Season 4, Episode 10 “Self-Reliance”
Is it weird that this is one of my favorite episodes? (Answer: yes.)
It’s really nothing to write home about, and yet I so heavily related to it when I was a kid. I was not a Plucky Orphan, but I definitely would have gone into a tailspin if I got a C on an exam, and I was most definitely told by multiple love interests that I was too obsessed with self-sufficiency. Now that I’m older, I know that these arcs about “curing” young women of their self-sufficiency is more than a little sexist (no one ever says men are “too self-reliant”), but still, my love for this episode lives on. Even if Joey’s actual crisis (her ex-boyfriend hooking up with someone months after she broke up with him in dramatic and legendary fashion) is very typical and soapy, the execution–which filters her emotional conflict through stress about banal, everyday things like exams and familial responsibilities–really isn’t.
The morning after the Christmas party, Joey pointedly avoids talking about Gretchen and Dawson’s kiss with Pacey, but is noticeably more irritable with him. When Pacey cautiously tries to talk to her about it, she demurs, and throws herself into her other responsibilities: studying for a big test on transcendentalism and taking care of Alexander/the inn while Bessie is away. Joey can get kind of self-righteous about how “adult” she is, but really, that’s a lot of responsibility for a 17-year-old. So much so, that it almost sounds silly when Pacey assumes that she’s lying when she says she “hasn’t had time to process” Gretchen and Dawson yet. Like, maybe she really didn’t, girl had shit to do!
But anyway, we’re supposed to assume that she’s lying, and that she’s trying to hide how much this kiss really bothers her. Pacey, boyfriend extraordinaire, tries to help her by taking care of Alexander so she can study for her test, and everything about it is ADORABLE. Pacey manhandling children should be its own Tumblr.
Joey is understandably annoyed when Pacey gets Alexander all riled up and lets him bang on pots with wooden spoons (while she’s trying to study, no less!), and she overreacts by kicking him out of the house because “[she] can handle this way better on [her] own.” And yet, even this little tiff is completely adorable, with Joey manhandling Pacey and putting on his hat and coat for him:
Gretchen plays Wise Adult with Pacey, even though she’s a college kid who just made out with her little brother’s best friend, and tells him that he should talk to Joey about the whole Dawson issue again. She says he should be “sweet, kind, and understanding,” and if that doesn’t work, then force the issue and risk coming off like a jerk in order to make sure they talk about it. I have a super hands-off relationship style, so my first instinct is to say that Joey can be privately upset about it if she wants to be, but still, that’s pretty good, grown-up advice.
Joey blows her test–and Dawson is there to smugly ask if she’s okay, which just adds insult to injury. (He also makes a snide comment about her usage of Cliffsnotes, which like, seriously, can everyone just get off her grill??) Pacey, on the other hand, takes Gretchen’s advice and is super sweet to Joey, getting her groceries without being asked, offering to take care of Alexander, and adorably comforting the baby when he gets fussy, making the same affectionate clucking sounds that I make to my cats.
But as you can see in the above screencap, Joey is not having any of it. She’s supremely ungrateful, takes out all of her frustrations on Pacey, and launches into a classic whiny-yet-somewhat-justified Joey speech: “I don’t have the energy to buck up and be in a good mood, okay? I’m tired! I’m so tired of worrying about Alexander, and I’m tired of waiting on people, and I am so tired of doing everything myself!” Justified, because she actually does have way too much responsibility, and it actually does make sense that she would be stressed about one test, since she hasn’t gotten into college yet and is depending on a scholarship. Whiny because–hello?–Pacey is TRYING to help you! These “independent women,” amirite?
Pacey says just that (the “trying to help her” part, not the “independent woman” part), and then immediately pivots to what Joey is “really” upset about: Dawson, obvi. (Shot!) Because she couldn’t be upset about potentially jeopardizing a college scholarship or about being a functional orphan. She lies–very badly–that she’s not upset about Gretchen and Dawson, and he says, “Maybe not, but you are definitely upset about Dawson and you.” Whoa. I still don’t totally know if he meant the D/J friendship or romance, but either way, it’s rough. She gets teary, then lashes out, and they both have never seemed more like teenagers.
But then, something kind of beautiful happens. They have a tense-yet-calm post-fight conversation, and end up talking about everything they “don’t talk about.” Pacey admits that he was trying to pick a fight, but only so they just avoid talking about things like Dawson and the future until their relationship is just over. Joey finally starts to relent a little, and tells him, “I don’t know why it should bother me, this whole Gretchen and Dawson thing,” and Pacey replies, “It’s okay if it bothers you, I just want you to be able to tell me that.” Aw! So healthy! Then Joey does a cute little reprise of her “person who knows me best” speech, and tells him that when she thinks about the future, she sees “us.” “Me and you, Pace, we grew up together. Dawson and I, we didn’t grow up. We are in that house, in Dawson’s bedroom, eternally having the same argument over and over again, and I can’t stop it. Whenever I’m around him, I become 15 again.” Now, that might be the best description of the D/J relationship in the whole show. (Also, Joey’s talking about growing up again, take a shot!)
Then, Pacey reluctantly tells her that she needs to talk to Dawson so she can get some closure, and then says, “And then will you please call me?” while giving her the CUTEST look. It’s so healthy, it’s a little disgusting.
Joey waits for Dawson in his bedroom, just like old times, and makes it obvious that she wants to have a serious conversation. In the spirit of the rest of the episode, she uses the test as a pretext for all of her actual problems. She tells him that she lied to him when she said she was “okay,” referring to the test, but obviously the subtext is him and Gretchen. Then, before that subtext can become text, Dawson gives Joey her Christmas present: a beautiful black-and-white photograph of her and Pacey looking adorable at the Leery Christmas party. Joey is moved to tears, tells him how grateful she is that they’re friends, and tells him to follow his heart when it comes to Gretchen. This scene is a huge accomplishment, both for the characters and the writers: the characters managed to end their vicious cycle of regression (for now, at least), and the writers managed to use subtext properly!
