Season 3, Episode 7 “Escape from Witch Island”
By Nerdy Spice
It’s been awhile since Dawson hijacked an episode in order to avoid doing his actual homework by convincing his teacher to let him make a movie. This time around, he’s getting out of writing a paper on The Crucible by making a documentary about a local legend known as “Witch Island,” to “tell a larger story about hypocrisy and religious persecution.” (He conveniently fails to mention that witches were also persecuted for one other big reason: they were women.) Anyway, the legend is that supposed witches were sent to Witch Island, until one day a fire killed all of them. Dawson wants to bring his crew out to the island to make a movie about it.
And he does a TERRIBLE job. If you thought “religious persecution” was a classically inadequate way to describe something that was all about sexism and the patriarchy, try this one: Dawson and Joey turn the whole thing into a saga of two young lovers who were torn apart by circumstance.
Wendy, the historical society worker who shows them around the island, explains that one of the girls, Mary, was tried as a witch because she was caught in bed with her true love William. “If you’ve ever loved somebody that you couldn’t be with, you can feel it in the air,” says Wendy, because… of course she does. Try to imagine being a historical worker confronted by this story of a young woman being brutally punished and eventually killed for her sexuality while the young man escaped scot-free, and summarizing it as “loving somebody that you can’t be with.” I guess Capeside doesn’t have the resources for a real historian.
But Wendy’s not the only person severely missing the point. For the entire rest of the episode, Dawson and Joey continue to argue about this poor young woman who was persecuted by a sexist society as a way of arguing about their relationship. Dawson happily declares that it’s a story of love conquering all (sure, easy for him to smile, because he knows being a boy he wouldn’t be the one who was sent off to die by Dr. Chillingworth and his pals). Joey and Dawson have various nonsensical conversations about the two separated lovers, mostly involving the notion that William might have found another girlfriend back on the mainland, and Joey pretending to be all cynical about true love. Jen Lindley is all of us as she says: “Could you be any more annoying?”
By the way, it turns out that the girls were not just shunned and then killed in an accidental fire: an angry mob discovered that they were being used for sex (aka raped, not that anyone uses that word) by men from the island, and locked the girls in the church and set it on fire. So like literally these girls were killed for being raped. But Dawson and Joey think it’s about them. It’s so narcissistic it’s almost endearing, except that it’s really really not. After driving everyone else crazy for hours, the two of them have what seems like a bit of a breakthrough: Joey asks what’s going on with the two of them, and says that they don’t know anything about each other’s lives lately and she doesn’t feel connected to him at all. So far so good: a rare moment of honesty for Joey, which seems like progress.
THEN FIVE MINUTES LATER THEY START ALL OVER. Seriously, they start all over with Joey accusing Dawson of not wanting to figure out where they’re going. Nothing daunted by the fact that they literally just discussed this five minutes ago, they proceed to passionately argue about where they are and whether they need to know what they are and oh my God kill me now. You know how in the Blair Witch Project they keep getting lost and coming back to the same place? Dawson and Joey’s conversations are like the emotional version of that. Anyway, the conclusion of the episode is that Dawson firms up his commitment to not getting back together with Joey, and Joey seems to calm down a little, which I’m sure will wear off immediately in the next episode.
At first, Jen is providing a welcome counterpoint to these delusions, because she’s aflame with feminist passion on behalf of the persecuted witches, so at least someone points out how stupid Dawson’s perspective is. But Jen is also aflame with one more thing: lust for Pacey. She first jokes around, threatening to cast a spell on him to make him fall for her, and then actually brewing up some kind of witch’s potion based on a recipe she finds in the souvenir shop on Witch Island. But, once they’re wandering around Witch Island in the dark, they realize they could majorly improve their sex lives by choosing each other instead of their former neurotic partners. Pacey suggests casual sex with a “pre-gettin’-busy agreement” and parting as friends. Jen, riddled with guilt for breaking Henry’s heart, seems tempted. And I’m sure it doesn’t hurt that Pacey adorably tells her that the witch’s brew is making her look “all kindsa cute.” Finally, they crouch in a corner in the darkened church, in full view of a sleeping Joey and Dawson, to negotiate their casual-sex agreement. “Should I take off my pants?” Pacey asks. Hee! Jen, biting back laughter, is like, “Maybe we should kiss first.” So they kiss, and it goes OK, but gets interrupted by a crazy ghost fire (more on that later).
Later, after the trip, Jen finds Pacey sleeping on the job at the video store (aww) and says they should try it again. Pacey agrees, but then, as befits these supposedly horny but actually adorably square teenagers, they both claim to be tired and not in the mood. But they also agree that their arrangement is fantastic. Sexual release, no intimacy. Yay! (And yes, they actually say “release.” Shot for euphemisms!)
Back on the island, though, they all get stranded for the night because Jen and Pacey get lost on their way back to the boat. Then a random bell starts ringing, rung by… as far as they can tell… no one. It turns out Wendy, who apparently… lives on the island full time or something?… is creepily following them all around. Then, when the kids are all staying in the church overnight, suddenly everything in the church seems to burst into flames. Terrified, the kids try to get out, but the door seems to be locked, leaving them trapped inside the church—then, all of a sudden, everything calms down and the door is unlocked. They run frantically towards the dock and find a boat waiting for them, even though the dude who brought them before left. Dawson’s video turns out to have what looks like the silhouettes of two people watching them leave. TWIST! SO UNPREDICTABLE! Joey thinks it was Wendy and the boat guy. Dawson thinks it was Mary and William. Joey tells him he’s on crack and that Wendy and the guy were screwing with them.
