Season Three, Episode 22 “The Anti-Prom”
Okay, yes, we’re going to get to the good stuff: True Love, the first gay kiss on network television, the cry face… but first–it’s the first prom episode of the series, guys!
Like actual proms, prom episodes are hotbeds for drama and hormonal teen hijinks (especially since they fortuitously happen in spring, right before the season finale), but also tend to be a little bit of a letdown. But among its many accomplishments, Dawson’s Creek can boast not one, but two classic prom episodes during its run, starting with the ultra-romantic, wonderfully melodramatic “The Anti-Prom.”
We start with Dawson and Joey chatting about the prom, aka Dawson making Joey wildly uncomfortable with constant, heavy-handed references to their long history and how well he knows her. (“Dawson making Joey uncomfortable” is a huge theme of this episode, just to give fair warning.) He oh-so-subtly reminds her of a pact they made years ago–that if neither of them already had dates, they would go to the junior prom together. Joey is understandably reluctant to keep this pact, given their very recent romantic drama and the fact that Dawson is obviously manipulating her. But rather than respecting her space and backing off or declaring his romantic intentions, he chooses option C: Be a total Nice Guy and frame the request as “not a date” (even though it obviously is), just “fulfilling a pact made by two old friends and having a good time.”
Joey tries to get out of it tactfully, but Dawson persists, and she gives in. (It’s how all great love stories start in the World According to Dawson.) And then even when she says yes, she still looks so reluctant and kind of downright sad, which of course Dawson ignores:
Speaking of manipulation, Pacey hangs out with Andie (always a bad decision), and she tries to basically trick him into going to prom with her. She’s RIDICULOUSLY obvious about her intentions, first almost-casually saying, “You could go [to prom] with me if you wanted to” and then unconvincingly mentioning “other offers.” But Pacey is adorably dense about it, and tells her that she’d be better off going with one of the other guys. She says, “Okay, maybe I will,” and is so obviously lying she’s practically winking. It’s like the girl version of having a super hot girlfriend who lives in Canada, but Pacey remains oblivious.
Meanwhile, we find out that Jack is going to prom with Wise Gay Sage. WGS characterizes the date as Jack’s “next step towards self-acceptance and actualization,” because he’s actually the worst person.
Oh wait, I immediately have to take that back, because Jen is on screen. In this episode, we’re doing yet another go-round of “Jen says the exact opposite of what she means because BITCHES BE CRAY!” Similar to the whole Valentine’s Day debacle, Jen makes a big, completely unnecessary show about thinking the prom is “ridiculous,” “embarrassing,” and sexist (which it kind of is, but calm the fuck down, Jen, no one cares if you go), and Henry immediately guesses that her feminist objections are bullshit, that actually she’s nervous because she’s never been to a prom before, and she really, really wants to go with him. Aw. Isn’t it cute when girls refuse to say how they actually feel so the big, strapping men in their lives get to say it for them? 😕
Just in case that wasn’t enough to convince us that Jen is completely insufferable, she then makes a big show about not wanting to have sex at the prom because it’s rushed, unromantic, cliched etc., only to later turn around and say that–surprise!–that was all just a ruse to make their inevitable sex feel spontaneous. In other words, she says “no,” but she really means “yes.” Pre-#MeToo TV shows are fun, no? (No!)
Meanwhile, Jack, after getting all excited about his date with WGS, tries to buy his prom tickets from Barbara Johns (which is, incidentally, a pretty great name for a 90s teenage evangelical). In a super sad scene, Barbara refuses to sell Jack tickets for him and his same-sex date–in spectacularly cruel fashion. She says, “What would you even do there? Take a picture for grandma’s photo album? Dance stubbled cheek to stubbled cheek? Share a romantic kiss under the moonlight? You don’t think that’s gonna weird out even those who are sympathetic to people like you?” It’s not the most subtle exploration of homophobia, but it effectively demonstrates how alienated Jack feels from the “normal” teenage experience.
Jack tells his friends what happened, and Andie and Joey rally around him, while Dawson is just indifferent, which is 100% realistic. Joey, who earned her social justice cred a little bit earlier this season, is particularly impassioned about rectifying the injustice: “At this point, it’s political.” Jack responds, frustrated: “Why does something that’s normal for everyone else have to be so ‘political’ for me?” Usually, it’s very annoying when Jack pooh-poohs the political implications of homosexuality, but in this case, that simple desire for normality feels very real and heartbreaking. Andie and Joey are ready to fight for him, but he doesn’t want everything in his life to be a fight, which is fair and very sad.
Jack finally gives up and says he just won’t go to prom, and Andie and Joey decide to boycott in solidarity. Then, and only then, does Dawson perk up and join the conversation. Worried that he’ll miss out on the opportunity to manipulate Joey a little more, he suggests that they hold an “Anti-Prom,” “where it’s not about who you take, but who you are.” Jack agrees, saying cutely, “What would an alternative prom be without a couple of gay guys?”
