Unbelievable as it may feel, it's been a whole ten years since the final episode of The O.C. aired. Like many fans, I've continued to love and pine for the show ever since that sad farewell. I've spent an embarrassing amount of time rewatching old episodes and musing over what could have been. Naturally, there's one specific plot point that continues to haunt me with how it impacted the trajectory of the show, and that's the death of Marissa Cooper. Having such a pivotal character removed from the show in such a devastating manner had massive implications on the lives of all the characters, as well as the overall structure of the show. So much that I can't help but wonder how The O.C. finale would have changed if Marissa survived.
Revisiting the finale I was surprised at just how prominent Marissa's absence was. Though the start of Season 4 dealt with her death, and how the characters were all mourning the loss of such a major character, by the middle of the season if felt as though everyone, and the show with them, had moved on.
But Marissa's absence was evident in heartbreaking and powerful ways in the finale. Though there's barely any reference to the character, save for a sweet exchange between Summer Roberts and Julie Cooper, we see the positive ways with which Marissa's death has motivated characters to change their outlook on life. Everyone, from Seth, Summer, Ryan and Taylor to Julie, Sandy and Kirsten, all refuse the comforts of living in the convenient, easy present in order to pursue their dreams and invest in their futures.
For Ryan, that involved committing to a long-distance relationship with Taylor while pursuing his dream career. For Seth and Summer, it meant taking a little space from their comfortable relationship in order for them both to become the best people they possibly could be, as individuals rather than as a couple. For Julie, it meant embracing being single for the first time in her life and pursuing the education she always wanted. For Sandy and Kirsten, it meant moving away from Orange County altogether and starting a new life with a new baby in their original home.
But how would any of that have been different if Marissa had remained in the show to star in the finale? Let's examine:
1. Marissa Would Have Needed Some Time Alone To Figure Her Life Out
There's no delicate way to put this, so I'm just going to come right out and say it: Marissa was kind of a mess. Between her rebellious nature, her self-destructive impulses and three seasons worth of constant near-death experiences, Marissa was always teetering on the edge of a full-on meltdown. If Marissa survived the car crash, she would have probably spent much of Season 4 re-evaluating her life and rehabilitating her physical and metal state.
In all likelihood, the character would have finally, and emphatically, taken measures to get healthy and unlearn destructive behaviors. And she probably would have had to do that alone. The finale might have shown Marissa truly finding some peace and positively moving forward with the rest of her life — as a single woman.
2. Ryan And Marissa Probably Wouldn't Have Been Endgame
Sorry, guys. But I think it's true. Though the two of them made a fantastic couple when they were stable and happy together, they could also be terrible influences on each other. Ryan would have likely been supportive in giving Marissa the space she needed to heal and grow (because he was a pretty great guy), and their relationship would been put on an indefinite hiatus because of that.
The upside? Ryan would have gone to college and pursued his career much earlier than he actually did. And he would never have suffered that self-destructive mourning state that he fell into following Marissa's death. The finale, then, wouldn't have changed too much for Ryan if Marissa had survived, but there definitely would have been a touching scene between these two reaffirming their bond as lifelong friends, in total support of each other.
3. Summer Wouldn't Have Become An Activist
You could argue that Summer fell into activism while at college due to how lost she was feeling following the death of her best friend. But it actually turned out to be something she wasn't just passionate about, but also great at. Had Marissa still been alive then Summer may never have discovered this about herself and hell, she might not have even felt compelled to attend college in the first place.
The finale likely would have been less focused on celebrating Summer saving the world (as Seth adorably called it), and more focused on her relationship with Seth. Which is still lovely and all, but seeing Seth happily trust Summer to take time out of their relationship in order to pursue her dreams was incredibly powerful to watch.
4. Julie Wouldn't Have Re-Prioritized Her Life
With Marissa alive, Julie likely would have just gone ahead and married Bullit and continued to live the lifestyle of an unhappily married, rich housewife. She would never have had the guts to leave him at the alter and choose her own self care and education over the financial security of a loveless marriage to a millionaire. Losing her daughter seemed to remind Julie of what she wanted from life, and of the mistakes she kept repeating.
5. Sandy And Kirsten Would Have Stayed In The O.C.
Probably to stay near Julie, who Kirsten would have recognized as being in great need of having her best friend at close proximity, still. Considering how unhappy both Sandy and Kirsten were at the thought of staying in Orange County in a house that wasn't their home, it's easy to imagine that the finale could have ended on a slightly sour note for the Cohen couple, had this have been the case.
6. Taylor Probably Wouldn't Have Been A Major Character
Seriously, she would have still just been a minor character, popping up for the occasional moment of comic relief here and there. Summer wouldn't have needed a new bestie, and Ryan wouldn't have had room in his heart to love again. Which means that Taylor probably wouldn't have featured in the finale at all. And if you ask me, that's almost as big a tragedy as losing Marissa was.
All in all, though Marissa's death was incredibly sad, it definitely worked for providing a positive push to all of the lives of the characters she affected. That made the final season of The O.C. an at times touching mediation on mourning. But it also delivered us with a finale which provided a set of positive outcomes influenced by the impact of that one painful event.
If Marissa had survived, then a great deal of characters, and us as an audience, wouldn't have been witness to a number of positive and inspiring life lessons, instead. It would have all been so different, you guys.