Thursday, April 20, 2006

Two Episodes in One!

“The Day After Tomorrow”/“The Dawn Patrol”

Where do I even start?

How about by passing around the Kleenex? I think that’s in order, right? I mean, seriously, these last two episodes have put me through the emotional wringer. “The O.Sea” did it last year, but that was the first episode that really tugged at my heart strings (“The Ties That Bind” just kind of irked me at first), and no episodes had really done it this season. “The Aftermath” gave me chills in the final scene, but that’s been pretty much it as far as utter sadness goes.

But what the hell? I’m feeling like life is hopeless, that relationships are ridiculous, and that there is no such thing as morality anymore. This is the kind of stuff usually reserved for avant-garde plays, but nope, it’s The O.C..

Okay, I guess I’ll start with apologizing for not having a review last week. I thought I’d be fine, but I got home from spring break, and I just didn’t have time to put anything good together. I had to catch up on some of the homework I didn’t do while I was in Orlando and then at the beach. And by the time classes started again, life sped up. But it’s slowing down a bit. For the next few hours at least. So let’s try to talk a bit and see what we can come up with.

As I said last time, I’m going to start just covering a major point of each episode and then give brief thoughts on other things. Seeing as how this is a two-fold review, I’m going to cover two of the major stories: college and Seth and Summer. True, there’s an overlap, but we can do them differently also. No worries.

College is kind of a shaky time, to be sure, particularly when you only apply to one school. Now I only applied to one school, but I did it for early admissions to the school I wanted to go more than any. If I hadn’t gotten in, I’d have time. These kids don’t have the luxury of early admissions, but that’s okay because reality and this show aren’t always synonymous. Anyway, this period of a teenager’s life would be even worse when you consider extreme emotional angst and inner turmoil, and trust me, these characters are very conflicted. It’s important to look at what college means to each character, so let’s try that:

Ryan: The first person in his family to be any kind of, well, anything that isn’t a criminal or a deadbeat. I guess Dawn isn’t exactly a deadbeat now, but working odd-hour shifts at a diner isn’t exactly a wonderful job. I don’t mean to disrespect anyone who works at a diner now, but you have to admit, you hope to have more once you’re an adult. Anyway, college is an opportunity for Ryan to make something even more of himself, to break free from his past. I think that’s the most important thing for Ryan, to try to distance himself from who he was. He hasn’t been able to do that fully just yet, and I think he recognizes how important it would be for him to do it. At the same time, he faces the fact that he might have to leave the Cohens, the first family that’s really ever been a family for him. Even when they’ve judged him, they’ve done so because they care. Imagine that you had nothing for your entire life, but then one day, you had everything. And then it’s time to leave it. Look, I don’t care if you move to a nice school in nice Berkley: living away from home is not as nice as being at home. You gain a lot, I know, but you lose a lot also. But it’s genuinely amazing how far Ryan has come, how the Cohens have pushed him to be more than he should have been. I think this is most noticeable in the fact that he went to his mother and asked her to graduation. Okay, so he chickened out first, but that’s to be expected. He’s wrestling inside. But when he came around, we could all see that he’s a real man. He’s grown up into someone special, and the fact that he’s in such a good college really shows that.

Marissa: Marissa also continues to wrestle with inner demons, and hers also extend back to her family. A father who abandoned her twice, a sister she doesn’t know, and a mother who doesn’t exactly know how to parent. She’s lost her boyfriend, she’s lost her best guy friend (we’re all grateful), and she’s completely unsure of herself. She has her father’s cowardice, not her mother’s resolve, though she could certainly learn a lot from her. Moving away to college is a chance for Marissa to start over. Remember in season one when she mentioned that months after Tijuana she was still the girl who overdosed? Well, at Berkley she can be someone different. That’s a good thing about moving on, she can have a clean slate. And she definitely needs it. The problem is whether or not she can believably move forward. She’s dug herself in a huge, huge hole. And it’s something that’s difficult to overcome, at least quickly and in time for college. Maybe that’s the angle that Josh will run if he decides to keep everyone in Newport. He’ll start with the idea that Marissa just isn’t stable enough to move forward and slowly, they all come home. I don’t necessarily like that idea, but it is believable. There are plenty of people who just aren’t ready to move on. And is it right for Marissa to move on when things are so difficult at home? Her relationship with Julie is terribly strained. What’s better for Marissa? Should she move on and start over, or should she stay home and try to fix what’s broken?

