The Inessential Guide to Dawson's Creek

The Inessential Guide to Dawson's Creek

"The Inessential Guide" is part of a new occasional series on CEFS, in which I'll be providing you with the guides to, well, whatever, that you don't really need. If you're interested in submitting your own Inessential Guide to just about anything (books, tv, life, macrame, organization, etc), hit me up and we'll make it happen. 

Note: This post contains spoilers for a television show that ended 13 years ago. I hope you can deal with that. 

Introduction

About three years ago I rewatched Dawson's Creek in its entirety. During that rewatch, I learned a few things: 

  1. My god, I didn't think I cared about the theme song (I Don't Wanna Wait) until it was taken away from my and replaced by the nightmarish international theme song (My Heart is in My Hands). (Fun fact, the creators intended for the show's theme song to be Hand in My Pocket by Alanis Morissette--weird, right?)
  2. About 50% of the show is straight up hot garbage. 
  3. About 30% of the show is reasonably entertaining.
  4. About 20% of the show is such satisfying entertainment that it makes up for the 50% mentioned in point #2. 
  5. 90% of that 20% is thanks to Pacey Witter. 

Some Twitter friends watched along with me that time & here's a Storify I put together during that time. It's amusing... to me.

So, a few weeks ago, my Adorable Husband ™ mentioned that DC was now on Hulu and suggested I rewatch it due to my being super stressed out lately (work, work, work, yo!), I knew I couldn't sit through all six seasons, so I carefully "curated" (god, I hate that word that's so overused it's now meaningless) my viewing, focusing on the Joey-Pacey story arc and other key episodes. 

You guys, it was so much better. I mean, don't get me wrong, this show is infinitely enjoyable to me, but there's something really fabulous about choosing to only experience the show episodes that bring you joy (which is the only context in which I'll ever Marie Kondo my life, by the way).

I have a funny relationship with this show in general because it started when I was in college, not high school like many of its fans and I was bit older than the characters (though the same age as the actors), so I never felt like I "grew up with" the show, but it was a constant through many apartments, three or four states and two countries. Watching that show is intertwined with a chaotic but exciting time in my life, and I'm super attached to it as a result. No matter where I was or what I was doing, I somehow rarely missed Wednesday night Dawson's Creek. 

Does anyone else feel this way about a television show? Am I a weirdo? Let me know!

The triangle that lasts six seasons. I don't hate love triangles--sorry, guys!

Just one more reminder so no one yells at me on Twitter like they did a few years ago: There will be spoilers here. The show ended over a decade ago. You've been warned. 

Key Players

Dawson Leery. Dawson is the worst friend in the world, and yet this show's named after him. Apparently, he's modeled after series creator Kevin Williamson and, my god, is Dawson insufferable and it kind of makes me super judgmental about Williamson as a person. Dawson is perpetually obsessed with the status of everyone's virginity. It's pretty creepy and weird.

Joey Potter. Joey is Dawon's neighbor, childhood best friend and is under the impression that the two are soul mates. I... don't get it... Anyway, all the guys are in love with her and she's terrible at making any and all decisions. She spends large chunks of the series caught in a love triangle between Dawson and Pacey.

Pacey Witter. Clearly the best character on the show. (Though Jen could have been if they'd stretched her character a bit through better writing.) The show should've been called Pacey's Creek is what I'm saying... Originally written as Dawson's goofy sidekick best friend, Joshua Jackson's character stole the show as a sarcastic, yet good-hearted guy, who's kind of a hopeless romantic. 

Jen Lindley. Jen's the "bad girl" from NYC who crashes this group when she arrives in Capeside after her parents send her to live with her grandma (Grams) following their discovering her having sex in their bed. She intimidates the entire group, and eventually becomes Jack's best friend.

Jack McPhee. He and his sister are introduced in season 2 and they get entangled in the group, with Jack dating Joey before he comes out as gay. I have mixed feelings about Jack because his character was really important in TV history (his kiss in season 3 was the first male gay kiss aired on network TV), but Kerr Smith didn't do the best job with the material when it came to Jack's sexuality. On rewatch it becomes more troubling each time. 

