Seth and Summer’s Breakups and Makeups, Ranked

Seth and Summer, on again. Photo: Fox

Ryan: “If I hadn’t left, then you guys would still be together.”

Summer: “That is not true. He would have found some Cohen-y way to break us up. He can’t help it. He’s Cohen.”

— “The Way We Were” (Season 2, Episode 2)

The O.C. is poised for a revival. Well, kind of. Rachel Bilson, who played Summer Roberts on the classic teen soap, and Melinda Clarke — best known as Newport’s answer to Mrs. Robinson, Julie Cooper — have joined forces for a new “rewatch podcast” premiering today, aptly titled Welcome to The O.C., Bitches.

Originally billed as guest stars (the audacity!), Bilson and Clarke soon became leading actresses on the show. Bilson’s instant onscreen chemistry and witty repartee with Adam Brody (who portrayed Seth Cohen) convinced Josh Schwartz, the show’s creator and executive producer, to give her a main role. Bilson and Brody started a real-life romance during the first few months of filming. But it was the adorable yet tumultuous relationship of Seth and Summer that captured fans’ attention. Along with their respective horse toys, Captain Oats and Princess Sparkle, Seth and Summer were destined to be together. But their romance was far from smooth. Treacherous love triangles ensued — involving Anna (Samaire Armstrong), Zach (Michael Cassidy), and even Summer’s dad (Michael Nouri).

Seth and Summer encountered nearly 20 makeups and breakups (often during a single episode) over the course of the show’s four seasons, and I’ll be ranking them all, from least to most noteworthy. We’ve got a lot of ground to cover, so dig out your old Death Cab for Cutie CD, and let’s get started.

The O.C. is streaming on HBO Max.

19. Life’s a beach

“The Day After Tomorrow” (Season 3, Episode 20)

A devastated Summer tells Seth “we’re over” during a beach party, after he announces that he’ll no longer be joining her at Brown University come fall. Seth insists he’s simply changed his mind, but he’s actually lying to cover up the fact he got rejected. He’s fearful that Summer will sacrifice her place if she discovers he can’t go. It’s a senseless breakup. “The Brown Debacle,” as I call it, is an ongoing and tiresome story line in the latter part of season three.

18. Awkward sex ruins everything

“The Heartbreak” (Season 1, Episode 19)

Shortly after reuniting, Seth calls time on his dalliance with Summer, following not one, but two disappointing sexual trysts. “Maybe in a few years … I guess I’ll be ready for you,” he tells her. It’s a mundane breakup — a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment.

17. The “un-breakup” breakup

“The Dawn Patrol” (Season 3, Episode 21)

In this installment of The Brown Debacle, Summer, rightly convinced Seth is hiding something from her, cancels their breakup. This backfires somewhat, when Seth — desperate to keep Summer from finding out the truth about Brown — declares their breakup is back on, doing the honors himself. A derivative sequence of events.

16. The weirdest love triangle ever

“The Shower” (Season 1, Episode 25)

Summer and Seth face a big relationship test — lunch with her dad. Suffice it to say, Seth’s incessant talking fails to impress Dr. Neil Roberts. The meeting is a disaster, and Summer later walks away from Seth. Agonizing over his latest relationship blip, Seth tells Ryan: “Of all the love triangles to sink us, it is the least sexy.” You can say that again.

15. Cohen gets caught out

“The Homecoming” (Season 1, Episode 11)

Our first Thanksgiving in the Cohen household is one to remember. Making the most of his new in-demand status, Seth juggles kissing dates with both Summer and Anna, unbeknownst to either them. But it all backfires when Summer (who has yet to publicly admit she likes Seth) and Anna come face-to-face. Both girls storm out of the house. Seth and Summer’s secret tryst is over — but not for long.

14. Lovesick summer

“The Party Favor” (Season 3, Episode 23)

During the senior prom after-party, Seth finally tells a very drunk Summer that he pulled out of their Brown University plan because he got a rejection letter. Summer declares her love for Seth, before vomiting on the floor. “We can kiss later,” Seth quips. Love’s young dream!

