Season 2, Episode 21 “Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes”
By Nerdy Spice
This episode chooses Dawson’s Creek’s favorite theme—people changing—and hammers it absolutely to death. Dawson’s final film assignment (and a highly unrealistic one, by the way, or at least one that indicates the high school is total crap – who gives a shit about drawing parallels to real life in a real film class?) is to compare a character arc from Casablanca to one from his own life. So basically, his plotline is itself a meta reference. Shot!
Dawson, of course, decides to make a movie instead of actually doing his homework. Shocker. He wants to use Joey as his subject because she’s gone through changes this year (Another shot!) but Joey tells him to “Find another sucker… subject.” Hee. (After much badgering by Dawson, Joey agrees to say one thing on camera, lets him wait in suspense for awhile, then says: “Good luck.” Hee again. This episode is witty!)
So Dawson goes to school in search of other suckers. First, Jen: “By all means, let me reveal my deepest, darkest, most intimate secrets of the past year for your homework assignment,” she agrees sarcastically. The next person to turn Dawson down is Jack, who politely says that today’s not a good day. I almost can’t believe Dawson was trying to use Jack’s coming-out story for his video assignment, except, of course he was.
Finally, Dawson asks how Pacey managed to change his life. He says that Pacey is the “classic hero who changes for the love of a woman,” with that combination of irony and sheer patronizing obnoxiousness that is his trademark. But Pacey just keeps saying in a mopy voice that his only accomplishment was to find Andie. Dawson finally realizes that Pacey’s actually going through something and, wonder of wonders, puts down his camera and tries to be a friend to Pacey.
Speaking of whom, he is dealing with his own situation after Andie’s breakdown in the previous episode. Jack calls his and Andie’s horrible dad because he thinks Andie needs help. Mr. McPhee declares that they’re leaving Capeside post-haste, which makes everyone flip out. They try all sorts of schemes to convince Mr. McPhee not to make Andie leave, including Pacey begging that his life is nothing without Andie or something (shot!). Finally Mr. McPhee gives Andie the choice, and she realizes that she needs help badly enough that she does need to leave, despite Pacey. The two share multiple extremely dramatic goodbye scenes, and Andie finally leaves with her dad. But Jack decides to stay. And since Jen, who had a whole side plotline about wanting to move in with her parents and being rejected (pity party for Jen! Shot!), also needs a place to stay, they move in together.
Finally, Dawson finds his subject: Mr. Potter, who’s busy on a construction project in the restaurant with Joey. He agrees to star in Dawson’s project in exchange for Dawson doing construction work on the restaurant, although it turns out Dawson is terrible at it. Mr. Potter gives a solid interview all about how embarrassed he is for his past failings and how much he’s changed. (Shot! Also, Joey gets sad and leaves as soon as he mentions her mother—dead mom card shot!) Joey, uncomfortable with Dawson’s interview with her dad, says he’s being intrusive by making his dad relive such a painful time. “That’s the heart of the piece,” Dawson answers. Which… isn’t exactly a defense. Somehow this turns into a discussion of Dawson being afraid he’s not enough for Joey and she’s going to grow out of him. Well… give it about twenty more episodes, and, yeah. That pretty much happens.
So Dawson’s project seems to be going well, but, TWIST! Mr. Potter hasn’t changed at all. Dawson totally catches him doing a drug deal right there in the restaurant like a big idiot. And he’s so obvious about it that even Super Square Dawson recognizes what’s going on! In the end, Dawson’s final essay is that maybe people don’t change. (Shot!) He argues that Bogart’s character doesn’t really change, just reveals what’s always there. You think it’s about Mr. Potter, but, spoiler! It’s still about Dawson. “If Bogart really wanted to change he wouldn’t have sent his love away. He would’ve held on to her for dear life,” claims Dawson, who clearly didn’t grasp the whole fighting-Nazis part of Casablanca. (5 shots!)
- Obviously mentioning “Changes” in the title deserves a shot, for talking about changing and growing up.
- It’s always a bold move to go for a meta reference to Casablanca. If, say, your characters’ relationship is a sexless, codependent mess, it’s only going to remind everyone that said characters definitely are not Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman.
