A few weeks ago I began watching the first season of The OC. I hadn’t seen most of the season one episodes in probably about four years (and considering the show ended FIVE AND A HALF YEARS AGO and holy heck that makes me feel super old), so it was all very refreshing.
But I’ve grown a lot since I saw those episodes for the first time, when I was in the eighth grade. Because now I finally realize what so many people were talking about when they said they hated Marissa (I truly think you have to be older than 15 to realize how much of a moron she is). And I found a lot of the fundamental dramatic “OMG” moments slightly laughable (see: Ryan carrying an overdosing Marissa out of an alleyway in Tijuana, because, after my trip in Europe this summer, I actually know someone to whom this happened therefore I can laugh about it).
But I still enjoy it just the same (maybe not in a “MY LIFE DEPENDS ON THIS SERIES, THIS EPISODE, THESE CHARACTERS FINDING TRUE HAPPINESS” sort of way that I feel now (sort of, absolutely) about Homeland, because what can I say, you can take the girl away from the obsession, but you can never the obsessive nature from the girl).
I recently finished the six-episode, sent-straight-from-the-pit-fires-of-hell story arc that gave the world Oliver Trask. And then I got all Carrie Bradshaw and got to wondering: Is Oliver Trask the single greatest realization of a villain in all of history (excepting Voldemort, because you can’t compete with a soul split into eight pieces and a snake nose)?
In the words of Saul Berenson, we should explore this further....
I should preface this whole thing by saying that the whole Oliver Trask storyline would be painful to watch if it also wasn’t so laughable.
In examining just how awful of a character (or, let’s be honest, a human being) Oliver is, it’s important to compare him to other villains across the TV and film mediums.
In examining the other TV shows that I watch (and that I’d admit to), I come across a few expert villains:
Betty Draper from Mad Men (excluding season 5 Betty, because it’s hard to be mad at a character that is so helplessly and hopelessly fat, but that’s another story for another post): I find Betty fascinating. I hate-love her. This sounds contradictory but it’s so possible. There’s no doubt that she’s set up as a villain in Don’s world, considering how awful she is to Sally and Bobby (if/when he’s around). Her actions and words can reach monstrous proportions; like, how clueless and insane can this woman get? Sometimes I don’t even blame Don for cheating on her repeatedly and that is the sign of a great villain: the protagonist’s awfulness somehow becomes justified in the face of the villain’s evil. However, there are also countless times when I love Betty. Again, mostly it’s hate-love, like what crazy thing will Betty do or say this week, like she's some helpless child (totally debatable)? But I also feel bad for her; it’s more a pity than a feel-sorry situation, but it exists. I pity her reliance on Don for approval and justification of her sorry life. I pity her preconceptions that society expects her to behave a certain way. I pity her for doing everything that society told her to do and still not ending up happy.
Pete Campbell from Mad Men circa season one: Pete Campbell is the classic office weasel, the product of nepotism and privilege. Every office has one, Bert says. And in season one, Pete was in fine villain form. He was the epitome of the misogynistic workplace pig (who today would be the defendant in dozens of sexual harassment lawsuits) and his attempt to blackmail Don after figuring out who Don really was made me want to reach through the TV and back 50 years and flick him out of his office window. But in recent seasons I’ve actually grown to love Pete. Up until this season he was one of the only characters who remained 95% faithful to his wife (played by the awesome Alison Brie, whom I adore), and I can’t even fault him for embarking on an extramarital affair last season because 1) It was Rory Gilmore so it doesn’t count and 2) ALEXIS BLEDEL AND VINCENT KARTHEISER DATE IN REAL LIFE. Plus Pete gives us brilliant antiquated one-liners like “Hell’s Bells, Trudy!” and “Christ on a cracker!” So basically you can’t not love him just a little, despite his once-weaselly ways.
Emily Gilmore from Gilmore Girls circa mid-season-five: Woman was practically twirling her mustache in delight when she broke up Lorelai and Luke. That’s messed up, but before and after she proved to be a woman who was deeply broken by her daughter’s self-imposed isolation from her parents and their world.
