Monday, May 22, 2006

The Graduates

“I’m gonna live my life like every day’s the last.
Without a simple goodbye it all goes by so fast.
And now that you’re gone, I can’t cry hard enough.
I can’t cry hard enough for you to hear me now.
Gonna open my eyes and see for the first time,
I’ve let go of you like a child letting go of his kite.”

- “Can’t Cry Hard Enough,” The Williams Brothers”

Everyone who expected me to be even a little bit moved by Marissa’s death, raise your hand.

That’s what I thought.

I found Marissa to be the most incredibly selfish, whiney, egotistical, arrogant, spoiled, and generally unlikable character ever on television. My hatred for her knew no limits and often crept into reality. More times than not, she disgusted me to my very core and made me question why I like this show at all.

Let me digress for a moment, though, before I get sentimental.

Earlier this year, the webmaster at Editorial Newport forwarded me an e-mail where a webmaster from a Marissa (or Mischa) fan site said, “Tell Drew and all the other Marissa haters to suck shit. The girl always does the right thing.” I have to say that, at the time, it was an asinine comment. But finally, this statement holds some validity. Marissa did the right thing. She died. Ha!

Okay, back from my digression.

I knew she was dying. The spoiler trail led us to Sandy dying of a heart attack just like Caleb did last year. See, all the problems with the Newport Group were going to lead to Sandy dying just like Caleb did. The parallels had been there all season, so it made sense. Except for the fact that Caleb had documented health problems (including, but not limited to, being on blood-thinning meds and having a first heart attack) and had been working for years. Oh, and every year, Josh releases foilers. So despite Ausiello and Kristen’s assistant talking about Sandy dying, it wasn’t going to happen. At least, it wasn’t going to happen with any sense of real excitement. Once I left the Sandy trail, rumors jumped in about Mischa wanting to leave. She was apparently unprofessional and wanted out, though Josh denies it. Rumors circulated that she would leave and come back as a guest star. Then, Mischa went and told “Access Hollywood” that she was dying. Then that show proceeded to tell the world. And then every newspaper in the country picked up the story.

So yeah, I knew. I knew, and I hated Marissa. Seemed like it’d be the most anticlimactic finale in the history of television (except for “One Tree Hill” this season). But when it was over, I had a sinking feeling in my stomach. My body ached. My legs were wobbly. My eyes had a few tears in them. I dreamt about the final few moments. I was seriously messed up. Last season, I watched and re-watched the final sequence of the finale over and over in one night. This one, I just couldn’t. It was just difficult.

After a night’s sleep, some discussion on message boards and with friends, and a little perspective, I realize that it was actually a very good episode, and it made perfect sense in the terms of a larger story. It was completely necessary and logical, and it wrapped up a tragic story, and pushed forward a new one. Some people will argue against that, but they’re just wrong. A ‘wrong opinion’ is a contradiction, I know, but trust me. This was what was needed, and this was the completely right way to go.

The episode, overall, was a solid one. It was much like the entire season. There were moments when it was absolutely perfect, when it all made sense. There were moments where it was slow and a bit plodding (thankfully, those moments were very few). There were moments when it was hilarious. And there were moments when it was dramatic.

I loved the scene between Seth and Sandy early in the episode. There’s good chemistry between a lot of people on this show. Peter and Kelly, Ben and Adam, Adam and Rachel, Ben and Rachel, Ben and Kelly, Ben and Peter, Adam and Kelly, Adam and the sink, Adam and plastic horses, Adam and the iMac. But I honestly think that the best is between Adam and Peter. When they are on, there isn’t a better, or more realistic, tandem. They have a similar sense of comedic timing, and they seem extremely comfortable in the most awkward father/son way. So watching them together is always a pleasure for me. I was particularly excited about the fact that Sandy chanted a celebratory chant for us. I love Sandy. More on that in the next paragraph, actually. Now, I know people are a little upset with Seth saying he can’t tell Sandy that he loves him. God, people piss me off. Seth wasn’t being serious. He was joking. He was undercutting the melodrama in the same way that both he and Sandy always do. Think back to ‘The Ties That Bind’ when Sandy undercut the moment between Ryan and Kirsten before he left. It was exactly like it. It’s what they do.
I’m also glad that the fire storyline didn’t play out any differently. People forget that since Sandy is running the Newport Group, he didn’t have to press charges (if that’s even a term used outside of television). He saw it as a good opportunity. It was resolved, not dropped, contrary to popular belief. And I think Seth has learned his lesson. Maybe he’ll smoke more in college, but he won’t put it near a trashcan. Baby steps, people.

