Here’s why TheO.C. killed off Mischa Barton’s character Marissa Cooper in season 3The teen soap, created by Josh Schwartz,  The O.C. ran for four seasons from 2003 to 2007 on FOX.  The show, which quickly became a cultural phenomenon, centered around Ryan Atwood (Benjamin McKenzie), who left the slums of San Bernardino to live with Newport Beach-based Sandy Cohen (Peter Gallagher), Sandy’s wife Kirsten (Kelly Rowan), and their son, Seth (Adam Brody). The series was inspired by the culture shock Schwartz experienced as a Jewish kid from the East Coast attending college in Southern California.


Ryan and Marissa had an on-and-off-again romance throughout the first three seasons. The couple fell into an unhealthy pattern of Ryan saving Marissa from either her self-destructive behavior or an assortment of abusive and mentally unstable guys competing with him for her affection. During the season 3 finale, which included the characters’ high school graduation, the two were poised to go their separate ways. Still, there was what seemed like a hint at a possible future reconciliation. Fans’ hopes were dashed when Kevin Volchok (Cam Gigandet) ran Ryan’s car off the road, causing an accident that left Ryan holding his former flame in his arms as she died.

In a HuffPost article commemorating the 10th anniversary of The O.C.’s premiere, Schwartz offered this explanation for Marissa’s untimely demise: “… it was born out of both feeling creatively like it was the direction the show needed to head and also, quite frankly, a function of needing to do something big to shake up the show at the end of that third season…” Schwartz also said his motive was to give season 4 a “creative jolt.” However, Barton’s recollection of the events surrounding her exit from The O.C., currently streaming on HBO Max, doesn’t align with Schwartz’s. In 2019, the actress told The New York Times“I just had a lot in my career that I wanted to do and accomplish. I felt like things were really heavily reliant upon me, and I was getting no time to do any of the other offers that were out there.” Barton went on to say that her character’s storyline had become too “chaotic,” and there wasn’t much left to do with Marissa. The other alternative was to “send her off into the sunset and maybe have her come back in a season or two.” Barton insisted she “fought tooth and nail for that to not happen,” because it wasn’t true to her character.

After a rocky third season, many critics felt The O.C. rebounded, although Barton’s exit created an unexpected backlash, Schwartz told MTV News. “There was a lot of anger and fan art that came our way.” Due to low ratings, the show was canceled after season 4. Over the years, Schwartz has second-guessed certain creative choices he made as showrunner, such as the early departures of Anna Stern and Luke Ward (Samaire Armstrong and Chris Carmack), but he hasn’t expressed any regrets about killing off Ryan’s doe-eyed, longtime love interest.

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Since departing The O.C., Barton’s highly-publicized legal troubles, party-girl persona, and short-lived appearance on season 22 of Dancing with the Stars have kept her in the public eye, but she hasn’t landed another role that has matched the fame she garnered playing Marissa. In 2019, Barton appeared on season 1 of The Hills: New Beginnings: a reboot of The Hills, which aired on MTV from 2006 to 2010 and was a spin-off of The O.C.inspired reality show Laguna Beach. In March 2020, TMZ reported Barton would not return for season 2.

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