Andie, back at school, is handling her appointment to the school’s disciplinary committee about as you’d expect: with maximum peppiness and maximum obnoxiousness. She bullies Dr. Green into meeting with her about her ideas when he doesn’t have time, then marches around school handing out disciplinary notices for people’s spaghetti straps and sideburns like a giant asshole. (She also does yell at one dude for displaying softcore porn in his locker, which… fair.)
Finally she and Belinda team up (and no good idea starts with that) to police girls’ bodies some more [Andie’s perky blonde bob has never looked so terrifying. –Janes]. They set up what appears to be some kind of moot court to punish everyone for violating the Rules of Conduct, which according to Dr. Green were written in 1957. When he finds the giant line of students waiting to be disciplined by the out-of-control hall monitor he nips the whole thing in the bud. You go, Dr. Green.
- For a supposedly smart character Joey spends a lot of episodes watching movies instead of doing her English homework. (See also “Castaways” in season 6, which is one of my all-time favorites.) She shows up to the video store in a panic wanting to rent The Crucible instead of reading it.
- Principal Green, who also happens to (apparently) be the teacher of this class where they’re reading The Crucible, is such a good guy that he even agrees to be in Dawson’s movie, along with Mitch and Gail, who helpfully overshare that they used to have sex on Witch Island, and Grams, who takes an unholy (no pun intended) pleasure in suggesting that the Good Lord set fire to the island to punish the witches Himself.
- Ugh, I hate this episode. When Dawson explains his movie to Joey, she ribs him that it’s a “rip-off of The Blair Witch Project,” as if that little meta-wink is supposed to excuse the whole episode being a very sad, decidedly not scary version of the Blair Witch Project. Blair Witch is like the David Foster Wallace of shaky-cam horror: it’s actually good, but you could easily assume it’s terrible based on its large number of insufferable knockoffs. – Janes
- Joey, wearing yet another adorable hat, admits to being scared. Pacey calls her a “skittish kitten,” and they shove each other adorably. How did Dawson not notice that these two were flirting constantly right in front of him?
- Jen says that “witch is just a buzzword for a girl who happened to follow her completely healthy, totally natural urges and explore her sexuality…” jailed by “these puritanical, impotent creeps.” The feminist lesson is lost on Joey, who just responds by making a joke about Jen following her natural urges, who again, has not had sex in years. Shot!
- Pacey compares Dawson and Joey to a couple from the Wonder Years. Shot!
- Pacey goes on a long meta-speech (shot!) about how he and Jen never hooked up because it doesn’t make narrative sense: the “smart-ass sidekick never gets the girl.” Also he, the “perennial black sheep of the Witter brood” (shot!), needed someone like Andie to kick him into shape, but he and Jen are on a “level playing field.” Actually, I think it’s just because every small soap opera cast needs one sexual combination not to happen to keep the audience from getting too grossed out (see: Marissa/Seth, Haley/Lucas, consensual Serena/Chuck).
- I like how Jen conveniently happens to have a lollipop on hand for when she subtly just-as-a-joke-except-not-really propositions her ex-boyfriend’s friends. She and Eve really are related.
- Dawson makes a big fuss about being lucky to have “the feeling” back—but as Joey’s about to agree he obliviously interrupts her to explain that he’s talking about making movies. Joey looks all sad when he mentions that they’re friends.
- Hee! The guy who runs the island ferry is making a documentary about people making documentaries about Witch Island. “Ever since Blair Witch hit, every geek with a camcorder and a dream’s been out here,” he says. I love Dawson’s disconcerted expression. I also love how, nothing daunted, he just pauses for one second and then goes, “Yeah…. What can you tell me about Witch Island?” You go, Dawson! Don’t let the fact that your idea is cliched and unoriginal stop you!
- OMG, I totally forgot that Pacey actually compares Dawson to James Cameron! As a compliment! Funny on so many levels. –Janes
- When Joey compares Dawson’s movie to Blair Witch again, he says, stung, “Joey, you realize that Blair Witch was fake, right? Whereas my documentary is real,” and she just looks back at him and rolls her eyes. Heh. –Janes
- Joey notices that there’s one fewer grave than there were witches, and Wendy is all, “Smart girl. Nobody ever picks up on that.” I like that Joey gets credit for counting to thirteen. Usually Dawson’s the only person getting praised to the skies for feats a kindergartener could accomplish.
- As Wendy tells the story of William and Mary, Joey stares at Dawson and says accusingly, “Soulmates [shot!] torn apart by circumstance? Doomed to wonder what might have been? There’s your movie.” Uh… you weren’t torn apart by circumstance, you were torn apart because you got mad at Dawson for something you agreed to do?
- Joey thinks William, Mary’s star-crossed lover, might have lit the torch to burn the church out of anger. Dawson just says, “That’s not the story I’m interested in telling.” Which is ironic, because Dawson will shortly be the hero of a story that involves a scorned lover punishing a woman out of jealousy and male entitlement.