- Jen pulls a similar fakeout to Joey, pretending to go for Dawson’s idea and then getting weepy and dramatic over her haircut. Except… Jen’s hairstyle IS actually completely tragic:
- Sweet Jen/Jack friendship scene: Jen finds Jack staring out at the water on the dock, and Jen tells him he did the right thing, and maybe Andie will get better and he’ll even reconcile with his dad. They sit side-by-side on the dock, and Jack asks her what her plan is, and if she’s going to stay with the Learys forever, since her parents clearly don’t want her back. “You’re not the same girl they sent away,” Jack says. (Shot!)
When Dawson agrees to help out with construction, Mr. Potter hands Dawson what appears to be a giant level. Joey returns to find Dawson holding it in puzzlement and laughs at him. Heh.
- Pacey arrives at the house bent on Saving Andie, his favorite and only hobby, and asks Jack why they’re leaving so quickly. Jack says drily that it’s his family’s “flair for histrionics.” Whoever was writing this episode actually had some good quips!
- Mr. McPhee says Jack needs help and needs someone to talk to about his problem, the problem being that he’s “confused with these gay ideas.” When I first saw these episodes I didn’t know about what people actually do to gay kids to try to make them “change back.” I thought it was just the dad being ignorant. Now I watch it and shudder. Curing gay kids is a business for murderers.
- On the other hand, while I hate to agree with Poor Man’s Mike Pence, I must say he’s pretty much right when he says that he hardly thinks a teen romance is going to save Andie.
- Andie encourages Jack to stay behind because she feels like it’s too much of a burden for everyone to take care of her. I don’t think “burden” is the right word but Andie’s completely right that caregiver exhaustion is a thing, and also, that sixteen-year-old boys like Jack and Pacey aren’t really equipped to be full-time caregivers to someone with an untreated psychiatric illness.
- Dawson finishes up making some wood fixture thing, checking his work with the giant level. And, he apologizes to Joey’s dad for being intrusive. Symbolism! He’s learned stuff about construction AND about life!
- Joey tells Dawson that her life is perfect right now and that he’s the best part, and all she needs is a white picket fence. “I just want to make you proud of me,” Dawson says. She says she loves him and she is proud of him. Then she gently mocks his carpentry skills. It’s a pretty cute scene! Later, he actually builds her a white picket fence to nowhere in his backyard, which if nothing else is at least not another movie.
- At one point Mr. Potter says he’s not sure how much he’s changed (shot!) but he’s trying to put others’ needs before his own. (I leave it as an exercise to the reader to determine which of them is worse at that: Mr. Potter the drug dealer and deadbeat dad, or Dawson, the incurable narcissist.)
- Jack finds his dad to tell him he’s staying no matter what Andie does. The dad points out that Jack is seventeen. Which is a good point. Then Jack reminds the dad that he’s a horrible homophobe (not in so many words), which is also a good point. Match to Jack.
- Pacey and Andie declare heroically that they’re not going to say good-bye even though they have like five sappy farewell scenes in this episode. Like, why do TV characters all act like not saying good-bye is this super original way to Part Forever? Have they not all seen each other’s shows?
- Is Meredith Monroe actually doing a good job during this not-a-goodbye scene? Wow. More importantly, though, Pacey appears to be wearing a velvet shirt with spirals pressed into it that frankly I kind of covet.
- Jack finds Jen at the bus station, crying. She says that she told her parents she was different (shot!) and her dad thought she was just doing this to get more money out of them. Jack grabs her ticket out of her hands and says that their parents should love them unconditionally. Then he takes her bag and insists that she stay, and they walk off holding hands. I love it so much. If anyone loves anyone unconditionally on this show, it’s Jack and Jen.
- Andie’s saying good-bye to Jack when Pacey runs up, all late, defying the silly no-good-bye rule. They have yet another teary embrace. I wasn’t really part of fandom at this time, so I have to wonder, where there people who were really tearing up over all of this absurdity? I just can’t imagine. And yet I know there are Pacey/Andie fans out there, so apparently there were!