Pacey and Andie are weirdly studying alone together–again–when Andie gives up the ruse. She says that Barbara Johns called her “brave” for going to the prom alone and Pacey is like, “Why would you go alone? I thought you were sifting through offers.” Um, Pacey, I love you, but seriously, ARE YOU NEW HERE. Andie admits that she didn’t have any other offers, and she didn’t tell him (at least not in those exact words) because she didn’t want a “pity ask.” Then Pacey replies with the third most beautiful line of the night: “It can’t be a pity if it’s an honor.” [I think about that line all the time. –Nerdy Spice] I hate Andie, but–oof. My heart.
Here it is: the Anti-Prom! Dawson arrives to pick Joey up, and their interactions illustrate everything that’s wrong with their relationship. Joey emerges from her house wearing a plain black dress and a kind of awesome black floor-length shawl thing. Dawson is agog, and in a moment very reminiscent of the “Beauty Contest” debacle, Joey rolls her eyes that it’s “just a dress.” Then, because he’s literally never met Joey before, he tries to bribe her with his mother’s very ostentatious diamond earrings. She’s worried that something might happen to them–because yeah, who wouldn’t be–and he smugly shrugs it off like, “Whatever, Mom will live.” That’s some straight Logan Huntzberger fuckery right there.
And then, of course, they take those insufferable, very “prommy” pictures together. Joey looks very uncomfortable, both with the cliche and with touching Dawson so much, but once again he doesn’t notice or care:
Joey continues to be miserable at the actual prom, but luckily, Pacey is just as miserable with Andie. They exchange longing looks while she dances with Dawson, and all of our hearts collectively break:
Side note: Andie’s prom outfit is INSANE. Her hair is crimped, in a terrible tiny ponytail decorated with like–sparkly butterfly clips or something? And her dress is a horrible shiny pale purple, a matching shawl, and–somehow–matching pale purple eyeshadow and lipstick. It looks like the oldest Teletubby threw up all over her. Even for a prom in the 90s, this is pretty extreme.
Meanwhile, Jack and Wise Gay Sage look adorable together in their matching tuxes, but Jack is visibly uncomfortable, even in the “alternative” crowd. WGS tries to go into yet another dumb and condescending lecture about self-actualization or some shit, and Jack says, “Can we maybe put a pin in the ‘When I Was a Young Gay Boy’ stories for tonight?” Hee! Then, WGS drops the bomb: he tells Jack that he’s very brave for taking a boy to prom, because WGS never had the guts to. Poor Jack sputters, “So wait, for all your talk about self-actualization, you’ve never–actualized?” Ha! Amazing. WGS weakly says that he thought it was a hurdle they could jump together, but Jack rightly tears him a new one, since WGS pressured Jack into risking public humiliation without actually risking anything himself. And then, he finishes it off with this amazing line: “I was wondering, Wise Gay Sage [!], Coke, Pepsi, which do you think would be better for my ‘self-actualization’?” LOVE IT!
Dawson is super passive-aggressive with Pacey, and while he and Joey are dancing (very stiffly, with Joey looking like her dog just died), Joey confronts him. She accuses him of using her to throw jabs at Pacey and “parading [her] around like [she’s] some sort of prize.” YES! Everyone’s killing it this episode!
Joey and Jack both leave their terrible dates and have a wonderful, sweet conversation outside. Jack says that even though Barbara Johns isn’t there, he feels like she is, because either way he doesn’t belong. Joey reminds him that one year before, “under these very stars,” he came out to her. “All you could see was the pain and loneliness that made your life different from everyone else’s,” she says. “As opposed to now,” he answers, “when all I can see is the pain and loneliness that makes our lives the same?” Then there’s a lot of weird false equivalence between Jack’s oppression as a gay boy in a small town and Joey’s love triangle problems, but it all ends with Jack and Joey avoiding reality together and holding hands. So cute!
Jack tells Joey that if she wants everyone to just be friends again (yeah, she’s still insisting that that’s a possibility), she needs to “set an example.” So of course, she does the most inflammatory thing possible, and asks Pacey to dance. (Not that she’s doing anything wrong, but if her goal is to defuse the situation, well, that’s some amazing teenage-girl logic right there.) As usual, their chemistry is undeniable from the first second, and from there, it’s just a carpet bombing of amazingly romantic moments. First, Pacey asks, “Why does this feel so right?” and Joey responds with a nice callback, “I think it was those dance lessons.” Then, Pacey asks where she got the diamond earrings because, “They’re not [her].” Usually, I would get annoyed that he’s trying to tell her what is or isn’t “her,” but what happens next is so amazing that I’ll let it slide. He touches her bracelet, and says that it’s totally her, because “It’s not showy or gaudy. It’s simple. Elegant. Beautiful.” Dead. I’m dead. He recalls the exact moment she told him it was her mother’s bracelet, right down to what she was wearing, and she’s touched that he remembers. Then he whispers the immortal line, “I remember everything,” and I cry. I just cry.