- Pacey describes himself as “brooding and comely.” That’s some hefty vocabulary for a sixteen-year-old slacker, and at least half true.
- Where does Jen find all these ingredients and firewood and a way to make a fire that heats up an entire cauldron full of love potion in the middle of the souvenir shop, in like, half an hour?
- “Just a couple crazy kids practicing a little black magic,” Jen quips when Wendy catches her. Heh.
- Joey says that Mary’s fate is “too heartbreaking for words,” and Dawson says it’s actually a sign that “love can thrive in even the worst of circumstances.” Did the writers forget that these characters had literally this exact conversation in the second season finale? Is a meta thing, like it’s supposed to frustrate us that they’re having the same convo over and over again? Because if so, it’s working. –Janes
- ALSO, Dawson actually says the words, “truly, madly, deeply in love.” Please, please let that be an intentional Savage Garden reference. –Janes
- Joey declares that sometimes love ain’t enough and that William probably “played her for a fool” and “took up with some well-bred hussy from the mainland.” Jen then says she’s sorry to “burst your subtextual bubble.” I guess technically Joey’s remark counts as subtext, but it’s like the least sub of subtexts.
- I know the whole D/J interchange is melodramatic and annoying, but I actually really like when Joey says that whether they were romantic or not, she always felt an intense connection between them, and “For the first time in my life, I’m not feeling that connection.” It rings really true, because this is the first time they haven’t shared a significant number of scenes together for several episodes. Even as a former D/J fan, I didn’t feel their connection at this point in the show, either.
- Dawson asks Pacey if he made a mistake by pushing Joey away. Not because he actually wants her but because he sees them drifting farther apart. Translation: he only rejected her because he thought she would still be loyal to him forever like a chump. Pacey says Dawson did the right thing, but uh, I think he has an ulterior motive there.
- Twenty shots! Pacey refers to Dawson as “a guy who wears his heart on his sleeve.”
- Jen and Pacey are adorably leaning in for a kiss, with Pacey holding Jen lightly by the chin, when Jen pulls back to ask if this is because of the spell. Somehow Pacey’s answer is not “Are you fucking kidding me? It’s the hormones,” but “I don’t know, I don’t care.” Um, but Pacey, you DO know. It was not a spell.
- “The island embodies the emotional turmoil of a girl who didn’t know what the future held for her and the boy she loved,” Dawson claims when he presents the video in class. Oh my God this is so offensive. The island embodies SEXISM. And the LITERALLY DEADLY consequences thereof. Ughhhhhh.
- At the end, Joey says that she and Dawson intellectualize things and that’s how they take care of each other, and therefore they … shouldn’t talk this to death. The logic of that isn’t clear, but the proposal seems solid to this cynical recapper.
- We also learn that Joey did brilliantly on her PSATs. Aww.
I actually like watching Jen and Pacey try to figure out how to do Friends With Benefits. They do a good job sometimes, other times they are very awkward, and it’s kind of sweet and real even while they’re spouting off weird vocalizations about sex (see next section). Plus, at least for this episode, they steer clear of the trap of thinking that casual sex means you can treat the other person like garbage.
Most cringeworthy moment:
Let’s just say you can be of a sex-positive mindset and still find it extremely gross how often Jen and Pacey use the word “release” in this episode.
Most wrongly used five-dollar word:
Pacey thinks he and Jen never hooked up because they each needed someone to fill a hole in their lives—Dawson’s purity, Andie’s drive—and that wasn’t something they could get from each other. “And I thought Dawson was good at deconstruction!” Jen giggles, which is sort of like watching your dad take a splinter out of your foot and then telling him he’s good at surgery.
Most 90s soundtrack moment:
Over the last couple of scenes with Pacey/Jen and Dawson/Joey, we hear “If” by Dragmatic, a sweet ballad by a local NC-based band that also plays in the series finale, when Pacey sees Joey for the first time at the Ice House. True love!
Thirty-one shots, mostly for compliments directed at Dawson’s heart and, of course, the ever-present Blair Witch references.
Season 3, Episode 8 “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner”
It’s been SO LONG since I’ve watched this episode. I think I legitimately have only watched it once, which is approximately 45 times less than I’ve watched great Dawson’s episodes, and probably like five times less than I’ve watched other Eve episodes, which is a little weird. I think it’s because every time I do a re-watch, I grit my teeth and try to get through the Eve era, I exhale in relief after “Indian Summer,” and then I get to “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” and I’m like, “We got rid of Eve just to have an entire episode ABOUT her?? Unsubscribe.”
In this very special Thanksgiving episode, everyone is gathering for Thanksgiving dinner at Grams’ House of Misfits (and I do mean everyone–all of the regulars plus parents, sisters, and nephews. But no Bodie, because God forbid we see a POC in an episode about a colonialist holiday). This means some big group scenes, which are surprisingly rare for such a soapy show, and, of course, lots of parental drama.
The bulk of the episode is taken up with the return of Jen’s WASPy, ice queen mother Helen, who has barely spoken to her bad-seed daughter since Jen was banished from New York. Jen, understandably, has trouble even speaking to Helen, let alone trying to work out their differences. Michelle Williams is hardly doing her best work in these seasons, but the scenes with Jen’s mother really do crackle with tension.