And it was wonderful to see Dawn back, sobered up and completely together. Not exactly great to hear her say, “Kirsten” incorrectly, but I’ll let it slide because I have a MILF crush on this woman. No lie. She’s a looker. Not Kirsten or Julie level hot but hot enough. Ryan’s reaction is completely the right one, too. He’s excited to see her, thrilled that her life is together. But he’s not throwing himself at her and gushing over her. He knows she’s had problems and that they’re relationship is strained. It’s just not irrevocably strained like it seemed to be in the past.
I thought the car was such a nice gift. Ryan should have already had one, true, considering that the Cohens are filthy rich and could afford to buy both Ryan and Seth a car, but I’m not going to nitpick that because it’s been nitpicked to death. But it was such a tremendous gesture, a way to make amends. A car is the ultimate sign of maturity (well, maybe losing your virginity is, but this is close), and so it represents both Ryan’s graduation and progression into the real world and Dawn’s newfound maturity. While I’m somewhat sorry that we didn’t get many Ryan/Sandy/Kirsten moments, I’m okay with it because we got to see how successful the Atwood family can actually be, and we got to see how they can still work as a family. It shows that the Cohens generosity has extended far beyond just helping Ryan. I love it. I hope she’s back next season.

The graduation scene was handled very well. With these, you run a risk of being to maudlin, but this episode knew what it needed to do and did it. It felt important without feeling overwhelming. It was nice that no one in the immediate group was valedictorian, a common, and sometimes unbelievable, practice for teen shows. Taylor fit the mold perfectly, and I was glad to see her mom pop back in during a perfect moment. I can only hope that the show explores her relationship with her mom next year since I think it’s an extremely volatile and telling one. The minor looks we got it this year were among the most interesting and exciting scenes. Taylor failed for the fans first because she was just a rival for Summer, but she began to win acclaim when they fleshed her character out. It’s going to be exciting to see her join the cast. She’s already got more depth than some of the main characters.
I really enjoyed the parents’ reactions to the graduation. Sandy was true to himself as he completely embarrassed Seth only because he loves him and knows nothing else, and Julie was extremely proud of Marissa because all she’s ever wanted was to give her a good life, just like she admitted later on. She wasn’t always a perfect mom, and she didn’t always do everything in the perfect way, but she always thought she was doing something right. We’ve seen that as far back as ‘The Rescue.’
I wasn’t crazy about the snapshot sequences since they seemed out of place on this show, but I quickly grew to love them if only because it was funny to see how the pre-picture poses differed from the picture pose. Sandy, in particular, won me over with his complete smugness in his picture. He looked so incredibly dignified and awesome. And he knew it. Peter Gallagher, when he’s on, is simply God on this show.

It’s wonderful that Seth got into RISD, as if there were any doubt. Summer won’t end up at Brown if only because it would mean that the fans would demand Anna, and there’s been no indication that either Josh or Samaire want to Anna to return full time. If Summer does end up there, it’ll be for a short time, but more on that later. It was nice to see these two end the year together, sweetly. I read someone who said they were sick of these two being the cartoonish couple, playing hand slapping games or whatever, but that’s, more or less, a terrible sentiment. These two have always been designed as the goofier couple, the Monica and Chandler to Ryan and Marissa’s Ross and Rachel. They have their problems, sure, but ultimately, they work best together because they’re from similar worlds, they have similar demons, and they have similar dreams. It’s interesting to see Summer with the Brown admissions letter while that was initially Seth’s dream, but it’s rewarding to know that Seth is happy about RISD. It shows that your dreams can change and everything can be okay in the end.