And then Dawson, of course, ruins everything, which is pretty much his entire career now. He runs out of the prom, and Joey runs after him. She asks him to wait, and he suddenly turns around and screams viciously, “How could you do that to me?” It’s actually a little scary, and is so bracing that it sends Joey physically reeling backwards. She correctly reminds him that he’s the one who said they were only attending the prom as friends, which should mean she can dance with whomever she wants. (Um, yeah!)
Then Dawson gets toxic, even more toxic than usual. He says, “I said I wanted to move forward, what did you think that meant?” and the kicker: “You can’t have thought that was all I wanted.” [I think that’s the registered trademark of Misogynistic Asshats On Surprise Dates, United. —Nerdy Spice] UGH. As someone who’s been tricked into several surprise dates in my life, this is gross and entitled behavior, toxic masculinity at its finest. If Dawson were a real person, he’d probably be on Reddit defending the sympathetic humanity of incels right about now.
Then, without her permission, he walks up to her and gives her an entirely chemistry-free kiss. It leaves Joey visibly affected, but you know, who wouldn’t be a little taken aback after a surprise date and forced kiss in quick succession?
[Yeah, I love how he plants this lethargic kiss on her as a way to show what she’s been missing, and then strides away, like… OK, so she’s missing… tepid displays of physical affection? —Nerdy Spice]
We wrap up back where we started–Dawson’s house–where Joey returns the earrings in very casual, Joey-like clothes. She thanks him for the earrings and–barely-disguised metaphor alert!–tells him she “wasn’t sure they were [her], but had fun wearing them.” She tells him that she felt something when they kissed, “something I wasn’t expecting and something that will probably always be there” (anger? nausea?), but she still can’t choose between him and Pacey. He once again calls himself an “eternal optimist” (ugh, barf) and tells her he’s been on this “soul-searching journey” (when?) “but what I found– was you.” It’s supposed to be a romantic line, but Joey still looks wildly uncomfortable! Ha!
- Oh, the junior prom pact. It’s the not-very-realistic, tempest-in-a-teapot version of “If we’re not married when we’re forty we’ll marry each other.” Before Keets I actually had one guy lined up for forty and one for fifty just to cover all my bases. —Nerdy Spice
- Joey asks what kind of teacher bases the entire final on the ability to recite the prologue (or what she calls the “opening”) of The Canterbury Tales in perfect middle English. Um, in public school? Definitely no teacher that has ever existed. (Two shots!)
- Joey accepts on the conditions that there will be no “cheesy corsage for [her]” (word) and no “blue ruffley tuxedo shirt thing” for him. Even now, as a grown-ass woman, I had no idea what she meant. I had to look it up, and confer with Nerdy Spice, to realize she meant something like this.
- Honestly, unless you’ve watched the show twenty-five times like we have, it’s hard to remember that Dawson didn’t know that Mitch and Gail were getting back together. Partially because we don’t care about Mitch and Gail, and partially because Dawson’s “shocked” face looks like this:
- I feel like planting a wet smooch on your kid’s cheek just after you’ve been caught making out with your ex-husband is a… weird move. —Nerdy Spice
- It’s a good thing Dawson wanted a Snapple iced tea because I’m pretty sure that’s all there is in that fridge. —Nerdy Spice
- When Dawson gently scolds his dad for being “dramatic” about his romantic life, I’m just sort of like, *ahem*:
- That being said, I’m completely on his side when he tells his dad that they should leave him out of it until they’re absolutely sure they’re getting back together. That’s like Divorced Parenting 101, look alive, Mitch.
- Is it kind of weird that Pacey and Andie are randomly studying together after the huge drama last week? I guess they’re trying to mend their friendly-ex relationship, but even friendly exes don’t usually study together one-on-one.
- Pacey gets out “Sometimes I feel kinda,” pauses for HALF A SECOND, and Andie immediately jumps in to supply stupid guesses like “hungry.” Yes, Andie. Pacey dropped his eyes to the floor and stammered about how he feels because he’s hungry. —Nerdy Spice
- Bessie is wearing a Potter B&B T-shirt! That’s so cute, it’s like the start-up T-shirt of yesteryear. —Nerdy Spice
- Joey gets the cutest “exasperated sister” face on when she tells Bessie that she’s been “thin in the advice department lately.” So real!
- Okay, obviously there are bigger problems with Barbara Johns than this, but seriously–”couples” is not a prom theme! That’s just something you generally find at a prom! That would be like if the theme of a wedding was “commitment and cake.”
- “I don’t understand why you feel the need to cause a spectacle,” says Barbara John, Queen of the Homophobes. Funny how homophobes are SO FASCINATED by gay people that whenever they show up somewhere, they can’t stop staring at them. —Nerdy Spice
- Yet another example of Dawson’s entitled behavior: when he tells Barbara he’s going to prom with Joey, she says, “Happy couple back together?” and he smugly replies, “Something like that, yeah.” BY NO STRETCH OF THE IMAGINATION.
- Aw, Pacey’s face when Dawson pretends he and Joey are back together is so sad!! FU Dawson!
