A Weirdly Earnest Defence Of Kirsten Cohen From ‘The OC’
Let Kiki have her wine, for fucks sake.
For far too long we have slept on the true hero of seminal teen drama The OC. It’s not Ryan and his beefy fists, nor manic pixie fuckboi Seth, and it’s certainly not Sandy Cohen and his wise eyebrows. It’s Kirsten Cohen, a good mum and person who’s just trying her best.
Kirsten is an interesting character — she’s a powerful, motivated businesswoman, the heir to a an empire and a former bad-girl with a wild past. But in The OC, she’s almost ruthlessly pushed into her other roles — mainly that of a wife and mother. The thing is, she’s good at both those things too, and they’re obviously important to her, but she’s constantly expected to put those roles above the rest of her concerns.
She’s expected to be the perfect mother and daughter and wife and CFO of the Newport Group, and given absolutely no slack when that all proves slightly too much.
In fact, there’s a huge dearth of love for Kirsten, and it’s not really fair. She’s just a fun lady who loves a glass of wine and Valentines Day and her weird sons.
“Ryan’s Gonna Stay With Us Now”
The OC is the story of a wealthy family who spontaneously adopt a local thug into their home, and eventually learn that his lower socio-economic status and tendency to punch things doesn’t preclude them from loving him. The entire first season basically revolves around the friction caused by Ryan vibrating at a low level in Newport and the Cohen household, setting fires both symbolic and literal, despite his best intentions.
And for that first season, Kirsten is painted as a stick in the mud at best, and a conservative prude at worst, and a barrier to Ryan’s ultimate adoption that needs to be overcome. She’s the bad guy, because she doesn’t automatically roll out the unconditional welcome mat for this mop-headed hoodlum.
But it’s worth looking at it from her angle — not only is she SPRUNG with a spontaneous teenager in her own house, but he’s a criminal. It’s perfectly valid for her to be concerned at least. But the argument seems to be that she should implicitly trust her husband, who is riding his altruistic high-horse so hard, acting like she’s a monster for even expressing polite surprise at her new adopted son.
But he didn’t even communicate with her. He just sprung Ryan on her like the world’s shittiest surprise party. Why should she trust Sandy about this boy, when he doesn’t even respect her enough to discuss bringing him home with her?
And to her credit, she eventually created a home for the troubled youth.
“I Was Young, Impressionable, And Drunk”
That’s Kirsten talking about falling in love with Sandy when she was a young hippy who lived in a van, and it’s worth exploring, because while there’s obviously love between the couple, there are also some weird issues.
Let’s talk about Sandy Cohen, generally regarded as the world’s best and most pure dad and husband. He’s a cool daddy, who can crack a joke at the same time as he distributes sage advice. It’s his altruism and good-natured gambling that cracks off this whole shebang.
He’s seen as being morally superior to the rest of Newport, because instead of big business and social climbing, he loves surfing and pro-bono legal advice. We kinda see that his entire identity is about NOT being a Newport kinda guy — and we also see that he both pities and resents Kirsten for being a part of that world.
Honestly, Sandy gets a lot of love, but he’s kinda shit. We all drink the KoolAid, because he knows how to market himself as wise and cool. But in reality, he spends half the time passive aggresively bullying Kirsten into hopefully changing her lifestyle to better support him.
They argue all the time about how she “feels unfulfilled in her job” — yet its clear he’s probably projecting. Kirsten seems to enjoy her work, he’s the one who doesn’t think she should be doing it, wonderfully ignoring the fact that it’s her job that allows him to work pro-bono and live in a beautiful house with an infinity pool and adopt stray teens willy-nilly.
And let’s not forget that while talking the big talk about love and fidelity, he cheats on her in season two.
“I Am Merely Opening The Wine – A Skill I Feel Confident About.”
There’s an over-arching idea throughout The OC that Kirsten’s “workaholic nature” (having a job) makes her a somewhat haphazard mum. She’s slightly forgetful about the banal happenings in Newport high school society. She famously “can’t cook”, which her family loves roasting her for. She loves a glass of wine.
Imagine a dad being criticised for these behaviours?
Of course, being a drama, The OC had to escalate at least one of these traits to the point of tragedy — and you can bet it wasn’t her pumpkin muffins. Instead, they gave Kirsten a drinking problem, which honestly she didn’t deserve. Let Kiki have her wine, for fucks sake.
The show infers that Kirsten’s drinking problem stems from the pressure of her cold, evil father/boss, the demands of her job, and the strains of trying to be a good mother. Sandy gets her sent to rehab — but I dunno, maybe everyone should stop expecting so much from her? She’s already doing her best, and her best is better than pretty much anybody else.
At least the whole drinking problem plotline gave us The OC’s best quote:
“I may enjoy a glass of chardonnay, but at least I won’t die alone.”
Kirsten Cohen forever.
Patrick Lenton is an author and staff writer at Junkee. He has a theory that you could replace Ryan with a standard building brick, and nothing would actually change in The OC.