The whole plotline is much more affecting that I remembered it, until Eve comes back into the picture. After much prodding from Dawson (more on that later), Helen reveals to Jen that she gave up a child when she was a teenager, and that Jen has a half-sister. Jen is furious that Helen never told her this, not because she wants to know Eve (who would?), but because her mother supposedly sent her away for being a big, huge slut (shots!), and never told Jen that she had a history of her own.
The confrontation that ensues was much sadder than I would have expected, especially since we had never seen or even heard much about Helen before aside from that whole kiddie beauty pageant thing. Helen tells Jen that she wanted to keep her “shameful secret,” and Jen says, “So your solution was to make me feel dirty and ashamed?” Her mother has a right to her privacy, but considering everything Jen has been through, that’s pretty fair. Then, Jen just lets her have it, telling her she’s the “most intensely selfish person I’ve ever known.” Considering what we know about Jen’s father, that’s probably not true, but again, fair. Finally, Jen gets deservedly vicious: when Helen says she didn’t go against Jen’s father’s decision to send Jen away because she’s not prepared to live life alone, Jen retorts, “I would rather be alone than in a pathetic, loveless marriage.” Boom.
Eventually, Jen makes a great effort to make peace with her mother, and they have a more subdued conversation in which Jen realizes that Helen doesn’t hate Jen, but rather hates herself.That’s a bit of a facile observation about hypocritical parents, but it’s developed well enough in context. Helen shows great humanity in the end, admitting that her marriage is a sham and telling Jen: “I guess I shouldn’t be afraid that you’ll end up like me, because you’re already so much stronger than I ever was.” Aw!
It’s all very touching, but by the end of the episode, I remember why I never re-watch it. More than almost any Dawson’s episode (aside from that stupid mugger thing), there are no real stakes, and no real consequences. All of the emotion is centered around the relationship between Jen and her mother, whom we never see again, and the revelation about Eve, whom we never see again. And not only do both characters disappear, but this newfound insight Jen has about her mother is never mentioned again. She continues to treat her parents like they’re a monolith of terribleness, when from this episode, it sounds like her father is a monster, while her mother is a selfish, weak, but very understandable human being. I wish we could have kept that nuance and character development while still writing Eve out forever, but I guess the writers just wanted to cut their losses and pretend this whole arc never happened (and really, who could blame them?).
In other news, Dawson is the most irritating version of himself this episode. First, he claims that he “doesn’t feel it’s his place” to tell Jen about her half-sister (true), and then proceeds to heavily guilt-trip her poor mother for keeping this traumatic secret. He tells Helen to “tell [him] if he’s out of line,” gently says she should tell Jen, and then keeps pushing and pushing until she finally tells him he’s out of line. THEN, instead of shutting the fuck up and minding his own business, he makes everything about him, and tells her he knows what happens when “families keep secrets like these.” Jesus Christ, NOT EVERYTHING IS ABOUT YOU, DAWSON.
Then, not content to just tell strangers what to do, he passive-aggressively guilts his parents for trying to be friendly and civil with each other because it’s giving him “mixed messages” about whether they’re getting back together. Oh, yes, boo-hoo, your divorced parents actually get along, I feel so sorry for you. [Ugh, and I hate how right before that, he asks to join them at their Table of Recently Divorced Flirtation in that SUPER ANNOYING tone he has that’s like, “I’m saying something perfectly normal but with a weird edge because for some reason I’m really mad about something and there’s no way for you to know what.” And then declines to sit down immediately after asking to sit down and instead stands at the head of the table lecturing them. Ughhh. –Nerdy Spice]
Then, after needling them about their personal lives for like, five minutes, he actually has the gall to say, “The last thing I want is to be stuck in the middle of your drama.” And the best way to avoid getting stuck in the middle is constantly sticking your nose where it doesn’t belong? Shut up, Dawson.
- Jen and Pacey are still trying and failing to do the Friends With Benefits Thing. Pacey is doing his level best to be a good, feminist casual sex partner (“Foreplay is no laughing matter!”), but Jen just can’t stop giggling at the thought of sexy time with him. It’s like Ross and Rachel’s first date, but not cute. [Yeah, um, what kinda Philistine is Jen? Pacey is hugging her and growling in her ear that she smells good, and she LAUGHS?! –Nerdy Spice]
- Dawson gets all nostalgic seeing his (news anchor) mother slaving in the kitchen with her apron and his father yelling at a football game. Gross. He and Dean Forester would be such good friends. [Yeah, there are a lot of women cooking Thanksgiving dinner in this episode and a lot of men… not. –Nerdy Spice]
- Also, in typical nineties heartthrob style, Pacey is indignant at his father for treating his mother like a kitchen slave, but it never occurs to him to actually help her in the kitchen. –Nerdy Spice
- Meanwhile, Mitch is like “Hardly seems fair, does it Dawson? She invades our kitchen, fills the house with the scent of pumpkin pie, and then tells us we can’t have any.” FAIR, MITCH?! Maybe cook your own damn pie yourself. –Nerdy Spice
- Joey talks about how, since it’s the holidays, half of her expects her mom to walk in any minute now and kick them out of the kitchen. Shot, I guess, although that’s pretty sad.