- It’s pretty hilariously convenient that Andie and Joey both jump at the chance to protest the prom, partially out of solidarity, but also probably because they both want to get out of their respective embarrassing/awkward prom situations. It’s kind of like when I made a “pact” with a couple of much-more-popular friends of mine to turn down any date offers for junior prom so we could go together as a friend group. Like Joey and Andie, I probably would have made the pact anyway, but I wasn’t really sacrificing anything.
- Actually, Joey looks enthusiastic enough about the anti-prom idea that it seems like she really was just trying to support Jack. So it’s just Dawson and Andie that are fake allies, that makes much more sense.
- Dawson’s anti-prom idea is annoying because of his very obvious ulterior motives, but it’s also kind of a good idea. When he says, “Why are we paying 80 bucks a pop to sit where they tell us to sit, eat rubbery chicken, and listen to a special selection of Barbara Johns’ favorite tunes?”, I was just like, ugh, I forgot how fucking expensive prom was. And assigned seating?? They’ll have to deal with enough of that nonsense when they’re adults going to weddings, let them have their innocence a while longer!
- Okay, Andie literally just championed an anti-prom where anyone could go without judgment, and then she turns around and judges some perfectly nice, smiling kids with a few piercings and tattoos?? Who is she, Blair Waldorf?
- Or maybe she was just freaked out because they’re clearly forty-five years old:
- Henry’s face when he repeats “Prom sex talk??” is hilarious. It’s the perfect mixture of titillated and horrified:
- Jen’s tale of a prom date is really weird: getting a corsage pinned on you, having sex with someone whose name you don’t know but also being in a rented limo. So like… who did you rent the limo with before you slept with a dude you don’t know? Who bought you the corsage? I’m so confused by this story. —Nerdy Spice
- Jen lecturing Henry about how the prom “puts a lot of pressure on kids” is almost as smug and condescending as Ethan lecturing Jack about self-actualization. —Nerdy Spice
- After hearing the anti-prom pitch, Mitch is like “I just have one question. Why?” I love how he has absolutely no illusions that Dawson would do something so nice just to help out his gay friend. —Nerdy Spice
- Gail: “Who put cayenne pepper in this marinara sauce?” Wow, this restaurant is in more trouble than I thought. —Nerdy Spice
- If it wasn’t clear that Andie was only pretending to support the anti-prom so she could manipulate Pacey into taking her, she whines that she’s obligated to go to “the stupid alternative prom thing” even though she doesn’t have a date. Hate!!
- It’s a nice touch that Joey is wearing the same updo for prom as she did for the beauty pageant (and a similar dark dress). I would think it was a coincidence, but the only other time she wears this hairdo is the other time she feels like she’s “playing the princess” in a way that’s not true to herself: in “A Cinderella Story,” when she accompanies A.J. to his fancy reading. It’s a thing!
- Joey puts in ONE earring and it doesn’t even seem to clip or anything and then she has magically two diamonds that stay in her ear. What is happening? —Nerdy Spice
- “Lock the cash register,” says Mitch when he sees all the goth kids at the anti-prom. Uh, rude! —Nerdy Spice
- I have to admit I laughed when Ethan said, “Can you believe we wore the same thing?” —Nerdy Spice
- Pacey’s devastated face next to Andie’s oblivious cheer is almost as painful as Joey and Dawson’s prom picture:
- Everyone at this prom is dancing to a different beat and it’s hilarious. —Nerdy Spice
- We haven’t used the “gratuitously bringing up sex” drinking game rule for a while, but it comes back with a vengeance in this episode, when Jen and Henry talk about sex for what feels like hours with the emotional maturity of six-year-olds.
- Jen says, “There are other things we can talk about other than sex.” Henry says, “Of course, there’s…” and then his face goes STRAIGHT-UP BLANK. Forget that stupid football camp fight, that’s worth breaking up over.
- “You don’t think I get the subtext of every one of those looks you’re throwing his way?” says Joey. Um… can looks have subtext? —Nerdy Spice
- OK, I know the bracelet is—famously—supposed to be simple, elegant, and beautiful. But… isn’t it kind of… ugly? —Nerdy Spice
- Jokes about Andie’s outfit aside, I like that all of the dresses are completely prommy. In addition to Andie’s horrible pale purple dress, which is pretty much the archetypal horrible prom dress, we have Jen’s ruched pink dress that looks like a slightly younger version of a bridesmaid’s dress, and then Joey’s relatively nice black dress with some random fringe on the bottom and spaghetti straps that look like bra straps. It’s pretty cute.
- When Ethan is weirdly pressuring Jack to kiss him, he says there’s “no network to cut to commercial.” Maybe not, but there is certainly a network that’s dragging its feet towards the imminent first-gay-kiss-on-network-television. Shot for the meta-reference!
