Dawson's Creek S1Ep1: Pilot
In which we meet the Dawson Foursome
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Dawson’s Creek. A series as infamous for its truly unrealistic depiction of teenage dialogue as it is for its nostalgia triggering theme song. I have a lot of genuine affection for this series, primarily based on one Jack McPhee & the Season 3 character development of one Pacey John (that’s right, I googled his middle name) Witter. Unfortunately we have a couple of seasons of nonsense to get through before Jack and Pacey 2.0 rock up, so in the meantime please buckle in, because your boy has some thoughts:
Interior. Dawson’s bedroom. Night:
The end credits of E.T. flash up on the screen, signalling that Dawson has come to the end of movie night with his one true love. No, not Joey, although she is there. Steven Spielberg. Spielberg is to Dawson’s Creek what New York was to Sex & The City; the omnipresent fifth character who lurks in the background inadvertently influencing the main character’s major life choices despite neither knowing or caring that they exist.
Carrie, sorry, but NYC DGAF about you and if we’re honest, neither did Big.
Dawson’s whining about the fact that Spielberg was robbed of an Oscar for E.T. and right there I have to say ‘pause’. There is only one person in this series for whom the phrase ‘robbed of an Oscar’ applies, and her name is Saint Michelle Brokeback Blue Valentine Marilyn Cabaret Williams.
Jen and her summer dress/pastel cardigan combos have yet to float out of her big yellow NYC taxi so until she makes her entrance, we’ll return to Dawson’s bedroom.
Joey tries to make a bolt for it whilst Dawson is distracted by his newsreader mom’s new hairdo. Turns out Joey isn’t down to sleep over with Dawson anymore because they’re FIFTEEN now & sleeping in the same bed is completely inappropriate in-case SOMETHING HAPPENS. He was a boy. She was a girl. They’ve just watched E.T the Extra Terrestrial. Can we make it anymore obvious? I’m shocked they’re not already sharing a post-coital cigarette & arguing over who has to sleep in the wet patch.
Dawson – unconvincingly – confirms the existence of his genitals (bleugh) but denies that he is under their control and he doesn’t see why he and Joey cannot remain friends despite the looming threat of their surging hormones. Joey - even less convincingly - denies any romantic interest in Dawson whatsoever. That’s her story and she’s sticking to it. For now.
Dawson and Joey uneasily agree that a boy and a girl can be friends, hormones be damned. The Leery/Potter Connection will be the exception and not the rule. They climb under the bedcovers together – fully clothed (?), completely awkward and convincing no-one, least of all each other.
Thus, the scene is set for six seasons worth of this shiz, and I for one am already fully invested.
Dawson/Joey: “Let’s make friends, stay friends, and never ever break friends”
Also Dawson: “BTW Joey for the purposes of this friendship you are not a female k bruh?”
Also Joey: “I love you, Dawson”.
Dawson is directing his first movie (because what 15 year old isn’t) and it’s not going well thanks to some friction between his on-screen leads. There will come a point (Season 3 Episode 17, to be precise) where Dawson will think back fondly to a time when Joey and Pacey happily tried to drown each other. However, without the benefit of hindsight, Dawson launches into another whine-a-thon about being behind ‘production schedule’ as though that is a real thing that children care about.
Cue the arrival of Saint Michelle Williams, who for consistency purposes will be referred to by her character’s name going forward; Saint Jen.
Saint Jen has a slightly more interesting backstory than the rest of the cast, in that that she is basically introduced as a cardiothoracic surgeon. Her grandfather has undergone an aortic reconstruction and Jen has been dispatched to Capeside to ‘help out’. Help out with what, exactly? Since we will see Jen undertake exactly zero chores during her time living with her grandparents we’ll have to assume that the New York education system is light years ahead of Capeside and Dr Jen is actually a fifth year surgical resident who has tumbled into a small coastal town on route to Seattle Grace. Puts Dawson’s burgeoning film career to shame. Dawson and Pacey are smitten so naturally the 90’s WB Writers’ Room demands that Joey hates her on sight.
Jen: Nice to meet you.
Pacey and Dawson head back to the Leery residence where they interrupt his parents (Mitch and Gail with the Good Hair) going at it on the coffee table. Pacey is delighted, Dawson is mortified, and I had to rewind 10 seconds to make sure I hadn’t hallucinated Gail referring to Mitch as Mr. Man Meat which she in-fact did. Okay.
