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The Most Important Episodes Of 'The O.C.'

Updated August 15, 2019 264 votes 42 voters 2.8k views15 items

List RulesVote up the episodes that mattered most in the series overall.

The O.C., which aired from 2003 to 2007, remains a cult classic and prime example of how to do a teen soap. Even though the show was only on for four seasons, it packed a lot into its impressive 92-episode run, including coffee cart confessions of love, fugitive former flames, and even some good-natured cage fighting. Creator Josh Schwartz and his team could make just about anything seem possible for its cast of teens living in Orange County, CA, including Ryan Atwood (Ben McKenzie), Marissa Cooper (Mischa Barton), Seth Cohen (Adam Brody), and Summer Roberts (Rachel Bilson).

It's arguable that every episode of the show is important, from the first appearance of Captain Oats to the triumphant return of Kaitlin Cooper, but certain top O.C. episodes helped shape the series. Longtime fans will recall all the small details of the show, but you're bound to remember at least one of the best episodes of The O.C. listed here. So put on some Phantom Planet and recall life in Newport Beach during the early 2000s.

  • 1

    The Pilot (Season 1, Episode 1)

    The Pilot (Season 1, Episode 1)
    Photo: Fox

    The pilot episode of The O.C. lays the groundwork for the show fans would come to love. Ryan is the troubled kid from Chino who wants to make good. Sandy is the public defender with a heart of gold; he and his wife Kirsten adopt Ryan. Ryan's friendship with their son Seth is effortless, as is the instant chemistry between Ryan and Marissa. Fans will note the limited screen time of Julie Cooper and Summer Roberts in the pilot.

    In our first trip to Newport Beach, we also get the iconic scene of Marissa lighting her cigarette off of Ryan's, as well as Luke's immortal quote: "Welcome to the OC, b*tch!"

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  • 2

    The Best Chrismukkah Ever (Season 1, Episode 13) 

    The Best Chrismukkah Ever (Season 1, Episode 13) 
    Photo: Fox

    The creation of Chrismukkah remains one of The O.C.'s highlights. Seth explains to Ryan that the holiday is a combination of Sandy and Kirsten's faiths, meaning eight days of presents, followed by one day of many presents. Ryan is a little less than excited, and it seems like everything in Newport Beach is working against the Chrismukkah spirit.

    Marissa gets caught lifting items from a store, then almost gets in trouble with police for driving while drinking. Anna and Summer give Seth memorable gifts, only to have Seth reject them both. Yet somehow, the Cohens manage to come together for their first Chrismukkah as a family of four. And in case you forgot, this is also the episode where we meet the seemingly harmless Oliver Trask.

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  • 3

    The Escape (Season 1, Episode 7)

    The Escape (Season 1, Episode 7)
    Photo: Fox

    In many ways, the seventh episode of Season 1 is when The O.C. really takes off. While you may need to suspend reality a bit to believe a group of teenagers would be allowed to go on a road trip to Tijuana with their parents' blessings, we're rewarded with Seth and Summer's sharp dialogue in full force for the first time.

    Marissa goes into an epic emotional spiral related to Luke's infidelity and her parents' divorce, and ingests a large quantity of controlled substances in a Tijuana alley. Ryan rescues her at the last minute, and "The Escape" solidifies the bonds between the four friends that will endure throughout the series.

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  • 4

    The Rainy Day Women (Season 2, Episode 14)  

    The Rainy Day Women (Season 2, Episode 14)  
    Photo: Fox

    Thought by some to be the best episode of Season 2, if not the whole series, "The Rainy Day Women" is another crossroads episode. Marissa tells Julie she's dating Alex, then later inadvertently reveals this fact to Seth. Following her DNA test, Lindsay decides she doesn't want to be Caleb's daughter after all, and moves to Chicago following a tearful goodbye with Ryan.

    Meanwhile, Sandy is trying to sort things out with Rebecca while trying to keep his marriage from falling apart at the same time. Waiting at the airport with Zach, Summer realizes she's still in love with Seth and rushes to the Cohens' home, only to find Seth hanging upside down from the roof in his Spider-Man mask. What else was she supposed to do except kiss him? All the characters grow in this episode, which sets the stage for the second half of Season 2.

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