- The infamously not-into-kissing-dudes-onscreen Kerr Smith isn’t the most expressive actor but he does do a great job of pretending to be disappointed that he’s not kissing a dude right now. —Nerdy Spice
- Aww, Andie saying “But at least you got to dance with her” is actually really sweet. —Nerdy Spice
- Gail, here’s a hint for proposals of remarriage: Maybe don’t mention the “mistakes you made last time” when those mistakes were you CHEATING REPEATEDLY. What a mood-killer. —Nerdy Spice
I mean, it’s hard to beat this line, which may be the most meltingly romantic Pacey line this side of “When I was afraid of everything I was never afraid to love you”:
But I have to give the edge to that immortal line Pacey delivers about Joey’s bracelet: “Simple. Elegant. Beautiful.” Mostly because the usage of the word “elegant” is so weirdly mature here, but still somehow works, and makes the moment all the more romantic. Nerdy Spice and I had our proudest sister moment ever when someone randomly said the word “elegant” and we just looked at each other like, “Dawson’s?” “Yep.”
Most cringeworthy moment:
Dawson says a lot of terrible, toxic, Nice Guy-esque things during his fight with Joey. But the cringiest part by far is when he flat-out admits he didn’t care at all about poor Jack’s brush with bigotry–he just wanted a chance to manipulate Joey into making out with him. Worst. Ally. Ever.
Most wrongly used five-dollar word:
Jack’s usage of the word “actualize” is definitely wrong, but it’s so hilarious I don’t want to criticize it. Similarly, Wise Gay Sage’s constant usage of the word “self-actualization” kind of means nothing, but in the context of his terribleness it’s actually supposed to mean nothing! Good job, writers!
Most 90s soundtrack moment:
So many good choices here. There’s Dawson’s favorite Chantal Kreviazuk playing during Gail’s proposal, and a sweet 1998 song by indie folk-pop singer Sarah Slean during Pacey and Joey’s iconic prom dance. But my pick is “London Rain (Nothing Heals Me Like You Do)” by Heather Nova, which plays when Dawson picks up Joey for prom. It’s not only an eminently recognizable 90s song, but a direct callback to the last time this song played on this show–when Dawson picked up Joey for their first date. RIP.
Thirteen: two for the Canterbury Tales reference, one for a clunky meta-reference to TV networks, and a whopping ten for Jen and Henry constantly bringing up sex, all while claiming they desperately don’t want to talk about sex.
Season Three, Episode 23 “True Love”
By Nerdy Spice
This is it: the episode that birthed a thousand memes. It’s time for the Dawson Cry Face!
Summer is starting, and Gail and Mitch are getting re-married with astonishing haste after getting re-engaged, like, five minutes ago. Joey is, for reasons best known to Gail, the maid of honor, and Dawson takes this opportunity (as always) to wax smug about how he and Joey are friends and how everything is totally fine.
Meaanwhile, Pacey’s preparing to go on a big boat trip down to Key West, and isn’t even planning to tell Joey, which is surprisingly bitter for a guy who was supposedly taking the high road. Doug tries to get him to man up: “Best case, she gives you a reason to stay.” When Pacey remains unconvinced Doug takes matters into his own hands, stopping Joey on the same stretch of road (I think?) where she once tried to walk all the way home after kissing Pacey, and giving her a “warning” that “a particular attitudinally challenged younger sibling is preparing to leave Capeside for the summer.” So Joey finds Pacey munching on a Three Musketeers bar (reference intended?) outside the grocery store and accuses him of packing up and leaving “as soon as things get tough.” Pacey gets very meta (shot!), narrating the disappointing scene he expects: “I come to you heart in hand,” but then “the Potter sarcasm kicks in, and I leave never getting what I came for.” He wants her to ask him to stay. Joey says that’s not her decision, but Pacey says the decision has always been hers, and points out that her wall is “unfinished, just like us.”
You know, Pacey really killed two birds with one stone by buying her that wall. I mean, first of all, he turned himself into The Guy Who Bought Her A Wall. That’s tough to beat. But in buying the wall he also acquired an excellent metaphor for their relationship. Kudos to you, Pacey.
Meanwhile, a similarly busybody Andie tries to get Dawson to follow his better angels by telling him about the trip, but Dawson remains unmoved. Pacey’s going-away party is during the Leerys’ rehearsal dinner, which Joey attends with her usual Cloud of Doom hanging over her head. Dawson is like, “Don’t make me feel like this… like you’re stuck with me!” Which, it’s quite human to feel that way, but dude? She IS stuck with you, because you literally threatened her to get her to stick with you. What he really wants is to be able to dictate what she does AND to be able to feel like she wanted it all along. And he kind of gets his wish for awhile, by (passive-aggressively and bitterly) telling her to go to Pacey’s goodbye party and having her wisely deduce that she won’t in fact be forgiven if she takes him up on it, so she “chooses” to stay at his family thing and he gets to feel like she picked him.