Andie McPhee. I don't know guys... Andie is a super smart girl and she dates Pacey and since Joshua Jackson has ridiculous chemistry with everyone, their relationship is totally believable and sweet. Unfortunately, I always feel guilty talking about Andie because must of what I like about her character is the way she was a catalyst for Pacey's transformation over the course of season 2 from a supporting role to the obvious star and most compelling character on the show... It's awkward. It's also super weird that they cut her from the series finale. Meredith Monroe, the actress, was a lot older than the other actors, which sometimes felt odd. 

Capeside. This is the town that's supposedly on Cape Cod but it is really Wilmington, NC. The town is super small and everyone knows everything about everyone, and yet they have a reasonably large high school and eventually Andy Griffin shows up. (I don't know, you guys... it was the early 2000s--things were weird back then.)

The Episodes

These are the episodes you need to pay attention to, folks. Other people may have differing options, but those people would be wrong. 

SEASON ONE

S1.E1. - The Pilot. In a lot of ways, the pilot isn't all the interesting (honestly, I don't love season 1 that much, and while it isn't as week as season 5, it doesn't hold up as well as you'd hope). But, this sets the stage for the Dawson-Joey absurdity and provides context for the town, as well as introduces Jen. Warning: This is the beginning of a super disturbing plotline about Pacey and his teacher, Tamara, that I like to pretend never happened. It's the DC equivalent to the FNL murder plot. 

S1. E7. - Detention. This is a riff on The Breakfast Club and is a really fun hour of television. It also introduces Abby Morgan, which is important if you want to catch random late 90s pop culture references made by, um, me. It's also adorable for Joshua Jackson's shout-out to The Mighty Ducks, which he was in. 

S1. E10. - Double Date. You guys, let's not forget that Pacey kissed Joey first. While they were hunting for snails for science extra credit. Or something. Whatever, this puts the long, long saga of the Pacey-Joey-Dawson triangle into motion, thought it wasn't at all apparent to us watching at the time. No, we didn't figure that out until season three because we were all totally dense. 

S1. E12. - Beauty Contest. You don't need to watch this episode in its entirety, though it's fairly entertaining. However, this scene is required viewing. 

SEASON TWO

This season has some good stuff, but it's not my favorite--there's just too much Dawson-Joey angst and annoyance. Most of the highlights are in Jack's story, which is interesting because apparently Kerr Smith didn't know his character would end up being gay and it kind of shows... 

S2.E1. - The Kiss. God, this is the beginning of Dawson and Joey kissing on the regular and it's so gross. I have no idea what sort of person James Van Der Beek is, but I find him and all the characters he's ever played really off-putting, so this run of episodes is tough. Nevertheless, The Kiss is important for the entire series' main story, so watch it. It also features the introduction of Jack and Andie, who become members of the core group. Bonus: Pacey frosts his hair! 

S2.E15. & E15. - To Be or Not to Be... & ...That is the Question. This pair of episodes are significant in terms of Jack's story arc and coming out. Sometimes we forget it, but this was a big deal in 1999. It was actually pretty well handled, and there's a nice Pacey moment in which he stands up for Jack against an awful teacher. 

S2.E18. - A Perfect Wedding. This episode is kind of terrible. Jen's spiraling out of control, Dawson's angsting and the whole thing is a hot mess. But Abby Morgan dies, and this is important in terms of catching an amusing reference in a S6 episode I love, Clean & Sober. But you can probably skip it.

S2. E21. Ch-cha-changes. This is an important point in both Andie and Pacey's stories, and I like how it sets up season 3 well, like the writers had an actual plan. I don't think this was intentional, but it also establishes Pacey as the show's hero--which we all somehow didn't realize at the time. How did we not understand this??? It's wholly obvious upon rewatch.

SEASON 3

(Honestly, it's probably worthwhile watching this whole season. If you love a slow burn romance--and we all know I do--it's worth investing the 20 or so hours if you haven't watched the whole season.)

