Season 1, Episode 4 “Discovery”
We will say this many times over the course of this rewatch, but seriously–shut up, Dawson. First, he refuses to talk to Jen about anything serious until he fights with Joey, which was probably supposed to be a Dawson/Joey shipper thing, but really just makes it seem like Dawson is incapable of taking someone he’s sexually attracted to seriously. Then, when Jen reveals that she’s (gasp!) not-a-virgin, Dawson acts like a creep of the first order and becomes very obviously disgusted with her. Just one of the many times that Dawson represents the odious Nice Guy, the guy who thinks the universe owes him a perfect, virginal blonde girlfriend just for existing and not like–murdering people.
Speaking of things we will repeat many times–poor Jen. Slut-shaming is never okay, but it’s all the more tragic in Jen’s case because almost none of the sex she had was completely consensual. As we learn later (but is definitely hinted at in these early episodes), her first time was almost definitely rape, since she was drunk and only twelve years old at the time. The show problematically paints her as the wild, worldly blonde bombshell from New York, but if Jen really existed, she would be a traumatized child in desperate need of support and proper mental health care. The show addresses that trauma a bit in later seasons, but never empathizes with Jen the way it does with Dawson, Pacey, and especially Joey–the perfect virginal girl-next-door.
Unsurprisingly, the Dawson/Joey conflict is handled with much more nuance. In this episode, Dawson *discovers* that his mother has been cheating on his father, and that Joey has known for quite some time and didn’t say anything. While Dawson is bratty as ever in this episode, particularly when he takes his frustrations out on Jen, it’s much easier to sympathize with his anger at Joey. And even though we’re only four episodes in, the beautifully shot last scene does a great job of convincing us that this lie of omission is a symptom of a bigger fracture in their relationship, a childhood friendship that needs to–ahem–”evolve” if it stands any chance of thriving in adulthood.
- What does it mean for a face to “leave nothing to the imagination”? Is Joey slut-shaming Jen’s FACE? – Nerdy Spice
- When Joey recounts Jen’s probable future in alarming detail (New England liberal arts education, art gallery job in NYC, bonds trader husband and three “neurotically perfect” children in Connecticut), that person is completely unrecognizable in later seasons. I think I would have liked it better if they had gone down that road–the girl who thinks she’s a rebel but is utterly conventional. Rather than–I mean, I don’t know. Who was Jen supposed to be in the later seasons, aside from an alleged slut who never actually has sex and a perpetual Debbie Downer?
- When Joey sees that Dawson filmed a sex tape in the ruins, she jokes that he’s going through a “Russ Meyer phase.” I love that Joey’s film references are wittier and more obscure than those of supposed-film-genius Dawson.
- Joey tells Pacey that when he takes the sex tape, he can “flog the bishop” in privacy. Ew, and–take a shot.
- Joey also describes the guy having sex with Tamara as the “guy with the throbbing neck muscles.” The writers really have a knack for doing the impossible and making sex with Pacey sound absolutely disgusting.
- Jen comments offhand that the more a guy talks about sex, the worse he is at it, and Dawson flirtatiously says he “hardly ever talks about it.”
- Excuse me??
- That is LITERALLY ALL YOU’VE TALKED ABOUT FOR FOUR EPISODES.
- Now Pacey is referring to himself as the “guy with the throbbing neck muscles.” They’re really killing our lady boners here.
- Joey snarks that Dawson’s parents are “middle-class, white suburbanites. They live for folk art.” LOL!
- Also, her dirty looks are ON POINT this season. When she meets Gale’s lover, she just openly rolls her eyes and gives them death glares the whole time. I love it.
- Dawson asks Jen for “complete honesty” about his film and then adds the small caveat that a negative opinion would send him into a complete “downward spiral.” Way to go, Dawson. You are so brave. – Nerdy Spice
- Dawson’s mom makes out with her lover and co-anchor right there in the office where anyone can see her. Forget about her marriage, aren’t they worried about getting fired??
- Joey’s crop top came back in style hard:
- Grams’s face while Dawson talks perfectly expresses how I feel about almost everything he says. – Nerdy Spice
- “Am I starting to bore you? No? Because I think I’m starting to bore myself.” Dawson’s entire character in a nutshell.
