by: Adela P.
After last week's less-than-mediocre episode of T:SCC, I was fervently hoping that this week's would rise above, and INDEED it did. As much as I hate character death, I love character death. And the plot and character development that will inevitably result from this paves the way for some very interesting future episodes--I've been waiting for awhile for a good T:SCC character death and I'm both saddened and excited that the day has finally arrived. In retrospect, Riley's death in this episode was not a surprise--and indeed, has been expected for quite some time, now. The attention given to her tenuous emotional state has only been growing more ostentatious with every appearance she's made.
The episode begins with Cameron watching a bird fly about in the house. She says to it, "You shouldn't nest in the chimney. You're migratory, you need to find a mate. That's a window, bird. What am I going to do with you?" She captures the bird and brings it outside, and continues her monologue, "A bird in a chimney is a fire hazard. I'm not supposed to kill you. You can't stay here. Go." Instead of releasing the bird, however, she accidentally kills it, describing to John later, "The bird experienced an involuntary movement of my fingers."
Upon my first viewing of this episode, the bird reminded me of Riley, and specifically the scene from "Strange Things Happen at the One Two Point" in which Riley was looking at a poster she had on the wall of a bear catching a fish. She explains to John, "It's not a poster of a bear. It's a poster of a fish being caught by a bear. Just swiped out of the water, totally at random. Do the other fish even care? Do they even notice? No. They just keep swimming like nothing happened. 'Cause nothing important did." Riley is identifying with the bear's prey--she feels helpless and insignificant. The bird is yet another visual representation of Riley's internal struggle, and also a foreshadowing of the events that will occur. When Cameron and Riley are later alone together, Cameron says to her, "You don't belong here. John isn't right for you and you're not right for him. He can't see that . . . . You're unreliable. I don't know what you do . . . . You can't be John's girlfriend, you're a threat. You can't stay here anymore. But I can't let you leave . . . . What am I going to do with you?" Riley has no power in this situation, nor does she have the power to escape Cameron--physically or mentally.
Following the initial scene in which Cameron inadvertently kills the bird, Riley pays a visit to the house, and finds Sarah cleaning the floor. Riley leaves to find more cleaning solution for Sarah, and ponders the following label on the bottle: "Caution: Deadly to humans and domestic animals." The way that Riley is staring transfixed at the label shows her conflicted state. What is she, and what is her ultimate purpose? There is no perceivable difference between her and an animal-- she feels like the fish, she is the bird. She is consistently treated like an animal that can be easily manipulated, deceived, and persecuted. She feels like she has been disregarded and tossed aside over and over again. When she makes the hospital visit in this episode, the nurse ignores Riley, treating her as though she is an inconvenience. Unfortunately, it is clear that this is how Riley feels with many of the people around her, including Jessie and John, the two people she cares most about. Her feelings regarding Jessie and John are conflicted--both characters make her feel like she matters, but their vastly different motives are hard for her to figure in her convoluted emotional state.
When Cameron is speaking to Riley in the shed, John eventually comes in to diffuse the growing tension between them. He says, "Riley, come with me" and she immediately acquiesces, clearly relieved that John is coming to retrieve her. Despite the fact that it is obviously not his intention, John is treating Riley just as Jessie does. He tells her what to do and expects her to obey, and she does because she's never known anything else. Her whole life she's been nothing but a pawn, a piece to a game, used for tactic and exploitation, and ultimately expendable.
Just before leaving John's house for the last time, Riley and John hold this conversation:
John: Riley, is there anything you wanna tell me?
Riley: About what?
John: About anything. Is there anything you wanna tell me?
John: Because today is the day. Today is the day that you tell me whatever it is that you might wanna tell me. Today.
Riley: No. But is there anything that you wanna tell me? John? 'Cause you're right. I think today is the day.
And this is the point where I think Riley makes a decision, the decision that she no longer will be everyone else's pawn. She leaves John's house to confront Jessie--and I don't believe Riley has any intention of making it out of this confrontation alive.
Riley: You wanted him to care about me.
Jessie: Of course.
Riley: To like me.
Jessie: Of course.
Riley: Even to love me.
Jessie: Of course sweetie. We talked about it a thousand times. That was the plan.
Riley: But that wasn't enough right? And you knew it wasn't enough. she's supposed to kill me right? That's it, that's the real plan . . . . You knew that was the only thing that would turn John against her. She's supposed to kill me . . . . You called my foster parents. You called my school. How could you do that to me? I trusted you. I loved you.
Riley's words make it clear just how fragile she has become, or perhaps always has been. She says "my" foster parents and "my" school--indicating that though her attachment to John may have simply been a job at first, it certainly has extended far past those parameters. She loves Jessie, is probably in love with Jessie, and clearly wanted nothing more than to please her mentor. But Riley grew to love the life she lived, which made Jessie's betrayal burn all the more. Though Riley could have just attempted to kill herself again, now there is another motive--she wants to hurt as much as she wants to be hurt, wants to strike out as much as she wants to be put down. When Jessie fires the killing bullet into her chest, Riley's face falls into a look of relieved resignation. As the camera pans over her fallen body, there is a slight upward curving to her lips that makes it appear as though she's smiling in death.
John will clearly suspect Cameron for Riley's death. Cameron's ambiguous attitudes towards death and the murder of both humans and animals in this episode ensure that suspicion will lie with her (albeit, deservedly, considering the circumstances). There is, however, one moment which makes me suspect that John will figure all is not as it seems. Cameron provides John with a swift and subtle means of disposing of her if it becomes necessary. And when he asks her outright if she acted against Riley in any way, she says, "You know I didn't." This exchange may cause him to hesitate laying blame with her when he learns of Riley's murder. At the end of the episode, he eyes the dead bird that Cameron killed cautiously, suspiciously, almost as if he's making the same connections that the viewer was supposed to. And although it's not clear what he will do with the information, Riley's death will serve the purpose it was meant to--suspicions will abound, resentments will flare, angst will ensue, and bitterness will settle into the hearts of our protagonists.