Update: If you’re looking for the Season 3 Finale (2006), you can find it here: The Final OC Finale (Finally). If you’re looking for the Season 2 Finale (2005), you can find it here: The OC Finale: Human Chinome Project.
It was Cinco de Mayo, clear and pleasant. All day, inboxes had crackled with speculation, and shout-outs to fave characters. “I hope Oliver comes back!” one pal wrote. “Are we supposed to believe Chino is the father of that baby?” another had demanded to know. Now, a warm evening in the neighborhood found families walking dogs and babies. The college girls were jogging in just their shorts and sports bras. And goatee’d ad reps chatted languidly on porches, discussing the ethical mettle of Sandy Cohen over Sierra Nevadas and cheese. The windows were open at my house, and the ambient drone of a neighbor’s lawn mower shared an aural channel with Seacrest’s sculpted yap. It was difficult to tell if he was speaking English – the vowels seemed right, but the noise was a just a jumble of platitudes and clackering whitestrip teeth. His herd of contestants smiled into the lights of the firing squad as the Black & Decker buzzed in my neighbor’s front yard. “Idol” was ending, and as the faint smell of fertilizer wafted through my window, I realized summer was just beginning. Somewhere, GI Jacque saluted.
In the run-up to “The OC”‘ finale, Fox did fan the flames of Ryan’s probable/assumed babydaddy status. However, the majority of its spots promoted the show in slow motion yearbook fashion, with memories of last summer’s tentative try out fading into the jelled camaraderie – and of course, melodrama – of the most recent episodes. It was another master stroke for Fox, which has somehow done everything “OC” right, and taken a Swan dive everywhere else. While HBO has Sundays on lockdown, and the WB attaches artful cache to its cadre of chiseled and comely programming, nothing has cultivated and nourished an audience with as much warmth and organic skill as “The OC.” Late Thursday night, as “Friends” finally died, a table of NBC big wigs ritualistically shit their pants.
The neighbor’s lawn was finished, and he dutifully edged his driveway. The girls arrived with margaritas, in honor of the day, and my pal Klein pulled a cerveza fria from the fridge. We settled. Nationwide, conversations ended. The show opened with Ryan and Seth bullshitting on the pier, waiting for Theresa to get off work. Her pregnancy has cast a pall across the velvet skies of Newport. Down was up! Despite the significant presence of that articulated facial hair guy from “Six Feet Under” in her life, it’s quickly made clear that Orange County has declared Ryan the father. After all, when he and the Doe Eyed Fawn had broken up, Theresa and he had, well, you know… ANYWAY, this collective presumption was irritating. But it also gave Sandy a chance to young up his classic line. “He’s a kid who has no one and nowhere to go,” his eyebrows had said last summer. Now, with the revelation of Theresa’s pregnancy and the supposed role of Chino’s virility in it, he was incredulous once again. “They’re two kids with nothing – how’re they supposed to start anything?”
As the finale progressed and the margaritas flowed, the chatter at my place eased into a familiar, yet long moth-balled rhythm. A collegiate rhythm, borne in dorm TV rooms and crappy apartments, in the days when shows were a gathering point and religion for kids interested in social interaction, not just class. In its inaugural run, “The OC” had built that most intangible bond with an audience. It had become its own social event, a coed unifier across colleges and inside inboxes. Now, our pal gestured at the television and Marissa. “Rainbow dress,” she said. “Rainbows are in this year.” And Klein and I took note of the knowledge.
Gears shifted as Theresa decided against an abortion. Suddenly the finale was concerned not with the babydaddy, but about the pirate colony bonds the year’s events had built. At a dinner on the Cohen’s lawn the night before his wedding to Julie, Caleb laid it all out. The White Devil seemed to speak with actual compassion as he detailed the unification of the Cohen and Cooper broods. But his speech also highlighted the changes in Seth’s life, as well as Ryan’s contentious and annoying relationship with the Fawn. Filled with dread over the wedding and the rest, the young couples retreated to the beach where it began. As Seth referenced the beachfront party and the Lacrosse team beatdown – “Welcome to the OC, bitch!” – Summer skewered her own party girl past. “I was at that party?” Ah, Summer. But the show’s emotional center was about to melt its clunky melodramatic frame. “I’m going back,” Ryan declared. Mayday mayday! Maverick’s in trouble! He’s in a flat spin, heading out to sea!
Ryan’s decision to accompany Theresa back to Chino and the arms of her Catholic mother put “The OC”‘s season in relief. In a quiet moment between him and Sandy, Ryan said his reason for leaving was to give Theresa’s baby the support the Cohens had given his no-account car-stealing ass. Seth, already having failed with his ever-popular banter (and a Hanson bit, no less! C’mon, that’s gold!), descended into a personal hell of recollection and despair. He tries to sell his boat – the one named for Summer – to generate seed money for his stepbrother’s new family. He lashes out at the Doe Eyed Fawn, blaming her flirtation with that psycho Oliver for making Ryan flee. And he finally admits to Summer how much Ryan’s arrival changed his life, tacitly including his relationship with her in the tally. The White Devil and Julie “80s coke whore” Cooper are married, and Ryan’s ride is leaving at 6. Will he reconsider? He can stay, and work it out together!
Negative ghostrider. The pattern is full.
Rufus Wainwright might have handled it capably for Shrek, and the goddamn thing was written by Leondard Cohen. Still, “Hallelujah” will always be Jeff Buckley’s song. The fallen singer’s elegiac version haunts and heals all at once; it’s both a requiem and a dream. In the final music directing triumph of a season’s worth of triumphs, “The OC” wrapped up to the strains of Jeff Buckley, its characters separating and grieving in slow motion. Kirsten breaks down in the seemingly mundane act of clearing out the boat house. Ryan, duffel in hand and re-clad in his leather-and-sweat jacket combo, settles into Theresa’s LeBaron for the ride back to Chino. On the way, they pass Marissa, who stands at the end of the driveway, grudgingly set to move in with Julie and Caleb. After a painfully awkward guy goodbye, Seth cranks the Death Cab on his iPod and heads out to sea on the Summer Breeze. His notes for Kirsten, Sandy, and Summer will explain his solo trip to Tahiti – it’s what the old Seth was going to do before Ryan arrived. Newport’s sky was still velvet. But the sun shone bright in the window reflection, and seemed to cradle Seth’s sail as he set due southwest, and the promise of a new season.
The margaritas were gone at my house. But outside the scent of a new summer still lingered in the dusky night air, and it was still Cinco de Mayo for just a little while longer. Klein, the girls and I took a trip down Woodward Avenue then, and noticed the outdoor deck at Agave, newly open for another summer. We were speculating about next season, and giving shout-outs to the potential of a Luke in Portland spin-off.
Just because “The OC” had left, didn’t mean we’d left it behind.
Be sure to read our previous coverage of “The OC”: All About the Reno, Go Ahead With Your Own Life, Leave Me Alone, Razzmatazz and Stud Finders, Subdue the Hebrew Honey, What’s Your Obsession, Escape to The OC, and Cali Is Where They Put They Mack Down.