Propelled by the fuel of sexual frustration alone, Joey speed-rows herself back to the poorer end of the creek where she lives sans parents. We don’t learn a lot about Joey’s history at this point; she engages in some sass with her heavily pregnant sister and declares her brother in law’s cooking to be orgasmic before disappearing inside, presumably to hand-stitch a Jen Voodoo doll.
Over at the Video Store where Dawson and Pacey work, Pacey is ribbing Dawson about the Man Meat Incident. Nellie (don’t get attached, she’s got one-and-done written all over her) takes objection to Pacey’s digs about her intelligence and reminds him that he is a NOBODY in this town which is quite a putdown from someone whose prestige is located in being heir apparent to a local video rental store.
Don’t look now Nellie, but karma is knocking on the door, and her name is Blockbuster.
Still, Pacey takes it in his stride because a second hot blonde has just entered stage right, and whilst Tamara is certainly older (e.g. late thirties), she also seems game to flirt away with Pacey (who is FIFTEEN). She asks Pacey to help her locate a copy of The Graduate which given his academic limitations seems like a bit of a slap in the face, but who cares when you’re young and in lust.
Dawson heads back home where he sees Jen sitting alone by the creek & decides to join her.
Dawson: How’s your grandfather?
Dr Lindley, Medicine Woman: Breathing. Seems like a good sign.
Jen confides in Dawson that she is worried she may not bond with her grandmother since Grams is quite religious and Jen is a sassy young jezebel, so Dawson tries to take her mind off it by talking about the movie he is directing. Jen points out he’s a little young to be a director at 15, to which Dawson replies that Spielberg started at 13 (honestly, now I’ve pointed out how often DL refers to SS, you’ll not be able to not see it), before inviting Jen on a tour of his Spielberg-shrine/Spielberg-kink-dungeon.
Dawson’s theory is that all the answers to life’s riddles can be located in a Spielberg movie. If I were Jen I’d be checking my purse for pepper spray right about now, but Capeside’s newest resident is intrigued enough to join Dawson in his bedroom for some film related chit chat.
This development does not go down well with Joey, who has picked this moment to climb the ladder back into Dawson’s room, although she hangs on outside like a friendly neighbourhood wallcrawler until Jen is paged back to the ward. Turns out that Dawson has invited Joey over for a reason, and that reason is to dissect footage of Gail with the Good Hair’s relationship with Bob, her co-anchor, because Dawson thinks that they’re having an affair. Joey doesn’t believe it, but Dawson’s not so sure.
The next morning, Dr Lindley is on rounds when she is interrupted by Grams announcing that breakfast is ready. Pilot Episode Grams is pretty scary; dismissing Dawson and Joey as the ‘wrong element’ and demanding that Jen say grace before forcing her to demolish a breakfast that she didn’t ask for. Jen refuses to take the bait and calmly informs her grandmother that she is an atheist. This is why I like Jen. Dawson, Joey and to a lesser extent Pacey, would have pouted and stormed off at even the slightest hint of parental oversight, but Jen stands her ground and handles her grandmother with calm and aplomb, using a patience that she surely learned during her many years at medical school.
Speaking of school, it’s a new year in Capeside High and Nellie of the Video Store (two scenes for Nellie, who would have thought) saunters over to give the old home town welcome by immediately asking whether Jen’s into drugs, and not liking the answer.
Jen: I’m actually substance-free
Dawson bounces over to walk Jen to class since she’s alone with nobody to protect her/it’s her first day. We continue to receive hints of Jen’s maturity in comparison to her sex-obsessed virginal peers; in addition to her coffee-only breakfast requirements, at an age when many teenagers are considering taking up smoking, Dr Jen has been there, done that, and already quit. It’s been a hard knock life for Jen.
Pacey is practicing the lost art of deportment when who should arrive to teach his English class but Anne Bancroft herself, Tamara. She’ll be going by Miss Jacobs from now on, she whispers seductively into Pacey’s ear, as she figuratively smacks his ass on the way to the chalkboard.
We shall be renaming Pacey ‘Jailbait’ for the remainder of this storyline.
You remember that scene in Twilight where Edward sees Bella for the first time and violently heaves to the point where Bella believes him to be utterly disgusted by the mere sight of her? That has nothing compared to the expression on Joey’s face when Jen sits next to her in homeroom, nor does it have anything on my face when I see Dawson strut over to his newly formed harem with the confidence of a football player violating lockdown.
Jen: Is this seat taken?
Joey’s reaction to Jen is not dissimilar to Mr. Gold’s reaction to Dawson, when the latter makes a desperate attempt to join Mr. Gold’s over-subscribed film class.