S3.E1. - Like a Virgin. Welp, I don't know about you, but this is what it finally dawned on me that perhaps there was a chance that Joey and Pacey could be the show's endgame. Joey won't have anything to do with Dawson because it's his fault her dad's in jail (just smile and nod, this happened in a season 2 episode I wouldn't bother watching), so he asks Pacey to "look out for" Joey. (And we all know what that means!) Pacey does as asked and the final scene is adorable and is beautiful heavy-handed foreshadowing like only the WB could do. Also, Dawson meets a wild girl named Eve and stuff happens and I don't know, just fast-forward through that nonsense. Also, I don't think Katie Holmes and Joshua Jackson were dating anymore at this point but man, those two still had crackling chemistry and it really shows in this episode. (I think JJ actually was in the midst of a fling with the actress who played Eve--by the way, do you realize this was one of the first shows that had great internet gossip? Some of those old bulletin boards are still up and they're amazing.) 

S3.E9. - Four to Tango. This episode, you guys! Nothing of much significance really happens, but Joey and Pacey (and eventually Dawson and Jen, because that stuff happens in Capeside) take dance lessons together and it's perfect, all the way to their dance instructor predicting that the pair have loads of unresolved sexual tension (duh). This also resolves Pacey and Jen's ill-fated attempt to have a no-strings fling. 

S3.E12. - A Weekend in the Country. The Potter sisters' B&B official opens and Pacey arranges to have a NYT reviewer (this is Capeside, stuff like this totally happens there, apparently) stay at the inn, to disastrous ends. Pacey discovers that Grams is right, if you love someone, you can stay up all night watching them sleep by the fire. (Apropos of nothing, there are so many continuity issues in this episode, ie the heat goes out but Joey's wearing a tank top... Drives me bonkers!)

S3.E15. & E16. - Crime & Punishment & To Green, With Love. Really, the episode I love is To Green, With Love, but it doesn't make any sense without the previous episode. Basically, the first of these episodes creates the reason for the famous "You bought me a wall" scene. And thus we have the difference between Pacey and Dawson. Pacey, poor kid who scraps for everything he's got, spends his hard-earned money to buy (okay, rent) the girl he's crushing on something as meaningful as a wall to paint after her mural was destroyed. Also, this is super important for the season finale. 

S3.E17. - Cinderella Story. YOU GUYS, PACEY FINALLY KISSES JOEY AND IT'S EVERYTHING!

Interlude: Does anyone remember the two hour special the WB ran the week after Cinderella Story that was essentially a greatest hits compilation of Joey-Pacey clips? I have looked all over the internet for it and can only find a few passing references to it. I am certain it was called "The Story of Pacey & Joey." Please, someone tell me that I didn't hallucinate this.

S3.E19. Stolen Kisses. The gang visits Dawson's aunt we never heard about before (played by the mom from Modern Family, which is a bit disconcerting on rewatch) and hijinks ensue. Lots of angst about Joey's bizarro obligation to Dawson because they grew up together. (Can we talk about how creepy it is that the adults are really pushing these two together? Good grief...) The following key things occur: 1) Pacey gets super upset about Joey and Dawson's Daydream Believer karaoke routine, which is totally understandable. 2) Pacey and Joey end up having to share a bed because Dawson's aunt is the sort of person who invites a whole crew of teenagers over but only has one extra bed. 3) Joey finally initiates a kiss with Pacey and it's about damn time. Also, this creates a great reference point for a line in A Winter's Tale, because this is the sort of show that shouts out to previous episodes constantly. 

There's just so much in this episode that it's really essential in any DC rewatch. 

S3.E20. - The Longest Day. I started to rewatch this episode but I got so angry at Dawson and Joey that I had to turn it off. Basically, this is the fallout from Joey and Pacey daring to act on their feelings without considering that Dawson has dibs on Joey. My god, it's disturbing television. I would also skip the regatta episode a few more down the queue because it's basically a Dawson-Pacey pissing match. UGH.