- Gail finds out that Dawson kept the secret about Jen’s half-sister for like, two whole weeks, and she’s over the moon about it (shot!). She exclaims, “I had no idea you had that much self-control!” Hee!
- For once in his life, Dawson shows some humility, and corrects her that he didn’t tell Jen about her mother’s (probably traumatic) experience giving a baby away as a teenager, out of “gutlessness.” Or… maybe because it’s none of your damn business? That would work too??
- Pacey and Andie have an awkward reunion after their very sad post-mortem in “Secrets and Lies,” and, as usual, Pacey is being a perfect gentleman, and Andie attacks him for no apparent reason. She exclaims, “Can someone please tell me why guys always want to be the nice, polite friend after the break-up?” Um… what guys are you hanging out with, Andie, because the guys I know–especially the 16-year-olds–NEVER want to be friends with a girl when she’s no longer a romantic object. A “nice and polite” ex-boyfriend is the dream!!
- Jen turns down a beautiful string of pearls from her mother because she lives in Capeside and “where would [she] wear them.” It’s sad that her parents abandoned her and all, but seriously, what a brat. [Also, you can’t find ONE PLACE in Capeside to wear a simple string of pearls? Come on, Jen. I don’t mean to be a brat myself, but… it’s not like they’re diamonds. –Nerdy Spice]
- Joey gives Jen some beautiful, selfless advice about dealing with her mother: “We’re all strangers to our parents. They love us, but they don’t really know us,” and then promptly makes it all about her: “And sometimes, before you get a chance to know them, they’re gone.” Shot!
- Joey is on a roll, and also makes everything about herself with Andie: “As a veteran of multiple break-ups with the same boy, I know what you’re going through.” Then, she gives this weird advice: “The dark nights will pass. Eventually you will find peace.” What is she, a fortune cookie?
- Jack tells Pacey, “It’s not a judgment, it’s a fact. You broke my sister’s heart.” A) Definitely a judgment. B) I’m sorry… I don’t think she should be shamed for it or anything, but has everyone forgotten that Andie cheated on Pacey??
- When Andie suspiciously asks Joey about her newfound friendship with Pacey, Joey says, “Pacey’s a doofus, but you know, he has his moments.” Famous last words.
- Then, Andie asks if Pacey talks about her (so high school), and Joey replies, “Not really, Andie.” Ha! Then she quickly qualifies her answer by saying Pacey keeps things that are important to him close to his heart. Nice save, Gretsky.
- Jen tells her mom that the past year “hasn’t been easy for her” and that she’s had to pick herself up over and over again in a little speech that goes on for about 45 minutes. Shot for a Jen Lindley pity party!
- I love Jen’s mom’s bored smile when Dawson announces that they used to date –Nerdy Spice.
- Jen bitterly tells Pacey that she’s “not the only girl in the Lindley family who can’t say no.” Is that two shots–one for self-pity and one for self-slut-shaming? I think so!
- Jen’s mom leaves with some parting wisdom: “Don’t marry a cold man, Jen. Don’t wake up at 40 and realize that with one false move, everything you’ve built your life around could be pulled out from under you.” Oof. That is DARK. Can we talk about that a little while longer, please?
- Ugh. I love Pacey as much as the next person, but can we not praise teenage boys for “superhuman restraint” just because they refrain from having sex with an obviously distraught human? Please and thank you.
- Dawson actually has a graceful moment, telling his friends that when parents let you down, “it’s an honor and a privilege to have you guys to turn to.” Then Joey has to ruin it with wildly disproportionate praise: “I can’t wait for your Oscar speech. There won’t be a dry eye in the house.” So many shots!
- Jen and Grams’s little embrace is adorable. –Nerdy Spice
- It’s kind of a nice touch that both Jen and Jen’s Mom Whose Name I Can’t Be Bothered To Learn chose to wear shirts with black contrast piping. –Nerdy Spice
Of course, so did Bessie, so I guess that’s just… all Official Dawson’s Costumer J. Crew had going on that fall.
- Awww, Pacey is so good at this friends with benefits thing! He totally respects Jen and refuses to play along when she subconsciously tries to get him to treat her like the garbage she thinks she is. He just comforts her and hugs her like a good friend. I’m going to get up on a soapbox for one second (well, OK, we’re on the soapbox all the time) and say it’s “hookup culture” that causes men to disrespect women. It’s the patriarchy that causes men to think they don’t have to respect women who are sexually available. A notion to which Pacey, charmingly, remains immune. –Nerdy Spice
In case you haven’t noticed, I do NOT care for the Pacey/Jen pairing. That being said, there’s a really sweet moment between them after Jen confronts her mother about Eve. Jen wants to have angry sex with Pacey per their agreement, but Pacey immediately perceives that Jen is in a bad way, and just talks to her like a human being instead. Not only is this a very gallant move on Pacey’s part (she’s so obviously distraught that it doesn’t seem patronizing), but Pacey gives her some actual insight when he says that the moment you see your terrible parents as human beings with their own problems is “oddly… kind of liberating.” That’s very true, and also speaks to the similarities between Jen and Pacey’s “black sheep/bad seed” status in their families, which in many ways runs much deeper than his shared “underdog/outsider” status with Joey. It’s the only time you can almost see why the writers thought this whole pairing was a good idea–almost.