Not that this makes her more cheerful: Dawson finds her out on the dock later that night staring out at the creek. She tells him, “I broke things off with Pacey not entirely but in large part because I didn’t want to lose you.” She tells him that he’s her home, and that she was afraid of losing that. “But if that wasn’t the choice? And if I thought there was a chance that you would forgive me? I may have chosen differently.” Ouch. It might be the most honest Joey has been with anyone all season, which is nice to see. Of course, funnily enough, even though Dawson literally told her to dump Pacey so she wouldn’t lose him, he doesn’t want to be reminded of that. Once she says that’s why she did it, he’s like, wait, that’s not flattering at all. This is not the face of a man who’s getting the ego-stroking that he wants:
While all of this is going on, Jen and Henry are behaving like children, using poor Jack as a go-between. Henry tries actually apologizing (for… not putting his hobbies on hold for Jen, I guess?), but Jen says, “I’m sorry too. Sorry that we ever met.” Uh, good one? At Pacey’s going-away party, Grams tells the whiny kids that they “don’t know what tough is,” and Jen has the nerve to tell her that she doesn’t know what their lives are like. So Grams tells them a long, sort of silly story about a soldier she met who had beautiful blue eyes and whom she had one beautiful day with, despite the fact that his name was the rather unromantic Thomas Culpepper. She chickened out before kissing him, but then the next day she (apparently?) stowed away on a military aircraft just so she could show up at his base and kiss him. Or something. And then he died at sea. I think the most absurd thing about this story is that everyone is like, huh, I guess we should kiss people before they die at sea, but no one thinks to ask, “What’s it like to stow away on a military transport aircraft?” And like, if this was your grandmother… wouldn’t that part of the story be the part that really blew your mind?
But instead, the eternally oblivious Jen is like, “Oh, I guess this story has taught me to appreciate my weirdo boyfriend.” Which is… another path to take, I guess. So Grams drives not only Jen but also Andie and Jack all night so that Jen can find Henry and kiss him on his way to football camp, which… yeah. You found a school bus full of high-school football players on a long drive on the highway without the benefit of smartphones or even SMS. I’m so sure. (The most hilarious part is that we’ll never see Henry again after this dramatic reconciliation, so like, why bother?) Then, high on the success of their weird mission, they drive Jack to Boston so he can plant one on Ethan, only to awkwardly find out that Ethan reunited with Brad. Oops. Ethan’s inadequate explanation is, “The timing just isn’t there right now.” OH, YOU THINK? That said, this was a big deal at the time, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Kerr Smith (who often looked kind of pissed to be kissing other dudes) did a good job of really laying one on Ethan–and even allowing him to do that was somewhat of a daring choice for the network.
Meanwhile, after the rehearsal dinner, Joey goes by the store at Bessie’s request, only to find herself walking by her newly painted wall, which says “ASK ME TO STAY” in giant black letters. Turns out Pacey asked Bessie to ask Joey to go by the store, knowing she’d walk by the wall and its “hastily yet adoringly written SOS.” He tells her that he’s not quite ready to give up on her yet, but she has to not be ready to give up on him either. And then tells her that it’s her turn to sit and think. Joey has this sort of amazed, incredulous, terrified half-smile on her face as Pacey leaves. I mean, who wouldn’t?
The next morning, Joey and Dawson dutifully stand attendance at the Leerys’ awkward remarriage, where Gail has seen fit to wear a periwinkle sundress and a giant head-wreath of white flowers. Um, you do you, Gail. Joey makes a pretense at being moved and happy to be there, but as soon as she sees Pacey on her procession out, her face gets a very Oh Shit Turns Out I Really Do Want That Guy expression on it. Still, she finds him at the wedding and tells him she can’t ask him to stay, complete with the requisite inappropriate mention of Dawson. Being the champ he is, Pacey just claps her gently on the shoulders and tells her that she’s made her choice… then adds that if she’d done it months ago “you could’ve saved us all a lot of time and energy. And heartache.” Well, he started out strong at least. If he ended up a little south of heroic and possibly even veering into bitter, it’s hard to blame him.
Dawson interrupts them just when Joey looks like she’s about to full-on burst into tears and makes a snotty remark about the “triangle,” so Joey—cowardly as always!—beats a hasty retreat, after bidding Pacey an awkward good-bye. Pacey tells Dawson to “ease up” and that he’s only there for his parents, then once again loses a few cool points by “congratulating” him on getting what he wanted. “Things are never gonna be the same between us, are they?” he says. Dawson, with his usual smugness, says no. (Shot for Pacey and Joey ruining everything!) Then he ends up dancing with Joey, who makes this completely pathetic pretense of being happy about spending the summer with him while visibly teetering on the edge of bursting into tears again.
Dawson doesn’t really seem to notice this, but after the wedding reception has calmed down, Joey finds him out on the dock. Dawson, in the tone of a martyr, tells her to turn around and go. Some choice quotes from his faux-heroic speech include “that it’s a colossal mistake and that all roads lead back to me” (uhhh… we’ll see how that works out for you in season six) and “Pacey is this year’s Paris.” But then he says, “You want him. You want him like I want you. You love him like I love you. The difference is he loves you back the same way. And you deserve that.” Which is, even for someone a little less arrogant than Dawson, a tough thing to admit to yourself, so kudos to him. Of course he immediately ruins it by declaring, “You’re free.” Ugh, gross. She was always free, you were just so emotionally abusive that she didn’t realize it. Joey begs him to promise that he won’t hate her, but he basically dismisses these as “pleasantries” and sends her off “before I take it all back.” Gross, again.