- Pacey and Jack wave her off, trying to look all strong, but actually looking very boyish and awkward. It’s well done.
I love all the gentle laughter around Dawson’s utter lack of practical skills. While struggling over the Potters’ construction project, Dawson leaves to set up his camera and Mr. Potter finds Joey staring dubiously at Dawson’s handiwork. He says, “Oh, well that’s not going to work.” Joey nods ruefully and says, “I know. Don’t say anything.” Made me laugh so hard!
Most cringeworthy scene:
Early in the episode, Dawson is incompetently attempting to hammer a nail into some wood when Joey throws her arms around him and gives him a big kiss on the forehead, complimenting his “macho working man thing” as a “definite turn-on.” Oh, gross. Shot for the completely unwarranted compliment. It only gets grosser when Joey suggests he change into a tight T-shirt and a leather jacket.
Most wrongly-used five dollar word:
Gotta give the writers props. I didn’t catch a single one! Instead we were witness to correct usages of words such as “histrionics” and high-quality repartee throughout.
Twenty shots! Most of them are the above-mentioned hammering of the “changes” theme, plus five for the awkward Casablanca references, and one for each scene where Dawson asks Jen, Jack, and Pacey how they’ve changed.
Season 2, Episode 22 “Parental Discretion Advised”
This is a momentous episode. Not only is it a fantastic season finale (not transcendent like the first season’s, but satisfyingly soapy), but it’s also technically the last episode that Joey and Dawson are ever officially together. And–minus a couple of nostalgic, bittersweet callbacks–it’s also the last episode to include the standard opening of D/J watching a movie in Dawson’s Spielbergized childhood bedroom.
This might be the most finale-ish of the season finales (until “All Good Things… Come to an End”: the finale to end all finales). Betrayals! Break-ups! Arson fires! Weirdly specific teen suicide statistics! And each character gets a very characteristic plotline: Pacey finally stands up to his abusive father, who treats him like a black sheep (shot!), Jen spends the whole episode feeling sorry for herself as loudly as possible (shot!), and Dawson and Joey find a reason to break up yet again–this time because Dawson sends Joey’s father back to prison. (Fair enough.)
In true Dawson’s fashion, “Parental Discretion Advised” highlights genuine, organic problems in the D/J relationship, but manages to do it in the soapiest, most contrived way possible. After Dawson caught Mr. Potter dealing drugs in the previous episode, he struggles with whether to turn him in or not. Then, when Mr. Potter’s competitors set the Ice House on fire, Dawson realizes that his hands are tied, and he tells first his parents, and then Joey, that they need to turn Mr. Potter into the police. Joey is furious at Dawson, and blames him for her guilt when–in a ludicrously implausible turn of events–she wears a wire with her father and sends him back to prison. She then dumps Dawson in spectacularly coldhearted fashion, and they never quite manage to fix what was broken.
To be as generous as possible, I can almost see how the writers thought this would be an interesting, nuanced way to break Dawson and Joey up. Joey is trying desperately to preserve her family unit, especially after Abby’s death forced her to let go of her mother’s memory. Dawson feels like he has no choice but to turn Mr. Potter in, because he’s afraid for Joey’s safety. These external motivations feel realistic (within this very unrealistic situation), as does the more internal conflict between Dawson and Joey: as Joey tells Dawson, she sees things in gray, while he sees things in black-and-white. (For once, an accurate assessment of Dawson’s character. – Nerdy Spice)
But here’s the thing: the external and the internal do not match up at all. Dawson doesn’t feel like he has no choice because he “sees things in black-and-white” (although he totally does), he actually has no choice. Joey easily could have died in the Ice House fire–almost anyone who cares about her would have done the same as Dawson in that situation. It’s so obvious that Dawson is doing the right thing for once that even Joey admits it in the end (even if she kind of hilariously lobbies it as an insult).