Pacey, like the perfect boyfriend he is, convinces Mr. Kasdan to give Joey a makeup exam with the sheer power of his love for her. Mr. Kasdan lets Joey know what Pacey did while giving her a little lesson about how the transcendentalists were semi-hypocrites who borrowed axes from their neighbors and dropped off their laundry with their mother, and actually weren’t all that self-reliant at all. (Only one shot for the fairly accurate literary reference!)
Inspired by this chorus of white men telling her not to be so independent, Joey makes up with Pacey, tells him that all of her “ghosts” are “firmly locked away,” and studies by the fire with him and Alexander like they’re a little family, and all is right with the world.
Speaking of the Ghost of Christmas Past, Dawson starts the episode trying to be oh-so-cool about his kiss with Gretchen, and it’s hilariously transparent. When Jack asks if he feels nothing, he says “Not nothing, but virtually nothing.” Oooookay. Then, he adds this little gem: “Not every kiss has to be a life-altering event.” OH REALLY, DAWSON?? DOESN’T IT????
And then his facade gets even more obvious when Gretchen comes over and very maturely (and/or condescendingly) wants to make sure he knows that the kiss didn’t mean anything. He tries to play the cool guy and gaslight her, like “Of course it didn’t mean anything! How could you think such a thing!”, but he’s not fooling anyone.
By the time he finishes off with a very meaningful “Happy Holidays,” we’re just counting down the minutes until he loses his zen and declares his love for her (it’s about 40, for those keeping score).
After getting a pep talk from Joey, of all people, Dawson confesses his love for Gretchen at the local Christmas Tree lighting. As much as I love Christmas lights, it’s totally underwhelming. He says he’s crazy about her, he can’t stop thinking about her, and that she can tell him that he’s too young or that he’s “not over Joey,” but he still wants to tell her how he feels. Um, can we have a shot for Dawson inappropriately bringing up Joey? Seems like a rich area.
Meanwhile, Jen and Jack attend a “Gay/Straight Teen Coalition” meeting in Provincetown, which, in a nice bit of real-world continuity, is actually an LGBT hub near Cape Cod. Dawson says that sounds “mildly political” with a near-grimace, because he’s the worst, and Jack says, “That’s what I’m afraid of,” because he’s also kind of the worst. It’s totally understandable to wish your own life/existence could be de-politicized, but making fun of people who actually want to make things better is super irritating. I miss Shy Bumbling Artist Jack. He wouldn’t be too cool for the Gay/Straight Teen Coalition.
And it only gets worse from there. When they arrive at the meeting, Jack makes some good old-fashioned homophobic comments, complaining that the speakers are saying the word “gay” too often (um… what did he think this meeting was about??) and whining that he’s “the only guy there with no piercings.” Although Tobey, the resident activist, basically confirms those stereotypes by exhaling in relief over Jen’s presence because “we need more lesbians with decent haircuts.” Tobey positively fanboys out when he realizes that Jack is the “gay football player,” and Jack isn’t having any of it, because he “isn’t comfortable with labels like that.” Tobey awesomely (and kind of self-righteously), retorts, “And which label bothers you more? ‘Gay’ or ‘football player’?” Ha! Burn.
But then, Tobey gives Jack a run for his money, and totally mishandles Jack’s brush with homophobic soccer parents. First, Tobey keeps interrupting him, just so he can snottily fill in the blanks and act like Jack’s story is a dime a dozen, rather than letting Jack tell his own story and express his own feelings about it. Then, when he hears that Jack didn’t make a fuss, he goes all Enjolras on him (if Enjolras wasn’t completely amazing) and berates him for not standing up for gay rights. I’m all for Tobey’s militant politics, and Jack definitely has some internalized homophobia that I don’t enjoy, but it’s completely hypocritical of Tobey to act like Jack is the problem, rather than placing the blame squarely on the parents. (Although Jack then tips the annoying scales back in his favor by pooh-poohing the group’s protest of a bowling alley that kicked out a lesbian couple for kissing: “God forbid generations of gay teenagers are denied the right to bowl.” Shut up, Frat Boy Jack!)
Anyway, Jen blackmails Jack into going bowling by threatening to go without him (aw, they love each other!), and it’s hilarious. Tobey makes constant comments about Jack playing football, and then still insists that Jack’s letterman jacket must be “ironic,” that he must have gotten it “at a thrift store or something.” Hee!!
He also takes to calling Jack “Captain America,” and since this was back when Marvel Comics was still a nerd thing rather than a pop-culture staple, he needs to explain the reference to Jack. Jack bristles that he “doesn’t fit into the stereotype of [gay people] in [Tobey’s] head,” which, fair enough, but then loses the moral high ground when Tobey asks, “Is this getting a little too gay for you?” and Jack says, “As a matter of fact, it is getting a little too gay for me!” Ugh. He’s kind of the worst.
That being said, he’s still sort of right about Tobey’s “holier-than-thou attitude,” but Tobey explains his side thusly: “That’s easy to say from the popular table with all the other football players and cheerleaders, but in the real world, people who fit in, like you, beat up people who don’t, like me.” After a little more fighting, Tobey admits he was judging on appearances, and Jack admits that he doesn’t know what it would be picked on his entire life, but “that doesn’t make [him] any more straight.”
For better and for worse, Tobey reminds me a lot of the “drama kids” I knew in high school (both straight and LGBT+). My school used to have two separate cafeterias, which were informally designated the “jock” and “drama geek” cafeterias, respectively. After a few incidents where drama kids tried to eat in the “jock” cafeteria and had food thrown at them, the school consolidated the cafeterias, but the divisions were already ingrained. In response to the constant bullying, the drama kids often became very defensive and even hostile to those they perceived as not “weird” enough to be a safe ally. They dealt with the harassment by sticking together and being very openly proud of their “weirdness,” which led others to believe they were “holier-than-thou,” but they really weren’t. The “jocks” and other bullies formed tribes in order to oppress, while the “drama kids” formed tribes in order to survive. Tobey is painted in kind of broad strokes, but I’m glad the writers added a gay character who deals with his oppression in a very different, but equally valid way.
- Oh yuck. The phrase “bikini-clad object of my pre-adolescent affection” should definitely be banned.