That’s what a lot of this episode was about: dreams. It was about how these characters have put themselves through hell and still managed to reach a milestone in their lives relatively unscathed. Don’t discount the parents, either. It’s just as much of an accomplishment to raise a child to graduation as it is for a child to graduate. Because life doesn’t necessarily get easier out of school, not even for the richest of the rich like Sandy and Kirsten. Julie’s speech about wanting to do what’s best for Marissa showed that she’d achieved something. It reminded me of Caleb’s “I did what I did for this family” speech from season two but without the sinister undertones of adultery and illegitimate children. Okay, so maybe Kaitlin isn’t quite an achievement yet, but there are still a few more years left for her. And don’t Sandy. He’s overcome a place he mostly hates, a few jobs he’s hated, huge marital problems, etc. to find himself right back where he wants to be. Helping people is clearly what he’s born to do. He always had his dream at his fingertips, he just had to make sure it’s what he wanted. It is. And it’s going to open up a world of wonderful new storylines next season, storylines where Sandy can go back to fighting the system, where he can go back to helping people, and where he can back to loving life and not being so unbelievably stressed. It’ll help his sense of humor, definitely, and that’s what the group from Newport is going to need to deal with the biggest tragedy to hit the group since Caleb’s death.

That’s right, Marissa’s death, despite my disdain for her, is a tragedy. She was young, sometimes vibrant, and occasionally, she even managed to be endearing. Those moments in the last year have been few and far between, but still, here’s a girl that’s just graduated high school. There was a future out there. Maybe it’s college, maybe it’s peeling potatoes (and I won’t even get into the irony of Marissa being pissed at Ryan for wanting to leave on a boat while it’s okay for her to do it because if I talked about that, I’d be forced to reveal what a hypocritical bitch she could be), or maybe it’s staying in Newport. We’ll never know, though. Make no mistake, though, Marissa’s death was her fault. Volchok caused it, yes, but Marissa brought problems on herself constantly. She was always trying to rebel. She wanted to push herself a little further each time. She wanted to go against her mom for the sake of going against her mom. She didn’t want to be like anyone else. And, as Josh says, tragedy was in her DNA. First episode, she smokes and drinks and parties. She’s dropped off passed out in her driveway. She’s got a mother who loves her but doesn’t know how to express it correctly, and she’s got a father who loves her, can express it, but can’t deal with his own problems. She drinks more, steals, befriend a psycho, drinks, throws furniture, dates a girl, drinks with Trey, shoots Trey, throws a laptop, drinks more, does coke, etc. There’s more, I’m sure, but the point is that she was never putting herself in situations where she could succeed. She allowed herself to constantly be sucked into these situations where there could be no ending. She always needed to be rescued. That’s why the montage of clips where Ryan was carrying her off was so incredibly powerful. The recaplet at Television Without Pity (yes, I reference this site a lot since I’m a member) made a comment about how the show is in love with repetition instead of creativity, and that’s an asinine comment in this situation. There was a reason for the montage and for the way the shot was filmed. There was a reason the lyrics, at that point, said, “I’ve been here before.” They had. Marissa had. She was always in danger, always in trouble. She could never, ever quite get things to work out for her. She’d managed to escape every time, but eventually, luck runs out.

That’s why it was smart to use Volchok as the “murderer” instead of an OD or a plane crash or a regular car crash. Volchok perfectly represents every problem Marissa had in the past. She knew he was wrong for her. She knew he was imperfect. She met him around the time he kidnapped her. The alarm bells should have gone off. I realize she was in dire need of a friend after Johnny’s death, but she had a support system that she chose to ignore. She had several chances to get away, but she always came back to him. It was stupid, completely stupid. He also represented the alternative lifestyle that she’d tried so many times in rebellion. He represented everything she’d pushed herself to be at various points. When she was with him, she was trying to shed a certain image, and in doing so, she became so wrapped up in his world. This time, though, the person wasn’t going away. No breaking down and realizing he was wrong like Alex did. He just wanted to hurt Marissa.