As a result, this huge, emotional break-up doesn’t pack as much of a punch as it could–or even as much as the wonderfully written dissolution in The Dance–mostly because it feels so very contrived. And there’s really no reason for this to be the case; even putting our animosity towards Dawson aside, there are almost always organic reasons for a couple to break up. The writers clearly wanted to make this seem like a tragic, timing/circumstances-related break-up (see the ridiculously on-the-nose meta-commentary in the teaser) so that we would all still believe that they were star-crossed lovers who are meant to be together in the end. But it would have been much more interesting–and potentially more sustainable in the long term–if they had broken up for character-driven reasons that they each had to overcome before they could end up together in the end. As it stands, Dawson and Joey are exactly what the writers wanted them to be: star-crossed lovers who usually only get to end up together if they both die around the same time.
Which brings us to:
- It’s only fitting to start off such a momentous episode with an Age of Innocence meta-commentary that’s somehow both on-the-nose and completely inaccurate (I can’t really imagine two writers with more disparate sensibilities than Edith Wharton and Kevin Williamson). Does this count as both a movie AND a literary reference?? We think so!! (6 shots!)
- Joey says to Dawson with great significance: “Not all love stories have a built-in happy ending.” Very wise and true, but fortunately for all of us, Joey’s does 😉
- A less wise Joey comment: “To love someone with no promise of that love ever thriving? Now that is great romance.” Of course the most romantic type of love she can imagine with Dawson is the one where she never actually has to be with him.
- I like how Gail tells Dawson to do with Mr. Potter exactly what Joey did for Dawson when she found out about Gail. Confront the person who did the bad thing instead of telling Joey what’s going on. And he totally goes for it EVEN THOUGH HE WAS A GIANT PAIN IN THE BUTT about the whole thing when Joey did the same thing!! – Nerdy Spice
- Of course instead of actually confronting Mr. Potter, Dawson just makes passive-aggressive remarks. – Nerdy Spice
- Who has worse bangs right now, Gail or Dawson? – Nerdy Spice
- The writers have already run out of things to do with her, so Jen randomly decides that she’s suicidal–for all of one episode. I would get all nostalgic for 90s “issue of the week” episodes, but Jen’s pseudo-suicidal tendencies only manage to fill a sad, lonely C plot.
- Jen actually says these words: “The materials that I read set a high percentage as having considered suicide at least once.” Were her materials actually an article composed by a malfunctioning content-farm bot? – Nerdy Spice
- Grams tries to convince Jen to come home, and Jen says, “You welcome me back home but you haven’t even addressed why I left.” Um… not to be too mean, but didn’t Grams kick Jen out of the house? Usually that kind of Jedi mind trick is reserved for high school boys who have just been dumped by their first girlfriends. (*cough* Dawson *cough*)
- Mitch guilts Gail about taking a great job opportunity in Philadelphia: “What you’re saying is you’re making a decision based on what’s best for you, rather than what’s best for our son.” Um, where was that concern for Dawson when you started dating his terrible teacher? What a tool.
- “What I’m saying is what’s best for me is ultimately what’s best for our son.” Yes! Get it, Gail!
- I love how Mr. Potter is handling his giant bags of drugs in this room with open blinds. – Nerdy Spice
- Joey’s 180 from completely mistrusting her father to blindly trusting him within only a few episodes would be unrealistic if it weren’t so very teenager-y.
- “I thought we had developed a closeness,” Jen says to Jack when he encourages her to go home to Grams. Awkward content farm bot strikes again! – Nerdy Spice
- I’m totally on Jack’s side in this conversation (Jen does have a place to go, and it’s insensitive/privileged of her to act like she and Jack are in the same position). However, Jack also weirdly acts like Jen left of her own volition. Did the writers just forget that Grams kicked her out??
- THEN, Jen threatens suicide because Jack is saying something she doesn’t like, like a straight-up emotional abuser.
- Aww, I totally forgot that Mr. Witter hit Pacey. That’s horrible. – Nerdy Spice
- It’s almost sweet that Mr. Potter takes the time to flush his drugs rather than try to save his own life when the fire starts, presumably so Joey won’t be disappointed in him–until you remember that Joey is actually in the same building and he does nothing to warn her.
- I’m sorry, but based on what we know about the characters, there’s no way that Dawson would be the one to know how to use a fire extinguisher.
