Spoiler alert: This post contains season 6 spoilers!
Season 4, Episode 19 “Late”
By Nerdy Spice
Good news, guys! In this episode we’re gonna get some realistic lessons about teenaged sexuality on Dawson’s Creek.
Just kidding. They’re just going to be regular old TV lessons: mixed accuracy and minimal realism.
The episode opens with Dawson and Mitch making fat jokes about Dawson’s uber-pregnant mom. Then she announces she’s in labor and Dawson and Gretchen have to basically carry her out while Mitch brags like a giant asshole that he’s “got the bag.” Of course, the episode wouldn’t be named “Late” if it started with Gail going into real labor. So I’m guessing that this is Braxton-Hicks. Sure enough, after the credits, we learn that it’s not real labor. The doctor also casually drops that Gail’s age make complications more likely. Mitch, Gail, and Dawson all act very surprised and worried about this. Did no one mention this to them before?! What?!
Gail’s doctor is weird and rude. She tells Gale to talk to the baby to make it come out, and then gets all judgy when it turns out they haven’t picked a name yet. She actually writes Gail a prescription to “Name your baby.” Ummmm… naming the baby is not going to make it come out faster. Like, I’m not a doctor, but I do know that’s not how uteruses work.
The obvious response is to … throw a shower where everyone has to bring name ideas? Meanwhile, Mitch, who appears to be having some kind of stroke that causes him to compulsively say offensive and sexist things, brings Dawson away from all the women so they can smoke cigars in a treehouse, like Real Men (no, seriously, they do this), and tells Dawson all about how “a man doesn’t really love a baby the way a woman does.” Shut up, Mitch. I hope you bend over to pick up some ice cream and a truck runs over you.
At the shower, Gail goes into labor. “I want drugs,” she tells the doctor when she arrives at the hospital. “So do I,” says Mitch. You are NOT FUNNY, Mitch. No one cares about your stupid jokes about how your wife’s labor is stressing you out. She is literally about to have her body tear open to let a new human being out. Ughh. Anyway, it turns out to be false labor AGAIN, so when Gail announces that night for the third time that it’s happening, Mitch is too busy looking for a Macho Movie to watch with Dawson to pay attention to her until she literally grabs him by the ear. Violence is wrong, and all that, but You Go, Gail. Pull his ear off.
Meanwhile, Gretchen randomly mentions to Dawson, oh, by the way, I have a job interview in Cambridge–even though he just got accepted to school in California. Dick move, Gretch. Dawson’s a little confused, but when he talks to Mitch about it Mitch is sort of optimistic (if “You just never know” counts as optimistic). At the hospital, Gretchen sort of quips lightly that putting someone else’s needs first when you become a parent “is what finally makes you a grownup” (shot for talking about growing up!), and Dawson grumps, “What does that make us?” They have a very abstract conversation about needs and letting people go, and Gretchen finally admits, “The timing sucks.”
Joey plays matchmaker via a little drive-by encouragement for Gretchen (more on that later), and asks Dawson at the hospital if there’s a way to “bridge the gap” between Cambridge and California. And lo and behold, Gretchen shows up at Dawson’s that night, having skipped her train in favor of a later one. They kiss passionately on the hood of her car and make all these jokes about how they’re doomed and how “I never knew denial could feel this good’ (gross), but somehow, still, Dawson’s virginity remains intact. It’s one of the great mysteries of life.
Toby and Jack have started flirting so much that the poor kid Jack’s tutoring has to bring them down to earth by pleading, “Trying to pass the fourth grade here.” But that night, when Toby leaves, he makes casual conversation with a mean-looking straight dude at the bus stop, and when Jack arrives at tutoring the next day, the kids are running wild because Toby isn’t there. Jack goes to Toby’s house to check on him and finds poor Toby with a black eye, claiming to have been mugged.
Jack talks it over with Jen and concludes that he must have been attacked because he was gay. Jen, with the oblivious lack of boundaries that characterizes our dear fivesome, urges him to do something about it even though Toby asked to be left alone. Jack brings a youth officer over to his place who recites an entire PSA about the prevalence of violence against gay teenagers (kudos to the show for bringing awareness to this issue when many in their audience may not have been aware of it, as silly as the dialogue is, and as annoying as it is for Toby to be steamrollered by everyone into reporting a trauma he doesn’t want to talk about). Toby tells the story, close to tears: he smiled at the guy, who then yelled a slur at him and ganged up on him with another guy to beat him up.