- Jack says the coalition meeting, “isn’t [his] scene,” and Jen responds, “Jack, your ‘scene,’ as you so quaintly refer to it, basically consists of me, Dawson, and, it pains me to say it, Grams.” Hee!!
- So Janes called Tobey a hipster and I was like, “Whaaaat, he’s totally basic.” But then Jack shows up in his letterman’s jacket and Tobey goes, “He’s kidding, right? It’s ironic?” and I had to admit that Janes was right. Tobey is a big old hipster. —Nerdy Spice
- “He’s not the quarterback, he… they throw him the ball and he catches it,” is Jen’s description of Jack’s role. Hee! A girl after my own heart. —Nerdy Spice
- Ugh, it’s Grumpy Old Man with a Heart of Gold again. Dawson wants to do a documentary about him. The end.
- Was Tobey’s crack about people who “read more than just the sports pages” a dig at Jack?? I never noticed that before! (Definitely! —Nerdy Spice)
- Why does Jack have such a penchant for judgy gay boys? Tobey gets up in his grill about four seconds after calling Jack “the gay football player.” I don’t think anyone likes being reduced like that. —Nerdy Spice
- Pacey channels Joey and tells Gretchen, “There’s no such thing as ‘just a kiss,’ especially not in Capeside,” and she responds incredulously, “Didn’t you people ever play Spin the Bottle?” Ha! So true, but then again, Gretchen does actually like Dawson, so I guess Capeside kisses really are always super meaningful.
- Usually I really like Gretchen, but I legit HATE people who declare that their policy is to be clear about things and to clear things up. I’m sorry, but nobody sets out in life saying, “I’m not going to clear up any awkwardness that results from my actions tonight.” You’re not that special. And saying it doesn’t mean that you’ll be good at it. —Nerdy Spice
- Omg Alexander hiccuping! SO CUTE. I can’t tell if they were real and Pacey’s little comment was improvised or if that was in the script. But it’s adorable. —Nerdy Spice
- Brooks says there aren’t actually seven stories, only three: guy likes girl, guy gets girl, guy loses girl. Putting aside the sexist and heteronormative implications, this guy has been living in Capeside way too long.
- He also talks about how the best movies are about love triangles because “for every bit of happiness, there’s a bit of unhappiness.” I want to make fun of this obvious and self-aggrandizing meta-reference, but all of my favorite TV shows (and a lot of my favorite books) are about love triangles, so…
- Mr. Brooks’ theory of zero-sum love-happiness is … not accurate. —Nerdy Spice
- Pacey: “I didn’t come over here to fight about Dawson.” Joey: “Yes, you did.” Pacey: Yeah, you’re right.” Ha! The P/J relationship in a nutshell.
- Omg, Pacey with the spoons playing with Alexander. As Janes would say, “I’m dead.” And I’m even deader at this image of Alexander grinning on the floor. —Nerdy Spice
- Oh, Joey. None of what she yells at Pacey, who just bought her groceries and is being massively chill, like Cool Girl level chill, about the whole Dawson thing, and is about to DO HER DISHES (swoon), makes any sense. But let she who has never thrown an irrational fit when she was tired and stressed throw the first stone, and… that wouldn’t be me. —Nerdy Spice
- Tobey’s a pretentious hipster and everything, but seriously, why is Jack still wearing his letterman jacket?? He’s not even on the team anymore!
- In my opinion, Tobey is almost as bad as Ethan. It’s great that he’s politically aware and of course Jack is one big ball of internalized homophobia. But that’s Jack’s journey to take, not Tobey’s to direct. I dunno. I just hate this notion that men who judge you and think they’re better than you are good romantic partners! They’re not! —Nerdy Spice
- Oh yeah, and Dawson finds out that Grumpy Old Man with a Heart of Gold is seriously ill, and we all drop dead of shock.
- Dawson’s present to Joey is really sweet. But, uh… WHO WRAPS BOTH HALVES OF THE BOX SEPARATELY?! What a weirdo. (See, we can always find something to criticize about Dawson even when he’s being a mensch.) —Nerdy Spice
- It’s super awkward that Joey says good-bye to Dawson by kissing his head! Just hug like a normal person! —Nerdy Spice
- “I should prefer not to,” says Pacey when his English teacher asks if he wants to have another go at Bartleby the Scrivener. If he wasn’t basically the perfect man before, this literary joke definitely puts him over the edge. —Nerdy Spice
- “You know the gays, we’re always recruiting,” Tobey says when he runs into Jack. Hee! —Nerdy Spice
- There are a LOT of ribbed sweaters in this episode, aren’t there? —Nerdy Spice
Aside from the Adventures of Pacey and Alexander, my favorite is that beautiful and surprisingly mature scene between Joey and Dawson. It’s so bittersweet, and so much is left unsaid, which is so rare for this show. Plus, what a gorgeous photo of Joey and Pacey!
Most cringeworthy moment:
This was the 90s, and it was a struggle to get any gay characters on a show like this. That being said, it’s pretty awkward to see the show use the only two lesbian girls we ever see as props–who don’t get to speak a single line.
Twelve, mostly for lots of gratuitous movie references in Brooks/Dawson scenes, and of course, inappropriate mentions of Dawson in P/J fights.
Season 4, Episode 11 “The Tao of Dawson”
By Nerdy Spice
OK, so, just to warn you, our love for Pacey is gonna take a BEATING in this episode. But don’t worry, I’m sure he’ll be back to his charming self in no time.
The basic story is that Pacey is trying to get Gretchen to date someone, anyone, other than Dawson–preferably a slacker like himself. He drives Gretchen to her school on a mission to reclaim her car from an old boyfriend, Nick. Pacey does his best to convince Gretchen to get back with Nick, even though the latter is a shitty and manipulative guy. (Even more so than Dawson.) The two end up staying overnight to go to a party Nick’s throwing, where Pacey has a total blast hanging out with Nick in his hot tub, discussing how much high school sucks and how great it is to sit around drinking imported beer and leering at young women.
