TTSCC – The Riley Problem — Use Her, Lose Her, or Set Her Free?

The second season episode, “Automatic For the People”, of Terminator – The Sarah Connor Chronicles, introduced us to a new character: Riley Dawson. From the start, this character sparked strong reactions, much of it negative. The last we saw of Riley at the mid-season finale, she was lying on the bathroom floor after having slashed her wrists. Was this the end? Probably not. If not, then where does she go from here?

The vast majority of fandom that I’ve been able to peruse thinks that Riley is going to come clean to John about Jesse and her mission. Story-wise, this is the only reasonable thing to do with the character.

Riley is not a soldier. She’s a tunnel urchin recruited to do a job. Given the opportunity to return to pre-JD, who wouldn’t jump at the chance? From the beginning of her surveillance of John, Riley hasn’t exactly been gung-ho. After all, she’s not only mucking around with her history, but is also doing it in plain view of the one terminator who is likely the target of this mission. If Cameron suspects anything, then it can’t bode well for Riley. Having come from post-JD, Riley knows all too well the danger of terminators once they consider you a threat.

Even so, Riley does have it in her to take chances. Witness her deflecting Cromartie from the Connors when he’d stumbled upon the Connor’s residence. From her history, she had to have known that Cromatie was a terminator, and still she kept her head. I think this stemmed largely from an almost cocky attitude earned from not being discovered by Cameron. Her adrenaline gush in John’s car make it clear that she’s starting to get confident because nothing bad has happened to her…yet.

Her house of cards came tumbling down when Cromatie tracked John down in Mexico. Riley ran from the jail, screaming her head off. Still, when John ordered her into the car, Riley’s survival training kicked in. In the future, if anyone in the resistance, especially someone like John Connor, told you to do something during an attack, you did it or you’d likely end up dead. It’s at this point that I think the game stopped being so much fun.

After that, Riley’s well-earned fear of a nasty termination started kicking in. Still, her fear of Jesse being greater, she was able to continue with her mission…until it was obvious that Cameron had turned her attention to Miss Dawson. Riley cracked.

Assuming Riley lives, I don’t think she’ll be wanting to play Jesse’s game anymore. Riley’s smart enough to figure that her only hope for living is to switch sides and go with John. If she doesn’t, it’s only a matter of time, likely a short time, before Cameron makes Riley gone. Regardless of now-John’s orders, Cameron isn’t bound by them. Riley is a risk to Cameron’s mission, and she will deal with that. Riley knows that, and I don’t think she wants to continue being bait.

What then? Let’s say she spills the beans. What happens to Riley after that? Cameron will want to eliminate her once her information is confirmed. Riley’s a security threat. John will naturally nix that option. Riley’s instability makes her a liability to Cadre Connor, so they can’t make her part of the team. Besides, she offers no advantage. She’s not a fighter, and has less information about the future than either Derek or Cameron. Or does she…?

If Riley comes from a different future than Derek or Cameron, then she could provide some useful clues about what might have changed to this point. On the other hand, given her low position in the caste structure, it’s unlikely she’d have much that would be strategically useful. The fact that she came from post-JD shows that it wasn’t averted. More work needs to be done.

The only solution, really, is to set Riley free. Let her live however many pre-JD days she can in the relative comfort of early 21st century America. They can plop her down in Iowa or some such and leave her be. Even now, with her time spent with the Connors, she hasn’t gained enough information for her to be useful to a future Skynet if she were captured post-JD. She’s a risk only while in John’s sphere of influence.

There’s really not a lot that can be done with Riley. If she doesn’t spill the beans, Cameron will kill her. If she does, then she become a target for Jesse. The only “turning the turtle over” solution is to let the poor girl go. Of course, this being series television, she’s probably going to die, likely in the crossfire of Connors vs Jesse. Maybe she’ll go out a hero.

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