S3.E22. - The Anti-Prom. The gang throws a prom because Jack isn't welcome with his boyfriend at their school's official prom (this was super common back in the day, guys--and it wasn't that long ago). Pacey "remembers everything" and hearts melted across America. (Fun fact: I was living in Dublin, Ireland when this aired--I believe a smidgen later in the summer than in the States--and I have the clearest memory of this episode and sitting in my shitty apartment in Dublin and actually crying during that scene because apparently I get way too invested in fictional characters' love lives.)

S3.E23. - True Love. You guys know that Pacey's boat's called True Love, right? And that it's a metaphor for Pacey and Joey being meant for each other, right? I mean, it's heavy-handed WB metaphor at its best. Joey makes her choice--for now--and, god, it's perfect. This is also the episode that resulted in one of the best .gifs on Tumblr et al. Like the previous episode (which in my mind aired back-to-back in Ireland, but I could have hallucinated that--that year was weird for me), I cried, cried, cried at the end of this. I'm a sucker. 

Interlude: Does anyone else remember reading Joey & Pacey's summer diaries that year? They were online and they were amazing. I didn't have internet then and read them all at a "Cyber Cafe" (those were a thing, kids) in Dublin and it took forever because the internet sucked back then. You can find some of them here. The WB did some pretty innovative stuff with fan engagement and expanding their "universe" into online properties, truly.

SEASON FOUR

I have such mixed feelings about this season, folks. There are a few gems, but with each rewatch, the season gets weaker and weaker. The show really loses its footing halfway through this season, and doesn't really pick up the pieces until Clean & Sober halfway through S6. I didn't include it in this list, because it's not a great episode, but there is a lovely scene in Future Tense (S4.E4.) in which Pacey tells Joey that he plans on being "wherever she is" and while it sounds creepy, it's a line delivered so sweetly that it works and really is heart-melting. I appreciate that it's a little almost throwaway line, but that thread is picked up over and over again in the remainder of the series and it works and sort of hits at the core of the character and his salt of the earth goodness. (I am probably overanalyzing this line, but it's a good one, trust me.)

S4.E1. - Coming Home. You should probably watch S4.E1., but it made me super uncomfortable when I watched it last week. Dawson--and the entire gang--feel incredibly entitled to know the state of Joey's virginity. It's super creepy and disturbing. However, there's a sweet scene at the end that kind of makes the rest of the stinky schlock worthwhile. Sort of. Anyway, Pacey has a shaved head at the beginning of this season, which also marks JJ seeming suddenly quite a bit older than James VDB. FYI. 

S4.E14. A Winter's Tale. This is a critical bench because Joey finally gets it on with Pacey and we all breathed a collective sigh of relief that her first time wasn't with Dawson. It's actually very sweet, though there's a load of awkward plotting to get them there that sets the stage for the next season and a half in terms of sloppy storytelling. There are also a fair number of callbacks to previous Joey-Pacey moments that I actually like in this show.

However, I could do without the yucky Jen-Jack story that just further emphasizes Kerr Smith's lackluster commitment to the character of Jack--he's way more enthusiastic about a drunken make-out session with Michelle Williams than he is with any of the dudes he kisses throughout the series. Sad but true...

Interlude: It's all downhill from here, folks, for a long almost two seasons, it's just a mess, a hot, stinky mess. Joey gets punished for having sex in a number of ways, Dawson continues to be an asshole on a regular basis, Michelle Williams continues to be underutilized and at some point they write Andie off the show completely and no one notices. You may want to watch the season finale just to have some closure on a few plot lines, but it's not necessary (hell, none of this is).

SEASON FIVE

Good grief, people don't put yourself through this nonsense. Just pretend this season never happened. Pacey's still torturing himself for not being successful enough for Joey (which she never had an issue with, really, so that's all on him), Dawson is a douchecanoe, and Jen is sort of bleh. Some stuff happens with Jack and it all feels like going through the motions. The one thing I did enjoy, however, was the addition of Busy Phillips, who has great chemistry with the entire cast. Her story line is not good, but she is. I honestly cannot believe I watched this entire season when it aired--it was just so terrible, but I guess I thought that I was that far in, there was just no escape.

However, if you must...