And now it’s time for the birth of the greatest gif of all time. Joey runs away, and Dawson cries. He cries A LOT. And it’s still everything you could possibly want from a crying-face.
Jen sees this all happen and brings herself, Andie, and Jack over to hang with Dawson so he can forget that Pacey and Joey might very well be Doing It on Pacey’s boat at that very moment. They even rented videos! Yay friendships!
Jack also gets a last scene where he tells his dad that he kissed Ethan and it didn’t work out, and that his whole life is “a wash.” Or maybe it’s “awash” … with sadness? I’ve never been sure. He tells his dad that he has the same problems as other teenagers but with an additional layer of constant fear and pain. His dad praises him for going after what he wanted. The dad suddenly is randomly all proud and happy of Jack, which is … great, but unexplained. Oh well. They have a nice big hug on the kitchen floor and it’s sweet. And Jack’s statement that he has the same problems as other people–like that sometimes the guy you like gets back together with his ex–but with an added layer of hardship on top is a great explanation of why it was and is so hard to be a gay teen. So kudos for that! It doesn’t really matter if Jack’s dad’s arc doesn’t make much sense, the triumph is really that Jack got to the point where he accepted himself.
But the real happy ending is saved for Pacey and Joey. The latter runs at top speed (well, with a short break for a costume change—more on that later) to find him at the dock. She tells him she’s not there to stop him from leaving. Cue yet another inappropriate mention of Dawson: “I don’t want to stop you, Pacey. And I don’t want to stop Dawson, and I don’t want to be stopped.” She tells him that he’s challenged her every step of the way and he’s been there every step of the way. Given her raging case of Dawson Mentionitis, Pacey isn’t sure why she is there if not to stop him. So she says, “I think I’m in love with you.”
You can see this adoring light dawn in Pacey’s eyes, but he keeps it together long enough to say, “You think or you know?” She says she knows, and he turns to her with a smile. “I’ve known it since the moment you kissed me and maybe even before that. And as scary as it is, I don’t want to deny it anymore, Pacey. I don’t want to run from it, and I don’t want to let it run from me.” (In case you’re wondering, yes I did transcribe this entire exchange from memory, thank you very much.) She tells him she wants to come with him, and he kind of grins and asks if she’s crazy and she grins back. He says that Bessie needs her, and she says the obvious but wonderful, “Not as much as I need you, Pacey.”
Just as she’s about to climb aboard, he stops her. He is the captain after all! So, smiling brilliantly, she extends her hand and requests, “Permission to come aboard.” After a long stunned pause he leans down and says softly, “Permission granted,” and they share a sun-drenched kiss and grin at each other and sail into the sunset.
I’ve rewatched this show a zillion times, but it was often with something else going on in the background, and always all at once over the space of a few bored weeks in college or early adulthood, so I kind of never realized what it would have been like to watch this part of the story unfold more slowly and gradually. And how magical and beautiful it is when it finally culminates with this one lovely moment. I don’t think I ever cried like this when I first watched it, but holy crap. I’m making almost as stupid a crying-face as Dawson right now.
- Like mother, like surrogate daughter: it’s tragic that Gail has so few female friends that her son’s it’s-complicated ex-girlfriend is her maid of honor at her second wedding.
- Dawson is convinced that he needs to portentously thank Joey for agreeing to be in the wedding, and she uncomfortably reminds him that it won’t change anything between them. He agrees under duress, but then as soon as she mentions finding something blue, is like “Seems to be some of that going around these days.” So basically, “Sure, we totally won’t be awkward, but oh by the way, let me make a really tortured pun on ‘blue’ just to remind you that you recently Ruined Everything and Broke My Heart.” (Shot!)
- I love that in these last few episodes, while Joey is still outwardly pretending that the love triangle is equally weighted, she can only ever look at Dawson like this: –Janes
- I’ll take a shot for Pacey’s Katharine Hepburn reference. Hepburn and Tracy do bear a resemblance to Pacey and Joey’s witty banter.
- “Hey Jen, guess what? Henry’s come over here with this uh, ridiculously lame Siddhartha-related pretext cause he’s secretly hoping that you’ll give him another chance,” says Jack, losing patience with Jen and Henry’s childish antics.
- “Subtlety’s not exactly your forte, is it?” says Dawson to Andie when she comes over with a yearbook where she’s marked a picture of Dawson and Pacey. Truer words were never spoken.
- Andie manages to get out something that’s actually true: “Letting go isn’t a one-time thing. It’s something that you have to do over and over again every day.” Dawson looks mildly moved by this… but as we all know, he’s going to let go once and then spend much of the rest of his life stubbornly NOT letting go.