I thought maybe I could talk about Seth and Summer and their college choices and then talk about them in a different way in terms of their relationship, but it’s just not possible. So let’s just try to tackle them and see what we come up with.

Let’s look at Seth first. A lot of people are complaining about how Seth is being an ass, some even saying that his reactions have been out-of-character. I find very little validity in that. In fact, I find him to be acting very much in character. Go back to season one and remember that Seth always felt that he was better than everyone he lived around. He was smarter, cooler, and funnier. He didn’t fit in, but it didn’t change the fact that he thought he was better. As a loner, he had no one to talk to other than himself, and he became self-involved. He knew no other way. At the same time, though, his loneliness probably manifested itself in a way that caused him to feel a horrible sense of inferiority. After he hooked up with Summer, he probably still thought of himself as below Summer. That, of course, was ironic, because she thought she wasn’t good enough for him. Anyway, Seth prided himself on being academically superior to everyone, and that was his ticket out. And then he discovered that it didn’t get him where he wanted to go. Now those feelings of inferiority come rushing back. He doesn’t know how to deal with it. He’s still internalizing everything, trying to relate everything back to him. Thinking it over and over and over to the point of killing him. At the same time, though, he loves Summer and wants what’s best for him. And in a way, these feelings are contradictory. He wants the best for himself, and he wants the best for her, and he feels that Brown is the answer they both are looking for, but Brown can’t be the answer for both of them. Now, Seth is self-deprecating and self-internalizing (if that’s a phrase that’s usable), but he’s hardly confrontational. It’s much easier for him to take this confusion, to take these problems, and essentially say, “You know what, screw all this. I’m leaving.” And that’s what he did.

Summer’s problems are very similar. We learned that she lived a certain lifestyle, but as we’ve gotten to know her more, it seems like she probably never truly felt like she fit in. Abandonment issues abound in her life, and her father doesn’t seem like he’s the most stable person either, their strange, incestuous relationship aside. Now she finally meets someone who’s different, someone who is smart and cool and funny. And she fell in love, maybe against her will. She never felt like she was good enough for Seth, and I’m guessing that she feels the same way now. She got into Brown, and now it seems like Seth wants something different, maybe even something better. Seth is her life. Seth is someone who saw her for a person not just for a beautiful girl. And now he’s willing to leave. Now, through all this, I’m not saying that Seth had a right to lie because he didn’t. But it makes complete sense. He wants to make himself feel better, he wants her to succeed. This is the ultimate opportunity for her. I’m not saying it’s what she wants because it never was anything she wanted. She wanted to stay west and go some place warm. At the same time, though, getting into Brown is no small accomplishment, and I think that Seth recognizes that.

A lot of people took offense to the end of “The Dawn Patrol” when Seth suddenly said, “I have to get Summer back.” I think some people think that that was a sudden change, but it wasn’t. I think it was always clear that he wanted Summer back. He never wanted her to leave. But as long as he stayed with her, he’d be reminded that he’d failed to reach his goal. And if he tried to act like it didn’t bother him, he’d be lying, too. Seth’s actions aren’t the best, but they are completely logical. He’s trying to deal with his own inadequacies, and they’re manifesting in the worst possible.

I would like to say, though, that in “The Day After Tomorrow,” when Seth broke up with Summer, it was one of the best scenes I’d ever seen on the show. Adam Brody played the scene with such a reserve and such fragility that I could see him crumbling under his own faults. Rachel Bilson played the scene with such fear and trepidation. She looked positively terrified. She looked like she was going to fall apart as well. She was shaking, she was crying, she was just perfect. I don’t know that I remember a scene so well executed ever. I agree with someone who said that it was blocked oddly, with Rachel having to squat while Adam sat, but I don’t mind. It was so brilliantly executed, just like this storyline.