Finally Nick ups the creep factor past even Pacey’s tolerance point by encouraging Pacey to cheat on Joey, at which point Pacey urgently announces to Gretchen that Nick is a jerk. Gretchen is like, um, yes, that’s what I’ve been saying? She explains about the pregnancy (which of course was Nick’s, though to be fair to him she never told him), and just barely manages to stop Pacey from going all white knight on the guy. Um, Pace? She’s your older sister. I think she can take care of herself.
But then, admitting to Pacey that she’s still attracted to the slimy Nick, she goes upstairs with him, leaving the still-young Pacey all confused. But Gretchen gets repulsed by Nick’s seductive act and stops after a couple minutes. Yet Pacey has the ABSOLUTE NERVE the next morning to scold her for wanting Nick because he’s an “ass.” Are you SERIOUS, Pacey?!
Gretchen tells Pacey that she was here to say good-bye to Nick and to a part of herself that she’s “always struggled with.” Dawson’s name also comes up as someone who actually does deserve Gretchen.
You know, I think Gretchen really is the only true adult this show ever had. (Arguably Pacey also became an adult at some point, but I’m not sure. I’ll report back at the end of season 6.) What I love about her especially in this episode is that she’s complicated, and the show lets her be complicated. She forgives Pacey for his bullshit because she knows deep down she’s attracted to Nick too. And she doesn’t apologize to anyone for who she likes or who she doesn’t like or the choices she’s made.
Meanwhile, who the fuck knows what’s going on with Pacey, who combines Dawson’s worst tendencies to hypocrisy and judginess with his own special cocktail of slightly incestuous protectiveness. My theory: Maybe once Pacey became the romantic hero, the writers started unconsciously assigning him all the toxic traits that they associate with romance and heroism, such as treating women like delicate flowers, treating women like you own their vaginas, and thinking you know everything about everything.
While Pacey’s off with Gretchen, Joey gets locked in the storeroom at the yacht club over the weekend with Drue, who was (unwillingly) supposed to spend the weekend with his father. Joey is still exhibiting an unreasonable hostility to Drue, whom I continue to find totally hilarious and charming (and I’m pretty sure Joey secretly does too–the banter is very Joey-and-Pacey circa season 1). At some point, she goes climbing up on the shelves looking for canned food and falls, so Drue catches her in his arms and kisses her–and she socks him in the face. You go, Joey!
After that, though, they bond over their bad dads (although as soon as he gets Joey’s guard down, Drue starts trying to slide a wedge into Pacey and Joey’s relationship). They finally fall asleep and wake up with more adorable banter about Joey’s snoring and Drue’s perspiration.
Unfortunately for Drue, Joey discovers Drue’s had his cell phone the whole time. That handsome devil! “We’re saaaaved,” Drue intones sarcastically. Joey thinks he did this because he’s a “sick twisted pathological little pervert” (good one) and he does admit to having looked down her shirt at her bra, which admittedly is not very charming. But it turns out he did it to get out of spending a weekend with his dad, and Joey looks almost sympathetic. Not that that’ll stop her from throwing things at him, I’m sure.
As for our so-called hero, as we saw last week, he already confessed his love to Gretchen and — to my eye — was roundly rejected. But he decides to spend this episode agonizing over what his next move should be, anyway, even though there aren’t a lot of non-illegal next moves when someone’s already shot you down. First he decides to tell Pacey he’s in love with Gretchen like none of it ever happened. Pacey is indignant at first, but quickly switches gears to ask Dawson his plan, at which point we honor my favorite IMDB plot keyword, Title Of Movie Spoken By Character. Dawson’s plan is to “do nothing,” which Pacey calls “The Tao of Dawson.” OK, but like, the woman in question has ALREADY REJECTED YOU. At this point, “do nothing” isn’t exactly a plan, it’s more … a way to not be a stalker. (And don’t ask me why they thought the word “Tao” made sense here.)
Much of the rest of Dawson’s plotline revolves around various characters trying to convince him not to … have tao? Be tao? Do tao? Since this has no more relationship to the actual concept of tao than Ross Geller’s concept of unagi did to freshwater eel, I really don’t know the correct usage. The point is, everyone wants Dawson to live life to the fullest or whatever. First up are Grams and Mr. Brooks, who turn out to be secretly dating. Dawson worries about Grams because he knows Mr. Brooks is dying. So he goes over to Grams’s house set on telling her, but (after, Dawson-like, he almost loses his nerve) Grams coolly announces she knows he’s sick already–she’s a nurse, after all, and she can tell. “A single moment of true joy is more powerful than a lifetime of sorrow,” she says. This doesn’t stop Dawson from getting all judgy with Mr. Brooks for putting Grams. But Mr. Brooks also extols to Dawson the virtues of living life on one’s own terms. “Make no mistake, kid, God intends to kill us all,” Mr. Brooks says. Heh, that’s kind of witty, I like it!
The final straw is when Jack tells Dawson that his “tao” is due to fear. This convinces Dawson to send off a letter to Gretchen that he wrote to her when he was eleven, confessing his love. And Gretchen, after her own epiphany, drives over to kiss him. (Which Dawson instantaneously ruins by asking like the cocky bastard he is, “What took you so long?”)
- “Are we talking about the feelings of fondness and fellowship that naturally follow from an obligatory mistletoe kiss?” Pacey asks, hopefully, when Dawson informs him about his crush on Gretchen.
- “Sisters are off-limits. They’re like mothers, only pretty,” says Pacey, sexistly, but hilariously.
- Dawson says re: Gretchen: “Even though she won’t acknowledge it, I think on some level she feels the same about me.” Spoken like a true stalker. –Janes
- “Last spring, if you had just come to me and told me about Joey, it would have made things a hell of a lot easier.” 1) I don’t believe you for a second, 2) Shot for reverent mentions of “last spring”! –Janes
- “If there’s one thing I’ve learned after LAST SPRING, it’s that some things can’t be forced.” OMG, enough already! –Janes
- Doesn’t Gretchen feel awkward pointing out that Pacey and her ex-boyfriend are eerily similar? The Freudian creepiness of this episode will only increase from this point.