Should Ryan have pulled the car over? Perhaps. He said there was nowhere to pull it, but that was wrong. There was room. But what happens if he does? Perhaps Volchok has a knife or gun. Ryan pulls over, Volchok jumps out, wields the weapon, and tries to kill one of the two. Let’s say Ryan slams the breaks. Volchok hits him, jumps out of the van, and fights. Let’s say Ryan whips a U-turn and Volchok isn’t savvy enough to turn his car around and he speeds past them. The fight’s not over. Ryan did what he had to do and that was continue to drive and hope they could get somewhere safe, somewhere where Volchok’s driving wouldn’t go unnoticed. It also didn’t help that Marissa didn’t appear to have her seatbelt on.

As for the final scene, it was excruciating, but in a good way. Imogen Heap’s “Hallelujah” wasn’t quite as powerful as I’d hoped, but it was still really good combining elements of both finales. But the best decision was to cut the music off as Ryan set her down. Maybe Ryan should have run for help, but she wanted him to stay. His cell phone was likely in the car, and he couldn’t go back to do it. A lot of people keep their cell in a cup holder so that it’s easier to get to if it rings on the road. It’s reasonable that he wouldn’t have one on him. I think, also, that Ryan knew it was over. Partially, he didn’t want her to panic, and that’s why he didn’t make a fuss. But mostly, I think he knew she was dying. It makes perfect sense with who Ryan is, actually. He’d just had a great moment at the Model Home, a perfect scene where the kids interacted like kids. He’d just had a terrific conversation with Marissa where they recognized their relationship problems. There was a sense of growth in both in the moment inside the Model Home. Things were nice. But just like Ryan established several episodes before, whenever something good happens to him, something bad happens as well. Nothing can ever be perfect in his life. Everything comes at the expense of something else. He gains the Cohens but loses his mother. He gets off after the shooting but loses his brother. He gets into college but loses Sadie. And as Ryan watched Marissa, he knew it was over. That’s why when she actually died, his reaction was less, “Oh my God she’s dead,” and more, “Oh God no, I hoped it wasn’t true.” Ryan wasn’t melodramatic. There were no last kisses or goofy declarations of love. It was Ryan and Marissa, two unemotional people, who never could say what they needed to say to each other, together, in mostly silence. It was a since of shock, of wonderment, and of understanding that there was no other way that their story could end. The fact that the scene was long was an interesting choice, but I firmly believe it sold the scene because it added a sense of realism that balanced with the soap operatic elements in Ryan carrying Marissa in slow-motion. Tragedy doesn’t always happen quickly, and people aren’t exposed and then pulled away from tragic situations. They sit through them. They watch events unfold. It’s cringe-inducing, it’s uncomfortable, and it’s scary. And that’s what happened to Ryan there. He had to watch this. There was no escape for him or for the viewer. The image of Ryan holding the body is something I’ll never forget as long as this show continues.

Odds and Ends about “The Graduates”

- Loved the scene with Dr. Roberts and Kaitlin. It was very reminiscent of some of the earlier scenes between Sandy and Summer. Very awkward, a clear clash in personalities and generation, but it ultimately worked because the actors know the characters.
- Loved Taylor’s summer vacation plans and her welcome into the group. She’s going to be a tremendous asset to the show.
- Loved the symbolism of Ryan and Marissa leaving Orange County. The sign was perhaps too symbolic, but it worked big time for me.
- Why exactly is Julie talking to Jimmy? She forgives very easily, I suppose. I never thought that she’d get over him standing her up.
- Why is Marissa jumping at the chance to go with Jimmy? She said she never wanted to see him again. And she can’t say, “He seems to be doing well.” That’s how it seemed last time, too.
- When Sandy mentioned the Nana, I was sure we’d get a cameo. Too bad he was talking about teaching her how to use a website.
- Who didn’t love Julie eventually drooling over the ab pictures Kaitlin put up?
- Speaking of Julie and Kaitlin, Julie didn’t seem too excited to see Kaitlin. Not too shocking, I guess, since she never cared much for her.
- And why does Kaitlin still have an iPod mini? I mean, I have one, and I’m fine with it, but this is Newport we’re talking about. These people get a new umbrella with every rain. I’ll consider it ‘Julie is Poor’ continuity.
- Not a single “China has alopecia!” reference and Kaitlin was there a lot.
- I would love to have a four-way with the Cooper women (while Marissa was living, of course).

