An Oddly Emotional Look Back At That Time ‘The OC’ Killed Off Marissa Cooper
According to my Facebook profile, I’ve had the same job — “permanent mourner at Marissa Cooper Memorial Site” — since 2011, though informally I’ve been in the position since May 2006.
That’s when The OC‘s fans said goodbye to Marissa Cooper, the soap’s troubled-but-very-pretty-and-affluent teen with a terrible mother and worse luck. Actress Mischa Barton was leaving the show to pursue a film career, and to ensure that she’d never return (by accounts, a ‘mutual decision’ between Barton and the show), season 3’s finale ended with a fatal car crash for a fatalistic character, one drawn to drugs, alcoholism and terrible relationships.
about to pass newport beach. does anyone know where marissa cooper’s grave is? wanna leave flowers
— nicole boyce (@nicolewboyce) August 4, 2018
As soon as Phantom Planet’s ‘California’ started blasting at the finale’s opening titles, I burst into tears that didn’t cease the whole show, ad-breaks and all. My family, rightfully, still bring it up.
When the episode ended, Rove Live was next: in a cold open, the camera zoomed in on Pete Helliar, mouth-agape, deadpanning an “Oh my god, Melissa’s dead!” As the audience laughed, I felt betrayed — later, when McManus made some topical quip about Marissa, I yelled at the TV that he “didn’t understand”. The tantrum was befitting for Marissa, the queen of flipping out unnecessarily.
I’m not exactly sure why I cared so much. Marissa wasn’t exactly likeable — search her name, and you’ll find several listicles calling her the ‘worst’. At essence, she was an affluent, beautiful teen whose genuine traumas were only ever expressed as angst, and so her destructive behaviour came off as bratty.
It’s been fifteen years since The OC premiered, and twelve since Marissa Cooper passed. We’re here to pay our respects — and to see if there was any need for my pre-teen tears.
Mmm, What’d Ya Say?
Marissa Cooper didn’t really have much of a personality, though neither did Ryan Atwood (Benjamin McKenzie), the young boy from the wrong side of the tracks. But she had been through so much.
For starters, there was the constant casual alcoholism and an overdose in Tijuana. That was spurned by the breakdown of her family after her accountant father embezzled her schoolfriend’s parents’ money. And her problems weren’t helped by a string of abusive relationships, including one with a suicidal boy she met in a psychiatrist’s waiting room.
Plus, who could forget when she shot her attempted rapist Trey in season 2, saving Ryan from being murdered? And we haven’t even mentioned Julie Cooper’s many vindictive escapades, which included sleeping with one of Marissa’s ex-boyfriends and trying to frame another for attempted homicide.
In short, it’s enough to make anyone freak out mid-sunbathe and chuck a pool chair into the deep end.
But the Marissa of season 3’s finale, ‘The Graduates’, beams with excitement for the future. Summer, Seth, Ryan and Marissa are all graduating from high school, and, as the dialogue keeps reminding us, that’s a time for new beginnings. When Marissa’s dad asks her to join him working on a yacht for a year, she jumps at the chance to escape her beautiful prison, even though that means leaving the day after graduation.
The episode is essentially 40 minutes of The OC‘s creator Josh Schwartz screaming “dramatic irony” at the audience, as Marissa says goodbye to everyone she loves. Characters consolidate relationships and reflect upon the crazy times and ponder questions like ‘What would life be like if Ryan Atwood never moved to the OC?’.
As a twelve-year-old, I simply couldn’t imagine it — they had shaped each other’s lives in such insurmountable ways. Much like Julie Cooper, I sobbed at their graduation, proud of all they’d achieved. Every nostalgic throw back, like the core four hanging out in the re-made model home that Ryan burned down in season 1, or the visual echoes of Ryan and Marissa’s first car rides, was the equivalent of cutting onions under my pre-pubescent eyes. Less so now: rewatching, I was pretty bored until right up to her death.
Here’s the quick rundown: in an attempt to get Ryan and Marissa to pull over on their way to the airport, Marissa’s bad boy ex, Volchok (a pre-Twilight Cam Gigandet) bumps their car, eventually off the road. As Ryan carries Marissa out of the car and ‘Hallelujah’ plays, the scene is overlaid with footage of Marissa’s Tijuana overdose scene, the two echoing each other. After some iffy dialogue, she dies in Ryan’s arms and we see footage of Ryan driving away from her in the season 1 finale — at the time, assumedly it’s forever. This time, it actually is.
I didn’t really think re-watching it would prompt some big emotional outburst, but it was a reminder of how much I used to love the show. After ‘The Graduates’, the show (and Barton’s career) never quite reached the same heights — Season 4 was middling, even if I defended it at the time. The OC was at its best when it was melodramatic, angsty and unbelievable. Marissa Cooper was all of those things. Vale.
Seasons 1-4 of The OC are currently available on Stan.
Jared Richards is a staff writer for Junkee, and he’s regretting telling this story already. Follow him on Twitter.