- Pacey’s fake smile at discovering a mix CD Dawson made for Gretchen is priceless. “Ahh, how sweet,” he says drily. Hee.
- I actually can’t believe Dawson isn’t in knots of righteous indignation over the fact that Pacey had the temerity to protest the idea of him and Gretchen. Seriously, it’s super hypocritical. If you’re going to claim ownership over some genre of women in your life, why should sisters count more than ex-girlfriends? It’s just more evidence that Dawson is actually growing up a little. In his shoes, I would honestly be furious.
- Also, I can’t believe Pacey got Dawson to untwist his boxer shorts long enough to go fishing with him and then dared to rock the boat (…no pun intended) by protesting this Dawson and Gretchen thing. Hi, Pacey? ALL YOU WANT is for Dawson to be friends with you. Maybe just let him date your grown-ass sister. Jesus.
- Mitch and Gail’s big plotline is that they can’t decide whether they’re going to find out the assigned sex of their baby. Mitch calls it “maybe life’s last great mystery.” Oh my God, of course this guy thinks that the sex of the baby is some kind of life-altering fact.
- “Zen and the art of dating,” is how Jack summarizes Dawson’s approach to trying to date the woman who I feel obliged to point out once more has seemingly ALREADY REJECTED HIM. I love how everyone’s like, “Wow, Dawson, you’re so chill! You’re not chasing her around with giant bouquets!” Yes, because then he’d be a stalker?
- “I think you could create a new movement,” Jack continues. Yes, and it would be called “respecting women’s stated wishes.”
- Drue suggests that Joey’s term paper be called “How to keep a boyfriend and your virginity, or: The Many Uses of the Human Hand.” Hee! (And, shot for a great euphemism!) I don’t even feel bad for laughing. Drue is the best. Joey’s almost-as-witty retort is “Finally, a subject you know all about.”
- Apparently Drue’s father has a “spirit guide.” But Drue’s mother is clearly where he got his own personality from. When he moans that he doesn’t have a choice about visiting his father in New York, she says, “Of course you do. You can sit up front near the driver, or back near the restrooms.” Heh.
- Girl power: Nick claims that the car’s hood is open and the tires are off because he just realized that the cylinoid assembly was clogged, and then both the boys start mansplaining to her what the carburetor in her own car is, and Gretchen calls them both on their shit with “I know what the carburetor is, OK guys, and I know you don’t need to remove the tires to unclog it.” Sing it, Gretchen.
- I’m about to start hating Nick really hard when he offers to cook Gretchen a veggie burger. Mmm.
- Still NOT loving Pacey for gaslighting Gretchen by constantly claiming that Nick is a nice guy when he’s clearly not, just so she won’t hook up with his frenemy.
- Is Mr. Brooks wearing the exact same wide-ribbed blue mockneck sweater that Joey was (not exactly) rocking in the last episode? Discuss.
- Grams and Mr. Brooks’ date involve dinner at Leery’s Fresh Fish followed by Almost Famous at the Rialto. I bet Grams thinks the movie is about a mom played by Frances McDormand whose kids just don’t listen because they’ve been seduced by the evils of rock’n’roll.
- Joey claims that her only problem is having to be around Drue, which… is a nice break from her usual season-4 “woe is me” attitude. Shot for unreasonable anger at Drue, who wasn’t actually doing anything at the moment.
- As soon as they’re locked in the storeroom Drue snoops in Joey’s purse and comments on her “dubious grooming habits” as he picks a bunch of hair out of her brush. Heh.
- I love how Pacey is all offended by Dawson’s deep love for Gretchen, but when Nick comments that “all of her is fine” while staring at Gretchen’s ass, Pacey’s like, Great! You should get back together! This episode is not his proudest moment.
- Jack jokes that Dawson will be thirty-six when his new little sibling graduates high school, “he or she is just gonna begin their life, “and yours will be pretty much over.” Jack cracks up at his own joke, but Dawson looks very serious, possibly because James van der Beek is inwardly thinking that he himself is almost thirty-six by now. (OK, he’s twenty-seven, but who can resist a James-is-old joke?)
- Jack quotes Grams saying “Love is the hardest of woods,” which you’ll recall we declared “Dirty!” I’m glad Jack agrees.
- More witty remarks from Drue: when Joey won’t share her sweater in the cold storeroom, he guilts her with, “If something happens to me, you have my permission to pursue whatever indelicate though life-sustaining tastes-just-like-chicken measures you see fit.” Hee.
- Gretchen is standing up for womankind admirably in this episode despite Pacey’s rather jerky behavior. Completely over Nick and his whole sensitive routine, when Pacey once again shows up to encourage what he thinks is a flirtation, she declares she’s going to leave “before you try and show him my teeth to prove what good breeding stock I am.”
- Grams is looking fab for her date with Mr. Brooks! (Or “beautiful,” as Dawson sweetly puts it–right before he mansplains to her that new relationships “can be intoxicating.”)
- Pacey’s miffed that Gretchen told Dawson about her miscarriage before him. Gretchen says that’s because he’s her brother, “With a very specific idea of how a sister is supposed to behave.” It’s the downside of being the kind of boy who puts girls in his life on a pedestal.
- Drue asks Joey, “How did a pretty girl like you get so damn mean?” Uh… punching someone for assaulting you isn’t mean. What a gaslighter!