So that’s “The Graduates.”

I’m always a sucker for graduation episodes, and this was no different. It was emotional, well-written, and shocking despite the twist being a foregone conclusion. It wasn’t the best episode, but I truly believe that there’s potential there. Real potential.

But in order to see the potential of next season, I think we need to take a look back at this past season, a season of real highs and extreme lows, and a lot of mediocrity. What did the writers do right, wrong, and otherwise? What did they fix and what did they break further? What do they need to fix? Is the show salvageable? Could it get more than a fourth season?

Those questions and more…


(Or so I thought. See, at the time I was writing this, I was prepared to take a break, come back to it, and finish it up with the complete season recaps. Then, I strained a muscle in my neck while working out, and I can barely sit in front of the computer for extended periods of time without screaming because it’s so painful. I’ve had this before, so it’ll go away. As will, I though, as I’m taking a vacation Wednesday. My laptop is coming with me, so I’m going to work on a lot of things that I need to do, this included. So, for those who were looking for my season three analysis, sorry.

I only got two responses to my request for people to send their comments in, compared to ten or more last year. Because I’m putting this off for a while, you guys can still send things in about this particular episode and the season in general. I really do hope to hear from you. It can be long or short. Doesn’t matter as long as it’s readable.

I’ll have the review coming before the first full week of June, so if you’re looking forward to it, it won’t be too long. Just hang in there with me. It’s been a hectic few months.

Thanks for understanding. Hope you enjoyed the six pages prior.

Questions, comments, concerns, etc.?


Wednesday, May 17, 2006


“The College Try,” “The Party Favor,” and “The Man of the Year”

It’s been a while, I know. C’mon, lay off of me, I have reasonable reason (that’s not even a really good phrase, and I think it’s grammatically incorrect, but I don’t particularly care). College life is tough. The last couple of weeks were really rough, but let me tell you this:

I have now written a short novel.
I have now written a scholarly article (once it’s past 10 pages, to me, it becomes more than just a paper).

So there we go. I did make the Dean’s List after three semesters of my dad pitching a fit when he saw my friends’ names in the paper and not mine. That’s cool, though. There’s a first time for everything.

So how about The O.C.? What do I think about it? Well, let’s run through a couple of quick thoughts on each individual episode and then a character analysis as we head into tomorrow night’s (or tonight’s, or even last night’s, depending on when I finish this and/or when you’re reading it) finale.

“The College Try” – A good episode. Aside from Anna’s ridiculous hair and fake tan, she was a pleasant addition to the cast. I didn’t like that we didn’t hear much about her, and that they relegated her to a plot device in the end, but Samaire and Adam have a great chemistry. They’re always fun. I became very disgruntled with Seth at times because he wouldn’t tell the truth, but I won’t hold that against him since there is method to his madness (we will discuss that in a bit). It was nice to see that Seth didn’t actually get into Brown because that would have been shockingly unrealistic, even for a primetime soap opera. Marissa was essentially a non-factor in the episode since her relationship with, um, the guy at Berkley, was unbelievably tame. There was a nice ending where she cuddled up to next to Volchok, but that’s about it, really. Oh, and she wants him to be a Nazi. He kind of turns out to be a dickhead, so Marissa = psychic! Ryan was probably the most interesting character in the episode, as we saw him settle in to a new world only to realize that he can’t escape his old one. That’s his life in Newport, and that’ll be his life at Berkley. The writers tossed aside the baby story in one fell swoop, but I hope that’s just a swerve before another swerve, and they’ll actually bring it back. The kid was cute, though. And it was actually more enjoyable, for me, to see Theresa than Anna because while I love Anna, her role was to be with Seth. I like Seth with Summer. Theresa’s role was to be with Ryan. I don’t like Ryan with Marissa. So anytime he gets a shot with someone else, I’m excited. Ben played the scene so well, too, as you could sense that there was a bit of disappointment that it wasn’t his seed that spawned the kid who looks exactly like him.