- It’s kind of rich for Joey to criticize Pacey for “running away” and “giving up” when not only did she break up with him, but she later characterizes their entire tortured saga as one Joey-running-away after another. –Janes
- Pacey’s goodbye party is Jack, Andie, Jen, and Grams. I guess his family is supposedly shitty and none of these kids have other friends anyway, but wow, that is a seriously tragic guest list. Four people, and one of them is your third-best-friend’s grandma? Yikes.
- Jen pity party: she chips a tooth on a piece of crab shell and complains, “Just what I need to keep men permanently away from me.” Oh my God, shut up. Also, shot!
- Okay, we need to settle this thing once and for all: does Grams have a British accent??
- I love that when Pacey sees Joey at the wall, he just says, “What took you so long?” It’s romantic, and speaks to his easy confidence that so contrasts Dawson’s toxic insecurity, but also–WORD. –Janes
- Why aren’t Jen, Andie and Jack invited to the Leerys’ remarriage? Why not Grams, who is literally their next-door neighbor?
- Jen sees a generic coach bus at a rest stop hours and hours away from Capeside, and at the mere suggestion that this may be Henry’s bus, leaps out of the car yelling his full name. Risky move, Jen.
- When she does see him, she says, “Nine months ago you paid five hundred dollars to kiss me and I was too dumb to realize what that meant and what you were offering me. But I know now.” Uh… you mean, prostitution?
- While they dance at the wedding, Dawson tells Joey that he used to look in her eyes and know everything she was thinking, but these days he “hasn’t a clue.” Um, I think you’re mixing up “knowing everything Joey was thinking” with “pathologically demanding to know everything Joey was thinking and supplementing with her fucking diary.” –Janes
- It goes kind of quickly, but the kiss between Jack and Ethan is a historic moment: the first male gay kiss on primetime television!! It’s incredibly sad that this happened in the year 2000, and that gay creators like Kevin Williamson and Greg Berlanti had to fight every step of the way, but still–it’s a momentous occasion! —Janes
- I love how Brad sees Jack kiss Ethan and goes, “I’m going to let you two talk this one out.” It’s either evidence that he’s extremely secure or a clever maneuver to make Jack think he’s extremely secure.
- Dawson is so controlling that his version of selflessness is “making” her go to Paris. Um… or maybe you could just be supportive and let her do what she fucking wants to do? –Janes
- Almost as funny as the “crying face” is Dawson’s crazy-dramatic collapse onto the dock. They definitely had no idea how hilarious this was. –Janes
- We were about to squeak by with only five shots when Jack mentions their “countless references to all things Freud and Spielberg” and Jen follows it up with a Wizard of Oz quote, “We’re not in Capeside anymore, Toto.” Andie’s far less witty contribution to this conversation is, “Our pain makes us real, Dawson.” Uh, thanks?
- Jen goes into a meta-analysis of the series: “This is an alternate reality where our intellects are sharper, our quips are wittier, and our hearts are broken while soon-to-be-out-of-date contempo-pop music plays.” Well, one out of three ain’t bad. (Three shots!)
- Joey decides to go home and change out of her bridesmaid dress before officially Going After Pacey. Given that she doesn’t really know what time he was planning to set sail that’s always struck me as a risky choice, if an understandable one. Sure, no one wants to embark on a three-month romantic boat trip in a bridesmaid dress, especially a light blue satin one with a gathered bust. But like, what if she went home and spent all this time choosing the perfect Nineties Tomato-Red Peasant Top to go with her mom jeans and went to the dock and he had just set sail ten minutes earlier? Can you imagine how much she would have regretted it?
- OK, so, I don’t want to quibble with a scene so romantic it reduced me to a sniffling mess, but Pacey takes Joey aboard and then asks, “You can swim, can’tcha?” Uh, Pace? She’s been living on Cape Cod her entire life and she worked at a damn marina for a year. I think she can swim. Jesus.
It’s gotta be a tie for this one. Sure, watching Pacey and Joey sail off into the sunset as Joey finally spells out why she’s in love with Pacey is amazing. But so is watching Dawson cry, albeit in a very different way. To quote Joey Potter, please don’t make me choose!
Most cringeworthy moment:
This has been pointed out by greater recappers than I, but Dawson’s toast is a hilarious exhibition of pure solipsism. (Seriously, read that whole recap, which delves into every detail of why Dawson’s behavior SUCKS.) He recalls “looking at the photo album as a kid wondering why I wasn’t in any of the pictures.” Ha! He literally doesn’t understand that other people have separate lives and desires. Then there’s a lot of blather about how love forgives everything, which… do you really have to forgive someone for getting involved with another man six months after you refused to get back together with her? Ugh.
Most 90s soundtrack moment:
Like all Dawson’s finales, this episode has a killer soundtrack. But the most 90s moment has to be playing not one, but two songs by Jessica Andrews, who was singing pleasant country-pop before it was cool. Her most famous song, “I Will Be There for You,” plays while Jen is presciently snarking about “soon-to-be-out-of-date contempo-pop music playing in the background.”
Eleven shots, mostly for meta references, plus the requisite mentions of Joey and Pacey ruining everything.
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