- Yay, ending montage! Although, is it still a montage if it’s accompanied by Dawson’s voiceover? Anyway, this image of Pacey and Joey cuddling is worth a screencap (and there’s also a very cute shot of Grams and Mr. Brooks holding hands on a swing):
- I actually like when Dawson looks back on the boat race and winces, “Not my finest moment.” I know I rag on him a lot, but this mature version of Dawson is definitely the best version. –Janes
- I always cringe so hard at Nick’s line: “I knew I risked losing your trust, and frankly, you can hate my guts all you want, and yeah, it hurts, but not as much as if something happened to you.” It’s just one cliche strung after another for what feels like ten years. —Janes
- Joey has an eyebrow pencil in her purse?? Even the popular girls in high school didn’t carry around eyebrow pencils. –Janes [OMG I know! I forgot to write that down but when I saw it I was like “Puh-huh?” I mean this girl didn’t even own a lipstick in season 1. —Nerdy Spice]
- I wonder how Katie Holmes felt about Drue’s crack about a “former teen series idol who’s trying to break into features.” Wasn’t that right about the time she was filming Phone Booth and generally becoming a thing? –Janes
- Also, I would definitely watch a Katie Holmes biopic starring Lacey Chabert, just saying. –Janes
- Okay, I know that Drue kissing Joey is totally inappropriate and rapey, but they have SO. MUCH. CHEMISTRY. They were totally supposed to hook up at some point in the series. Maybe he was supposed to be the Eddie! –Janes
- Fun fact: this was the first episode of Dawson’s I ever saw. When I was about eleven, I turned the TV to the WB in the middle of a rerun, and the first scene I saw was Drue telling Joey about his terrible father. I totally thought Drue and Joey were like, the OTP of the series. –Janes [Omg, my first episode was an Eddie episode (vom) and I thought Joey and Eddie were the OTP! Only then one episode later I saw “Castaways” and I was like jk, jk, jk. —Nerdy Spice]
- Nick says that he always loved the “little line on her chin” and then points to–uh, the top of her chin. –Janes
- “Condoms are in the cigar box next to the futon.” Wow. Does this writer remember what frat boys were like, or what? –Janes
- Joey’s reaction to the busboys calling her “El Toro” is pretty funny: –Janes
- Although her character has changed so much, that most of the time I forget that she’s supposed to be like, an angry, kind of mean character. This is why we need Drue. He’s the only one who properly brings out Sassy Joey anymore. –Janes
- CAYUUTE –Janes
- Pacey asks Gretchen how she could have fallen for such an “egocentric, self-centered jerk.” He’s technically talking about Nick, but really, who can tell. —Janes
- Dawson asks if Jack believes in inevitability, and Jack replies, “Like, do I think I busted my shoulder because of fate?” LOL. I love that Jack thinks anyone even remembers that he hurt his shoulder, let alone cares enough to think about counterfactuals.–Janes
- I love when Jack emphasizes this retconned childhood crush on Gretchen (“With a girl that you wanted way before Joey Potter”), as if the reason his relationship with Joey fell apart is that they didn’t start early enough in life. —Janes
- OMG, I laughed so much when Joey reached into Drue’s pocket and he says, “Hey, hey, I’d like dinner and a movie before we get to that.” What’s wrong with me?? –Janes
- Adult-Dawson’s voice reading this prepubescent letter about Gretchen’s ponytails is the creepiest thing I’ve ever heard.–Janes
Dawson claims to be protective of Grams because she’s not as “well-versed” as Jen in the dangers of romantic relationships. Then Grams COMPLETELY wins the conversation by going, “Although I have not felt this way since Jennifer’s grandfather passed on, I assure you I also am… ‘well-versed.’ Thank you for your concern, Dawson.” And the delicate little eyebrow wiggle she gives when she says well-versed! You can just see Dawson shrink back into his flannel as he realizes that Grams has had way more sex than the zero he’s had. Holy shit, it’s completely priceless.
Most cringeworthy moment:
Everything Pacey does in this episode while he freaks out about Gretchen’s sex life, is somewhere on the spectrum between “mildly Freudian” and “full-on creepy” (and it’s all definitely sexist), but the last scene, where he tells Gretchen he wanted her to be with “someone like me,” is just… weird! Gretchen gives him a run for his money by telling Pacey that he taught her she deserved better than Nick: “Starting when they’re little girls, sisters look to their brothers for cues on how they should be treated.” Um, creepy!! Plus, if this episode is any indication, Pacey kinda treats her like garbage. Ugh.
Most early-aughts soundtrack moment:
“I Think God Can Explain” by Splender plays while Gretchen and Dawson kiss at the end. Splender is an alt-rock band that is so incredibly early aughts, their best-known song is called, “Yeah, Whatever.”
Four, plus two for ominous mentions of Last Spring and one for the mention of Lacey Chabert winning an Emmy for playing Joey in the TV version of this TV episode (so meta!).
Most wrongly used five-dollar word:
Jack keeps talking about the “Tao of Dawson” and then calls Dawson “Dawson-san.” Uhhh… NOPE. BZZ. WRONG. “-san” is Japanese. “Tao” is Chinese. You may have culturally appropriated both concepts from the same general area of the world, but they are NOT RELATED TO EACH OTHER. Also, shut up, Jack.
Season 4, Episode 12 “The Te of Pacey”
What a sad, sad episode. We open on some cuteness: Joey waking Pacey on the morning of his birthday by singing to him and giving him a cupcake with a candle in it. He tells her he does not want to acknowledge his birthday at all, and she’s not having it, until he reminds her that his birthday is cursed, Buffy-style. He recounts that on his twelfth birthday, he puked all over a girl he liked and earned the nickname “Pacey Pukey,” which his family resurrects every year around this time (the first of many shots for Pacey being a black sheep!). Then he inexplicably retcons his sixteenth birthday, when Dawson forgot all about the milestone because he was fighting with then-girlfriend Joey (awk), and claims that “he threw a party for himself and no one bothered to come.” As we all remember, this is patently untrue; I believe every single main character made an appearance at his birthday party, some of them just didn’t realize it was his birthday. Are we supposed to think that he’s avoiding the real story because he doesn’t want to mention He Who Will Constantly Be Named, or that the writers just forgot the real story, like they forgot that Jack was once shy and artistic?
Anyway, Joey agrees to a “quiet, low-key” night by themselves, but then gives that universal Significant Over-the-Shoulder Look to tell us that she’s lying, and has already planned some sort of big surprise party for him. What a lovely, sitcom-y plot we have here!
Speaking of Significant Looks, Pacey gives one to a mysterious envelope at the breakfast table, and very obviously lies that he’s fine when Joey asks. Luckily, Joey is too wracked with guilt over the birthday surprise to notice. She tells Gretchen that Pacey’s mother asked to throw him a party, and she didn’t feel like she could say no. I understand that, but considering Pacey’s feelings about his birthday, shouldn’t she at least warn him?