“The Party Favor” – Definitely enjoyed this episode, maybe even more than last year’s prom episode, one of my all time favorites. This one worked for the odd couplings, if nothing else. There was a perfect symmetry to Ryan and Theresa going to senior prom together. There was a nice symmetry with Anna and Seth together in formal attire since that’s how they met (well, how they got to know each other) and how Seth learned he didn’t have to be a total moron around girls. Marissa, the girl who is always looking for a way to get into trouble whether she realizes it or not, dug her grave with Volchok. Or Kevin as he is now called because the writers realized that when someone has just a last name, he’s too hardcore, but when he has a first name like Kevin, he’s much more primetime television acceptable. Summer was forced to go with Big Korea, and I don’t even know what to say about that. I love the guy. Not as much as I love Sung Ho (God only knows if I spelled that right) being the right man for Taylor. Taylor is essentially the greatest thing I’ve ever seen, and when Theresa indicated in the next episode that Taylor, Big Korea, and Sung Ho had a threesome, I voted it best moment ever. That doesn’t quite excuse Taylor leaving the money around at the Bait Shop, but she scored a major zinger when she said her prom was better than Marissa’s. So true. And Kevin laughed! Ha. Of course, in this episode, Sandy got into a little trouble, but that didn’t come to a head until the next episode. And then there was one of the best endings on the show ever. Maybe the best ever. Some are arguing that it’s repetitive, unoriginal, bland, etc. That’s wrong. Yes, it’s an opinion, but I’m willing to argue that it’s actually a wrong opinion. Reasons are coming up in the Ryan analysis, I promise.

“The Man of the Year” – Seth and Summer are back together (yes, I ignored that in the above recap but with reason), and someone named Continuity reared his head long enough to help Summer basically screw with Seth. And, of course, somewhere along the way, Seth decides it’s cool if he smokes. After all, everyone knows he lied, his mom’s drinking again (and Seth’s the only one who knows it leading a beautiful scene where he takes care of her and then cleans her mug), and he has to face his father and all of the family problems. The scene with Seth and Sandy was just brilliant. And as Seth said, it’s good that all of his lies were out. What’s not so good is that Seth lit the Newport Group on fire. But hey, we all make mistakes, right? Yeah, not like that, I know. Seth telling Sandy off leads to Sandy taking the high road and agreeing to compromise with the D.A. in the investigation of Griffin. He just doesn’t want to be Man of the Year. Who can blame him? Last time that happened, there was a fight. I think. Or Caleb lost some wetlands. Either way, it wasn’t pretty. Then there’s Ryan. Yikes. He’s in trouble. That’s all I can say. And, of course, Marissa and Kaitlin and mini-Summer, who only knows how to say, “Obvie” and has a Josh Schwartz replica for a dad, need to cause havoc. It proves nothing other than to remind us Kaitlin’s on board for next season, that Mischa’s accent isn’t that great, that her belly button is ginormous, and that she’s HOT as a school girl. If only Schwartz could have written the Coopers as a Catholic family.

Now on to our beloved characters who have been far more complex than ever before. Some are complaining, as usual, but few have valid complaints about where the characters have been. Most have already decided to hate the show, and that’s fine. But I can’t imagine a time when the characters (not the lines or the storylines) have been written with more consistency and with more complexity. Kudos, Josh. Let’s start with the one who’s been through the most hell lately, the one who has become so unbelievably dark that it’s scary: Ryan.

