The O.C. is a teen drama that ran for 4 years in the early 2000s; it was essentially a fish out of water show about Ryan Atwood moving from Chino (California) to the uber wealthy Newport Beach. Watching this show as a sheltered teenager in rural Ireland was quite the experience. I could not relate to the privilege the characters had, the trips to Tijuana, the lack of interest from parents. It opened my eyes to a whole new world and rewatching it as a non-teenager I think I have more of an appreciation for it (although I do think Seth is the worst and Summer deserved better). The show ended in 2007 with a disappointing last season (killing off one of your main characters is always a risk). 

Watching season two recently I realised how good the storytelling was. Kirsten’s drinking becomes more of an issue as the season progresses, but there are early signs that it could be problematic (this goes back to season one as well). At face value the character of Marissa could be viewed in an unsympathetic light. She has all the money in the world, great friends and a thriving social life, yet she is incredibly unhappy. Her choices in season two are made with the intent of upsetting her mother (dating the gardener, moving in with Alex) but when you look at the loss she had in her life, her acting out is understandable. Her father–the parent that she had the best relationship with–moved away, and Ryan went back to Chino when he thought he had gotten Theresa pregnant. Marissa lost two of the most important people in her life and she didn’t have anyone she could talk to about it. 

Chances are, even if you have never watched a full episode of The O.C. you’ve seen the last scene of this episode. Ryan and his brother Trey get into a very physical fight when Ryan finds out Trey tried to assault Marissa. It looks like Trey is going to kill his brother until Marissa shoots Trey. This should be one of the most shocking moments in teen TV history: there is a big difference between Marissa getting drunk on a school night and her almost killing someone. While Trey survives, it is a turning point for Marissa and the show as a whole takes on a darker turn. It should be shocking but when I watched it recently it made me laugh, not because of the story being told (this was a particularly heavy episode) but because of the music choice. 

Marissa looks horrified after she shoots Trey. Screen shot from The Dearly Beloved (Season 2, Episode 24).

As soon as Marissa pulls the trigger “Hide and Seek” by Imogen Heap starts to play. This is played earlier in the episode at Caleb’s funeral (where it works), but hearing the line “Mmm what you say?” play at such a serious time completely takes me out of the moment. It’s disappointing because the show was always so good at choosing the right song at the right time but on this occasion they got it wrong. Saturday Night Live parodied the scene shortly after, which tells you what the general opinion of it was. 

While the song choice ruins the moment for me, one thing I can’t criticise is how the show handled the moment in the third season. Marissa struggled in the aftermath of the shooting and the attempted assault, she didn’t just flick a switch and suddenly feel better. The writers showed the effect that trauma can have on a person if it’s not dealt with. Unfortunately Marissa dies at the end of season three and so doesn’t get her happily ever after, but this moment will live in infamy. 

-Michelle O’Brien
Contributing Writer
Girl Museum Inc.

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