Most cringeworthy moment:
Grams describes Thanksgiving as “a tradition of people with different beliefs coming together… breaking bread together in harmony,” and Jen, the resident revolutionary, doesn’t correct her, but says she already knew all that because she made “Indian paper headdresses in kindergarten.” They are SO white. [And they are being super white while in an episode named after a movie about race relations! –Nerdy Spice.]
Most 90s soundtrack moment:
“That I Would Be Good” by Alanis Morissette plays again, after making us all cry in the second season finale! It’s becoming Jen’s self-acceptance theme song, and I love it.
Nine, mostly for pity parties and dead-mom references.
Season 3, Episode 9 “Four to Tango”
By Nerdy Spice
In this episode, Pacey and Joey dance!!!! Needless to say, I’m completely dopey about it.
Pacey and Jen are trying to embark, finally, upon their promised friends-with-benefits adventure, only to find that sexual tension can’t be manufactured on demand. They attempt to do so by cutting class and rolling around in, of all places, Dawson’s bed to get in the mood, which… guys, that didn’t even work to get Joey in the mood when she was in love with Dawson. Anyway, after a quick PSA about how they came prepared with condoms so as not to entirely corrupt today’s impressionable youth (well, we were today’s impressionable youth at the time; I guess now we’re today’s slightly grizzled thirty-somethings), they try again, only to give up in frustration when their kissing gets even more awkward. They’re interrupted by the arrival of Dawson, so Jen dives out the window and Dawson catches Pacey, alone, in his room. Pacey tries to make a quick, nonchalant getaway, only for Dawson to point out quietly that he’s only wearing one shoe. Whoops.
Perhaps because of all the cutting class he’s doing, Pacey gets called into the guidance counselor’s office and told he’s doing badly. Very badly. Pacey puts on his Tragic Breakup Face so that we know this is all because of Andie. But don’t worry, he won’t be pining long; he finds Joey, butters her up by calling her “ravishing” (CLEARLY just a way to express his true feelings in the guise of a joke, amirite?), and asks for math tutoring because he’s failing. He promises to do anything she wants in return, and Joey lifts her eyebrows excitedly. “Anything?”
Cut to a dance studio, where Pacey and Joey are incompetently practicing ballroom dancing. This is when Pacey decides to ask why they’re at ballroom dancing: when they’re already mid-lesson, hands clasped. Joey explains that she wants a scholarship that’s offered every year by this ballroom dancing group, and that this is how he’ll pay her back for tutoring him in math. So, to recap, Pacey somehow followed Joey to this ballroom dancing studio and agreed to practice waltzing with her despite their supposed distaste for each other (and his conviction, later expressed, that ballroom dancing is “non-butch” and highly embarrassing) without asking basic questions like “Why are we doing this?” or “Why should I do this for you?” I love how this show always tries to work in exposition by having characters ask what’s going on when they’re already halfway done with whatever is going on.
But that doesn’t really matter, because this storyline is such a delight to watch. Pacey and Joey do their typical bickering, magnified by the fact that they keep literally stepping on each other’s toes, and it’s adorable. At one point the instructor asks who’s leading, and Pacey goes, “I’m trying, but Janet Reno here doesn’t exactly make it easy on a fellow.” Hee! They finally come up with a solution for their lack of coordination: Joey stands on Pacey’s feet and they dance around that way. Just look at these two!! MELTING.
They’re keeping their scheme a secret, but when Dawson finds a condom in his room and sniffs out the fact that Pacey and Joey are keeping a secret, Wacky Hijinx ensue. Especially Jen and Pacey are also keeping their little arrangement secret (Jen says it’s a “project” for “human growth and development,” which, is that what the kids are calling erections these days?). So Dawson decides that Pacey must be putting the condoms to use with Joey. Meanwhile, Pacey is just trying to get some advice from Joey about casual sex. Joey for once doesn’t flip the fuck out (yet). She just says, “Pacey, I think that if you really wanted to have casual sex with someone right now, you would be doing it instead of sitting here having a hypothetical discussion about it.” Very true. And it also explains why Joey and Dawson have so many hypothetical discussions.
Then Dawson and Jen spy the two walking companionably around and follow them to ballroom dancing. The teacher makes the two dance and accurately pegs them as exes who have gotten over all their shit, then equally accurately pegs Joey and Pacey as being “in the early stages of some screwball courtship ritual.” To which Joey makes this unforgettable face:
Love it! This is the first time that Joey and Pacey’s thing becomes textual rather than subtextual. And it’s so funny. Anyway, Dawson is Not Pleased. Nor is he happy when the surprisingly progressive ballroom dancing teacher assigns him as Pacey’s dance partner (and Jen as Joey’s). Um, where was this lady when I was in ballroom dancing as a twelve-year-old, being escorted around on the arm of a boy who also had a girl on his other arm because there were two girls for every boy, and always having to wear elbow-length gloves because “boys don’t like sweaty hands touching their shoulders”? (Of course, no one cared whether we wanted sweaty hands on the smalls of our backs. For the record, we did not.)
