Marissa Cooper. If you are familiar with this blog, than you are familiar with my fascination and studies of trauma, death, exile, etc in teen television. Marissa, one of the main characters of television series The O.C. , dies in the season 3 finale unexpectedly and traumatically via car accident. Sure, she was the so over-privlidged-and-beautiful-that-surely-must-self-destruct character from the get-go. Still, she is one of the few characters from the series that has been consistently a main character since the pilot. She dies, and the rest of the cast is left to carry on without her for one more season. …and then the show is cancelled. They did try though, to show life after death somewhat realistically via teen soap context.
- Many other shows the characters are sad for a little bit, maybe a few episodes, and then everything is fine. Every now on then when it’s convenient they may remember that dead or missing friend for a bit, and back to forgetting. In the O.C. the characters are not only devastated, but deeply changed.
The superficial seeming best friend, Summer Roberts, becomes a hardcore environmentalist at Brown. The love interest who also was at the scene of her death, Ryan Atwood, goes off the rails and gets involved in fighting matches for $$$$ and self punishment.
Marissa’s mother becomes a pill popping walking zombie, no longer able to check in to any other part of her life other than her daughter’s deaht In the realm of teen television, this is pretty darn good.
Yet, the actual death of Marissa Cooper in the end of season 3…is very much in the melodramatic form you would expect from a teen show. You have Ryan holding Marissa in his arms as she dies. …and best of all…you have the montages of the beautiful memories of Marissa. Flashbacks to Ryan first meeting Marissa in the driveway.. She looks angelic, with the sun setting behind her (of course). We cut to Marissa dying in the road, after the car accident. Everything feels epic and appropriately cinematic…many of Marissa and Ryan’s most important interactions in the series took place in the road/on a driveway. If it wasn’t enough with the montage, cue the soundtrack of Imogen Heap’s cover of “Hallelujah”..the obligatory song of love and loss. In this moment, the editing of the O.C. makes Marissa Cooper’s death feel very full circle in a way that life at the moment of a traumatic death does not. They wrap up a bloody traumatic mess into a prettier network tv package that we can let into our living rooms.
This cheesy tv/pop culture strategies for marketing weighty issues in a light way is what I love. I am starting to play around with this for painting ideas.