But she doesn’t, because that wouldn’t be nearly as much fun. Instead, she blindfolds him, tells him to guess where they’re going, humors him as he relays an elaborate fantasy about her feeding him birthday cake in Victoria’s Secret lingerie, and then says that he’s “close” as she takes off the blindfold and his family forgets to yell “Surprise!” as he walks in. Ha! Was she trying to be cruel?
We’ve heard so much about Pacey being a pariah in his family, and yet this is the first time we’ve actually seen his home. We’ve met his dad, whom we already know to be abusive and terrible, and Doug and Gretchen, but we’ve somehow never met his mother, who turns out to be Jane freaking Lynch.
Needless to say, she’s not going to be the one to boost Pacey’s ego. The emotional abuse starts in earnest, with Pacey’s father calling Pacey’s other sister, who has approximately a thousand horrible children running around, a “cow,” then telling an obviously fake story about how he spent his 18th birthday fucking a “Vietnamese beauty” while serving in the army. Pacey points out that you have to be 18 to join the army, and his mother starts in with the passive-aggression: “Just because Pacey isn’t fighting for his country doesn’t mean he’s not a man today. And if there were a war on–assuming they’d take him–he’d enlist tomorrow, wouldn’t you honey?”
(Also, keep in mind that this was the year 2000, which was the last time the United States wasn’t at war with someone.)
Pacey sort of tears into Joey for throwing him a surprise birthday party, but honestly, under-reacts as far as I’m concerned. She tells him that his family, out of the goodness of their hearts, wanted to throw him a party for his 18th birthday, and “what was [she] supposed to say?” He points out the obvious: his family doesn’t care about him or his birthday, and that it’s just an excuse for his father to get a “little bit drunker than usual,” and tell him that he’s a disappointment. Shot! And–yikes. Pacey’s home life is so sad.
Joey really oversteps her bounds, and tells Pacey that his family isn’t “perfect,” but that they’re family, and kind of indirectly plays the orphan card (shot!) by telling him that “the least he can do is make a little bit of an effort.” I mean, his father is already getting drunk in front of the television and his mother is announcing to the whole party that her son is incompetent, what kind of effort is he supposed to make?
Pacey starts to make weird, cryptic comments about failing at things, and Joey starts to realize that he’s upset about something other than his birthday and terrible family. He asks her to take a walk, but before he can tell her anything, his terrible father insists on “talking to Joey.” Uh-oh.
John Witter thanks Joey for “putting ideas of college in [Pacey’s] head,” and Joey says, in this tragically earnest way, Pacey did all the work himself. His dad scoffs that he has to blame someone, because he’ll be stuck paying for “another drop-out’s education.” Pacey blows right by his father assuming he would drop out, and instead sticks up for Gretchen. What a good brother. Joey stands up for Pacey, saying that he’s going to do great in college, but his dad says if he doesn’t drop out, he’ll flunk out. Then Jane Lynch arrives, and takes it to a new level. She says she has faith in him, so “no matter how many times you let me down, sweetie, my faith will be there to pick you back up.” Jane Lynch has always been diabolical!!
And then Pacey’s parents say a line that I have never forgotten, because it’s so incredibly cruel. They say he should set his sights lower, and reminisce about the time Pacey said he wanted to be a veterinarian, but Jane f-ing Lynch said, “Dog groomer, honey. What about dog groomer?” Joey is aghast, and Pacey just looks at her like, “See?”
Meanwhile, Gretchen and Dawson are having relationship conflicts before they’re even in a relationship, which is a great sign. They had planned to have their first date on the night of Pacey’s birthday (um, rude), so when Gretchen finds out about Joey’s surprise party, she tells Dawson, who actually thought it would be appropriate for them to have their first date at Pacey’s party, that they should just “postpone the whole first date thing.” The whole conflict is so dumb, because of course they shouldn’t have their first date at a party for Pacey, who isn’t super into the idea of his friend dating his sister. Dawson accuses Gretchen of wanting to sneak around like Joey and Pacey did last spring (which, if you haven’t heard, totally Ruined Everything Forever), which is silly, because really she’s just saying that she doesn’t want their first date to be even more heinously awkward than first dates already tend to be.
Then again, if Gretchen didn’t want his alarm bells to go off, she could have just proposed a different day for their first date rather than ominously saying they should “postpone things.” But she couldn’t, because, as we find out later during a recitation of the most boring fake fairy tale this side of Lady in the Water, she’s one of those Mysterious Damaged Women who is Afraid to Let Someone In. Luckily, Dawson convinces her that she should live her best life, and they make out in the basement. All’s well that ends well.
Well, not so fast, because Pacey is still trying to tell Joey his big secret, and takes her to the basement. They find Gretchen and Dawson mid-makeout, and love-quadrangle hilarity ensues.
Joey is obviously upset, even though she really has no right to be (didn’t we already deal with this in “Self-Reliance”??), and is totally inappropriate when Dawson tries to talk to her about it. Granted, Dawson should have just let her be, but she actually wins the insufferability contest by hammering Dawson about whether he and Gretchen are in a relationship or not. It’s like, girl, it’s your boyfriend’s birthday and he’s in a self-proclaimed “state of utter despair,” focus on him!
Pacey finally reaches his breaking point while he’s opening his gifts, which include thoughtless and generally terrible items like fireworks and ashtrays. Jane Lynch suggests that they play a fun game she saw in Ladies’ Home Journal (HA) and each share a favorite memory of Pacey. This goes about as well as you would expect, with each family member sharing humiliating memories in less-than-loving tones. Gretchen tries to tell a nice story about Pacey standing up to an older bully for her, but his parents only remember that the bully then beat him up. Doug tells a heartbreaking story about the family leaving Pacey at an ice cream shop and a lady flagging them down with Pacey “wailing in her arms.” 😥 And then Pacey’s sister-with-a-thousand-children tells an awful story about Pacey accidentally setting the stove on fire while trying to make pancakes for the family, which caused their family dog to die of smoke inhalation.