The next day, he comes by to bring Toby to tutoring. Toby’s worried that he’s not presentable, so Jack jokes, “We’ll tell them you fell off your high horse.” Heh. He helps Toby down the stairs and explains that he realized they’re not so different: he’s going to have to look around before he holds hands with a boyfriend in the park, and the same thing could easily have happened to him. Ooh, that’s so sad. But it’s good to see Jack has realized that he and Toby are both targets of the same homophobia even though Toby is supposedly more flamboyant than he is (although frankly Toby is not setting off my gaydar at all either, but he is married to a dude in real life). And Toby and Jack actually have pretty cute chemistry in this scene, just laughing and flirting:
Meanwhile, Pacey, who got arrested last week, spends much of the episode MIA. Joey is freaking out because Pacey’s supposed to be on a fishing trip with Doug, and she Really Really needs to talk to him, and he’s not calling. But Gretchen reveals that the fishing trip with Doug is a big lie, and Pacey is actually… on a camping trip with Doug, and for some reason while revealing that she HAS to reveal that he got arrested while Joey was in New York.
It’s so silly that I’m actually having trouble making fun of it in a witty way. Basically Pacey’s plan appears to be, “I got arrested three days ago and then I went on a camping trip with my brother, so to make sure that my girlfriend never finds out about the arrest, I’m going to tell her that I’m currently on a slightly different but still nature-oriented trip with the same brother.” But like, WHY?! Camping and fishing aren’t even different! There’s no law that says that your first arrest should be followed by a camping trip instead of a fishing trip! He could have just said he was camping with Doug and then no one would have to be like “oh and by the way he was arrested.” Just, it’s so weird!
Anyway, Gretchen gives Joey a whole lecture about how Pacey is in so much pain and Joey’s job is to not put any more pressure on him. Usually I like Gretchen but this is SUPER offensive. Have you ever heard of a man being lectured that his job is to protect the emotions of his female romantic partner and not to express his needs at all because the most important thing is relieving the pressure on her? Joey, to her credit, refuses to play along and demands Pacey’s contact information. And while I find it funny that she’s so freaked out (she’s an eighteen-year-old girl who weighs ninety pounds and has been having only protected sex, and her period is a few days late? What are the chances that’s actually pregnancy and not just the normal irregular periods you’d expect of a super-skinny girl in that age group?), Gretchen’s being a dick and Joey does deserve to have her boyfriend’s support while she has said unreasonable freakout. I mean, it’s a reasonably common thing for straight girls to worry about when they start having sex. We’ve all had a Coach Carr in our lives, amirite?
To do her credit, Gretchen does immediately become supportive when she hears what’s going on, but Joey refuses her help and goes home in tears. Then she spends all of Gail’s baby shower completely freaking out until Bessie finally figures out what’s going on. Things get real dark real fast: Bessie tells Joey she needs to “straighten out [her] life” (uh, judgmental much?) and Joey snaps that her life is going to be different than Bessie’s. Finally, after years of patiently accepting that Joey will always cruelly hold her up as the example of the life she doesn’t want, Bessie finally loses it and lays down some Real Truth: “You think you’re better than me? Look at you… At least I have someone in my life who knows how to take care of himself, not to mention a family. Do you?” Ouch. OUCH.
Since Joey’s only friends are her boyfriend, her two ex-boyfriends, and her ex-boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend, she shows up at the Witter place needing a little TLC from Gretchen. “What was I thinking?” she cries. “Could you imagine Pacey with a baby?” Um, we can! Gretchen says the same thing: that Pacey loves kids and would probably be great. Gretchen urges her to make peace with Bessie, and remarks that “being pregnant” is all about family. WHY DOESN’T ANYONE TELL HER TO TAKE THE FUCKING TEST? SHE’S NOT EVEN PREGNANT! Whew. Sorry. Had to get that out. It’s just crazy that Gretchen is being so sympathetic (even telling Joey her whole miscarriage story) when she knows Joey hasn’t even taken the damn test. Someone please explain basic reproductive health to this poor girl so she can calm down!
Joey takes the opportunity to inappropriately bring up Dawson (shot!), tell Gretchen that Dawson would “lasso the moon” for her (huh?), and urge her never to forget him in a way too emotional voice (projection much?). Then she goes home to apologize to Bessy, who has a pregnancy test all ready to go. Huh, maybe we could have avoided ALL OF THIS if someone had done this forty minutes ago.
