To close out my Holiday Revisit series, I’m joined by LaToya Ferguson to look at “The Countdown,” which might be one of my all-time favorite The O.C. episodes.
It directly follows “The Best Chrismukkah Ever,” so things are still a little weird between Ryan and Marissa post-Christmas drunken antics. Marissa makes them weirder when she tells Ryan she loves him. She’s finally going to therapy and semi-making friends with Oliver which is a bad call. Seth made his choice between Summer and Anna, which was neither, so he’s alone as are they. Kirsten and Sandy are afraid they are in a rut. And Kirsten’s little sister, Hailey, shows back up to cause chaos and throw a rager. Basically everyone is in a perfectly emotionally confused mood just in time to ring in the New Year!
Kerensa: First off, my new sexual orientation is Sandy Cohen in a baseball shirt. Thought you'd want to know.
Also, every time I rewatch The O.C. (which I'm sure I said in my Chrismukkah review) I'm always so excited about how well it holds up. I remember “The Countdown” was a very important episode to me when I first saw it and it still makes me feel ALL THE SAME THINGS.
It's probs for the best we didn't watch this episode together because I totally cried during that end montage and I'd rather spare myself the embarrassment.
But it's just suchhhh a good episode of The O.C. and I feel like one of very few things that I can think of off the top of my head about New Year's Eve.
LaToya: First off, "Sandy Cohen in a baseball shirt" should be everybody's sexual orientation. "We're living on the edge!"
"The Countdown" is such an important episode for The O.C., both as a holiday episode and for the series as a whole. I think it's the episode of the first season that most gets it right when it comes to the relationships that it wants the audience to root for (or at least care about it any way). This episode is the ultimate evidence that Sandy and Kirsten being the "perfect" married couple didn't mean they were boring (a lesson a lot of shows can still learn from) and one of the few early season episodes where I can honestly understand the Ryan/Marissa relationship outside of Ryan's hero complex. That's the reason I chose this over "The Best Chrismukkah Ever" -- as much "fun" as Marissa's downward spiral is and as classic as Ryan's "you're scaring me" speech is, I always like to think of The O.C. as a story of Ryan's triumphs as an outsider. This episode is one of those triumphs.
Also: Team Anna. Team Anna/Summer friendship. I've always been more Seth/Anna when it comes to watching the first season (because I've always been more Anna in my life), but I would also say the Anna/Summer friendship is so important and sadly kind of forgotten as the years go on (probably because it's a proto-Taylor/Summer in some ways).
Kerensa: I totally agree. It's actually I feel like one of the only episodes that the whole Ryan/Marissa thing makes much sense about. And Sandy and Kirsten are an all time OTP. Just the best.
I'm always Team Anna/Summer as well. The time they spend together at the NYE party is so funny and makes me so sad that they never were better friends.
Question. How for you in this episode does Ryan triumph? Is it his solids over OLIVER'S patterns (dress shirts wise)?
LaToya: Oh god, Oliver's patterns. He's so over-the-top in every sense of the word. Which reminds me of two of my favorite lines from this episode: "MOJITO!!" and "And... Because, I mean, who's Oliver?"
The Anna/Summer stuff is especially great because Marissa is such a bad friend that she immediately ditches both of them to spend all night with Oliver. Wouldn't want her to ruin genuinely interesting interactions, after all. Also, the next episode is the one where Anna and Summer bond over which Golden Girl they each are. That's the kind of bond that lasts a lifetime. Their time at the party is hilarious, but the way Summer says that someone needs to choose between her and Anna, it's genuinely heartbreaking. Sometimes I think Summer and Anna should've just chosen each other. Sorry, Cohen.
As for Ryan's triumph, it's obviously a major thing for him to say those three little words, even if it is to someone like -- ugh -- Marissa. Whenever the poor boy gets in touch with his feelings, I always have a sense of pride. I'm so proud that I don't even think about the timing logistics of making it to the Four Seasons less than 30 minutes, after having to deal with traffic, and then running up the stairs to get to the penthouse. While Seth becomes more and more emotionally immature as the series progresses, Ryan would make these great emotional strides that made him worth rooting for (like embracing holidays with the Cohens, telling Marissa he loves her, forgiving his mother). Obviously, I don't like Marissa at all, but I always find myself rooting for him to get to her at midnight and tell her he loves her during this episode. That's impressive.
