Marissa Cooper is a fictional character from the FOX television network series The O.C.. She is portrayed by English-born actress Mischa Barton.
Marissa is introduced as a rich socialite in Newport Beach, California whose family (mother Julie, father Jimmy, and younger sister Kaitlin) go through some dramatic changes over the course of the seasons. She is a troubled person before the series begins, with a history of substance abuse and rebellious behavior.
From there, she is detailed to have a heavily guarded heart due to the number of lost loved ones in her life and lack of compassion and understanding from her family and friends. The backstory on her friendship with Summer Roberts showcases it as a powerful bond, forged during the second grade. One of her deepest connections, and having continued and strengthened throughout the years, the friendship is a central element on the show for three seasons. Most of the show focuses on Marissa's on-and-off again relationship with Ryan Atwood as well, which remains a main focus even after her death in Season 3.
Marissa's sexuality has been a debated topic by viewers of the series. When she took up with bad girl Alex Kelly, the two entering into a romantic relationship, her heterosexual identity became the source of speculation. Fans questioned whether the previously defined heterosexual was actually bisexual or just bi-curious. The question became one of the top queries viewers wanted The O.C. creator Josh Schwartz to answer.
Others cited Marissa's relationship with Alex as a cynical "sweeps" attempt, noting the timing at which Marissa "just happened" to be romantically attracted to a woman. Critic L. Brent Bozell III especially elaborated on this.
New York Post attributed the relationship to a desperate need to increase the ratings as well, stating that the ratings for the show that year were "solid" but had not "exactly been through the roof and a lesbian storyline — or at least a main character experimenting sexually with someone of the same sex — could help matters."
Schwartz, however, insisted that the relationship between Alex and Marissa was not a ratings stunt, and that Marissa developed real feelings for Alex.
Sarah Warn of AfterEllen.com, a website that focuses on the portrayal of lesbians and bisexual women in the media, argued that despite Schwartz's statements, "Marissa's predominantly heterosexual past, the huge fan support for the Marissa and Ryan (Benjamin McKenzie) pairing, and the controversy The O.C. would court by making one of its principal characters bisexual, it's likely that her 'real feelings' for Alex will only last a few episodes." Within the series, Marissa referred casually to Alex as her ex-girlfriend.
Marissa's sexual orientation, other than her known heterosexual identity, was never confirmed by the series, and was reported to be "Marissa just experimenting with the fairer sex and not committing to a full-on romantic, sapphic relationship." The executives did, however, cite her relationship with Alex as an important one, and one that was successful with viewers.
Marissa's father is caught committing fraud and eventually files for bankruptcy. Soon after, on a vacation to Tijuana with Ryan Atwood, Seth Cohen and best friend Summer Roberts, she discovers that her parents are separating. In the aftermath of this, Marissa catches her long-term boyfriend Luke Ward cheating on her with one of her best friends, Holly Fischer. She then separates from her friends and overdoses on pain killers. Ryan finds her unconscious in an alleyway in Tijuana and summons help just in time. After this, Marissa battles with her mother, who wants to send her to rehab. She eventually gets through to Julie, but has to agree to see a therapist in Newport after she is caught shoplifting. She meets Oliver Trask during one of the sessions and they soon become good friends, much to Ryan's displeasure.
Throughout the first season, Marissa is involved in an on-again, off-again relationship with Ryan, with the relationship being jeopardized by Luke and Oliver. Oliver is eventually discovered to be mentally unstable and harboring an unhealthy obsession for Marissa. Ryan and Marissa break up because of his interference. Oliver is eventually arrested after he keeps Marissa as a hostage and threatens to kill himself if she does not leave Ryan for good. After Oliver's arrest, Marissa tries to get back together with Ryan, but he refuses to resume their relationship. They remain friends instead.
During this time, her mother is romantically involved with Kirsten Cohen's father, Caleb Nichol. During a brief breakup with Caleb, Marissa's mother has a fling with Marissa's ex-boyfriend, Luke, which causes Marissa to run away — strangely enough — to Chino, California and, more specifically, to Ryan's ex-girlfriend Theresa Diaz's house. This leads to Ryan and Marissa once again becoming romantically involved.