This poor kid just can’t catch a break can he? One of the reasons the second half of the season (or final third, I guess, since Johnny took up an abnormal amount of episodes) has been better than the other part is that Ryan is finally being forced to deal with his problems. The problem with that, though, is that his problems aren’t simple. Volchok has been an effective character because he essentially stems from Trey (Trey sends Marissa to Johnny who brings out Volchok), and they are, of course, very similar, and it’s not just that they call Ryan “little bitch” (even though I wasn’t bright enough to make that connection early on). It’s that they both want to take others down with them. Ryan is a good target because he’s impressionable. He’s strong-willed at times, but overall, he doesn’t know how to say no. He’s got a complex that tells him that he can’t be anything more than Chino. His trip to Berkley and the subsequent return were sad for that very reason. To tie this back around to Volchok, Volchok knows how to bring out the worst in Ryan, the Ryan that Ryan believes is the real Ryan (see if you can decipher that one). He knows how to egg Ryan on, to make him feel as if he belongs in the world of underhanded tricks, drugs, and violence. And Ryan feels this is true because he’s never deals with his issues. He accepts them as an unchanging part of who he is. That’s why the end of “The Party Favor” was so brilliant. The fight was an intentional parallel to the fight with Trey. Ryan suddenly had to come to terms with the fact that he was scary, angry, and unsure. It was a terrifying scene because it finally revealed just how deep Ryan’s problems ran. The follow up to it was interesting, as well, though less terrifying. Ryan’s rage, his problems had gotten him into trouble again, and there was no right way out. He ran, and some people say that’s out of character, but I find it perfectly in character. True, he’s always stood up for others, but now he’s trying to deal with the one person he can’t save: himself. That’s where Ryan stands now. He has to overcome himself, to realize that his problems aren’t going away unless he attempts to confront them, and to understand that he can rise above the Volchoks and Treys of the world. As I stated, Ryan is a darker character than most of us ever thought. But it makes perfect sense in the context of the show. He’s always been this way. It’s just now coming to a head as he attempts to deal with the ultimate change in his life. He deserves everything good that he has, but he often seems to forget that. I hope that will change soon.

Seth. There’s another character that’s taken a dark turn, but I don’t find it too out of character. Over the last two seasons, we’ve seen Seth become even more self-absorbed. It was slightly out of character in season two, but since the writers have held back on it a little, it’s become normal. He’s someone who takes everything to heart, someone who internalizes everything. So not getting into Brown was awful for him. It completely defeated his sense of self-worth. I’m not advocating his lying to Summer. He shouldn’t have done it. He should have told her from the beginning what happened. But I understand that he couldn’t. The minute he told her, he not only ruined her chance at a great school (and yes, it wasn’t her dream, so his head wasn’t in the right place, but his heart was—it’s easy to confuse our dreams with those of others), but it all became real to him. How hard that would be? He was not only struggling with his girlfriend, but he was struggling with himself. Drunk Summer at the prom was excellent, too, handled in a way that I remember high school alcohol actually being. I didn’t know many Marrissas, but I knew a lot of Summers, people who drank just to forget the night. Her perfectly choreographed flip, along with Taylor’s faux-melodramatic, “Man overboard!” was an episode highlight. Anna’s presence wasn’t necessarily needed, as I think that Taylor or Ryan or even Sung Ho could have given the same advice, but it was nice to see Anna tell him because we know just how wise Seth thinks she is. What’s the song lyric? “You were unexpected but not unwelcome”? That kind of works here. She wasn’t really needed, but there’s no reason for us to hate her. I suppose we could argue the ethics about Summer actually giving that list of things to Sandy, but I don’t think that argument would go anywhere. Not only should Seth have confessed to those things himself, he told Summer to do it. She really shouldn’t have even tried to get it back, though I understand why she wanted to. Summer’s problems, thankfully, have been minimal. They’ve been related to an inability to trust Seth, and since I think that Seth is learning from his mistakes, I think things will be okay. But Seth’s not completely clean, I guess. He’s still smoking pot. He’s still anxious. He’s still not sure what he’s doing with his life. Things are still okay in Newport, he’s fixed his parents, he has a best friend and a girlfriend, and he could easily not leave his comfort zone. Maybe things are too perfect. And that can just as easily push someone over the edge.