I will say, the only logic question I've ever really had when it comes to this episode is an Oliver thing. He's basically the elephant in the room when it comes to discussing the show, but I've never hated him like most people do -- especially since Johnny is a character that also exists in the series. Honestly, I find him mostly amusing, in a ridiculous way. But my question comes from when Marissa and Summer show up to the party and run into Anna. Anna tells them that her "parents know the parents of the guy throwing the party," and when Marissa tries to confirm that she knows Oliver, Anna is in the middle of asking who Oliver is before he interrupts to steal Marissa away. It's clearly a dropped plot point, because we know it is Oliver's penthouse, but it's always stuck out like a sore thumb to me in this episode. Do you have an elaborate conspiracy theory about what the original intent was when it came to this whole Oliver mess?
Kerensa: Marissa is the worst friend ever. OTP Summer/Anna, they are both so much better than Seth Cohen. Could you imagine them going to Brown together and reading like Jeannette Winterson together? Can I get a The O.C. lesbian spinoff stat?
You are completely right about Ryan's emotional maturity--he continues to grow while Seth really does completely lose any emotionally maturity he ever possessed. I think for me that when Ryan does these grand gestures--they have so much more meaning behind them than just some cheesy teen show gimmick (which I'll still fall for). Ryan making it to Marissa in time to tell her he loves her feels so honest and genuine. Yes, I cry every time I watch this montage/also whenever I hear "Dice."
I actually don't hate Oliver either. I think I did when the series was airing because I was VERY OTP MARISSA/RYAN, so anything that tried to mess that up I wasn't here for. Like you said, he's certainly not Johnny--who is literally a boiled vegetable acting as a surfboarder/skateboarder (YOU ARE THAT UNMEMORABLE). At least Oliver had some spunk! I mean he's nuts but he's interesting. I do think that he was sort of just dropped in as purely Marissa/Ryan conflict and then they had to figure out what to do with him. Also Anna knowing his parents really stuck out to me this time around because wouldn't she have heard even the tiniest bit about his background?
Should we talk about Oliver's thirst for Marissa? It's very, very real in this episode. I wouldn't be surprised if he had just thrown together this party at the last minute and everyone there was from central casting.
LaToya: Season four is already an excellent season of television, but just the idea of potential Summer/Anna/Taylor shenanigans makes make my heart sing.
Oh dear, Oliver's thirst for Marissa. That's what happens when a character has Lana Lang Syndrome -- everything they do is beautiful, everything they do is right, and that means everyone and everything just gravitates towards them. Everything about Oliver reads red flag, but because Marissa is the worst judge of character ever, she misses every single cue. From him asking if she'd come to his party with her "friend," to Natalie all of a sudden breaking up with him when he sees Marissa is alone, it's all so telegraphed. That's one of the main reasons Marissa is so terrible; if she had any self-awareness when it comes to the situations she's constantly put in (this, boiled vegetable Johnny, Volchok), she'd be slightly better. She'd still have the poor rich girl woes, but she's be slightly better.
Also, I wouldn't say I cry during "Dice," but I have had the song stuck in my head ever since I watched the episode. I was also thisclose to rewatching the episode of Chuck that does an homage to this montage. Such is the power of The O.C. soundtrack. I also love the little touch during that montage of Sandy changing the sheets on his and Kirsten's bed because of the earlier situation of strangers having a threesome in it. Which... We should probably talk about all things Hailey and swingers party, shouldn't we?
Kerensa: So, I am an unapologetic Hailey fan. I loved her, I love her, I think she's the best. I mean, she's messy, but I think she's great. I mean if Cal is your father, aren't you bound to have some daddy issues? Hers take the form of having huge parties and owing people money? Also, homegirl knows how to make an entrance. When she's just wearing Ryan's tank top ("I have plenty") and just underwear...that's how to enter a room!
But I can see Kirsten's anxieties about having Hailey around because clearly she doesn't have her shit together at all. She's also super manipulative because she can sense everyone else's anxieties--Kirsten's about her and Sandy's rut, Ryan's inability to emote and Seth's, well, Seth-ness.
But I always feel for Hailey!? Is that wrong? Also, how old is she supposed to be?