Their relationship is strained once more when Teresa comes to Newport towards the end of the season after suffering domestic abuse from her boyfriend Eddie. Theresa reveals to Marissa that she is pregnant, and does not know whether the father is Ryan or Eddie. In the season finale, Ryan leaves Marissa to move back to Chino and help Teresa raise the baby. Marissa moves into Caleb Nichol's home after he and her mother marry in the season finale. Marissa's grief over Ryan's departure makes her turn back to alcohol again.
During the second season, Marissa struggles with alcohol and depression, caused largely by Ryan's departure from her life. When Ryan returns, it looks as though they may have rekindled their relationship, but after finding out about her relationship with D.J., the yard guy, Ryan decides that they should just be friends, which they remain throughout most of the season. Marissa's relationships in the interim period seem somewhat specifically chosen to take stabs at her mother — first with D.J. and then a same-sex relationship with Alex Kelly. Their relationship gets complicated when Alex falls in love with Marissa, but Marissa is not a lesbian, she was only dating Alex to upset Julie Cooper.
Towards the end of the season, Marissa gets back together with Ryan, and becomes friends with his brother, Trey, who was recently let out of jail. After Trey takes cocaine, he tries to rape Marissa, and Ryan and Trey get into an extremely violent fist fight. The scene ends with Marissa shooting Trey in order to save Ryan's life.
As the series' third season opens, Marissa is under investigation regarding the shooting of Trey Atwood, who is in a coma as a result of the wound. When he awakens, Julie threatens to smother Trey if he does not tell the authority that his brother, Ryan, shot him, so that Marissa will not get in trouble. Marissa finds out and convinces Trey to tell the truth. Ryan is let free, and Marissa faces no legal liability as she was defending another person's life using proportional force in the circumstances.
Despite a lack of legal repercussions, the event results in Marissa's expulsion from the prestigious Harbor School, as it is cited along with her past of flagrant shoplifting and substance abuse. During her expulsion, she attends Newport Union, where she befriends a local surfer named Johnny Harper. Johnny causes rifts in her relationship with Ryan, initially because she feels she cannot talk to Ryan about what happened with Trey and later because Johnny falls in love with her. She is eventually readmitted to Harbor after a campaign led by Ryan, Seth, Summer, and Marissa's former rival for power at Harbor, Taylor Townsend. Marissa confirms her commitment to Ryan, and writes Johnny a letter saying that while he is her friend and she cares for him, she will never love him. This results in Johnny falling to his death from a cliff after a drinking binge, and the tragedy results in Ryan and Marissa's final, tragic breakup.
In the wake of Johnny's death, Marissa struggles to find closure, as well as her own place and purpose in Newport. She develops a relationship with Kevin Volchok after she and Ryan break up, which causes her to go back to her rebellious ways. She begins to abuse alcohol again and tries cocaine. Marissa begins to distance herself from Ryan, Summer, and Seth and becomes argumentative once again with her mother. After some time, she comes to her senses and decides to leave Kevin. But when she finds him watching The Sound of Music, she realizes he has a sensitive side and decides she may be able to have a relationship with him. During their Senior Prom, she catches him cheating on her, and breaks things off.
In the season finale, Marissa receives a letter from her father inviting her to live for a year on a boat with him in Greece, and she accepts. The day she graduates from Harbor along with her friends Summer, Ryan, and Seth, Kevin begins calling her and asks to see her, but she declines. Marissa pays Kevin to get out of town and to leave Ryan and her alone. She says her goodbyes to her family and friends and prepares to leave for Greece. After their time together, Ryan drives her to the airport. On the route to the airport, a drunken Kevin begins hitting their car, causing them to go off the road.
The car flips over several times and lands upside down on another street. Marissa is unconscious, but Ryan pulls her out of the car, which then begins to drip gasoline.
Ryan takes Marissa in his arms and far enough away from the car as it explodes. He tells her that he will need to go get help, but she asks him to stay. After a few moments of looking into each other's eyes, she dies in Ryan's arms.
