On ''The O.C.,'' despite some typical Julie machinations, the kids manage to Greyhound Ryan's brother out of town; plus, Kirsten gets a stalker
Kelly Rowan, Mischa Barton, ...
Credit: THE O.C.: Fox
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”The O.C.”: Getting away with near murder

Welcome back, everyone! It’s been a long summer of two-episode O.C. repeats — a big thank you to Fox for those (I’ll admit I’m a nerd and watched most of them again while throwing Thai takeout parties) and, more important, for starting early this season to make up for last year’s November fiasco. Tonight’s neatly wrapped-up season opener came just in time.

Following Ryan’s scary nightmare and the trusty ”Californiaaaaa” song, the show proper began exactly as season 2 did, with Summer and Marissa having a gloomy conversation while sunbathing just outside the largest Taco Bell in the universe. Except this time, the girls had woven little French braids into their hairlines. (Trend alert! You saw it here first!) Summer tried to cheer Marissa up about putting Trey in a coma by saying that Ryan defending her honor was ”so freakin’ hot — in a mythic, biblical, samurai, Western kind of way.” Ha. I can’t imagine The Valley‘s biggest fan enjoying any of those four genres, but this was very funny. Senior year ”should be awesome,” Marissa said sarcastically, just before a gratuitous pan of the looming stucco palace. Yeah, life sucks.

On the other side of angst-ridden paradise, Kirsten introduced herself as an alcoholic at the most lush rehab facility in existence. She shared how she had tried too hard her whole life to impress her late father, Caleb, at which point new character Charlotte (Jeri Ryan, a.k.a. Star Trek: Voyager‘s Seven of Nine) interjected with an almost too perfectly timed, sympathetic ”it was never enough.” Are they kindred spirits or what? Charlotte, who may or may not have been wearing white pants after Labor Day (we’re not clear on the date), proceeded to befriend Kirsten and then basically stalk her with a steely gaze over the next few days. She knows something. Kirsten, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to know anything about Trey. Sandy withheld the details from her while she withheld that her doctor thought she was ready to come home. It’s a little scary to see the show’s most solid couple living completely separate lives, but maybe it’ll be for the best later on. Kirsten still seems pretty freaked out by the idea of leaving Seven of Twelve Steps and the rest of the gang just yet.

Meanwhile, Ryan and Seth visited comatose Trey in the hospital, walking out seconds before his miraculous finger spasm. The boys returned to more important things, namely video games, at which point Seth opined that baseball felt like a fad to him, and that he didn’t really see it catching on. (He later topped this with another premium sports-related quandary: ”How does being a werewolf make you a better basketball player?”) The boys found out that Trey had awoken, and quickly rushed to the diner, the beach, and Jimmy Cooper’s yacht. Duh.

Bummed out about Trey, the original foursome — Chino, Cohen, and the Braidys — decided that faced with brooding or fun, they’d rather have fun. What? On this show? No way. A delightful ”fun”-themed montage followed, which was quite refreshing. It included, but was not limited to, large rocks, kissing, laughter, a gigantic watercraft that seemingly steered itself, Seth calling Summer out on her ”weakness for seamen,” Ryan’s ripped upper body, marshmallow roasting in broad daylight, Marissa’s denim cutoffs, and finally some lifeguard-stand lovin’. Not to mention the best moment of the hour, when Summer complained that Seth almost got water on her swimsuit and Ryan, out of nowhere, did a shaky but hilarious imitation of her: ”Cohen…I can’t believe you did that, Cohen.” For some reason, I found this brilliant, and I hope Ryan’s wacky comic behavior continues. He’s gradually become funnier since season 1, but it looks like this year he could help Seth fill his zingers-per-episode quota. After that giggly moment, both couples actually seemed snugly and intact. Unheard of! Might want to save these few minutes to re-watch during the rest of the season.

Cut to the dark hospital, late at night. Two strappy pink stilettos crept down the hallway, and don’t tell me I’m the only one who thought this had to be Skankalicious (Trey’s old fling, Jess), back from Vegas and hungry for drugs. Nope, just local evildoer Julie Cooper, who pulled the ”we’re standing in the wing my dead husband donated” card to get access to her daughter’s shooting victim so she could threaten to smother him with a pillow. Oldest trick in the book. Julie offered Trey $20,000 to say that Ryan shot him, and since he totally sucks, he did it. (He clearly didn’t love Marissa as much as Yard Guy, the last young man Julie offered to buy out.) Sandy delivered the bad news to Ryan, who then got talked by his friends into escaping on the yacht. Dumb idea, but who can blame them? It was so much fun earlier!

With Ryan rocking the prison jumpsuit once again, the remaining three pulled off a candy-striper scam (a nod to the season 1 episode ”The Rescue”) to get Marissa into Trey’s hospital room. Well, the girls pulled it off. As Summer was quick to point out, they were only letting Seth push the cart so he could feel involved. Ha. Orange County hospitals must be pretty hard up for candy stripers (do those even exist anymore?) if Summer can get into patients’ rooms on the grounds that today she just happened to feel like visiting gunshot victims. Trey made a scandalous ”this must be one of my sick fantasies” face before asking Marissa if she had come to ”finish the job.” After a brief, teary discussion, Trey had a change of heart and confessed to the cops that if Marissa hadn’t shot at him, he would have killed her and Ryan both.

Possibly a hell of a lot richer (it’s not clear whether he actually took Julie’s money), Trey officially became the most efficient coma victim ever and escaped the hospital to catch a ride to Vegas. I found the product placement here particularly humorous. ”Greyhound: The best bus to take when you stumble out of a coma, find some clothes, and need to leave the O.C. in a jiffy.” Ryan jumped out of Sandy’s badass black Lexus just in time for the bros to exchange solemn half waves and half-sheepish grins. Sandy and Ryan shared a very cute hug, which was immediately one-upped by Marissa and Ryan’s very cute shoulder-lean at the lifeguard stand where Marissa lives. Things are good. For now. Just you wait.

What do you think? Will Julie cash in on Caleb’s will, and is Jimmy only back for the money? Why is Charlotte obsessed with Kirsten? And will the two power couples last all season this time?

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