon period) where Riley treats Buffy well and makes her feel loved and valued, but then he starts to demonstrate "red flag" behaviour. In Goodbye Iowa, he has a go at her about "socialising" with demons rather than killing them because he found her in Willy's Bar (despite him going there himself) ergo telling her who she can and can't socialise with, he accuses her of cheating on him with Angel after jumping to the conclusion that Angel must've lost his soul after fighting the Initiative (despite the fact Angel was probably defending himself because the Initiative attacked him first for being a vampire), he justifies his behaviour by saying he's "so in love" that he "can't think straight", when Buffy gets bitten by Dracula he accuses her of wanting it due to "transference" despite her stating very clearly it was against her will, he grabs her a lot, etc. There's lots of other examples in Season 5.
Buffy has a tendency to take on the "protector" role in her relationships (she did it with Angel in Season 3 and Spike in Season 7), she would've done it with Parker if that had been a genuine thing as Parker was a normal human (Spike's comment about Parker having "vulnerability" wasn't just an idle threat, but highlights that Parker would be an easy target for Buffy's enemies), Buffy tried to do it with Riley particularly whilst he was recovering but Riley wasn't having it because HE wanted to be the "protector". During Joyce's health crisis, Riley wanted Buffy to break down so that he could be the one to comfort her.
Xander's speech to Buffy at the end of Into the Woods is awful because he's essentially telling her that she should tolerate Riley's emotionally manipulative behaviour. In regards to Xander, I do think he sees Riley as "the perfect man" and what a "man" should be, hence why he has a go at Buffy for not wanting to give in to Riley's emotional blackmail. Buffy finds Riley in what is essentially a vampire whorehouse, yet he spins it as her fault that he went there because they made him feel "needed" whereas she didn't. The word "need" comes out of Riley's mouth quite frequently during Season 5 in regards to Buffy, particularly when it comes to telling other characters what Buffy "needs."
I'm not saying Riley is an emotionally abusive jackass in all his relationships, Sam seems quite happy with him (though this could be because she's a normal human like him and therefore isn't "stronger" than him). However, with Buffy, I think Riley was rather emotionally manipulative and was trying to force her into the role that he thought a woman should play aka the "weaker" partner in a relationship. Had Riley not left then Season 6 would've been his dream come true, given how emotionally fragile Buffy was that season; she would've "needed" him.