And this storyline isn’t succeeding just because of the actors, but it’s succeeding because of the writers and because it’s a well-crafted storyline. It’s incredibly different than anything we’ve seen so far because it doesn’t rely on a third character (unless you count the wonderful Taylor who has been the best friend Summer has ever had on this show) to move the plot along. It relies on two people who are struggling internally. It relies on something that many college seniors can relate to. It’s honest and it’s real. It’s logical, too. I have not felt, for a moment, that this was anywhere near contrived. I am absolutely in awe at how this has played out.

So there you go, folks, I’m done now. It’s 1:13 A.M. on Thursday morning (yeah, I started last Friday and thought I’d be done), so I don’t really have time to write anything else. Let me just run this down real quick:

- Excited about Sandy
- Curious if Kirsten will drink gain
- Can’t wait for Anna and Theresa
- The baby has to be Ryan’s
- Want to see Ryan and Volchok fight
- Taylor is still the best thing to ever happen to this show
- Finale is going to rule

Kids, hopefully I’ll be back soon after the next episode. It should be a good one. Sorry for the lateness, sorry for the rambling (I noticed as I was writing that I wrote a few sentences several times), and sorry for lack of content. But hopefully I’ll have more soon. Or maybe I won’t be back for a while. I don’t know. I really want to comment on the Josh quote that Ausiello quoted in TV Guide, but no time. There are some general spoilers in the column, but I recommend people checking it out at

Have a good one.

Questions, comments, anything.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

The Secrets and Lies

“The Secrets and Lies”

Well, I’m back.

Thanks to the miracle that is the Z-Pak, I’m back and almost better than ever. Seriously, Zithromax is great. I just read about people complaining about side effects, but I think those people just suck. People who suck don’t deserve to be cured anyway.

But I digress.

I want to apologize for not being here last week for what was, I think, one of the season’s best episodes, but I just couldn’t do it. I was dragging my ass around, couldn’t stop coughing, and was just generally miserable. Add the fact that I needed to rewrite a paper that I’d done terribly on, and you’ve got just a bad, bad week. But I’m here now, fresh off a vacation to Orlando, and I’m hoping that, over the next few hours, I can churn out something good so that this review can be posted before the next episode airs tomorrow night. I’d planned on being done with this while on vacation, but it didn’t work. Universal Studios is just too much fun.

But I digress again.

This show is on a roll right now. Despite an unnecessarily negative recap at Television without Pity (which, from what I’ve read, has actually turned people away from the episode), this is another candidate for best of the season. Granted, that’s like saying which type of cancer is the best (actually, it’s nothing like that…I’m tactless, but I’m still sensitive), but still, it’s a good thing. And it succeeded, again, because the emphasis was not on Marissa, and the scenes that were about her, showed her miserable. She’s better that way, not just because I hate her, but because Mischa can play that role much more effectively. Actually, she plays the role the exact same, but her monotony is better suited to drugged out Marissa. We’ll get to this in a little while, though.

We generally start with Ryan and his messes, but let’s not this week. Let’s start with the heart of the episode: Seth and Kirsten. Not only was this a beautifully written story, it addressed one of the biggest problems this season has had: Kirsten’s alcoholism. I admit, I wasn’t crazy about the story when it first reared its head last year. It was compelling, and it ended up being emotionally draining and absolutely terrific—plus, it gave us the “Fix You” scene as a defining moment of the show—but it seemed kind of out of nowhere. She’d been through hell, true, and she’d always turned to the bottle when she was going crazy, but it always seemed like comedic relief as opposed to anything serious. But Josh went ahead with it, and, as I said, he did it well. It felt monumental. And then season three starts, and it’s over. They tried something with the Charlotte storyline, and it was compelling for two episodes or so, but that failed because it was all about the soap opera and not about the larger picture: the emotion and the fallout of a visit to rehab. And look, I’m fine with the show being an over-the-top-oh-my-god-she-just-pulled-off-her-wig-on-melrose-place soap opera, but if they’re going to inject the show with a storyline like the alcoholism storyline, and write it so that it brings many of us to tears, then they need to address it head-on in an emotionally gripping way.