In a rare moment of self-awareness Dawson realises that there may be a slight flaw in his approach (calling Mr Gold’s rules ‘stupid’, for a start). Dawson says that his opportunity to make it big in Hollywood is stilted by growing up in a small town.
Mr Gold - career educator - DGAF and turns Dawson down. This never would have happened to Spielberg.
Jen continues her heroic attempts to bond with Joey. We learn that Joey’s dad is in jail, her sister is pregnant and unwed (clutch the pearls), and her mother died from a ‘cancer thing that got her’. Say no more, Joey, you’re talking to Dr Lindley here. It’s actually nice to see a non-snarky side to Joey, which disappears as soon as it arrives as she throws Dawson under the bus by telling Jen that he’s into her, before warning Jen not to abuse his feelings.
You’d think this kind of dramatic mafia-style ultimatum would come at the end of the school day but no, it’s now *only* lunchtime and Dawson, Jen and Joey are crammed together in the cafeteria so the awkwardness can continue. Jen and Dawson continue to flirt outrageously, so either Jen has ignored Joey’s warning or she’s as into Dawson as he is to her, which seems unlikely but if we’ve learnt anything from this show it’s that something is in that creek water and it’s not realism.
Joey’s passive aggression becomes more aggressive than passive when Dawson asks Jen to look over Act 3 of his screenplay because he’s having a climax issue. Helping Dawson with his climax issues is the stuff that Joey’s dreams are made of and she’s not happy with being pushed aside.
Jailbait invites Dawson to accompany him in stalking Miss Jacobs at the movies later that evening, and finally (!!) we have a plot that I can get on board with. Dawson, who is fast proving to be a useless wingman and an even worse friend, originally declines to help Pacey in his quest to go extra-curricular with his teacher, until that is, he sees Jen being hit on by a jock and invites her to join them at the movies too.
Outside school, Dawson practically runs Joey over with his bike in desperation to cajole her into accompanying him, Jailbait, Jen and Miss Jacobs on a five-way date that only half of them are aware is actually taking place, and despite her clear reluctance Joey agrees to do it.
It’s now been less than 48 hours since Dawson declared that his and Joey’s friendship will transcend the usual dumbassery that comes with teenage dating and already he’s drafted her into some bizarre ménage au cinq, on a school night no less.
In the latest instalment of Jen vs Grams feat. God, Jen is fighting a losing battle. Grams knows ‘what happened in New York’ which presumably was a bit more risqué than sneaking into an off-Broadway show, and not even Jen’s most sensible cardigan will put her grandmother’s mind at ease. Jen pulls out the big guns and concedes to accompany Grams to church on Sunday if Grams will say the word ‘penis’ out loud. Now, a clinical term like this is NBD for a medical professional, but for a God-fearing woman like Grams Jen might as well have danced the Twist with Beelzebub himself right there in the kitchen. Jen heads off to the movies, but you know this one’s not over.
Over at the Leery household Dawson has dressed up in his best cricket whites for his platonic fivesome whilst his father Mitch plays with his model aquatic themed restaurant. Yup. Mitch enjoys watching Gail and her adulterous weave read the headlines as foreplay. Being a man of the world, Mitch advises his teenage son to take some protection with him in-case he gets lucky with one of the many people he’s on a date with, which results in the following verbatim exchange:
Mitch: Sex is an important part of who we are as humans.
Dawson: If sex is so important (wait for it), then how come Spielberg has never had a sex scene in any one of his movies?
And with that, Dawson turns the key in the lock of his chastity belt and flounces into the night.
Joey isn’t having the easiest of exits either. Bessie literally grabs her by the face and gussies her up with some lipstick like she’s heading out to work the docks rather than merely rowing past them on her way to taking in dinner and a show.
Bessie’s sisterly advice is for Joey to excuse herself every hour to go and touch up her lipstick. Every hour? Just how long exactly is this movie going on for? Is it an Indiana Jones triple feature taking place in Dawson’s sexless Spielberg dungeon-shrine?
The answer to that is, thankfully, no. Unfortunately, ‘no’ is also the answer to the question, “Will Joey cease her relentless attacks on Jen who has done nothing wrong aside from being imprinted on by Dawson and his crusade for platonic marriage?”.