13. Two girls and a guy

“The Secret” (Season 1, Episode 12)

Angry at Seth for kissing both of them without the other’s knowledge during Thanksgiving, Summer and Anna join forces against him. One groveling apology later, the girls both begin dating him again. Summer tells Seth, “That apology, aside from being the first I’ve ever received from a boy, was also the nicest.” The dysfunctional love triangle returns. Really, ladies, did we learn nothing from the Thanksgiving saga?

12. The bitter taste of whipped cream

“The Return of the Nana” (Season 2, Episode 21)

Feeling neglected, Summer informs Seth that she wants a “time out” from their relationship. Seth heads off to Florida to see his Nana, but the innocent trip soon loses its PG rating, when he — after losing a wager — agrees to help his new pal Mary Sue (cameo by Jaime King) compete in a televised spring break contest. Seth winds up licking whipped cream off Mary Sue’s body. Ew! An infuriated Summer, who watches this unfold on TV, gets even by kissing on-again, off-again love interest Zach. Classic Seth and Summer in self-destruct mode.

11. Save the last dance for Seth

“The Heartbreak” (Season 1, Episode 19)

This scene is a wondrous mix of tender and funny. Following two unenjoyable turns in the bedroom, Seth, thinking his inexperience is to blame, has broken up with Summer. Eager to set the record straight, Summer pays a visit to Seth’s bedroom. A comedic exchange ensues. Summer confesses: “The other night, when we had sex, you weren’t the only virgin in the room.” A horrified Seth exclaims, “There was someone else in the room? Like, filming us?” Summer snaps, “Me, jackass.” They reunite, agreeing to take things slow, and share a dance to Ryan Adams’s cover of Oasis’s “Wonderwall.” A clichéd moment, but with a little help from The O.C.’s never-disappointing soundtrack, it works.

10. A $5,000 escort bill breaks the ice

“The Strip” (Season 1, Episode 26)

Regretting her decision to walk away from Seth, Summer tracks him down in Las Vegas. But she arrives to find him kissing a bikini-clad blonde, who he has yet to discover is, in fact, an escort. Seth has unknowingly racked up a $5,000 bill for the pleasure of hanging out with the blonde and her friends. He bemoans, “My entire life, I’ve never even seen a prostitute. Now I have four of them taking advantage of me in my hotel room, and not in a nice way.” Summer casually takes a cool $5,000 out of her purse (must be nice) to put toward the owed amount, before she and Seth get back together. Helping your on-again, off-again boyfriend pay his accidental escort bill? Now, that’s what I call romantic.

9. Wedding bells at last

“The End’s Not Near, It’s Here” (Season 4, Episode 16)

In the closing moments of the series finale, the action jumps forward several years. We get a glimpse of Seth and Summer getting married in a Jewish backyard wedding. Bilson recently revealed, during an appearance on Dax Shepard’s Armchair Expert podcast, that the wedding scene was filmed just after she and Brody had ended their real-life romance. Awkward!

8. The force is not with Seth

“The O.Sea” (Season 2, Episode 23)

Seth is having the career break of a lifetime, discussing his and Zach’s comic book, Atomic County, with George Lucas. Meanwhile, thanks to a coin toss, Zach is accompanying Summer to prom. But it’s clear that both Seth and Zach are in the wrong place, and they know it. The duo switch places. Zach takes over the Lucas meeting, Seth rushes to the prom to make up with Summer. He joins her onstage after she is crowned prom queen, and offers to be her “Jester.” Another grand gesture for the history books.

7. Nobody puts Cohen in the corner

“The Telenovela” (Season 1, Episode 20)

Annoyed by Summer’s refusal to acknowledge him at school despite the fact they’re dating, Seth goes on “strike.” He refuses to be her dirty — or rather, geeky — little secret. In a short-but-award-worthy speech, Seth puts a pause on their relationship: “I can’t acknowledge you privately, if you’re not going to acknowledge me publicly.” Yes, Cohen! That’s the kind of self-worth we need to see in teen dramas.