LaToya: Oh, I love Hailey, too. I hate the headache she can be for Kirsten (because no one should be a headache for Kirsten besides maybe Julie), but I feel for her so much. I don't think that's ever changed on any rewatch of the show.
Based on Kirsten's comments, I think Hailey's supposed to be 21 or 22, but at the time, Amanda Righetti had just turned 20 years old. This was the beginning of Fox trying to turn her into a star, with North Shore and Reunion soon after. I think they were on to something, even though it didn't work out, because Righetti brings a charm to Hailey that makes you want to root for her and forgive the more obnoxious moments from the character. I actually think
Hailey might have been downright unlikable if the casting wasn't on point. Watching this episode and really thinking about it, I could see Hailey being a lot like Marissa when she was younger, only with a little more of the awareness that Marissa lacks in spades.
I just love how big of a ball buster she is when it comes to Ryan's whole situation, as well as the fact that she sends her sister and brother-in-law to a swingers party. I kind of want to say she has moxie. Actually, I'll say it. Hailey Nichol has moxie. And I'm a little surprised the show didn't try to throw in a weird little thing between her and Ryan, especially after that "I have plenty" scene.
Kerensa: Hailey Nichol might be the definition of moxie. I agree that if her casting had been different, Hailey could have been terrible, so good for you Amanda Righetti!
Speaking of the swingers party...if you were ever at a swingers party and Sandy Cohen came in with those eyebrows would you go looking for his watch ASAP? I totally would, especially because everyone else at this swingers party is terrible. Clearly, Kirsten and Sandy are the only ones you'd want to sleep with. I mean, our swingers tour guide in her silver sequins and then that guy who likes birds that Kirsten talks to. No thanks!
LaToya: Oh god, that swingers party. Taryn as the MC is perfect if only for the fact that she says it's what saved her marriage, and two seasons later, she's a drunken divorcee turned cougar. Classic Newpsie. Then, there's the fact that the second most eligible husband there is Bob, and Bob is just awful. No one cares about you or your birds, Bob. It's like I always say: Sandy Cohen or bust. I really have nothing constructive to add to that, because all thoughts of Sandy Cohen turn my brain to mush. He's just so perfect, Kerensa. Sanford and KiKi forever.
How do we think Hailey found out about the swingers party in the first place? Part of me thinks she overheard Caleb talking about it one year, and instead of letting that traumatize her, she decided to save the information for future situations like this. However, now I'm traumatized just thinking about Caleb Nichol swinging...
Kerensa: Sandy Cohen really is up there on the perfect husband/male specimen list.
Well, now I can't unimagine Hailey NOT finding out from Caleb! That has to be it right? Caleb Nichol EW.
My only complaint about this episode is the lack of Julie Cooper because obviously. Other thoughts?
LaToya: The lack of Julie Cooper is always a problem, especially since is the first episode where Melinda Clarke and Rachel Bilson are credited as regulars. You would think she'd be around, but nope.
I think the only other note I really have is the patented O.C. runner in this episode; this time around it's that the way you spend New Year's Eve is the way you spend the rest of the year. Do you believe in that line of thinking? I mean, I always have pretty pathetic New Year's Eves, so I guess it must be true, but the way all of these characters spend their night isn't exactly indicative of the rest of the season. Ryan and Marissa don't remain happily in love, Seth doesn't end up with Anna, and Hailey actually eventually learns from her mistakes. But Sandy and Kirsten remain the perfect happy couple this season, so there the saying is in effect.
Kerensa: I don't know if I do? But I did notice that so much more this time around. NYE is always one of those holidays where there is so much anticipation for it that it never actually lives up to what you hope it will be. And same. I spent last NYE drunkenly dancing alone to the entire Beyoncé album which is how I spent most of 2014! That is interesting, maybe The O.C. is tearing apart pinning our hopes on one single evening to define our entire next year! I really do wish my NYEs had more slow-mo montages though with men making grand gestures while I'm wearing a fabulous cut out dress.
Thanks so much to all who revisited these holiday episodes with me!
FYI: LaToya writes about television for The A.V. Club, Gawker's Morning After, The Guardian, and any kind stranger who is willing to read her words. You can find concentrated bursts of her brilliance and direct links to her work on Twitter.