By the time Joey finally hears from Pacey, she is able to tell him that everything is fine, and for him not to worry and to focus on himself. “Where are you?” she asks, softly, and he swallows something before saying like he told her he’s on a fishing trip. They both get teary knowing that he’s lying to her, but like, again, he’s just on a camping trip! It’s REALLY NOT THAT DIFFERENT! Ughhhh.
Oh, and Gail finally has the baby and names it Lilian after Joey’s dead mom (shot!), but not before Mitch continues to make everything all about him by stomping out of the birthing room just at the crisis point to complain to Dawson that no one will tell him what’s happening and they keep telling him just to support Gail. Well, you’re doing a great job of that, Mitch. Kudos to you.
- For some reason, even though Gail is now two weeks overdue, the Leerys didn’t bother to double-check the contents of the go-bag until they’re on their way out the door to the hospital. Uh, you guys had two weeks since the due date… you couldn’t have checked this earlier?! They didn’t even sync up on what good “birthing music” was! Mitch guessed that Enya would be a fitting choice. This baby is going to come out very, very unhip. Also, if you’ve been married for twenty years, how is your husband not better at picking out birthing music you’d like (given this weird scenario in which he doesn’t just, you know, ask you)?
- Gretchen claims to have an interview for a full-time job as an assistant lifestyle editor at Cambridge Magazine. Yeah… a woman who is currently waiting tables, has never shown the first interest in journalism, and doesn’t have a college degree managed to get an interview for a full-time writing position in Cambridge, a city literally filled with over-educated ambitious humans. I’m so sure.
- Dawson is bewildered that he and Gretchen might break up, since just last week they were “declaring their love for each other.” Um, you were also dramatically deciding not to have sex because you’re still in love with your ex, but, you know, keep hope alive there. –Janes
- I really like that every time Dawson and Gretchen have a problem, Gretchen just says, “Okay, let’s talk about it.” No wonder they get rid of her after only one season. If everyone just talked about problems when they arose, we wouldn’t have a show. –Janes
- Gretchen also calls Dawson “the man I love.” Ha! Must be a Witter family quirk. –Janes
- Toby tells Jack’s tutee that the most interesting heroes have problems they can’t overcome (shot for the meta reference, as Jack is clearly going to turn out to have problems) and then calls Jack a hero (shot for calling dudes heroes for no reason!)
- Oof. This “underprivileged black child” character is even more racist than I remember. –Janes
- Toby’s storyline also fits the episode title! He gets beat up because he remarks that “Buses run late” to a homophobic bully at the bus stop. See what they did there? (Sorry, I shouldn’t enjoy this because it’s awful, but I’m proud of myself for noticing.)
- When the guy at the bus stop gets up to hit Toby, the cut to Joey slamming the car door is so JOLTING. Great editing–it expresses the violence while eliding it.
- Ugh, I love how Gail claims to be a “non-traditional household” but insist Gail caters it herself. Like literally she excuses herself after greeting Jen and Grams with “My kitchen is calling.” Maybe it’s calling, “Please send Dawson and Mitch in here.”
- Ewwww to the whole conversation about Gail’s “nesting instinct.” Here’s a thought: maybe Gail is cooking, cleaning, and doing laundry because her son and husband are too busy making fat jokes to help her with the chores. –Janes
- LOL at Mitch saying that men don’t love their babies at first (gross) and Dawson asking, “But that changes, right?” I’m with Dawson, actually. Mitch probably hated his baby because his baby happened to be a monster, not because men are constitutionally incapable of loving babies. –Janes
- Ugh, even the closed captions are sexist! Baby showers are contagious. –Janes
- This is NOT CUTE: –Janes
- Bodie and Bessie come up with two names, Sophie and… Satchel. She says Sophie is what they would have named their own kid if he’d been a girl, and I guess Satchel is what they’d have named it if it was a bag.