Yet it was ignored. Once Charlotte was unceremoniously bumped (after Kirsten was unceremoniously bumped for Julie in the story), Kirsten went to the back. And that just wasn’t fair, not to the fans who’d invested time and emotion and not to Kelly Rowan who owned the screen last year. But Josh brought the goodness in this episode. First of all, mother/son bonding always rings true to me because my mom and I are close. Senior year, especially, we hung out a lot together because my brother and sister didn’t like to go out, my dad was working out of state, and so my mom and I would go out to eat together nearly every night. Television always portrays parent/child relationships as such abnormal events, so it was nice to see Seth just volunteer to go out with his mother like it was natural, although it wasn’t exactly organic given the fact that Seth hasn’t cared much about his mother (and it works both ways) in two seasons. But Josh was prepared to handle that criticism before I even made it, and that’s why Kirsten snapped at Seth that she didn’t talk about the situation because he didn’t ask. Really, though, you can’t blame either for never wanting to talk. Kirsten, sitting at dinner, and mentioning her trip in rehab would be uncomfortable, and Seth has never really done well with being “that family.” I loved that Seth tried to leave the AA meeting because it reflected how he felt about the whole thing last season. He just didn’t want to deal with what was happening, or, in this case, had happened. It was also nice to hear Kirsten had been sober, a real sigh of relief for everyone who is so invested in this terrific character.

Now, I know one person who argued that Ryan should have attended the meeting with Sandy and Kirsten as well, but that’s not even remotely right for at least two reasons. One, Ryan doesn’t need to go to an AA meeting to know that Kirsten is doing better. He’s been around alcoholics his entire life. He knows the difference between drunk and sober. Two, Ryan is not Kirsten’s son. I know that we all love Sandy and Kirsten to refer to Ryan as a son, and I hope they legally adopt him soon because I love the family dynamic, but Ryan didn’t grow up with Sandy and Kirsten. This moment with Seth and Kirsten wasn’t just about them hanging out together, it was about them bonding, about familial growth, and about the fleeting moment before college. That’s why Kirsten references Fantasia: to remind us that Seth has grown up, and she’s sorry to see him go. It was a genuinely beautiful story, well-written and well-acted. Absolutely brilliant. I’m hoping that Seth will pack Kirsten and take her to college with him, so that we can have more of these moments.

Now, somewhat speaking of Ryan, there’s not too much to say about him this week. It was really cool to see him happy, if a little unsettling. Ben is a tremendous actor, and this proved it. He was actually convincing as mind numbingly happy—well, happy in a television sense, since no one actually acts like that when they’re happy in real life. Regardless, though, I’ve really enjoyed seeing Ryan happy, and even more, I’ve enjoyed seeing him attempt to complete rid himself of Marissa’s problems. Some complain that Ryan should try to help her, not ignore the flask in school, etc. Okay, maybe that’s the good thing to do, but he’s done a hell of a lot for her. He’s cleaned up a lot of her messes, and while I won’t deny that Marissa hasn’t done much for her (turning herself in as the shooter in the season premiere took a lot of guts), I have to say that Ryan has put himself out there far more times than Marissa has, and he’s gotten nothing in return except more problems. Sadly, though, it looks like he’ll be back to taking her problems on again. He was fairly nonchalant in dealing with Volchok and his goons, but the fact is, he was dealing with them, and when Marissa gets in serious trouble later, which is bound to happen now that she’s on coke(~!), he’ll run to her rescue. Right now, though, I’ll just enjoy his relationship with Sadie because while it’s a little forced and it’s ill-fated, it’s still pretty hot, and it’s incredibly refreshing.

