The O.C. was a pivotal show for many people coming of age in the early 2000s. Even if you couldn't actually go through high school in Southern California with the Core Four, it often felt like you were living their experiences with them. Let's face it, what happened on The O.C. was often a lot more exciting than in real life.. Yet while many O.C. episodes were undoubtedly filled with drama like sneaking off to Tijuana and poisoning people's husbands, the most underrated O.C. episode is less intense than all of the most fan-favorite installments. Season 1's "The Goodbye Girl" has to be one of the all-time best O.C. episodes, but it doesn't get the credit it deserves.
First of all, you could probably argue that any episode of The O.C. that featured Anna Stern (Samaire Armstrong) should top the list of best episodes from the show, which ran from 2003-2007. Anna, as you hopefully remember, was Seth Cohen's (Adam Brody) love interest and eventually Summer Roberts' (Rachel Bilson) arch nemesis. The truth is, Anna and Seth probably would have been a better couple in real life, but the whole point of The O.C. is that it is absolutely not like anything in real life. What fun would that be? Still, Anna was such a sassy, smart, and kind character, that any episode which heavily featured her was an enjoyable one to watch.
In "The Goodbye Girl," not only did Anna get to shine, but so does Summer, and Seth ended up looking like an egotistical idiot — it's all pretty hilarious. In the episode, Anna returned to her hometown of Pittsburgh, and Seth felt like it was all his fault. He ran to the airport to stop her, saying, "Please don't leave because of me." Anna just responded with, "What?" Earlier in the episode, Seth had found a goodbye letter from Anna that had fallen in the pool, making it illegible. After Summer saw that Seth was upset that he didn't get a chance to read the letter, she got upset, feeling jealous and insecure over Seth's potential lingering feelings for Anna.
Had the episode stopped there, it would've been a real disappointment. Sure, jealousy in high school over another girl who has a crush on the guy you like is pretty common, but the way that Summer and Anna always seemed to compete with each other was missing the point that they both were awesome and could have been great friends — which they ultimately realized. The whole "love triangle" was great for a dramatic effect, but it also forced Summer into the stereotypical trope of the jealous girlfriend.
But in, "The Goodbye Girl", Summer discovered that she didn't actually need to feel threatened by Seth's concern over Anna's letter. Summer realized instead that her boyfriend simply saw Anna as a human being who he liked, no romance attached. And Anna was a cool person, with her own interests in graphic novels that meshed well with Seth's hobbies. But none of her interests revolved around Seth's — she had her own life. And so when she was leaving for Pittsburgh and responded to Seth's breathless objection by telling him that she wasn't just leaving because she'd loved him and felt bad that he chose Summer over her, it was perfect.
"Seth, I love you... As a friend," Anna said. She would never have done anything as drastic as move across the country just because the boy she liked chose another girl to be his girlfriend. When Seth asked her how to go on without her (OK, the episode still had a little bit of The O.C.'s signature melodrama), Anna simply told him to have confidence, and then walked away.
One of the most interesting aspects of the episode is that, while Anna walked away, Cohen's face showed that he really did have strong feelings towards her. He clearly loved her, in some way, but it was a much more sophisticated sort of love than a black-and-white view that too many male/female relationships fall into. Men and women can be friends, and men and women can have complicated feelings for each other without it leading to anything more than a platonic bond. Seeing Seth's gaping mouth stare at Anna as if he were a forlorn puppy was both sad and satisfying, considering everything that he had put both Anna and Summer through.
The Seth-Summer-Anna storyline wasn't the only compelling part of that episode; in the same hour, Ryan's fling with Theresa also came to an abrupt ending, and the episode also featured some of the best music from the show, including the songs "Lack of Color" by Death Cab For Cutie and "If You Leave" by Nada Surf. Still, Seth and Anna's goodbye was the moment to remember, due in large part to his Love, Actually moment, i.e. when he valiantly ran to the airport to stop a former love interest from leaving.
So really, if there's one episode that you should watch to re-live the O.C.'s glory days, it's "The Goodbye Girl."