Emily Waltham from Friends post-Ross-says-Rachel: Look, I know this woman was merely collateral damage in the saga that is Ross and Rachel, but it was impossible not to hate the woman when she nearly forced Rossto move out of his apartment, give up his life in New York (where his son andfamily lived), and never speak to Rachel again. She came across as that woman: that crazy, obsessive, I’m-watching-you-but-you-can’t-see-me lady. Not cool, girl.
Note: Grey’s Anatomy villains do not exist and also I’m sort of embarrassed to admit that I still watch this show, even if it is sporadic and delving into hate-watch territory.
As for movies, I’m not much of a film buff but the best example of a true villain that I can think of is Heath Ledger’s the Joker from The Dark Knight. That guy was a true monster, but he had a really sad backstory that involved physical and emotional abuse so he kind of pulls at your heartstrings a little, plus Heath Ledger plays him with such abandon that, despite his hellish actions and creepiness, you are also sort of mesmerized in a strange way by him.
Oliver Trask, on the other hand, was evil in every single one of its human manifestations. The following is a short list of the most-commonly listed horrendous things he did:
1. Deliberately drove Ryan and Marissa apart. Nine years later, I don’t even care if Ryan and Marissa end up together, or that they’re the “one true pairing” of the show (but, hello, Seth and Summer and/or Sandy and Kirsten obviously are), but the way he manipulated her (not a completely difficult task, becaue it is Marissa, but still) was sociopathic.
2. He made up a complete person, his “girlfriend”“Natalie Bishop.” The real Natalie Bishop is actually the receptionist at the hotel Oliver lives at (see #3) and his former babysitter. Therefore, this kid wasn’t even smart enough to think of a different name in ancticipation of anyone ever meeting the real Natalie Bishop. Also, I’m starting a new hashtag, #ThereIsNoNatalie (said in a deep, broody Ryan Atwood voice), to signify a time you’d been duped but not really because you knew all along it was a lie. Example: Amy Poehler and Will Arnett are getting divorced. Hollywood love really doesn't exist. #ThereIsNoNatalie
3. He lived in the penthouse of the Four Seasons beceause his parents owned hotels all around the world and he was filthy rich. This alone wouldn’t be so horrendous, because The OC was pretty much all about wealthy people, but Oliver flaunted his money. But he didn’t flaunt it in an obvious way, like, making it rain up in here. No, he just casually dropped into conversations lines about gallivanting across Europe, taking lavish vacations to swanky resorts every other weekend, and knowing the manager of famous bands. In this way, once you complied and went to his hotel suite or to the Rooney concert with him or on a grand European excursion, you became his 21st-century slave, because he now owned you because you would never be able to afford this without his seemingly selfless but actually very selfish display of fake friendship.
4. Substance abuser. This alone wouldn’t be horrendous, but he used his past and present addictions to garner sympathy from Marissa et. al, which is sociopathic on a very basic level.
5. HE FAKED HIS OWN SUICIDE ATTEMPT. We're now moving into a whole new kind of crazy wacko nutjob territory.
6. He played chicken with Ryan in a golf cart and nearly killed him! Kid is certifiable.
7. He held Marissa hostage, threatening to kill himself, if she ever left to, God forbid, go to school or go home or go to the bathroom or something. This scene is one of the few times I actually feel sorry for Marissa, but then I remember she’s a moron and how didn’t she see this coming, so I feel less sorry for her. The other new hashtag I’m starting is #RyanHesGotAGun, which should be used in situations where someone (name may or may not be Oliver) reveals an object (may or may not be a gun) that is so surprising/[insert other emotion here] that you can’t wait to tell another person (name may or may not be Ryan). Example: Brittany just showed me the note from Brendan and now I have to go tell Brandy! #RyanHesGotAGun (It could get confusing, but if #WayHarshTai can move back into the Twitter lexicon, so can this.)