I’m not going to spend time discussing Marissa, though it’s not because I dislike her at this point. I’m enjoying her spiral, and I like that she’s not hogging the screen. I can just say, though, that her problems are the same as they always were: she lets herself get involved with things she shouldn’t. Volchok was clearly bad. There were no two ways around it. The Sound of Music thing fixed it slightly, but that came after Marissa was involved. Anytime someone kidnaps you, don’t get with them. But Marissa did it anyway because she, too, is unwilling to actively cope with her problems. And no, throwing a laptop doesn’t work because that just shows that you have no sense of the almighty dollar. If she expects to move on with her life, then she’s going to have to understand that many of her problems are self-inflicted. She’s not always looking for trouble, but she almost always finds herself in it.

Nothing good to report on Julie this time around. I’m definitely enjoying calm Julie. I want bitchy Julie to come back eventually, but for the time being, let’s let her have some peace, support her friends, and just have wild sex with Dr. Neil, the greatest soft-spoken man ever.

Nearly a year ago (or nine months, something like that), Sandy decided to take over the Newport Group himself. Easy enough, right? But then something happened. He decided that he could do a lot of good for a lot of people if he sold his soul. This story didn’t work for a lot of people, but it did for me since I always felt like he was struggling slightly. He was never outright a bad guy, but his actions were wrong. He was ignoring his family, and that should have been his first priority. And it finally pushed Kirsten too far. Calling Sandy out at the hospital dinner and comparing him outright to Caleb may have been a little too expositional, but I can forgive it because, at the very least, he needed some exposition to wake him up. And it was crushing when she finally went back to the bottle. It’s a hard to habit to break, to put it mildly. The scenes were very reminiscent of the Rebecca debacle with Sandy knowing his wife was there and choosing to ignore her, whether it was to save Matt or put papers in a safe or whatever. He chose himself over Kirsten, and that had to be difficult for her to deal with. I’m glad that the Cohen family—and I’m only including Seth, Sandy, and Kirsten here, so don’t e-mail me angry that I’m not including Ryan—caught each other, that they all saw their imperfections. Maybe it wasn’t quite the explosion that Josh promised, but it was a scary reminder that the Cohens had become what Seth feared: they had become “that family.” Sandy’s speech at the Man of the Year dinner was a little too maudlin for my tastes, but it was still a nice moment. In the end, we all want Sandy to do the right thing, and we hope that he will. If he didn’t, we’d lose such awesome lines like, “Sometimes I scare myself, Summer.” Is there anyone in this cast who could pull off a line like that other than Peter Gallagher?

So the finale’s tonight (yeah, it’s now Thursday as I finish this), and rumors abound. Apparently, a certain cast member has gone on record claiming to be the person who won’t make it through the night (no spoiler here). There have been spoilers and foilers and speculation aplenty, and I don’t know what to make of any of it. I know that the finale has tons of promise because every graduation episode of every show is good simply because it’s really hard to mess with the emotion of graduation. It writes itself. Still, according to the Fox preview guy, we’re going to lose Sandy, Ryan, Seth, Marissa, or Summer. I’m not sure which it’ll be. I have my thoughts, but I won’t say them here. Let’s just say that Orange County will never be the same.

Since next week is the finale, I’ll have a long review taking a look at the finale and the season as a whole. I hope to have it e-mailed in by that Tuesday since I’m leaving either Wednesday or Thursday for vacation. As last year, I’m looking for volunteers to write in with your season three comments and season four predictions. What did you like? What did you hate? What do you want to see more of? PLEASE! try to use proper capitalization, grammar, spelling, etc. I’m not asking for perfection because I’m not good at all that either, but I do ask that it’s readable. Last year, some of the responses I got were so bad that I had to spend an additional hour editing. So do your best to make it readable so that I can help share it with every visitor to Editorial Newport and The O.C. Community and my blog. Oh, and the deadline is SUNDAY MAY 21, 2006 at 11:59 p.m. EDT.

I know this review wasn’t the mind shattering, brain swelling in-depth look you all might have hoped for, but it’s been a few weeks. I’m trying to get into the groove again.

Have a great time watching the finale. I look forward to hearing from some of you.