S5.E3. & S5.E4. - Capeside Revisited & The Long Goodbye. Am I terrible that I think Capeside Revisited is fantastic because Dawson's dad, Mitch, dies thanks to an ice cream mishap? I read that the actor didn't want to be on the show anymore because the story wasn't about the parents and I was like, "It took you four seasons to figure that out, dude?" The following episode is probably worth watching because Pacey is pretty great to Dawson in a time of crisis and it once again solidifies that he's the actual hero of the story.

Here's an odd fan montage video of the whole thing: 

SEASON SIX

I don't hate season six because it includes my favorite episode of the entire show, Castaways, which is also one of my favorite episodes of television, full stop. Anyway, Katie Holmes has distractingly terrible highlights grow-out this entire season (and also in the five years later episode, which is weird), Joshua Jackson has a godawful goatee and Michelle Williams looks like she cut her own hair. Clearly, it was dark days on the Dawson's Creek set. 

S6.E2. - The Song Remains the Same. DO NOT WATCH THIS EPISODE! It is absolutely disgusting. It's the Dawson's Creek equivalent of that FNL arc in which Landry and Trya murder that guy.

S6.E14. - Clean & Sober. This episode is a lot of fun and finally DC starts to feel right again Pacey's a stockbroker--don't worry, you don't need to know the details, this is Dawson's Creek--and so he buys a giant TV and throws a party at the apartment he shares with Random English Girl and Jack. This sets up lots of entertaining references to various incidents in the gang's past that feel like a tiny reward for making it this far with this show. Jen killed Abby Morgan with champagne--hilarious! Jack "gets excited" while Joey paints his portrait--funny stuff! Pacey admits he never caught over Joey--super true! Anyway, it's a fun episode and one I will occasionally rewatch just for fun if I want something mindless on when I'm working (benefits of working from home!). 

FINALLY! --> S6.E15. - Castaways. Guys, this is the best episode of Dawon's Creek. Yes, I'm right. No, if you think it's a different episode, then you're wrong. Not only is this my favorite episode of the season and series, it's one of my favorite episodes of television.

No, I am not remotely joking. 

There's something decidedly Old School about this episode, like a movie from the 60s in the most fun way. Here's the crux of it: Joey & Pacey go out to dinner for some reason vaguely related to his work (Pacey needs a date for some vague reason). He flirts with some random woman who promises him no strings sex later that night, so, of course, Pacey has to stop at KMart to buy condoms (Pacey Witter, Friend of Women,* is always very responsible, as we learned in A Winter's Tale) with Joey in tow, because he's her ride home. (Pacey has oodles of money at this point, but he can't put Joey in a cab and head off to his bootycall** for plot contrivance reasons.) As happens, the pair end up locked in said KMart overnight and are forced to Deal with Their Shit. 

In short, it's amazing. 

Additional evidence:

Joey: You gonna answer that, or are we gonna finish this?
Pacey: We could live a thousand years and never finish this.
Pacey: ...I’ve been wanting to kiss you since I saw you in that outfit.
Joey: Even when you were yelling at me?
Pacey: Especially when I was yelling at you.
Joey: Is this a recent development?
Pacey: Wanting to kiss you? No, it’s sort of always there. Like white noise. Or the secret service. Or the threat of nuclear war for that matter. It’s just something you get used to.
Pacey: What I know is that you and I were one of the only things, maybe the only thing, that ever made total and complete sense in my life.

I may or may not have rewatched this episode last night. For research purposes. Obviously. (God, it's the best, I tell you. Yes, I know this dialogue is absurd. Shut up.)

This is one of those episodes where it really sucks that most of the music has been replaced on DVD and streaming, because it was really well-scored (I would argue that the entire show had a certain soundtrack appeal because it was so of its time). I present: Castaway's original soundtrack:

(Note: The above is not quite a complete playlist because Spotify is totally for Millennials and is sorely lacking in late-90s/early 2000s offerings. It's hard out there for us GenXers, man...)

Lots of stuff happens, including this incredible scene.