Anyway, there follows an amazing scene where the kids switch partners back and forth. Slowly, Pacey and Joey figure out (to Joey’s surprise) that Dawson thinks they’re Doing It. Pacey and Dawson voluntarily dance with each other at least once more without making a big homophobic fuss about it, which… reasonably impressive. And Jen… well, let’s just say Jen starts to figure some stuff out. I have to admit that I laughed out loud several times while watching this scene. I do love the screwball-romantic-comedy nature of it all, and how Joey is genuinely perplexed at the notion that anyone would think she’s dating Pacey even though they are attending ballroom dancing together and can’t freaking stop touching each other on the arm. Look, I’m a sucker! Especially for people falling in love by accident.
“Look at that girl, Dawson,” Pacey finally says to try to point out how silly Dawson is being. “Just take a good look. She’s a freaking goddess, man, how long did you think it would be before some guy comes along and is interested in her? I mean, really, dude.” Oh, my fluttering heart!
The silly part, of course, is that Dawson is pretty much just normal-level pissed, the way pretty much anyone would be about their best friend dating their ex. He’s not blow-up-a-friendship, run-over-the-guy’s-boat, never-get-over-it pissed, like he will be the next time he realizes Pacey and Joey are in love. It’s totally inconsistent! (Oh, and shot: Pacey ends with “The guy that comes along is going to take one look at that woman and just cut right in on ya.” He just loves to call Joey a woman.)
In the end, Pacey and Jen end up in the coatroom. Pacey complains about how their arrangement hasn’t worked out, and Jen blames the Puritanism of their mothers and the US. This somehow leads to them making out right there in the coatroom, only to be discovered by Dawson and Joey. If Dawson took the whole Pacey-and-Joey idea surprisingly well, Joey on the other hand takes Pacey-and-Jen VERY BADLY. Jen pleads that they were “just messing around” but Joey accuses Pacey of betraying his “True Love” sign and of “using each other as scratching posts” (which is actually kind of funny, but also a pretty yucky euphemism). Meanwhile Dawson is like “Tee hee! Sex!”
Once Jen sees Joey’s reaction and learns that Pacey asked her for advice she suddenly realizes that her perennial fate is kicking in yet again. The boy she’s making out with is actually in love with Joey. Pacey persists in thinking that there’s nothing between himself and Joey, but Jen says, “No, Pacey, there’s nothing between us.” Awww, poor Jen. They agree sweetly that they are both disappointed and relieved, and kiss good-bye.
One of the true miracles of this storyline is it ends with Joey being talked off a ledge by, of all people, Dawson. She’s convinced that it’s wrong to kiss or sleep with someone you don’t have feelings for. And instead of validating her complete lack of boundaries and her judgmental snobbishness, Dawson agrees that he himself couldn’t sleep with someone he didn’t love, but that people can’t help their feelings, can’t help wanting a connection, and can’t help being lonely. He comes off really well in this scene, even given how ironic it is because we know that a few short episodes from now he’s going to be blaming Pacey and Joey for their feelings in TV’s most epic case of Nice Guy-dom ever written. Sufficiently calmed, Joey returns for her coat and tells Pacey that Dawson “convinced me to take pity on your poor, misguided, testosterone-impaired self.” [Pacey sounds SO smug when he says, “You did overreact, didn’t you?” Adorable. –Janes]
Meanwhile, Dawson’s news story about Jack leads to an absolutely hilarious Dating In the Modern World storyline. He’s being online bullied by a bunch of homophobes (that’s not the hilarious part), but he also gets an email from a young man named Ben Street (they say it about eighteen times in this episode, so you’ll remember it forever) who went through the same thing. Andie becomes convinced that this young man is destined to be Jack’s new boyfriend, and the young man himself helps this along by randomly IMing Jack while the latter studies on the library’s fancy orange iMac. The next day finds Jack and Andie back in the library, and Jack still talking to Ben Street. The librarian advises Jack, “I dated a guy from the internet once. Hideous.” Hee!
Turns out that Ben Street is basically a strong-jawed Teen Beat pinup. Jack is like “hamina,” but is too scared to actually say that, so he arranges to meet the kid for coffee that night. Andie gets all up in his grill, and Jack finally says he’s not sure if he’s ready to actually be a gay kid and make this all real. Andie, in a rare moment of calm and rational discourse, tells him kindly that he’ll be gay either way. So Jack goes to the coffee shop, stares at the ridiculously chiseled Ben Street for a few seconds, then… arrives home to confess to Andie that he chickened out and didn’t even go in. He saw a straight couple and was overcome with the desire not to be himself anymore. Andie reassures him that he’s brave. You will notice a distinct lack of jokes about this storyline because it’s totally honest and moving, even if it was probably also necessitated by homophobic network execs not wanting actual gay dating on their show. Even Andie is like fifty percent less annoying as usual, because she genuinely wants Jack to be happy and doesn’t blame him for his fear.
