The O.C.: 5-minute oral history on the shocking season 2 finale
Marissa Cooper was a tragic character. Ryan Atwood had a tragic past. And as a couple, there was nothing they wouldn’t do for each other. That fact was proven in The O.C’s season 2 finale episode, “The Dearly Beloved,” which aired May 19, 2005.
In the moments following the reveal that Trey attacked Marissa, Ryan headed to his brother’s apartment to settle things with Trey, “once and for all.” What came next was a brother-on-brother brawl, a gunshot that would change everything, and a musical cue that would leave a mark on pop culture.
EW spoke with The O.C. creator Josh Schwartz and editor Norman Buckley about crafting the scene that would change the show, and ultimately, would become a Saturday Night Live parody. Mmm, whatcha say we relive that moment?
From its pilot, The O.C. used music as a guide. And when Schwartz heard Imogen Heap’s “Hide and Seek” for the first time, he knew he should save it for something big.
JOSH SCHWARTZ: I heard that song literally at the beginning of [season 2] and I said, “I don’t know where we’re going to use this song or how but we’re using this for the season 2 finale.” I used to write a lot that way — the song helped determine the scene. We reached out to Imogen [Heap] early and reserved the song so we could have it exclusively at the end of the season. And then we knew with the arrival of Trey we were going to build to some kind of Ryan versus Trey with Marissa in the middle. How it would all play out, we continued to discuss throughout the year. The scene really began with Seth’s decision to tell Ryan the truth about what happened with Trey and Marissa, a moment that prompted Ryan to realize that he could no longer be the “nicer” version of himself he’d been all season long.
SCHWARTZ: The moment where Ryan finds out the information from Seth, for me, was the scene that I was most excited to see because we’d been building to that moment. It was the moment that you knew that Ryan couldn’t be the good guy anymore, whatever the consequences. There was chatter throughout the beginning of season 2 of like, “Ryan hasn’t punched anyone in a while, what’s up with this new nice Ryan? And he’s dating Lindsay and Lindsay’s kind of the nerd.” We were always aware of what people were saying about us at the time. And that was our answer to that moment. The idea was the undertow of his old life pulling him back, whether it was Theresa at the end of season 1 or Trey at the end of season 2, that try as he might to assimilate into this world, there were always those darker forces from Chino pulling him back.
When Ryan confronted the darker force that was his brother, it ended in a violent confrontation. And in order to protect the man she loved, Marissa shot Trey. With the pull of the trigger, a musical moment was born.
NORMAN BUCKLEY: [“Hide and Seek”] was originally written to be played during [Caleb’s] funeral and [later on] in the final scene. But as I was putting it together, it felt like the natural place to kick back into the song was with the gunshot. Working on The O.C. was very much about music, songs that fit the mood of things. As it went on, a lot of those songs were actually written into some of the scripts, and it was in that particular case.
SCHWARTZ: The fight was more violent than what we had done in previous episodes. You needed to feel like anything could happen — Trey could kill Ryan, Ryan could kill Trey. Ben [McKenzie] and Logan [Marshall-Green] both wanted to push it, as well. Obviously Marissa is the one who steps in, but if you didn’t feel like this time the stakes had been raised, I don’t think it would’ve worked. But it was always Marissa pulling the trigger, and it was always “Hide and Seek.”
BUCKLEY: At that point, the show was going in a darker direction, which ultimately played out in Marissa’s death at the end of the third season. That was the beginning of the trajectory to a darker type of storytelling.
SCHWARTZ: We never fully got to explore that Ryan-Trey relationship and really that act of stealing that car in the pilot set off the whole show. Trey was as responsible for Ryan’s journey and for the show as anyone. Trey loved his brother, but he was obviously a messed up individual. We really felt Trey was Dark Ryan. Ryan would sometimes lose control but usually if he did, it was for the right reasons or he was always able to get it together. But Trey would just kind of lose it, and if Marissa hadn’t intervened, [he] very possibly could’ve [killed Ryan].
The only real debate the writers had about the scene was which characters should be involved.
SCHWARTZ: The biggest thing I remember debating was Seth and Summer arriving at the end of the scene. That was a debate of do we want them actually walking in on this scene to pull Seth and Summer into a more dramatic storyline than they’d heretofore been a part of. Obviously Ryan very easily moved in those worlds, and Marissa as well, but Seth and Summer stepping into that was a debate for us, just tonally.
With the song and the plot figured out, the final move was bringing in director Ian Toynton, who’s responsible for decisions like the shot of the blood dripping through the front of Trey’s shirt.
BUCKLEY: Those shots were all designed and a lot of them were shot in high speed so that they would go into slow motion in real crucial moments. It was a very well-designed sequence.
SCHWARTZ: It was dark and we’d never done anything like it before. We loved the way the sound was working, we loved the way Ian Toynton, our director, shot it in slowmo and Trey’s reaction after Marissa shoots him, that look on his face of like, “Seriously, you shot me?” It was so great. Logan nailed it. But you never know how it’s going to play and how it’s going to be received.
When it came time for fan reaction, the scene created the sort of impact Schwartz and his team hoped it would. And two years later, its impact on pop culture was cemented when Saturday Night Live parodied it with Bill Hader, Andy Samberg, Shia LaBeouf, Kristen Wiig, and more.
SCHWARTZ: Ben and I were promoting the show overseas [when it aired]. I got an email from a colleague who had teenage daughters at the time letting me know that he came home and his daughters were hysterically crying and he didn’t know why. He thought some terrible family tragedy had occurred and when he finally could make out their choke sobs, his daughters were saying, “Marissa shot Trey.” That’s when I was like, I guess this scene worked, eliciting that kind of reaction. Between that and an SNL parody, that’s the test. That’s the ultimate tribute, are you kidding? And to have it be years later, the fact that people “got it” made me realize for the first time that the scene had endured. It was memorable.