A few months ago, when popular Fox teen drama The O.C. introduced Alex (Olivia Wilde) as a new female love interest for one of the show’s central characters, Marissa (Mischa Barton), creator Josh Schwartz did a round of media interviews proclaiming their relationship wasn’t a ratings stunt, but a genuine relationship that both the characters and the viewers would find authentic and believable.
He almost pulled it off.
Two months into it, the relationship between Alex and Marissa was on track to be one of network TV’s best portrayal of a lesbian relationship in several years.
Alex was a sympathetic, confidant bisexual woman to whom Marissa seemed genuinely drawn, and Marissa’s struggle with her unexpected attraction to Alex was realistically messy but sincere. Marissa’s best friend Summer (Rachel Bilson) was surprised but supportive of Marissa’s relationship with Alex, Alex’s ex-boyfriend Seth (Adam Brody) had realistically mixed emotions, and Marissa’s mother handled her daughter’s revelation fairly well (primarily because she considered it just a phase).
Anyone who had seen the first season of The O.C., or who had paid any attention to the media this season, knew that this was going to be a short-lived relationship.
Marissa’s on-again, off-again relationship with Ryan (Benjamin Mckenzie) has been one of the anchor relationships of the series from the very beginning; as Alex summarized in her final episode, Marissa and Ryan are one of those couples who are always a couple, even when they’re not.
Consequently, few viewers were expecting Alex and Marissa to ride off in the sunset together. But the fact that Alex and Marissa’s relationship was destined to end didn’t have to mean it couldn’t be a great storyline — lesbian viewers are used to taking what we can get on network television, and even a short lesbian relationship is nothing to sneeze at if it’s done well.
But the way the writers ended Alex and Marissa’s relationship on last week’s episode undid virtually all of the achievements by Schwartz and company in this area, and left many lesbian viewers feeling bewildered and cheated.
Instead of having Alex gracefully exit the picture because she decided to move back home with her parents, or simply because she saw the writing on the wall with Marissa and Ryan, the writers inexplicably turned Alex into a jealous, psychotic girlfriend who stalked her girlfriend, threw beer cans in a fit of jealous rage, and made violent threats.
It was as if the Alex in the last two episodes was a completely different person than the Alex in every other episode before (and a much worse person).
But even more bizarre and nonsensical was Marissa’s sudden switch from being really into Alex, to avoiding her like the plague and mooning over Ryan — telling Summer that he’s the only person she’s ever really been in love with, and confessing that the only reason she hasn’t left Alex’s house and moved back home is that it would make her mom too happy. Huh?
While Marissa was supposedly reacting to being overwhelmed by the realities and responsibilities of living on her own (like rent and laundry), that didn’t explain her sudden indifference to Alex, or her conflicting behavior.
Prior to her relationship with Alex, Marissa had a brief summer fling with the gardener, and while he dumped her because he (correctly) accused her of not being that in to him, at least Marissa was consistent about it — she was always one foot out the door on their relationship.
But she went from spending all of her time with Alex, asking Alex if she could move in with her, and telling her mom about the relationship — surprisingly, not because she wanted to upset her, but because she wanted to make it feel more real — to lying to Alex, avoiding her, and not joking and cuddling with Ryan as Alex walks away in the last scene after saying goodbye. All in about a two-week period.
Melodrama is the staple of a primetime soap, and we weren’t expecting the lesbian relationship to be exempt from the same drama that characterizes the rest of the relationships on the show.
But we were expecting consistent character development, and plot developments that didn’t defy logic.
The problem with the end of the lesbian storyline isn’t that Alex and Marissa broke up, but that both girls turned into completely different characters in the last two episodes of their relationship.
It’s as if the writers came into work one day, decided they were too tired to try and keep this up anymore, and voted to go back to what they knew best — Marissa and Ryan — as quickly as possible, regardless of the credibility strain such an abrupt reversal put on the show.
The characters deserved a better ending that that. The show’s Viewers deserved a better ending than that.
With writing like this, it’s no wonder The O.C. is getting lower ratings its getting this season — at least someone’s getting what they deserve.