Riley’s valiantly defending her friendship with Maya because the girls are worried Cory’s not going to let them be friends anymore (as if Cory Matthews would EVER 😭). Riley goes on to say her civil war is over and she won—implying she’s made the world completely her own just by “rebelling” against her father…who of course NEVER would’ve made Riley ditch Maya in a million years in the first place—so she’s not ACTUALLY rebelling here.
As lovely as Riley’s sentiment about Maya being the one to get them into trouble while she gets them out of it is…she’s living in her father’s world still. She’s “Cory” and Maya’s “Shawn” and that’s that. (Although of course Maya actually more closely parallels Cory when she leads the homework rebellion…👀).
Cory’s reaction shot here is interesting though, because ultimately not only is Riley living in her father’s world in terms of “she’s the Cory & Maya’s the Shawn,” what Riley doesn’t know yet is that it won’t be like that forever. In the right hand column, we see teenage Cory talking about how it’s “always been.” Out of context this seems like a pure and lovely parallel to Riley in the pilot, but the truth is: Cory was actually being a huge jerk in 5x09. He was upset because Shawn did really well in their work study program—better than Cory. Cory got a big complex about it, even going so far as to tell Alan, “But I was supposed to be the one to succeed, not Shawn. Everyone knows that.” Sounds an awful lot like Riley telling Maya that’s she’s “turned into Riley” because she’s behaving better and getting good grades now, doesn’t it? 🤔
In BMW 5x09, Cory essentially wanted to box Shawn into the “screw-up rebel” role. He couldn’t handle Shawn succeeding at something because it was different from what he was used to, especially since Cory himself didn’t do so well. Cory even admitted that Shawn’s success was “killing him.”
In the end though, Cory realizes he was just jealous. He gets over it and tells Shawn he’s proud of him. Now, I’m not going to go so far as to claim Riley was driven by primarily by jealousy in the non-triangle arc (although her outburst at Lucas in True Maya hints that there’s a little bit of that in the mix), but ultimately I think Riley just doesn’t know how to handle Maya not being “the rebel who gets into trouble,” because if Maya’s not the one who “gets them into trouble so Riley can get them out of it,” that messes with Riley’s own sense of self as well. She wasn’t ready for things to be different than they’ve always been. Maya on the other hand…was.