This episode clearly marks the moment when the writers realized that sense the series was ending, they needed to cut out the fat and get back the reasons why people liked this show to begin with. They dropped loads of pointless storylines and it felt like Dawson's Creek again. This episode particularly nails it because there's only the single storyline, so there aren't any distractions or random character drama that doesn't serve the larger narrative. I'm not even speaking from a hindsight it 20/20 perspective, with this episode I knew that there could only be one ending. 

Which, apparently, the writers didn't even realize themselves.**

This episode also contains a deliciously filthy joke about shaving cream,**** a bunch of jokes about KMart that only people of a certain age will get, and a glimpse of what a mature Joey and Pacey could be like. 

There's a little gem about creating this episode in this interview with writer Gina Fattore (who's a force behind many beloved shows, by the way).

Let's be real here, if DC had ended on this episode, I would have been a happy camper. I love this episode that much. 

*If you get this reference, I'm sending you a tackle hug, because obviously, you're my people.

**Remind me to tell y'all the story of me, Laura and my husband trying to explain to my mom what "bootycall" means and it culminating in my Adorable Husband™ shouting, "SEX, IT MEANS SEX!" in a crowded restaurant. Nope, that wasn't mortifying at all, nope, nope, nope.

***Brain explodes.

****See asterisk #1. 

S6.E17. - Sex & Violence. This episode is absurd and there's actually a bunch of stuff that makes me angry about it, because Joey inexplicably becomes Pacey's assistant and it's really not good, not good at all. But, there are some silly screwball moments because Joey's a terrible assistant and Pacey just wants to snog her. Stop watching with a couple of minutes left because Stupid Eddie returns and it's horrible. Horrible!

Interlude: OH MY GOD, IT'S STILL A THING!

SKIP, SKIP, SKIP --> S6.E19. - Lovelines. My god, avoid this episode. See, back in the day, there was this radio show called Loveline and it was hosted by Adam Carolla (idiot) and Dr. Drew (idiot) and it was awful, but I guess we didn't realize it. The whole episode is centered around a Lovelines episode and it holds up worse than a house of cards. Seriously, there's no staying power with this and it's a waste of your time.

S6.E22. - Joey Potter & the Capeside Redemption. This was written as a series finale (perhaps in case something happened with the two hour extra finale--I can't remember the details and Google is failing me), and is actually fairly satisfying (though Castaways is better). I think this is pretty good bit of closure, even though it's not really resolution, if that makes sense. Joey finally really comes into her own, and that actually--more now than back in the day--makes me feel better about some of the oft-flimsy characterization that happened along the way. 

S6.E23 & 24 - All Good Things... Must Come to an End. First things first, this episode has the original theme on both the DVDs and streaming. This is important, yo!

Kevin Williamson came back to write the two-hour finale, and he really did wrap up the lose ends, though I have enormous issues with his decision to--once again, spoiler alert for a decade-plus old show--kill of Jen. Why not Andie? Or better yet, Dawson? (Okay, that's wishful thinking, I know.) But there's something that never sat right with me about this decision, because she was the most free-thinking, true to herself character, so of course, she had to die. 

Regardless of that, we get an end that's satisfying, a bunch of nice emotional moments and a true to Kevin Williamson's trademark Captain Obvious dream sequence that the WB plastered all over the promos for this episode. 

I will tell you, 25 year old Sarah was FURIOUS when she saw the promos for this episode. FURIOUS. Of course, I couldn't tell anyone about how furious I was because I was a Professional Adult™, who didn't care about things like Dawson's Creek and its accompanying love triangle. Those were dark days, indeed... 

And, yes, I cried a bunch during this episode. 

I guess I wasn't that much of a Professional Adult™ after all. 

Bonus Material: PaceyCon

I feel like Josh Jackson's incredibly PaceyCon video for Funny or Die is critical to understanding this show. I recently found out my Adorable Husband™ has never watched this hilarity and I'm so confused where I went wrong... 

Further Reading

Surprised that the first one of these wasn't about Friday Night Lights, as would be true to character? Well, I've been trying to write something like this about FNL for--no like--about four years. And I just can't, it's too close to my heart. 

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