8. He single-handedly made every other person on the show, even Ryan, seem crazy. God, the way Ryan growls at him like a Doberman at the end of The Rivals (“Stay away from her! Stay away from herrrr”) or his Bring It On-reminiscent dialogue in The Truth (“Oliver? It hasn’t even begun.”) makes me really dislike Ryan. Also obviously every other person in the universe of the show is rendered unlikeable because no one even gives Ryan the benefit of the doubt, especially and most importantly Seth. I can expect and even tolerate the ignorance of Marissa (because I did, for three seasons, and God is that all it was?!), but the fact that everyone else seemed like a jerk for not believing Ryan really brought the final three episodes of Oliver’s arc way down.
And that—the fact that Oliver casts a ginormous blazer-clad shadow over Newport Beach for six painful episodes in the middle of season one—makes him a truly wonderful (in the worst sense of the word) villain. He seemed to relish his role as group sociopath (maybe every clique should have one). He worked Marissa like a puppet-master (she probably weighed as much) and his sense of entitlement is cringe-worthy.
FYI: Josh Schwartz, the creator of The OC, has stated that the character of Oliver was "based on a guy... a friend of mine dated who faked having cancer to [hang on to her]." That this type of crazy exists in the real world is kind of nauseating.
Most villains in novels, movies, or TV shows at least have some bit of grey area associated with their respective villainy. A certain detail is revealed about them that justifies their evil. Even with Voldemort, although he’s obviously a much worse villain than Oliver, I don’t feel this unhealthy vitriol toward him. Like, I was happy when he died, but reading about it on paper is much different than seeing it realized on a screen in front of you. Oliver was evil through-and-through. I wouldn’t be surprised if he made a horcrux out of Marissa’s flask or something so that he could always be with her, in fractured spirit.
I’m also able to trace every bad thing that happened to characters on this show (whether or not they were good or bad storylines for the audience to watch) to this dreadful person. Examples:
1. Theresa: never would have become involved with Ryan if he hadn’t broken up with Marissa because of Oliver. Also, her son’s abandonment issues as a result of his mother telling his father (falsely) that she had miscarried, prompting said father to leave and never even send a birthday card.
2. Kirsten’s alcoholism: greatly spurred by her issues with Sandy in season two which originated when Seth ran away because Ryan had left to be with Theresa, who was pregnant with his child.
3. Marissa dying: This is like finding the trail from Chloe the Xerox girl to Rachel in Friends. Here goes: Marissa and Ryan break up the second time when Ryan leaves to go be with a pregnant Theresa. This sends Marissa down on an awful spiral of alcoholism, sexual promiscuity/exploration, and general annoyingness. After ending things with Alex she gets back with Ryan but things are still sort of awkward and in an effort to bring herself closer to Ryan she befriends Ryan’s brother Trey (ex-convict, cocaine addict), who misinterprets her friendship and attempts to rape her. Ryan finds out and thenhe and Trey get into a fight that ends with Marissa shooting Trey. She is expelled from school for the shooting and is forced to attend nasty public school! There she meets Johnny and her eventual killer, Volchok. Of course Marissa and Ryan break up again (because of Johnny, because once again Marissa doesn’t understand how loveable teenage boys find her) and Marissa takes up with Volchok. But she break up with him, because he’s on drugs and gross—and also Ryan’s rage issues resurface when he gets into a fight with Volchok that’s eerily reminiscent of his fight with Trey. This all leads Volchok to want to exact revenge on Ryan by getting Marissa back, and he displays this by running them off the road and thenMarissa dies. THAT’S THE TRAIL, I DID IT!
4. Of course, as a result of #3, Summer, Ryan, and Julie’s depressions after Marissa dies are effects, too. SO MUCH UNHAPPINESS.
At least he's self-aware??
In conclusion, if you read all this and still don’t believe Oliver is the worst villain of all time (besides Voldemort) then there’s no hope for you.
Just take a look at this picture and tell me you’re not legitimately creeped.
He'll watch you while you sleep.