Marissa's death has a huge impact on the fourth season which is most explicitly examined in the episode "The Chrismukk-huh?" where Ryan and Taylor Townsend, both in comas, enter into an alternate universe where he has never moved to Newport Beach, and the lives of most major characters are completely changed.
While trying to find out what is happening in this reality, Taylor stumbles into Marissa's bedroom. She surprises Julie's maid, who tells Taylor that "Missy Cooper's" plane arrives at 3 o'clock from Berkeley. Taylor then sees a photograph of Marissa and Julie on her desk, which leads her to believe that Marissa is still alive in this alternate universe.
After Taylor tells Ryan the news, he immediately wants to go to the airport to see Marissa. Taylor does not want him to in fear that Ryan, who is still recovering from Marissa's death, would be willing to spend the rest of his life in a coma if he could be with Marissa. At the airport, Ryan catches a glimpse of a girl with a pink Berkeley sweatshirt tied around her waist. The sweatshirt resembles the one worn by Marissa in The Day After Tomorrow. Ryan grabs her shoulder and realizes that it was not Marissa, but her sister, Kaitlin. Kaitlin then explains to Ryan that her sister died three years ago in an overdose in Tijuana (a parallel of her non-fatal overdose in the episode The Escape).
Ryan then returns to Newport Beach, realizing that he can never be with Marissa again, alternate universe or not. At first, Ryan and Taylor believe they need to restore the relationships that existed before Marissa's death in order to wake up. However, it becomes apparent that both Ryan and Taylor need to battle their internal demons instead. For Taylor, her demon is her mother (whom she confronts along with her alternate male self at the Christmas party), for Ryan, it is getting over Marissa.
Back in the real world, Kirsten finds a letter from Marissa addressed to Ryan, but does not read it, and hands it over to Julie, who subsequently reads the letter. In the letter, Marissa wrote that she still loved Ryan, but would be leaving Newport because she knew that it was the best thing to do, so that they could both move on. She stated that when she got back, they might try again, as they would both be older and wiser. The letter is eventually placed right beside Ryan, which allows the letter to be "delivered" to Ryan in the alternate universe.
Ryan then goes to the beach, and upon discovering the letter, reads it. He finally says goodbye to Marissa and exits the alternate universe.
In the final episode, Marissa appears as Ryan's final flashback as he reflects on his life in Newport. As he backs out of the driveway, Ryan remembers seeing Marissa standing on the corner watching as he and Sandy drive away when Ryan thought he was not coming back to Newport (as seen in The Premiere).
- "What do you want to ask The O.C.'s Josh Schwarts", EW.com. Retrieved on 2008-01-29.
- Bozell III, L. Brent. "Is Sweeps Month Lesbian Month?", MRC.org, Creators Syndicate. Retrieved on 2008-01-29.
- New York Post, MISCHA Barton's love lorn character on "The O.C.," Marissa Cooper, is slated for a lesbian love scene later this season, according to reports. The girl-girl love scene is usually a guaranteed ratings getter — a lesbian kiss pumped up the ratings for "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" a few years ago — so "The O.C." is going to try it too, says a report on the web site TVgasm.com. A Fox spokesman for "The O.C." declined to comment on the report yesterday. The ratings for "The O.C." this season — while solid — haven't exactly been through the roof and a lesbian storyline — or at least a main character experimenting sexually with someone of the same sex — could help matters. Howard Stern had it right a few years ago when he said that "lesbians equal ratings" — the audience for "Buffy" shot when Alyson Hannigan's character Willow began a relationship with Tara, another witch (played by Amber Benson). Since then, girl-girl love scenes have become more common on TV, so it was probably just a matter of time before "The O.C." dipped into the well. Gay and bi-sexual characters have been scattered throughout primetime for years on shows like "Will & Grace" and others. It is believed that Barton's character will just be experimenting with the fairer sex and not committing to a full-on romantic, sapphic relationship.
- Warn, Sarah. "The O.C.'s Alex Boosts Bisexual Visibility on TV", AfterEllen.com, 2005-01-17. Retrieved on 2008-01-29.