No shame: I’ve watched all four seasons of The O.C. multiple times. I have often startled people with the intensity of my feelings for it. It had all the trappings of a soapy teen show: rich, beautiful people, a beachside setting and drama for days. But what set it apart was the show’s surprisingly self-aware, witty writing and stellar soundtrack. In the early aughts, the show was life. (I even named my dog after Ryan Atwood.)
And it wasn’t the only show that left a considerable impression on my life when I was a teen. Take a trip down memory lane with me as I relive three seminal moments in television history that changed my life when I was young and impressionable. (I settled on moments, because to fully expound on the impact of each series would take me more space than the internet has available.)
Spoilers, obviously, follow.
Marissa Cooper's Death On The O.C.
The year: 2006. The scene: Teenage me, sitting on the couch staring intently at the television screen.
I knew that someone was going to leave the show, and I was devastated to find out that Marissa Cooper planned to move to Hawaii to be with her dad, the erstwhile Jimmy Cooper. Okay, I thought to myself, but since she's just going to Hawaii there's a chance Mischa Barton will return sometime in season four. I waited with baited breath for her final goodbye to Ryan as he drove her to the airport.
And then... Volchok appears. Something's not quite right, I thought, as a different kind of anxiety trickled into my body.
As Volchok proceeded to run Ryan's car off the road, my brain started to melt inside my skull. I couldn't even yell or speak; all I could do was stare at the screen in horror as Ryan pulled Marissa out of the wreckage, her body limp in his arms, echoing season one episode seven when he found her in an alley in Tijuana after she overdosed on drugs. Imogen Heap began to sing "Hallelujah" (another throwback: "Hallelujah" was the song that played when Marissa visited Ryan in the model-home they hid him in back in season one) while Coops breathed her final words.
And yes, by this point I was sobbing. It was a visceral reaction: I felt it in my gut, my mind, my entire being. (Had the phrase fake news been a thing, I surely would have applied it here.)
Her death hit me hard because it was the first time I really experienced a major character's death on a television show (I had no idea what I was in for when Game Of Thrones came on years later).
I wouldn't even see Twilight, not for the obvious reasons, but because Cam Gigandet—who played Volchuk—was in it.
I spent hours searching online for Imogen Heap's cover of "Hallelujah," and this was with dial-up internet so you know I was committed. There's nothing like reliving a sad (TV) moment by way of music!
The Final Episode Of Veronica Mars
There were so many moments to choose from (the season one finale was a top contender), but ultimately I'm going with the way the show ended.
The final season of Veronica Mars aired with a lot of drama. First, it had to make the transition from high school to college, something even great shows struggle with. Second, part of it happened in the midst of a writers' strike. (Teenage me was like, Why would they deprive us of great television? Now, of course, I get it.)
Okay, let me get something out of the way right now—I am a die-hard LoVE 'shipper (Logan and Veronica, for those not in-the-know), so the fact that the series ended with Veronica in a relationship with Piz drove me bonkers.
But even more than that, such a great show deserved a better ending. I know it wasn't the ending Rob Thomas, the creator, had planned. So many loose ends were left, and while everything didn't need to be tied up in a neat little bow, the finale ultimately felt like a regular episode.
Of course, a bunch of other "marshmallows" and I helped make a Veronica Mars movie happen a few years ago by way of Kickstarter, so at least I finally got some closure.
Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season 2 Finale
I could write an entire dissertation on how Buffy the Vampire Slayer changed my life, but for the purposes of this article I'll stick to one of my favorite episodes: "Becoming, Part 2."
In this episode, Buffy has to go to battle with her ex-boyfriend/vampire Angel, who, after they slept together, reverted to his soulless alter-ego Angelus and is trying to destroy the world. (Plenty of other writers have written extensively on this, so I won't go into the symbolism here.)
He casts a spell to suck the world into a hell dimension (as one does when evil), and Buffy arrives too late to stop the spell from taking place. A cool sword fight goes down; Angelus taunts her and tells her she's got nothing left. He's about to stab her in the face when she does a cool Slayer move and catches the sword between her hands just in time. She's all, "What's left? Me, bish" (paraphrasing here), shoves the hilt of the sword into his face and knocks him back, gaining the upper hand. As she's about to make the killer blow (that will also stop the spell from sucking the world into hell), her witchy best friend Willow manages to give Angel his soul back. (Worst. Timing. Ever.)
Alas, it's too late. The spell can only be reversed with Angel's death.
I remember waiting, thinking she has to find a way out of this. There's no way she's actually going to have to kill her true love. But she makes the hard choice. Their theme music, a slow, melancholy, passionate, simple string of notes, plays as she tells him, "Close your eyes." He does, she kisses him, then she kills him. (Writing that literally gave me chills.)
It's a brilliant, devastating moment. And it's one that's stuck with me throughout the years. Not just for the surface-level emotions. It's the life-and-death version of a career vs. a relationship, played out among a cast of supernatural beings. It's a woman giving everything for those around her, even if it destroys her. And Buffy will give everything, all of herself, again and again and again throughout the series.
The season ends with Buffy on a bus heading out of town, leaving behind her friends and family. Sarah McLaughlan sings as the season comes to a close.
I still sob every time I watch this episode.