Dear Mischa Barton,

Are you crazy? Or crazy like a fox? Rumor has it that it was at least partially your own decision to permanently escape The O.C. — which, seemingly, you did in last night’s glacially paced season finale. When we last saw your Marissa Cooper character, she was ashen, bleeding from the head, and fading into the afterlife after being run off the road by some ex-boyfriend who looked a little like Paul Walker after 15 blows to the head with a tire iron.

Anyhow, with The O.C.‘s ratings falling this season, and creator Josh Schwartz’s script last night filled with plodding, meta-dialogue and inane music-filled montages, I can sort of understand your decision. On the other hand, given the fact that you can barely sell me on Neutrogena face wash — let alone convince me there’s not a motherboard and a series of green and yellow wires right beneath the surface of Marissa’s skin — you’ve got some hard questions to ask yourself. Like, for instance, how can you avoid becoming David Caruso 8.0? (In case you’re too young to remember, the guy who takes off his sunglasses — a lot — on CSI: Miami once prematurely exited NYPD Blue to try to become a movie star. And if you check his IMDB page, you’ll see how that endeavor turned out.) That said, because you first caught my attention as Evan Rachel Wood’s lesbian love interest on the ill-fated Once and Again (and if memory serves, you were kind of awesome in the role), I’m secretly rooting for you — to the point that I’ve come up with a three-step plan to save your career:

1) Try not to give off the impression that you’re a vacant scene-ster. I imagine it’s hard to avoid invites from gals like Lindsay and Paris and Tara Reid (okay, maybe not that hard), but you don’t read about Keira Knightley or Scarlett Johansson dancing on banquettes at Bungalow 8, do you?

2) Build some movie cred, and work with actors and directors who might be able to teach you something about your craft. (Richard Attenborough’s upcoming Closing the Ring, with Shirley MacLaine is exactly the kind of project I’m talking about.)

3) Finally, try not to alienate your O.C. fan base. What’s that? You completely spoiled the Marissa-death season finale by spilling the beans to Access Hollywood? Ah, well, maybe two out of three will be enough to keep you from signing on for season 14 of The Surreal Life? Best of luck in your endeavors.

Michael Slezak