- I hate almost everything about this whole slut-shaming plotline, but it’s pretty great to see how utterly disgusted Jen is that Dawson sees her differently, and that Joey shrugs off his reaction as “only child syndrome” and a lack of maturity. While the writers certainly aren’t progressive by today’s standards, at least they recognize that Dawson is disappointing her, not the other way around.
- “This is not about sex, Pacey, it’s about romance”–Dawson says while obsessively talking about Jen’s sex life. That’s two shots.
- “In your movies, she can be whatever you want, but in real life, the script’s got thrown out.” Aw, Pacey is such a budding feminist!
- Joey explains to Jen that Dawson is allowed to be a complete asshat because “Every guy who grows up to be one of the good ones? Was probably a dweeb with girls when they were 15 too.” And the Gary Sue-ing is complete.
- Jen rattles off teen sexuality statistics like they’re going out of style. “In two years, nearly 55% of my peers will have had sex, and in 5 years it will be almost 100 and no one will care when I did it.” I love sex positivity as much as the next person, but seriously, “peers”?? This sounds like the dialogue in a Lifetime movie about teenage gonorrhea.
- “I’m mad at the world, Joey. I’m a teenager.” Shut UP, Dawson.
- I haven’t said much about the Tamara/Pacey plotlines in my recaps, which is not an accident. The less said about it, the better.
The scene between Dawson and Joey at the end. So melodramatic, so overly verbose, so vintage Dawson and Joey. It’s two kids talking and talking and talking about how terribly complicated their relationship is and ultimately saying nothing at all (which, incidentally, is what we all watch the show for), but with enough old-married-couple banter that the viewer really understands why they became dysfunctional best friends in the first place.
Most cringeworthy moment:
In addition to the “throbbing neck muscles,” we have Pacey asking Dawson if his “performance” in the sex tape was up to snuff. I’m all for men talking to each other about their insecurities, but this is a little much.
Most incorrectly used five-dollar word:
“It’s called social evolution, Dawson.” No. No, it’s not. But Joey’s talking about things evolving again, so take a shot!
Most 90s soundtrack moment:
“Full of Grace” by Sarah McLachlan, which would be used to even more devastating effect the next year in Buffy’s second season finale.
Also, some song that includes the lyrics, “I have – a match – your face – my ass.” Oh, 90s zingers, how we’ve missed you.
One shot for the Gary Sue convo, two shots for Dawson bringing up sex while claiming he “hardly ever” talks about sex, one shot for “flog the bishop,” one shot for Pacey weirdly asking Dawson if his “performance” in the sex tape is up to snuff, two shots for insisting that a conversation is “not about sex” while talking about sex constantly, three shots for the on-the-nose references to The Scarlet Letter, Romeo and Juliet, and Oedipus, respectively. (Oh, The Scarlet Letter is a cautionary tale about the consequences of sex, you say? I never would have guessed!)
Season 1, Episode 5 “Hurricane”
By Nerdy Spice
The title of this episode is both literal and a metaphor (as Joey helpfully points out in the beginning, telling Dawson, “Your life is a hurricane.”); a hurricane arrives in Capeside, and all hell breaks loose.
Jen, Joey, Joey’s unmarried sister Bessie, Bessie’s black boyfriend Bodie, and Jen’s racist grandma all end up crashing at the Leerys’ for the duration of the storm, which leads to horrific awkwardness. Most importantly, Dawson and Jen have a big fight about the fact that she dared to have a life before ever laying eyes on him. Joey and Jen bond over how selfish and unreasonable Dawson is, and the only person who can talk some sense into Dawson is the surprisingly forgiving (when it’s not about interracial marriages, at least) Grams.
Gayle is also stuck at home during the hurricane despite being a reporter, because she’s a woman so her station doesn’t want her to be out in the storm, which leads to even more horrific awkwardness because she ends up telling Mitch that she’s been cheating after Dawson and Joey both call her on her shit. They go out in the rain and have a tearful conversation where Mitch tells Gayle he’s decided to stop loving her.
