When she was twelve, Riley’s mother began dating Jack Dalton (George Eads). During this time, Jack was working for the CIA, but used a cover of being a bathroom tile salesman. Riley and Jack became very close and she has stated that he was the closest thing to a father she had. Jack too has said that he loved Riley as a daughter.
It was this close relationship which caused her resentment when Jack left after giving her real father a beating in response to catching him physically abusing her mother. Jack claims he “left for Riley’s sake” as he “didn’t want to screw her up”, but she responded saying she viewed him as her father and he had walked out on her.
Over the years, Riley learned how to take care of herself, put the people closest to her above her own needs and developed her hacking skills using the name Artemis37. At one point, she hacked into the Pentagon just to see if she could. She started taking on hacking jobs for a group known as ‘The Collective’ until they requested that she hack the NSA. After saying no, they threatened her mother’s life. Riley carried out the hack as requested but deliberately left a trail to allow herself to get caught and subsequently sentenced to five years in prison. Her logic was that while in prison she had no access to computers, so she could no longer work for ‘The Collective’ meaning they had no reason to threaten her mother again.
She has now become an invaluable member of the Phoenix team, providing technology support while they are on missions.
Although she only spent 2 years of her sentence in prison, she found it extremely traumatic and is more than happy to be released for an important mission at the request of Angus MacGyver (Lucas Till) after Jack recommended her to the DXS as a useful team member.
Patricia Thornton (Sandrine Holt) agrees to let her stay on probation; teaching her some martial arts skills herself. MacGyver’s roommate Wilt Bozer (Justin Hires) helps Riley by posing as her boyfriend in order to present a good image to her parole officer or by posing as her manager to find an affordable apartment to rent. In return, she gives him one digit of her phone number for every good deed.
While Bozer clearly has a crush on her, she doesn’t return the feelings. They manage to stay friends and work together amicably.
In Episode 1×11 (Scissors), Riley seemingly disappears. As it turns out, “The Collective” kidnapped Diane, threatening to kill her if Riley doesn’t hack the Chinese government to steal a nuclear weapon. MacGyver, Jack and Riley manage to save both Diane from being strangled and the US from a nuclear attack. While Diane suspects that Phoenix isn’t just a Think Tank, she still doesn’t know that Riley actually works as an agent on dangerous missions.
In the Season 1 finale, the Phoenix Foundation is breached and infiltrated. During a struggle, Riley is forced to kill Daniel Holt (William Mapother) in self-defence. Despite stating she’s fine, the experience proves to be traumatic for her; influencing her decision-making skills in later episodes.
After getting sober once more, Elwood meets up with Riley, trying to make amends. Riley isn’t sure at first, but later agrees to stay in contact and giving him another chance.
After Riley tells Jack about it, Jack watches them from afar while they are having dinner in a restaurant and finds out that someone wants to kill Elwood. With Riley’s help, they manage to save Elwood’s life.
After a near-death-experience on a plane in Episode 2×18, Riley starts dating bounty hunter Billy Colton (Lance Gross). He asks her to come work for the Colton family so they can spend more time together, but Riley doesn’t want to leave her Phoenix family.
Just before Elwood’s job interview, a SWAT team storms Riley’s home, arresting both him and Riley who had tried to teach Elwood something about computer basics. As it later turns out, all the Phoenix agent’s private adresses have been leaked online.
While on a mission in Paris in Episode 3×21, Riley finds “sexy” text messages on Billy’s phone to another woman. She breaks up with him without discussing the reason, believing that he’s not worth her time.