- Jen offering to name the baby after Jackson Pollock and Gretchen after Kurt Cobain is equal parts insufferable and completely fitting. –Janes
- Grams suggests Thomas, after Thomas Culpepper, the only man she kissed other than her husband till her recent post-widowhood rumspringa. Nice callback! (Why yes, I do have “True Love” memorized, thank you for asking.) [Although… didn’t she have a husband? –Janes] [Please, no one cares about Gramps. —Nerdy Spice]
- I’m sorry, there is absolutely NO REASON for Bessie to think that Joey isn’t having sex. They had an entire fight about how Joey was almost ready to have sex like, six months ago. That’s forever in horny teenager time. –Janes
- Dawson says confusedly to Gretchen that “something seemed to change your mind that night on the beach.” Oh yes, that mysterious “something” like you literally telling her you wanted to have sex to get over your ex-girlfriend. Shut up, Dawson! –Janes
- I love that Joey assumes Gretchen has been pregnant just because she offers common-sense advice about pregnancy that everyone knows. –Janes
- Oh yes, this is the right way to handle a gay-bashing–force a scared child to report it to the police and then vomit statistics on him. Just stick to love triangles, Dawson’s. –Janes
- Jack says, “Better late than never” when Toby asks why he just realized that homophobia affects him too. Title of episode spoken by character… again!!
- Mitch actually sends Dawson and Gretchen to the hospital pharmacy to get him Pepto-Bismol because he’s nervous about having a baby. Has any fifty-year-old soon-to-be father of two ever been this absurdly childish? Focus on your wife, Mitch!
- While Mitch and Dawson are having their Boy Movie Night and ignoring the pain of Mitch’s pregnant wife, they seem to be getting recommendations from their DVR. Dawson remarks, “I deleted a bunch of soppy date movies and now it thinks I’m a misogynistic cynic.” I guess this was an early example of the joys and tragedies of content recommendation systems. Lolz! Also, it’s cute that these two toxic, entitled dudes think that Quentin Tarantino is too misogynistic for them.
- Aw, I love the sister scene with Joey and Bessie! Especially when she says she tried to push Joey out of her crib. Nerdy Spice totally tried to step on our other sister’s head, it’s a thing. —Janes
- Dawson tells Joey at the hospital that he thought there would be a way to “bridge the gap” but there wasn’t. When Joey realizes that he’s talking about sex, she tells him it’s just a magnifying glass, not a way to automatically become closer. But let’s just back up to this hilarious euphemism: “Bridging the gap.” Actually, I think Ursula K. LeGuin wrote a story at some point where penises were detachable and they were called “bridges.” So maybe they’re not the first ones to use it, but it’s quite funny. Shot!
- OMG. Joey just randomly brought up sex with Pacey because she assumes that Dawson and Gretchen couldn’t possibly be having sex. It’s so tactless, it’s hilarious. (Take a shot!) –Janes
- HA! Now Mitch totally loves Lily immediately! I guess I was right about his hatred for Dawson being personal. –Janes
- Wow, the show really couldn’t resist throwing out these little bones to Dawson/Joey shippers that were still hanging on to a thread (pardon the mixed metaphors). Stop pandering, guys!!
- I don’t want to be dark, but what do you think Doug is doing to Pacey out there in that cabin to “talk sense into him”? Hazing him? Making him run circuits around the house? Hitting him? I seriously wouldn’t put it past him to do any of that. Sketchy AF.
This is a small moment, but it cracks me up. Look at this hilarious look Joey gives Gail’s big old bump when she’s freaking out that she might be pregnant:
People don’t realize how funny Katie Holmes can be! [HA. That’s exactly how I feel about pregnancy –Janes]
Most cringeworthy moment:
I mean, there are so many Mitch lines to pick from, but the part during the baby shower might be the worst. Mitch brings Dawson away from the shower LITERALLY SAYING, “Let’s get out of here before the Vagina Monologues start.” So to recap, this is a man who thinks it’s witty to make jokes about the one work of feminist art he’s ever heard of (and only because it has the word “vagina” in it) whenever he sees a group of women. This is approximately as original as asking a tall person how the weather is up there, and much more offensive!
[I start to like Mitch a little bit more when he admits that having a newborn around is “pure, unadulterated hell,” and then he says the ridiculous words, “unless you have a breast.” Oh right, because I’m sure caring for a newborn is so much easier when you have a baby chomping on your nipples until you bleed and you’ve just been filleted like a fish, either on your stomach or more gruesome areas. Shut up, Mitch!! –Janes] [Yup, all of this too. –Nerdy Spice]
Seven shots: in other words, not enough to make Mitch tolerable.
Season 4, Episode 20 “Promicide”
It’s senior prom, guys!! I love “The Anti-Prom” as much as the next person, but this is everything a prom episode should be. We’re about to see not one, but two totally heartbreaking breakups. (Okay, fine, one heartbreaking breakup and one sinfully boring one, but still.)