Meanwhile, Pacey helps his brother Officer Doug secure Tamara’s house before the hurricane, while torturing him in a pretty gross manner about his supposed homosexuality, while Doug rudely calls Pacey a “pinhead” and “imbecile” at every opportunity in front of the woman he thinks is Pacey’s English teacher. Doug adds his own grossness to the scene by hitting on Tamara repeatedly and finally pulls a gun on Pacey after Pacey tricks Tamara into thinking that he’s gay.
I noticed something about all the backstory in this episode: Jen and Tamara have both escaped from abusive men in New York City, and both are repeating the pattern but in different ways. One of them escapes a life of being constantly taken advantage of and (at least once) raped, only to get sucked into a relationship with a controlling guy who is never going to truly understand or even have the appropriate compassion for what she’s been through. The other escaped an abusive husband only to perpetuate the cycle by starting an inappropriate relationship where she is the one abusing her power as the teacher.
If this episode had been written today, these contrasts and parallels could have been explored in interesting ways. Why do some abuse victims end up seeking out partners who are likely to abuse them again, whereas others end up seeking out a situation where they can have control? But instead, there is little apparent recognition of the fact that the Pacey/Tamara relationship is not just titillatingly inappropriate but deeply wrong, and that Dawson’s belief that he has the right to blame and judge Jen for her past is in itself controlling and a signal of abuse. Thus, Jen and Tamara’s painful pasts are more like gestures–they’re used to establish a sort of general aura of psychological distress around each of them rather than as a way to deepen the drama of power and its misuse that is playing out onscreen. But at least Jen insists on having her say and gets a richly deserved apology from Dawson.
- Shot for Dawson and Joey watching a movie about a hurricane. So meta.
- Gayle isn’t allowed to cover the hurricane because she’s a woman and has no penis, so Mitch declares that his penis [His “appendage,” as he puts it. Ew. – Janes] is happy that she’ll be at home. One shot for gratuitous sex talk. Also, these people are GROSS.
- “Dad’s a great guy. Bob is the anchorman,” Dawson tells his mother after lecturing her that his father is a great guy, as idealistic as Tom Hanks (fair) or Harrison Ford (…what?! I’ve never heard of Harrison Ford being called idealistic. Does this show just kind of take positive descriptions and pick the name of any random white male and assume they go together?).
- Doug owns the Les Mis soundtrack, which Pacey thinks makes him gay but actually makes him awesome.
- In an earlier episode Gayle’s kissing her extramarital hobby Bob the anchorman in an open hallway at work when she knows her son is on his way, and in this one she just like sits on the stairs in her own house twirling her hair and making kissing noises to him. How dumb IS she? I’m shocked she managed to carry on this affair for two whole months without getting caught.
- I don’t think Dawson really paid attention in English class when they read The Scarlet Letter, because he says he wants to put a scarlet A on his mom, which essentially makes her the heroine and him the overzealous villain, Chillingsworth. Five shots for an inaccurate literary reference!
- Dawson rants to Jen about his mother, accusing her of going for Bob because Mitch “couldn’t keep up” with their demanding schedule of “bumping like bunnies.” (Shot for weird sex euphemisms!) Poor Jen tries to explain (rightly) that this probably isn’t just about sex and Dawson has the nerve to say that Jen’s Dark Past is the reason why she sympathizes with Gayle. So, to recap, apparently daring to have a non-Dawson partner before meeting him is basically like cheating, because every teenaged girl would be keeping herself pure just in case she got the miraculous chance to lose her virginity to an entitled Nice Guy with mommy issues.
- Joey pops out of Dawson’s closet and they discuss the fact that they’re growing up. Shot!
- YESSSS Joey’s playing the dead-mom card: “Instead of asking why your mom’s doing all these horrible things, may I suggest that you get down on your knees and thank God that you have a mother?” One shot!
- Gayle tells Mitch what she’s done–and makes Dawson stay for it, thereby both scarring him for life and confirming his only-child delusion that he’s actually the center of every storyline in one fell swoop.
- Doug suggests a game to play that he refers to as the “if” game, where you ask each other boring hypothetical questions instead of having a normal conversation.
- Meanwhile, Jen makes fun of Grams’s religion even when Grams isn’t even remotely trying to impress it on Jen. (Shot!)
- Mitch Leery sits out in the front seat of his car and cries over Gayle cheating on him. Little does he know that’s not the worst thing that will happen to him in the front seat of a car. (Spoiler alert: He totally dies in a car accident because he drops his ice cream.)