- I love how when everyone else is responding to the fire constructively, Jen is like staring at the flames as if she’s the star of an Evanescence video or something. I’m sorry. I just can’t take this seriously. (Mostly because the show doesn’t take it seriously enough to last for longer than an episode.) – Nerdy Spice
- Awww, Pacey rubbing Joey’s arm after he rescues her from the fire. Soooooo cute. – Nerdy Spice
- Joey calls Dawson a hero. Should we start taking a shot every time Dawson gets called a hero? – Nerdy Spice [I’m down. – Janes]
- And then Mr. Witter makes a sexist, heteronormative remark shaming Pacey for having feelings! Sigh. Gotta support Pacey punching him. – Nerdy Spice
- “Even if Mr. Potter is involved in all of this, he’s still 10 times the father you ever were.” Sad, but true. It’s super slim pickings when it comes to fathers on this show.
- I love the scene where Joey intensely questions her father about whether he had anything to do with the fire. It’s very true to life (as much as this soapy plotline can be) that Joey would be her normal skeptical self in the home, but show a united front outside of the home out of a sense of self-preservation.
- I didn’t think it were possible to hate Jen more in this episode, but then she drops this line: “I’m not the kind of person who could take her own life.” Oh, you’re just the “kind of person” that threatens suicide to emotionally manipulate your friends? Take a seat, Jen.
- I like to think Michelle Williams knew how godawful this plotline was, because during this terrible “I didn’t care enough to run” monologue, her acting is at an all-time low.
- “I care about you more than I care about myself.” Ugh, even when he’s clearly doing the right thing, Dawson is so annoyingly self-righteous.
- Once again, Katie Holmes gives it her all in the big Dawson/Joey fight, and James van der Beek makes this “devastated” face:
- I get such an icky feeling when Mitch gets down on one knee and asks Gail to stay, for so many reasons. And I mean, not that I really care, but what the hell happened to Ms. Kennedy??
- It’s actually pretty cute when Mr. Witter says about Andie, “She’s kind of chatty, that one.” I like Andie so much more when she’s offscreen.
- Ugh, I both love and hate when Pacey hugs his father. It’s so sad and sweet, and Joshua Jackson sells the hell out of it, but Mr. Witter is about a thousand lightyears away from deserving forgiveness at this point.
- OMG the manly single tear. I can’t. He’s too good.
- Speaking of talented actors selling implausible plot points, no one beats Katie Holmes and Gareth Williams (Joey’s father), who are both excellent and never fail to make me cry in their dramatic scenes together. That being said, even putting character questions aside, why the hell is Joey, a sixteen-year-old girl, wearing a wire with her potentially dangerous drug dealer father? Wouldn’t it at least be Bessie?
- Um, there you are, Bessie, where have you been?? (On a side note, Alexander is so precious.)
- Katie Holmes acquits herself equally well in the final breakup scene with Dawson, although her smudged eyeliner is doing a lot of the work:
- “From now on, I don’t want to know you.” Ice-cold!
That scene where Joey wears a wire strains credulity, even for a teen soap. But I’m still going to pick that scene as the highlight of the episode, just because Katie’s performance packs such an emotional punch. Especially her delivery of the line, “I trusted you. And you lied. And you ruined everything Bessie and I have worked so hard for.” Chills!!
Most cringeworthy scene:
Everything having to do with Jen’s half-baked suicide plotline, but especially that moment when she’s just staring into the flames. Joey’s father is literally about to die, your friends are getting ready to risk their lives to get him out, and best-case scenario Joey’s livelihood burns to the ground. Does EVERYTHING have to be about you, Jen???
Most 90s soundtrack moment:
This finale’s music isn’t quite as epic as the first season’s (how could it be?), but it still hits it out of the park with “That I Would Be Good” by Alanis Morissette, which plays while Jen and Jack move in with Grams and start their own little family.
Like all truly classic episodes, the shot count is pretty high: 12, six for the woefully inaccurate Edith Wharton reference, four for Jen’s many, many pity parties, one for Pacey’s black sheep complaints (it would be higher, but his father is so evil that his angst feels pretty earned), and one bonus shot for all of this “hero” nonsense.
Previous installment here.