The thing is: I’ve always seen Maya as a good person with a big heart. (I mean, it’s literally in her name for crying out loud.) From the moment we met the character, I’ve seen her as a unique voice who appreciates hope, even before she openly acknowledged and accepted hope. Nothing about her growth has ever really felt disingenuous to the character as I’ve known her throughout this show.
From 1x01, where even though she knows that the bay window is her safe place and she wants what Riley has, she chooses to leave Riley because she believes that’s what will be best for Riley. Even though she already knows that Riley’s good for her, she believes she’s bad for Riley. Misguided as her intentions may be, she’s trying to be selfless.
To 1x03, where she caught my attention when she said: “Missy Bradford has decided to grow up fast. That has nothing to do with you.” She’s wise. She doesn’t let Missy bother her and she tries to teach Riley that going through life at your own pace is okay.
To 1x04, where she shows that she does care about her grades, she tries to sound smart, and she cares very much about what her teacher thinks of her. She opens up about her absent father and his new family and we see that this must have an impact on her life.
To 1x05, where she learns to listen to her conscience, with the help of her friend.
To 1x06, where she again made an impression on me with: “The world I know wants you to be yourself. And my world - it needs you in it. … You’re Riley. R-I-L-E-Y.” She’s the influence that keeps Riley grounded.
To 1x07, where she shows her art for the first time. And it’s made clear that hope has led her to disappointment, which is why she tries to keep hers in check with pragmatic expectations. At the end, she keeps her pragmatism about her mother, but appreciates the hope Riley gave her about her art.
To 1x09, where she learns to believe in her own capabilities as an artist.
To 1x13, where she’s the one who holds Lucas back from attacking Billy. Where she again displays her wisdom and understanding of people. And after that, we learn that she sees herself as broken.
To 1x16, where she’s ready to passionately defend Riley, even to an adult that she’s only just met.
To 1x17, where she’s the one who tells Riley: “You’re destroying your parents.” She’s the one who gets Riley to go for the long game.
To 1x18, where we see that she’s afraid Shawn will run away. We see that she’s hoping for things. And we see her wisdom again: “People only get angry with each other when what they’re talking about is important to them.”
To 2x04, where we again see her fears and hopes on display. And in the end, she chooses hope. When she’s alone, not wanting anyone else to see, she chooses that for herself, not because of Riley Matthews, but because of her own voice, ya maroons!
To 2x06, where she’s the one who confesses to sneaking out to a college party. Again, on her own time and not at Riley’s insistence.
To 2x07, where she comes to terms with the fact that Riley helps her to be better and that she wants to be better.
And this is all before the superficial detail of changing her clothes, that the show is so hung up on.
To 2x08, where she’s not ready to let go of hope and where she lets her guard down just enough to let Shawn know she cares.
To 2x10, where she cares about what’s going on in the classroom and she’s smarter than she lets on.
To 2x12, where again she’s a grounding influence in Riley’s life. Where it’s Maya trying to stop Riley from going too far. Where Maya appreciates the value of Riley.
To 2x14, where she cares and hopes and fights for her art classes. And Riley has to look to Maya for a plan. Maya’s unique voice is at the heart of it.
To 2x16, where Maya’s at Riley’s side, encouraging her to see her own worth as an individual.
To 2x17, where Maya’s heart breaks right alongside Riley’s and we see just how deep her sympathy runs. Where she doesn’t need to be contained. Where she’s forgiving and understanding of Riley’s lashing out. And all of that is her unique voice.
To 2x19, where she steals the bell. Even though she dissuades Riley in much the same way that Cory does as her father, she also appreciates the value of perseverance.
To 2x20, where she cares about the idea of her friends getting hurt, to the point that it confuses her.
To 2x22, where she admits that she puts up a façade (and then is immediately discouraged from speaking intelligently, but that’s a whole other can of worms that I’ve already covered on this blog.)
To 2x23…oh 2x23. This is where the big change happens. “Wow. … I’ve been angry for so long. I’m not angry anymore.” “Did you forgive yourself?” Yet again, this is Maya’s unique voice. This is her own growth, not her turning into someone else. Even this, the biggest single event in her character arc, does not feel even the tiniest bit disingenuous to the character we’ve gotten to know. This event changes her. If you wanna pinpoint a moment where she changed, this would be the best candidate. It’s probably the biggest change in her life. And it’s not a change that comes from someone else, but from within herself.
