A keystone species is a species that, though it may appear insignificant, or be quite rare, it actually supports the survival of other species in a very significant way. If a keystone species becomes extinct in an ecosystem, other species suffer greatly or become extinct in that area as well. The name derives from the centre stone in an arch, which supports its weight by the surrounding inward-leaning stones. Removal of the keystone causes the arch to collapse. Just as one species in an ecosystem can be ‘key’ to its continued health and survival, one person can be just as critical in an urban ecosystem. This importance can be traced on many levels, from within a single family unit to within an entire community; such is the role of Kirsten Cohen in the OC.
As wife to Sandy and mother to Seth, Kirsten is intelligent, focussed and career minded. However in trying to be all things to all people Kirsten ends up neglecting herself, which results in the negative impacts spreading to her relationships with Sandy and Seth. When she fails to look after herself the lives of those around her are heavily impacted and this then triggers a chain reaction, causing the lives of people around those people to also be impacted and so on and so forth. When a new colonist, Ryan, enters Kirsten’s ecosystem she is already becoming established as an important player in the ecosystem.
As an outsider, Ryan introduces new elements into the local environment, challenges pre-conceived notions about what constitutes a family and generally causes issues and people to be re-examined and reassessed. When any new element enters the mix, it can take time for those already in residence to adjust. The entrance of Ryan allows Kirsten to expand her role as mother in the Cohen family as she and her husband become Ryan’s legal custodians. Through Ryan’s eyes Kirsten is able to look at her husband and her son Seth in a different way. From this altered perspective Kirsten is also able to see herself in a different light.
When Kirsten is confronted by a series of personal crises, she goes through her own period of adjustment as she struggles to overcome depression and alcoholism. The impacts of her battle with these demons take their toll not just on Kirsten but also on her entire family. While she undergoes treatment for her alcoholism the rest of the family rally in support and learn to cope without Kirsten’s physical presence in the family home. However even from a distance the influence of Kirsten is keenly felt. The family unit continues to function but is somewhat incomplete without her.
Like any living creature Kirsten is not perfect. She is flawed, she has problems, and she is real. Following her treatment for alcoholism she returns to the family which grows stronger through the love and support which they feel and offer to eachother. Kirsten exhibits a new sense of calm and positivity, which reaches out to those around her. This newly found stability also permeates into the relationship of Kirsten and Sandy, reinvigorating their bond and re-establishing their role as the keystone couple of the OC community.
Kirsten’s influence is also felt by others who come in contact with her. She becomes surrogate mother to many such as Marisa and Taylor who are drawn to her peace, contentment, strength and common sense advice. With so many relationships and family units breaking down around her, Kirsten and the family unit, which she so critically supports, stand steadfast and resolute in the face of any challenges which come their way.
I originally wrote this article for ‘Pop Culture Heroines‘.