We open on Joey frowning in the mirror about her horrifyingly ugly prom dress, while Pacey lies that she looks “radiant,” like a good boyfriend should. In keeping with the tradition started in “The Anti-Prom,” Joey’s dress is adorably prommy, aka tacky and horrible. It’s a bright lavender [I call it “Delia’s purple” –Nerdy Spice] spaghetti strap dress made of the cheapest material imaginable and covered in… sequins? Purple rhinestones? (Equally terrible.) I know I’ve said Katie Holmes can pull off anything, but this dress really puts that theory to the test.
Anyway, Pacey puts on a good–if somewhat manic–show of being excited about the prom, but gives away his crippling anxiety by obsessing over Joey picking up the prom tickets (since his academic troubles won’t allow him to), insisting that he’ll take care of absolutely all of the preparations, and not-so-subtly fending off a cute sexual overture. Then he finishes off by ripping Joey’s dress (but not in a sexual way, unfortunately). In the world of 90s television, where teenage boys are expected to be ready to go every minute of every day–uh, oh.
Speaking of horrible dresses, the girls all go prom dress shopping together (!), and it’s SO cute. Jen tries on a yellow strapless dress so awful and twee it would make Zooey Deschanel throw up, and Gretchen tries on a somewhat flattering yet completely bizarre rhinestone-speckled navy skintight dress with one crazy strap. They’re all so beautiful, why do they do this to themselves??
While Jack is grossly interrogating Dawson during a suit-fitting about whether he will fulfill the “longstanding tradition of after-prom sex” (which, where did this stereotype come from? I don’t know anyone who lost their virginity after prom. Even my friends who were coupled went to after-prom parties!), Joey and Jen have a very sweet conversation. Joey asks Jen if she’s okay after their trip to New York, and Jen semi-jokes that she’s “horribly messed up” and “terrified of the future” and “haunted by the past” (okay calm down), “but other than that, I feel really good about things.” That therapy’s really working for you, Jen. (Take a shot!)
Although to be fair, I’d be kind of upset too, if I were trying on this dress. Is that… burgundy pleather??
Then, Joey talks to Jen about her anxieties, and the way she does it sounds more like real girls talking to each other than I’ve ever heard on this show. At first, she can’t put her finger on the cause, although she does tell Jen that she had a pregnancy scare. Then she says it might be Pacey, and hesitantly tells her that Pacey seems reluctant to “touch” her (shot for sexual euphemism!), in this sad voice that’s really asking, “Is this normal? Has this happened to you?” Jen tries to reassure her that Pacey is probably just waiting for Joey to initiate it after their scare, which seems to make Joey feel better (if only for about a minute). Yay, girlfriends!
In a painful little scene, Joey and Pacey are in her bedroom, and she tries “coming to him” (yep, dirty). She heavy-handedly tells him that they’re alone in the house, touches him, and tries to make out with him. He kisses her on the cheek, she teases “Try again,” and he completely shuts her down by suggesting they eat turkey sandwiches when she’s an inch away from his face. This is such an overt rejection, she would be well within her rights to ask him if something’s wrong, but I don’t blame her for staying quiet. That’s pretty rough.
Meanwhile, Tobey is dropping heavy-handed hints about Jack asking to prom by telling some crazy story about his prom date who was desperate to turn him straight with her magic vagina (yeah, I’m sure that happened). Jen gets this hilarious look on her face, so we know the ill-advised matchmaking is about to begin:
She tells Tobey that Jack desperately wanted to ask him to prom, and Tobey is somehow dumb enough to believe her. Jack is pissed, to say the least, and to punish her, he pays Drue Valentine to follow her around for the whole prom. Jen yells at him that the “punishment doesn’t fit the crime,” which I totally agree with. She gets to go to prom with Drue, that’s not a punishment at all!
It’s finally time for prom! Dawson’s parents are totally embarrassing and actually pretty cute, taking pictures of him and talking about how fast their “baby” grew up. Joey walks up in her horrible lavender dress (with a blue sash!! Do they want us to make fun of them??) [She should’ve gone for a filmy yellow, or even a yellow-and-orange, or a neutral like a creamy white or a gold. That would have been so much cuter.) –Nerdy Spice], and Dawson gets all googly-eyed. I mean, I’m just impressed that he doesn’t laugh in her face. That’s love right there.
In the first of many callbacks to/reversals of “The Anti-Prom,” Dawson and Joey take one of those classic prom date pictures together (why? Just why??), but this time they both look happy, as opposed to Joey looking like she wants to commit murder-suicide.