To 2x24, where she again appreciates hope, belief, and the influence of her best friend. Not as an influence that changes who she is, but as an influence who helps her be who she wants to be. And who you want to be is always a part of who you are. Encountering new ideas and embracing them in the hopes of becoming a better you is not the same as turning into someone else.
To 2x26, where she lets her friend teach her not to limit herself.
To 2x27, where she learns that, even though there are things she lacks, she is blessed. Where she is the one that can be trusted to do good things with money because she appreciates the value of it. Where it’s her unique and pragmatic voice that is needed, where Riley’s unwavering optimistic idealism isn’t good enough.
To 2x28, where we’re again taught that she’s capable of retaining information that she learns in the classroom and she wants to do well.
To 2x29, where she’s still diametrically opposed to Riley because of her own unique voice. And only after things make sense for her does she agree to making changes. Only after she realizes that her safe place is not the place, but the person, is she able to accept change, so long as the person will always be with her.
To 2x30, where it takes a combination of unique voices to leave a legacy. They’ve all influenced each other, but they all have their own voices.
To 3x01-02, where she’s at Riley’s side no matter what happens. Where she believes in Riley. That’s Maya herself, still not someone else. And it’s her unique voice that is a comfort to Ava. It’s her unique voice telling Riley and Ava both: “It’s not your fault.” And it’s her unique voice that knows: “In any new place or old place or any place at all, I stay with her. I’m always with her. But I knew that a long time ago.” I’ll say it once more for good measure: “I knew that a long time ago.”
To 3x03, where it’s still Maya’s unique voice trying to keep Riley grounded.
To 3x04, where, shockingly, she’s still not Riley even though she’s good at one of her classes. It’s Maya’s help that is needed to help Riley study Spanish. And Maya appreciates Riley’s distinctly different voice: “You’re Riley. You’ve always been Riley.”
To 3x05 itself, where they literally say, “You haven’t lost your voice.”
At what point is she supposed to have “turned into Riley?” Not one moment of her arc has ever felt like she was anyone other than the Maya Hart I’ve known for the entire show.
I can understand Riley misinterpreting Maya’s growth, but I lose it when the adults start backing her up. Cory Matthews is the champion of “people change people.” Cory Matthews built and sustained a marriage with a woman because he knew she would change him for the better. Cory Matthews was a profound influence in his best friend’s life. Cory Matthews has pushed Maya toward her growth as much as anyone, save Riley. And then he suddenly decides that Maya’s not herself anymore? That makes me see red.
People change people. Life changes people. People change. I can’t remember how to be who I was in middle school and I wouldn’t want to be that person. Value where you came from and the experiences that shape you in life, but keep moving forward and bettering yourself over time. Accepting new ideas doesn’t mean you’re not you anymore. When you learn that you can be better, you work toward that. That’s a good thing.
Maya’s character arc is one of the strongest things Girl Meets World has going for it. 3x07 was a fantastic story beat for her, but it was done a disservice by the two episodes leading up to it.
Boy Meets World handled their “you’ve gone soft” storylines with Shawn much better than what Maya got here. I’m never going to understand why they had to tear apart so much of Maya’s growth to tell this story. There was never a moment, even after they started saying it in 3x05, even after the purple cat, where it felt like Maya was turning into Riley. Maya cares about Riley and values Riley’s influence in her life, but she was never turning into Riley. The show did not need that as the impetus to reach this story beat. Maya can question whether or not she’s “gone soft” without being told by everyone that she’s turning into Riley.
It concluded in a satisfactory manner, but I’m still not sure it was really worth what we went through to get here. Nothing about Maya’s development ever rang false to the character as she was presented to us in episode one. It’s easy to track her growth throughout the entire series and her story is a beautiful one.
tl;dr - Maya has always been great and Riley’s influence only ever helped her become an even better version of herself. She was never turning into Riley. Maya realized she’s strong and that’s great. She’s always been strong, but I knew that a long time ago.