- Tamara believes Pacey when he says Doug is gay, but when he gets mad, she covers for Pacey by saying, “When I lived in New York I lived on Christopher Street. I have good gaydar.” Hah! So apparently living in the vicinity of gay culture basically makes you an expert. I guess I’m now an expert on craft beer and organic cleaning products since I live in Brooklyn. But also, if you think a dude who keeps creepily insisting that he wants to “get to know you more intimately” is gay just because someone told you that, your gaydar is actually terrible.
- How do we even interpret Pacey making fun of Dougie for being gay, and then (spoiler alert) Doug turning out to actually be gay? In any other 90s show, Doug would make fun of Pacey for being gay, and then turn out to be gay. This show can’t even get homophobia right! – Janes
- Doug actually tries to ask Tamara out AGAIN after he pulls his gun on Pacey: He literally says “Sorry about the gun play,” followed IMMEDIATELY by, “I’d still like to take you out.” Bold move, Doug. Bold move.
- Gayle’s blowout is a TRAINWRECK by the end of this episode. She is me every time I get rained on:
- The car breakup is pretty sad, until Mitch threatens to physically throw Gayle out of the car, which proves that the controlling little apple doesn’t fall very far from the toxic masculinity of the daddy tree.
- Gayle, apropos of nothing, gushes about how Dawson is “the most gifted child.” Shot! – Janes
- The episode ends as it began, with Joey asking to put their rapid ascent into adulthood on hold. Shot! It’s really cute, though; they go into the closet to act out a scene from Jaws.
Dawson apologizes to both Jen and Joey in this episode, showing a maturity that will be woefully lacking in later seasons as he supposedly grows up.
Most cringeworthy moment:
Jen and Joey discuss whether Dawson’s packing a “pistol” or a “rifle” (shot!). Ladies, I promise you, even if it was a cannon it wouldn’t be worth the control issues, the slut-shaming, and the obligation to watch (and then effusively praise) every single one of his self-indulgent movies.
Most wrongly used five-dollar word:
Joey says, in regards to Dawson’s mom’s reasons for cheating: “It’s all perception, Dawson.” Um… wut.
“Is the proposition of monogamy such a Jurassic notion?” Technically none of these words are “wrong” per se, but this entire sentence is ridiculous.
Drunkenness Level: Fourteen shots: blackout level.
Season 1, Episode 6 “Baby”
This is–not a great episode. “Baby” focuses on several of the elements Nerdy Spice and I love least about Dawson’s: the gross Tamara/Pacey affair (which is mercifully over after this episode), Jen’s staunch and self-righteous atheism, and Dawson’s knack for pulling out his camera at the most inappropriate moments.
Let’s start with the end of Tamara, because once we swallow this final bit of medicine we’ll be done with her (for the most part). The entire school finds out about her rape-y relationship–which was inevitable. She then proceeds to berate the poor child she’s taking advantage of for lacking the maturity to keep a secret. Going to hell: party of one. Then, Pacey defends her honor and claims that he made the whole thing up, playing into everyone else’s expectations that he’s an immature screw-up. In response, she half-heartedly thanks him for saving her from jail and flees town. Thank god that’s over.
Meanwhile, Jen is insufferable about her atheism in almost every scene she’s in, forcing us to take a total of five shots over the course of the episode. First, she deliberately provokes Grams, who is upset about Jen’s art calendar: “We do not ogle naked men in this house!” “No, we just pray to them, right?” (All right, fine, that was kind of funny.) But then she goes on to say–to her 65-year-old religious grandmother–that she doesn’t believe in God anymore because she “grew up.” Shut up, Jen.
Luckily, this plotline is immensely improved when it forces Grams, Jen, Bessie, Joey, and Dawson into the same house–for the second time in two episodes. Bessie goes into early labor, and Joey enlists Grams’–an experienced nurse–to help her give birth. While this could have been a cheesy reconciliation between Bessie and Grams–whom Bessie charitably calls a “borderline” racist–but instead it was a fairly touching display of solidarity that mostly resisted sentimentality.
