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.?



At 6:21 AM, Blogger gnarlykitty said...

Drew you always have a different look on the OC and I liked the way you showed it. Admittedly I was really upset about Marissa/Mischa departure as I am sure the O.C. will not last long without her but now that I have seen in through your eyes I understand it better that there really is nothing left for her in Newport.

I love the O.C. but I wouldn't be surprised at all if Season Four is the last. Despite her acting skills or lack thereof, without Mischa/Marissa, the O.C. can't make it. And I don't even like Marissa!

At 9:01 AM, Blogger fifimom said...

Thank you for a great review. I have been so looking forward to reading it. I must admit I have been cheeking the site daily. It was a really good episode and I agree it and ending that fit even if it is hard to accept. I think everyone did a good job on this episode, writers, actors, directors. I'm sure it was hard to deal with. I know you are not a big Ben Mckenzie fan but I think he really sold the ending. He made it real, not cheesy and you hurt for the character of Ryan. Alot of fans say they are not going to watch next season. I can't wait to watch and wish it were not going to come so late in the year. Marissa's death should be devastating to so many people and most especially Ryan and Julie. I hope the writters do the material justice.
Thanks again and looking forward to your season4 comments.

At 4:57 PM, Blogger Drew Timmons said...

Oh no! I hope that I didn't come off as disliking Ben. There was a time when he and I didn't click (though I still liked Ryan), but I think he's come so, so, so far as an actor and he's injected Ryan with a much needed second dimension. I think he's magnificent now.

At 11:25 AM, Blogger georgina said...

i really like your views on the oc. i have never seen all of the last eppy [british here] but i can read your views and get a picture.
i saw a few scenes from it and i think that although it was a great eppy [the graduation scene in particular] the ending was not as well done as i would have expected.
it will be a totally different show next year, and i hope they keep some of the original oc magic, but also hope they don't try to mimik how it was with the group.
i'm so sad that marissa is gone, but ultimatley the show can continue.

thanks for your great reviews anyway.

At 10:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a really good blog it has got really great stuff. The OC is my favorite show of all times. All the episodes are fabulous but some of the oc episodes like "The Graduates”,” The Shake up" are unforgettable for me. All the characters have played up well in the show. I really appreciate Rachel Billson’s act in the show.

At 10:00 PM, Blogger Edward said...

Volchock didn't want to hurt Marissa, he was upset because Ryan "got" the only girl that he really cared about, yes he was a douche, and an idiot, and he only brought his problems to them, but he liked Marissa for real, and he didn't know how to express that because he always lived being a douche, I think he cheated on her because she began to hang with her friends again, and decided to go to college and for him that was like leaving him and Marissa did not handle the situation very well at all, cause in like one episode she was with him just to be a rebel and the next she wanted him to participate in her rich social life. Marissa wanted to share the good parts of her life with him because she saw he wasn't actually that bad of a person but then doing it like that was kinda stupid and she never ever gave a chance for him to talk to her after, so she really brought it to herself. It could be seen how Marissa's actions were really confusing Volchock. That's not to say it was not his fault too, he's still a fucked up jerk with pretty bad self-controling issues, but he never really meant to harm Marissa.


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