In the awkward silence that follows, John tries to tell a story, and it’s obvious that it’s going to be a nice one (not that Pacey should care at this point), but he’s had enough. He goes on a tirade about how they all expect the worst out of him, and that he thinks they might be right, because he found out that morning that his safety school rejected him. “I’m going to end up exactly where you thought I would. A complete and utter failure.” Ugh. It’s so sad.
Joey and Dawson try to find Pacey, and she says that she doesn’t care if Dawson and Gretchen are dating because she has “bigger things on her mind” (finally!). She feels bad that Pacey thinks he disappointed her because she kept encouraging him and saying he would definitely get into college, and Dawson says admiringly that she always believes in other people more than she believes in herself. It’s a perfectly nice conversation, I guess, but ugh, get a room.
And then the writers do that weird thing that they always do with Pacey’s father–they spend all this energy reminding us that he’s a toxic, abusive prick, and then promptly redeem him to a completely unrealistic degree. He finds Pacey on the dock (not because he knows Pacey so well, but because the police station got a call about someone loitering). He gets all vulnerable and admits that he was rejected the first time he applied to the police academy. Pacey says dejectedly, “I know I’m not college material, Pop, but I just really, really wanted it.” Then John says he never thought Pacey wasn’t good enough to go to college, he just “didn’t know if it was the right thing for [him].” Um, BULLSHIT. So much bullshit. Literally all he does is tell Pacey he’s not good enough. Are we supposed to forgive him just because he shows his son a modicum of human kindness for once in his life?
But then he tells Pacey he’s meant for great things, and Pacey makes this face, and I cry. What’s wrong with me??
And then he tells his Pacey memory, about how he got Pacey fireworks when he was ten years old, and Pacey said it was the best present he ever got. (Which is also supposed to justify his sucky fireworks gift.) “You were really happy, Pace.” Oh, really? Was that the last time you remember seeing him happy, because you’ve been so goddamn mean to him his whole life?
Then John takes Pacey home, and they do the whole thing right. Everyone pops out, including Joey, to surprise him with a birthday cake, and Joey mouths that she loves him. Joey finds him outside and tells him that one rejection doesn’t mean anything, but he’s still despairing. He tells her that this rejection just made it more real to him: they’re moving in different directions. She says that all roads lead back to their relationship, and that won’t change if they don’t let it. Famous last words.
Then as they kiss, the fireworks go off, and they all watch them together. It’s pretty cute, but still–worst birthday ever (or at least since Buffy’s 17th).
- Oh, I feel for Pacey and the annual reenactment of the “Pacey Pukey” anecdote. I go through the same thing every year around Saint Patrick’s Day. …Never mind why. —Nerdy Spice
- OK, I get it, Joey already agreed to the party. But then why PROMISE it’s “just you and me”? Why make the betrayal that much worse? Why not just say “OK”? —Nerdy Spice
- Omg Jen and Grams are doing decoupage together! SO CUTE. —Nerdy Spice
- Grams and Brooks are officially together now, and Jen, being Jen, feels the need to provoke poor Grams by asking if she and Brooks have had the “safe sex” talk, or whether she knows what kinks he’s into. But Grams is a bad-ass, and simply says that “When it comes to safe sexuality, I have my bases covered.” Yeah! Everyone needs to get off Grams’ grill!
- When Jen starts with her Aggressive Sex Talk, Grams says, “You’re trying to freak me out because you hate decoupage.” That is so precious. I hope to be in a position to say that to some young person someday. —Nerdy Spice
- Aw, it’s sad when Jen tells Tobey that Jack is “built like a Greek God.” She would totally date Jack if she could.
- “It’s the best place to pick up boys! The drunker the better!” Tobey jokes. Yup, date rape is funny whether it’s gay date rape or straight date rape! HILARIOUS. —Nerdy Spice
- Oh, Tobey. You know you’re pathetic when you are making up a fake boyfriend for the benefit of your crush’s best friend. He stops just short of claiming “Greg” is from Canada. —Nerdy Spice
- You know Toby’s full of it when he claims that his boyfriend’s mother teaches feminist poetry at Harvard. Ain’t no one teaching that shit at Harvard in 2002, I promise you. —Nerdy Spice
- In the context of everything else, Pacey’s mother getting his favorite dish mixed up with Dougie’s also seems diabolical. But then again, our parents do lesser versions of that kind of thing all the time. That might just be a youngest child thing.
- Was Jane Lynch not famous yet? She does manage to make “Oh, shoot, we missed it” completely giggle-worthy, when Pacey walks in to a very lackluster “surprise.” —Nerdy Spice
- Also, I still, to this day, have no idea what chipped beef on toast is, but I’m with Pacey. That sounds disgusting.
- My partner walked in on this scene, and was absolutely horrified at Dawson’s hair. I’ve become so inured to it, I didn’t even notice. Take a shot!
- Joey gets the most HILARIOUS fake smile on her face when she sees Gretchen. It’s so petty, I love it.
- I know Jane Lynch is evil in this role (and all her roles), but that memory she shared of Pacey is actually really cute. Who wouldn’t want to see a baby Pacey sleeping in cardboard boxes?
- I don’t condone this word, but I LOVE when Tobey jokingly calls Jen a “bitch” and she says “Right back at ya.” Jen really only has chemistry with gay guys.
- It’s sad that Joey and Dawson can’t find Pacey. What happened to Dawson’s magical ex-best-friend intuition? And why didn’t they think of the marina? Anyone could’ve thought of that! —Nerdy Spice
Although Jen’s provocative sex talk is an annoying throwback to season one, Grams being all happy and thinking about sex while doing decoupage with her granddaughter warms my little heart.
Most cringeworthy moment:
Most of Joey’s behavior this episode is cringey, especially when she tries to explain to Pacey how he should feel about his own family, but her inappropriate interrogation of Dawson is the winner. “This was our first date.” “So you’re dating?” “We haven’t really defined the relationship.” “So it is a relationship?” Who are you, Dawson? Grow up!
Most wrongly used five-dollar word:
Jen says Grams is being all “flighty” because she’s daydreaming about sex, which sounds like the meaning of “flighty,” but definitely isn’t.
15! Including a whopping 13 for Pacey being a black sheep.
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