- Hulu describes this episode as Dawson accusing Joey and Pacey of “having an affair”–as if Dawson and Joey are married or something. Did Dawson write this episode description? –Janes
- This week in “the nineties were a funny time,” Jack gets thousands of emails from people who saw the news story about him and prints them out to show Andie. [Many of which are supposedly addressed, “Dear Homo,” which–that’s definitely not the word they used. –Janes] Now, first of all, what kind of idiot publishes the email address of a gay sixteen-year-old boy? It’s like, hello, please harass this person! Second of all, printed-out stacks of emails are such a deliciously retro thing. Anyway, Andie jokes that the bullies are closet cases, and also finds an email from a young man named “Ben Street” who writes sympathetically about being harassed after taking a boy to the prom. Andie makes a nonsensical John Cusack reference (shot) and urges Jack to write back.
- Wait, no, THIS is the most nineties thing that happens: Andie tries to google “democracy” for her homework and gets too many hits: forty thousand. (Try that today and you get over forty MILLION.) This is followed by Jack giving her a delightful little lesson about how to use the internet: “You can’t do a search on such a broad topic like democracy. You gotta figure out what you want, what you don’t want, and you know, establish some restrictions.” He concludes with a joke about “www.annoyingsister.com”. Websites! Amirite?
- Wait, no, just kidding, THIS is the most nineties thing: Ben Street IMs (or, as Andie calls it, “instant messages”) Jack from the username “BenStreet”. This is the best.
- Meanwhile, Jack spends this WHOLE SCENE, while Andie is googling “Democracy” (well, she’s probably asking Jeeves for “democracy,” but you know what I mean), just staring at the Capeside High School website. He’s not typing or anything! It’s hilarious.
- Poor Pacey stares at Joey’s math notes and goes, “What’s a cosine?” That is… not a good sign. [Joey’s face is priceless: –Janes ]
- Joey doesn’t get how Pacey could have been too busy to study: “Your social life is basically a triangle consisting of you, me, and Dawson.” You can say THAT again.
- Pacey claims to be unable to study because “under the previous regimes,” he was rewarded for studying with sex. “I offered you Chex Mix,” says Joey. Hee! That would also make a great euphemism. She thinks Pacey’s coming on to her, but he says he wasn’t hitting on her, and that he has the opportunity to be with somebody, no strings attached, including “no awkward first dates.” I love how these kids always talk like they’re jaded twenty-nine-year-olds who are just so anxious to avoid the dating rituals that they are so jaded of.
- [While Pacey spins his bullshit, Joey says sarcastically that he needs an “able-bodied female to provoke those Pavlovian responses” and that “that’s the worst pick-up line I’ve ever heard.” Hee! I love that Pacey brings Sassy Joey out again. –Janes]
- Super cute how Pacey puts his arm around Jen as she jokes about American Puritanism. but then she asks if he’s ready for a “return to Witch Island,” and he says he’s getting a “witchy feeling,” and, gross. Shot.
- So let me get this straight… Dawson thought Joey and Pacey were hooking up. Okay, all things considered, that makes sense. But he specifically thought they were hooking up because he found a condom in his own bedroom? So he thought Joey was not only sleeping with her ex-boyfriend’s best friend, but was doing it in the ex-boyfriend’s childhood bed? That would be–bold, to say the least. –Janes
- When Jack’s sad about his non-date, Andie claims “I know when to push and when not to.” False. Very, very false.
- As Dawson and Joey discuss the Pacey-Jen thing, Dawson describes Jen as having “fake sexual bravado.” I kind of like that. Joey’s still slut-shaming Jen because she doesn’t have any sexual bravado, even the fake kind, so she’s totally unable to respond rationally to Jen. But Dawson at least knows himself and Jen well enough to know that Jen really wants to be loved by someone who doesn’t just see her as a pair of boobs. He even utters the words “that’s their business,” which… is very out of character in its maturity and consciousness of boundaries. He even says that they didn’t just want sex, “they wanted comfort,” and they were lonely.
- “Being lonely is no excuse to just throw yourself at the first available warm body,” says Joey. Well, she’s going to miss out on a lot of fun in life, but OK.
- I like how when Joey is ranting to Dawson about how it’s wrong to kiss someone you’re not in love with she’s wearing an outfit that wouldn’t be at all out of place in an Amish settlement:
- Joey also adorably keeps asking “What’s the point?” (of having casual sex). Like, um, I hate to be crude, but… the orgasms, I think? Shot for Joey’s extraordinary fear of sex.
- Pacey, while calling Dawson out on his entitled attitude towards Joey, says, “This is how it is with you–you talk and talk but you don’t listen to yourself.” WORD. –Janes
At the very end it turns out that there’s no scholarship after all… but they could at least win six months of dance lessons. Pacey seems tempted, but Joey takes him by the hand and drags him off, both of them laughing. I’m going to be saying this a lot for the rest of the season, but… I teared up! Those kids are just so darn cute!
Most cringeworthy moment:
I seriously couldn’t find one. This episode was aces. However, if I weren’t twelve, I would probably have cringed when Dawson tells Jen about his suspicions, saying he found Pacey alone in his room “playing Crash Bandicoot.” Jen thinks it’s a euphemism for jerking off. (Do we take a shot for possible euphemisms that aren’t actually euphemisms?) Being totally immature, I clearly thought that was hilarious. Plus it’s just like, what other video games could be euphemisms for masturbation? “Call of Duty”? “Final Fantasy”? “Metal Gear Solid”? “Spelunky”?
Six, including one for Joey making a sideswipe at Jen’s slutty reputation when the latter still hasn’t gotten laid since the pilot.
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