But if anyone can ruin a beautiful moment, it’s Dawson, who treats Bessie’s very dangerous predicament like a fucking ambulance chaser. During Alexander’s difficult birth, Dawson is even more terrible than usual. He insists on filming the birth (take a shot!), ostensibly so Bodie can see it later. But instead of fading into the background like any documentarian worth his salt, he gets in everyone’s faces, refuses to stop flapping his mouth, and relishes in any “conflict” that will make his amateur birth video more Oscar-worthy. Even when it’s clear that Bessie is in physical danger, he doesn’t stop filming (take another shot!) until Grams literally knocks his camera out of his hands. Our protagonist, ladies and gentlemen.
- After Jen and Dawson’s would-be touching reunion at the end of “Hurricane,” Jen casually says at the beginning of this episode, “Dawson and I have decided to slow things down.” What the hell is she talking about?? Is this from a deleted scene or something?
- Bodie 2.0 plays peacemaker between Joey and Bessie and is so, so cute!! He should have been a series regular, but instead, he doesn’t even get to present for his child’s birth while Joey gets to complain about how racism has affected her life.
- Grams finds Jen’s black lacy bras in her bedroom. Uhoh! Everyone knows that, as Bianca Stratford says, you don’t buy black lingerie unless you want someone to see it! – Nerdy Spice
- Here’s the full text of Jen’s super-logical atheist diatribe: “She’s considered possible scenarios detailing a God-like source and she’s found them unconvincing. While she respects those who choose to believe in a higher being she herself does not. Simply put, Grams, she grew up.” What an asshole.
- Is this random ship in Capeside Harbor named Dawson’s Delight? DIRTY! – Nerdy Spice
- I love that in 90s teen shows, rumors spread in literally five minutes. It can be quick, sure, but it’s hardly the span of one bathroom break, especially before the age of cellphones.
- I still can’t get over Tamara getting angry at Pacey for being too immature. Like, he’s fifteen years old–didn’t you know what you were getting yourself into?
- “It’s not just God, either, I don’t have a whole lot of faith in man these days.” Ugh. The angst.
- Joey and Grams both make priceless faces in their scene together, and Katie Holmes talks literally faster than anyone has ever talked. She would have made a good Rory Gilmore, now that I think about it.
- Also, I love that Grams calls Joey “Josephine.” So in-character.
- Pacey makes yet another homophobic joke about Doug, but we can almost forgive him considering that literally no one cares that he was statutory raped.
- Dawson is CLEARLY hoping Bessie is going to die on camera. Like, that would be such the cherry on top of his dramatic movie. Am I right? You know I’m right. – Nerdy Spice
- Grams is horrible and racist this season, but I LOVE when she kicks Dawson out on his ass. The enemy of my enemy is my friend.
- Joey takes the time, while her sister might be in real physical danger, to abandon Bessie and play the mom card with Dawson. Take a shot!
- Pacey confirms he’s not with Tamara “For the record, and for anywhere else you want to put it.” THAT’S WHAT SHE SAID. – Nerdy Spice
- “If you’ve come to apologize, you needn’t.” Yeah, no shit, Tamara. You’re the cradle-robber who ruined his reputation. See you never.
- In the end, Grams restores Jen’s faith in humanity, and we get to see the beginnings of the Grams we know and love! I’m glad they let her character develop more over the course of the show; racist grandparents are so 1998.
Pacey and Joey bond for the first time! It showcases everything we would eventually love about the P/J pairing: the easy chemistry between Katie Holmes and Joshua Jackson (who were dating IRL when this was filmed), the playful banter, the mutual understanding based on their shared underdog status. True love!
Most Cringeworthy Moment:
“Conflict. Perfect!” My God, someone slap him already.
Most wrongly used five-dollar word:
“There was a ticking clock inherent to both of us and everything about us.” That sentence makes no sense, but I’m so happy the Tamara plot is dead, I don’t even care.
Most 90s soundtrack moment:
The lovely “Seven Shades of Blue” by Dawson’s favorite Beth Nielsen Chapman plays at the end, utterly wasted on a montage of Pacey looking longingly (and creepily) in Tamara’s window.
Eight – the seven aforementioned shots for Jen and Dawson’s respective brands of obnoxious, and one for yet another terribly on-the-nose Romeo and Juliet reference. (Forbidden fruit, heh heh, get it??)
Next installment here.