The only person immune from this three-way sniping is Jailbait, who has bigger plans for the evening that all involve becoming the subject of an Dateline Special. He spies Tamara sitting alone in the cinema and to be fair, she looks completely horrified when he plonks himself down next to her and turns on the ole Witter charm. Turns out Miss Jacobs is on a date with someone actually old enough to see an R rated movie, which is literally the only smart romantic move anyone has made this entire episode, so brava to Miss Jacobs. It’s never too late to run a Sex Ed evening class for the Capeside Adult Learners, Miss J.
It takes Pacey a few beats longer than you’d hope to get the hint, by which point not only has Miss J’s actual date got himself ready to throw down, but so has the random guy sitting behind them, who promptly smacks Pacey in the face as punishment for, we assume, interrupting his one night out away from mother.
Outside the theatre Dawson is laying into Joey and not in the way she fantasises about when she takes a warm bath. He is furious that she’s ruining his chances with Jen, and Joey’s equally pissed that Dawson’s so taken by Jen that he’s completely ignoring Joey.
This is one of those amazing TV fights where neither party is really listening to the other. They both accuse each other of being self-centred (a bit rich given that they are so wrapped up in their argument that nobody has noticed Pacey getting decked mere feet away). Jen has diplomatically removed herself from this scene, presumably to turn a snowglobe of New York City upside down and sigh wistfully at the memories of her wanton past. Nothing is resolved, and Dawson & Joey part on bad terms.
Dawson and Jen have made it home. It’s clear these despite their differences, these two do like each other. Jen decides to pretend that they’ve kissed even when they haven’t, which is somehow more romantic than if they actually had.
Meanwhile, Jailbait is nursing one hell of a black eye as he stomps off into the night, only to be stopped by Tamara who wants to check that he’s okay. Pacey is embarrassed and hurt, and refuses to believe that their flirtation was all in his head. He doesn’t care about the age difference, and basically rips off Britney’s ‘I’m not a girl, not yet a woman’ lyrics by telling Tamara that he’s the best virgin she’ll never get to defile, which somehow seems to spur her on, leading to a passionate embrace.
Tamara: I am your teacher, Pacey. This is wrong.
There’s no time to dissect how to feel about this, because just as things are getting good we cut back to…
Where it all began. Dawson’s bedroom, where inexplicably, he finds Joey in his closet. It’s time to have this out. Dawson apologises for having a perfect life, so I guess he’s watching a different show to the rest of us. His friendship with Joey is the only thing that makes sense to him, and though he noticed she looked nice wearing lipstick, that’s all he felt. Joey admits she didn’t want him to be holding her hand instead of Jen’s, she just didn’t want him to be holding anyone’s hand at all.
Joey once again makes a dive for the window, on the grounds that things have CHANGED and puberty will prevent an open and transparent friendship. Dawson doesn’t believe her, so she challenges him by asking how regularly he masturbates. I hit mute at this point but I guess he doesn’t answer her, proving – in her head – her point that there are some things that they can’t talk about now. Dawson finally concedes, and the two part ways.
Joey, in tears, heads to her rowboat and all seems lost until Dawson appears at his window, like a demented Heathcliff bellowing across the moors that he ‘walks his dog’ every morning, usually whilst watching Katie Couric.
Their issues are, and will remain, more complicated than this, however for now Joey is happy again, but as she sails blissfully across the creek, hymen and best-friendship still safely in-tact, she spies Gail with the Good Hair giving co-anchor Bob a lingering goodnight kiss, proving that Dawson was right about one thing. His mother is having an affair.
Thanks for reading!
The recap of Episode 2 will be with you this time next week.
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As a small thank-you, (and because I’ve watched too many Marvel movies) keep scrolling for an alternative ending to S1E1 to keep you awake at night until next week.
Dawson watches as Joey sails further down the creek and into the night, until she is little more than a spec on the horizon. He leans heavily on the window frame and lets out a sigh. The tension from the night’s events is knotted feverishly in his shoulders, but there’s no time to relax. Not yet. Not when there is still work to be done. Without turning around, he says into the darkness: “Do you think she knew you were here?”
“She never does. Why should tonight be any different?” A familiar voice steps out of the closet and into the pale light of Dawson’s bedroom. “So” There is an ominous pause. “Katie Couric, eh?”
“I had to tell her something, Mr Gold”. Dawson replies, closing the blinds and picking up the remote. Dawson’s TV springs to life, as the familiar sounds of ET’s opening credits begin to play. “Now, whose turn is it?”
“It’s mine, Dawson”. Mr Gold clears his throat. Dawson takes his seat on the bed, holding out a solitary index finger. Mr Gold reaches for the statuette and stares directly into the camera. “And the 1983 Oscar for Best Picture goes to…”.