With Marissa in mind, let’s talk briefly about her. Again, there’s not much to stay, as she didn’t actually do much different. She just did more to put herself in a worse position. I’m all for her cocaine use despite it being a Kelly Taylor rehash. I’d have preferred something a little more hardcore, maybe shooting heroine or something, but that’s just because I like to see Marissa really punish herself. As I said, Mischa doesn’t play happy Marissa any different than miserable Marissa, but since Mischa always seems miserable anyway, it seems fitting that she should stick with spiraling out of control. Besides, it’s much more interesting than watching the writers attempt to put her at the center of the show as if she’s some kind of moral figure. Now, I won’t deny that I liked that she went and brought Sadie back from the train station. Ryan deserved it because he deserves to be happy, and since Marissa has really taken happiness away from it (assuming he ever really had it), she was the one who should have given it back to him. It was a bold move, and I’m glad she did it. It was also nice because it took her another notch further on her downward spiral. I just have to wonder if she’s going to get herself in so much trouble that she’s going to have to skip college, Ryan stays, and then everyone stays in Newport. This is a well-written storyline so far, so I hope that the writers don’t come up with something lame.

Speaking of something lame, let’s talk about something that’s not, and that’s the Sandy and Matt story. Okay, a lot of people have hated on it, but I’m proud to say I’ve been mostly behind it. A lot of times, the adult storylines kind of go over my head because they’re all business related, and God knows the only thing I know about business is that I’m not cut out for that world, but I do know that here, business is merely a cover for Sandy’s problems. He basically puts Matt up to something and then makes him take the fall. Griffin essentially says that something bad might happen to Matt, and Sandy allows it. That’s horrible, actually, but it’s so incredibly compelling. This is just a terrific story that’s really playing with the complexities of Sandy’s character in a way that’s so much more real than the Rebecca affair. Somehow, I think this is going to end badly for Sandy and Kirsten’s marriage, and I’m actually kind of looking forward to it. I think it might be interesting if we find out that Sandy hired the goons to take out Matt and his television. Seriously, that was a nice television. I’m really not concerned with the overt liberal overtones of this storyline, and generally, political leanings, to the right or left, turn me off. I can handle the “corporation make evil man” overtones of this one, though, because again, it’s Sandy attempting to do something right in the wrong way, and really, the ends aren’t quite justifying the means.

Whoa, I totally skipped over Julie/Neil. Not much to add other than to say that I can’t believe people are really upset over their “trial” since I don’t think Neil’s acting controlling or domineering by saying it. He simply knows that the family is the most important thing, and if the families don’t mesh well, then the marriage can’t work. And here’s to hoping it leads to more Marissa and Summer fighting since this show desperately needs more in-group fighting. Yeah, that’s all I have to say there since I completely forgot about it until the very end, and my head’s spinning with previous ideas. My bad.

Random Thoughts…

Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage, two of the main masterminds behind the show, wrote this episode, and it was great. Coincidence? Doubt it. I love that the show has actual continuity now, that the characters are real, and that things are progressing in a logical way.

No Taylor this week. That makes me sad, but she is signed on as a series regular, confirmed by J.J. Philbin in an interview she did here: I know, I know, it’d been confirmed before, but I never want to believe anything until a truly credible source (e.g., a writer) tells me it’s true. By the way, I asked a question about the overall season arcs, and something close to that made it to the interview. Methinks it’s my question! So yeah, I’m now officially an insider. Kind of.

Oh crap, I completely forgot to talk about Marissa and Summer and Julie and Neil. I’ll go back and write something short after I’m done with this.

And I’m done because really, I’m tired. I know, I’m on vacation, I should be up late and sleeping late, but I’m an old man. I’m like 65 trapped in a 20 year old body.

Okay, I know that things, especially with Ryan and Marissa were all over the place in this review, but that’s mainly because it wasn’t the most important thing to me. I’m thinking about changing the format to where I write a lot about what I felt was important and having short blurbs about other things. I think that’ll make it easier on me and quicker for you. Who knows? We’ll see.

Have a good week everyone, and I’ll see you soon.