6. George shakes things up

“The End’s Not Near, It’s Here” (Season 4, Episode 16)

The series finale sees Summer leaving Newport to travel across the country for a year with GEORGE — the Global Environmental Organization Regarding Greenhouse Emissions. “You’re my destiny, Cohen,” says Summer, before boarding the bus. It’s less of a breakup, more of a mature decision to take a break away from one another while they pursue their own dreams.

5. Sex ed with Sandy Cohen

“The Heartbreak” (Season 1, Episode 19)

A newly single Seth wastes no time in getting back with Summer. “It’s always been you,” he tells her. Reunited, they proceed to have (lackluster) sex together for the first time. This makeup scene deserves its props because without it, we wouldn’t have the incredibly awkward father-son sex talk that follows. Much to Seth’s dismay, his dad, Sandy, explains the importance of foreplay. “We Cohens are very sexual beings. Virile,” he marvels, in a scene to rival American Pie. “The appetizer is as good as the main course.” All hail Sandy Cohen — expert bagel schmearer and foreplay maestro.

4. Wonder Woman fails to save the day

“The Best Chrismukkah Ever” (Season 1, Episode 13)

Seth is dating both Summer and Anna — the girls are aware of the love triangle, or as Seth calls it, “the Geneva Convention of dating.” In an iconic scene, Summer dons a Wonder Woman costume, complete with golden lasso, for Seth. But Anna interrupts their geek-cute moment. Tired of being in competition, the girls demand that Seth choose between them. True to form, Cohen refuses to make a decision, opting to just “be friends” with both girls. Summer, like Anna, refuses this offer. Breakups always hurt a little more at Chrismukkah, don’t they?

3. Sail away with me

“The Ties That Bind” (Season 1, Episode 27)

In a heartbreaking, albeit gloriously shot, ending to The O.C.’s epic 27-episode first season, Seth abandons home for new pastures. Distressed about Ryan leaving Newport and unable to imagine his life without his best friend, Seth sets sail on his boat, Summer Breeze, leaving his girlfriend behind. Jeff Buckley’s “Hallelujah” accompanies the melancholic scene. Forgoing in-person good-byes, Seth leaves a letter for Summer. Not your smartest move, Cohen.

2. Here comes the Spider-Man

“The Rainy Day Women” (Season 2, Episode 14)

Realizing she still loves Seth, Summer jilts Zach at the airport. In a rom-com-worthy scene, Summer makes a mad dash in the rain to Seth’s house. Meanwhile, Seth is home alone when his TV satellite stops working. He dons his “protective waterproof headgear” — a Spider-Man mask — ties a rope around his waist, and climbs up on the roof to fix it. Seth slips and falls, and ends up hanging from the roof, allowing him and Summer to re-create that iconic upside-down kiss from Spider-Man. This is one of the most memorable moments from The O.C., and it almost earned the No. 1 spot on this list, but I simply can’t suspend my disbelief that Seth would climb onto the roof during a rainstorm to fix the satellite. Seth doing manual labor? We all know he’d wait for Ryan — or even his mom, Kirsten (Kelly Rowan) — to come home.

1. Coffee carts mend hearts

“The Telenovela” (Season 1, Episode 20)

Prompted by Summer’s refusal to go public with their relationship, Seth interrupts her charity kissing booth (the wonders of a pre-coronavirus world!), hoists himself atop the coffee cart, and offers her an ultimatum: “Acknowledge me now, or lose me forever.” He risks being rejected in front of his peers, but his gamble pays off. Summer takes Seth’s hand, and they have a “big, public make-out session.” This scene is a defining moment in Seth and Summer’s relationship. It has everything we expect from The O.C. — a grand romantic gesture, with just a dash of teen awkwardness, accompanied by an indie soundtrack, Patrick Park’s “Something Pretty.” Mazel tov!

Seth and Summer’s Breakups and Makeups on The O.C., Ranked