Season 2, Episode 1
Date of airing: November 4, 2004 (FOX)
Nielsen ratings information: 8.56 million viewers, 5.5/8 in Households, 3.8/10 with Adults 18-49
I can almost say for certain that this has been the second time I have watched this episode. Maybe it’s a miracle, considering how many words of badness the third and fourth season have gotten, which is why my interest for this show, as much as I loved it during my teen years, floated like all of Pennywise’s victims down below the creepy abandoned monster house. But here I am, catching up on certain pop culture references of the mid-2000s, as well as realizing once more why I actually loved the show to begin with. Turns out that THE O.C. had the right amount of drama to make me care about the characters, and to see myself in them. It’s not difficult to see myself in Ryan, even though I’m nothing like him (for starters, I don’t have people in my life who I can help like Ryan does — he’s like one of those TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL characters, just stuck in the world of soap operas). I am a champion of brooding, I don’t have a rosy relationship with my family, and every once in a while my life is as goalless as Ryan’s is. He was essentially me during the first season. In this episode, I saw myself in Marissa. Her breakdown in front of her mother, and with furniture on their way into the pool, was reminiscent of how I would have acted and reacted if I had decided to have an “honest and real conversation” for once and if I would ever break down like Marissa did. I never screamed out loud into the open to make my frustrations heard, but here was Marissa, showing me what it’s like and how it’s done and how the moment of my screaming out into the wild could have been like and what the response would have been.
That was the most powerful moment of the episode, and it wasn’t even the major storyline of it all. Marissa was in her own little sunshine prison, always able to hang out by the pool and listen to music, her friends coming over as often as they do, and it’s not like she is being locked in at night. But her frustration and anger made themselves visible and audible in this episode, and all of a sudden Marissa has become a much more dramatic and emotional character. And the thing is, it’s almost certain that the scream didn’t help. It has only been heard by her mother (most likely, considering the location of the Nichol/Cooper forest of luxury, there wasn’t a living soul in a five-mile radius), and not even Julie came to realize what the scream was about. And here I was, hoping that Marissa would tell Julie about Caleb’s blackmail deal with Marissa, but I guess there was no room to create a story in which Julie and Caleb’s marriage is already breaking, right after Alan Dale has been upgraded to regular and included in the opening credits, as his character was threatening to smell a prison cell from the inside.
The Portland story was solid enough, and thankfully kept on a downlow. Seth wasn’t out to live an exciting adventure full of surfing and sun and women and surfing lessons that end with sex. He just became a roommate of sorts, had a job, made new friends, and was as goalless as Ryan was during the beginning of the series, as well as this episode. Maybe Seth turned out to be a boring character in this hour, thanks to his passive status of his life (he would have been more active with a girlfriend or at least a friend with benefit, but it looks like Seth wasn’t here for this), making his story about his conflict with his parents a little … ehm, to put it bluntly, self-centered. At the end of the day I don’t even know why exactly Seth “ran away” from Newport. Yes, he explained it with hating the town, and telling Ryan that he would have gone away if Ryan hadn’t shown up a year ago, but Seth has been a very privileged boy, and if you compare his troubles with Marissa, then Seth definitely used his whiteness and his richness to his advantage. He may have made something of a life in Portland, but there is no reason to think and believe he would have done the same when he did not have the life he had before.
I mean, just think about comparing Seth and Marissa here: She is stuck in a prison, but she can run away any time — yet she doesn’t. She lost her boyfriend, she lost her friend she could confine to, and Summer hasn’t been a BFF lately either, while Caleb doesn’t care about her and Julie is unable to care. Seth had all the space in the world, he had a girlfriend, he had a boat, he had something of a future. But he ran away, because he couldn’t get over the fact that his best friend left town. White men and their problems — always have to make it about themselves, while the real victims are silent. But it does beg the question why Marissa didn’t just do a Cohen and ran away as well. Was she emotionally unable to, or did the writers forget to find an answer to that question during the summer? It’s not like anything could have stopped her after Caleb bought out her father. After all, Jimmy was living the happy life and he already knows about the blackmail — Caleb could have done nothing to stop Marissa from escaping.
And the rest of the episode? Naked construction workers, who looked like they have been working out in-between jobs — I didn’t find that particularly realistic, but I will give Kirsten the hot and sweaty dreams here, which she sort of deserved, considering her current status as a mother. Meanwhile, Caleb’s paranoia taking over and teasing a potential political and legal fallout, creating a cloud of an ongoing story for this season, get me slightly more intrigued about his character arc, even if he is still one of the more boring aspects of the show, and I wouldn’t mind if he gets indicted and goes to prison for whatever he has done over the course of his career. After all, seeing Caleb in jail might bring joy to Marissa. It might also bring joy for anyone else in Newport Beach, California.