Then, just in case we couldn’t make the connection ourselves, Dawson talks about how great it is that one year after the drama of last year’s prom, they ended up “here.” Um, is “here” constantly reminding your ex-girlfriend that she broke her heart, because in that case yes, you’ve definitely ended up “here.”
Jack picks up Tobey at home, and looks visibly affected at seeing him in a tux sans glasses, which is pretty cute. Although, knowing Kerr Smith, that face might be less “Wow, you look hot,” and more “Ermahgerd, I’m gonna have to kiss a dude any minute now.”
Pacey arrives with the corsages, and they’re dead, because apparently you’re supposed to refrigerate them. As someone who had no idea that was the case, I would call that an honest mistake, but everyone acts like he gravely screwed up. Especially Pacey, who is getting that same simmering-anger look that he had right before he was arrested for public drunkenness. Matters get even worse when Pacey’s limo arrives and it’s a rusty mess (although that seems a little precious for working class kids). Joey is sweet and supportive through all of this, telling Pacey that it’s “not his fault,” but as we’re about to see, that just makes it worse.
Everyone makes an obligatory stop at the mini-mart, except for Jen, who is already fully prepared with ten airplane bottles of hard liquor in her purse (respect), and Pacey, who hangs back to sulk about everyone else being so happy and “carefree.” In a horrifyingly uncomfortable moment, Dawson drops the condoms he’s about to buy and Joey picks them up for him. Awk. [And Joey doesn’t exactly handle it with aplomb, to put it mildly –Nerdy Spice]
They finally reach the prom, and it’s on a boat, which is a disaster waiting to happen on so many levels. Gretchen feels super weird because she’s, um, an adult, and she was already upset that she didn’t get that job in Boston. They have a cute interaction where Dawson jokes that she could “always just say [she’s] a chaperone,” she says she doesn’t know whether to kiss him or hit him, and he says, “Let’s work our way up to the kinky stuff,” as they kiss. Aw! If Dawson weren’t trying to drop heavy-handed hints about having sex after prom, that would be really sweet!
Joey takes Pacey into a private space (where did she even find any privacy on a prom boat??) and tries to make out with him, but he’s not having any of it. She finally confronts him, and tells him that he’s been a “Stepford boyfriend” (shot!) ever since he got back from the “fishing trip,” telling her that everything’s fine when it’s clearly not. Then they have a classic P/J fight that doesn’t really make sense (but it’s not supposed to): Pacey says he’s just trying to be the “perfect boyfriend” that she wants, because he knows that she wants the “perfect dress, the perfect corsage, the perfect limo,” etc. Um, projection much? She reminds him that she doesn’t care about any of that. He then pivots to say that she’s upset with him when he acts happy and she’s upset with him when he acts unhappy, which is–out of left field. She says he should stop “acting” and just talk to her, and he responds coldly, “Maybe I just don’t have anything left to say.” Yikes.
Joey walks back into the dance floor, looking forlorn, and Dawson’s “damsel-in-distress” bells visibly go off, which Gretchen doesn’t fail to notice. To his credit, he asks Gretchen if they should both go talk to her, but she insists that he go alone. Joey says she doesn’t want to talk about her fight with Pacey, or the condom incident, which are both good decisions. Then, literally a half-second later, she says, “How long have you guys been… [having sex]?” Ew! Joey! Gross! He answers too quickly that they haven’t, but they “might tonight.” Um, based on what, exactly? You’re not exactly making a good case for yourself by spending prom with your ex-soulmate. Joey asks if he’s in love with Gretchen, he says it “just feels right,” and she says that if he has to “cross a milestone in [his] life,” (ew) she’s “glad it’s with Gretchen.” Dawson says, “If not you,” and tries to pass it off as a joke. It’s heinously awkward.
Then it becomes even more inappropriate, if that’s possible. Dawson says that he’s been waiting to find someone he loves “as much” as he loved Joey, but now he realizes that’s not going to happen, because she was his “first love.” (Ugh! Vom.) Joey pauses awkwardly, and since she’s actually in love with the person she’s currently dating, says, “I don’t think I’ll ever love anyone the way I loved you, either,” which is much more fair. Considering how dysfunctional and codependent that “way” is, P/J shippers need not be threatened.
Then they dance together, and I’m conflicted about whether it’s inappropriate or not. On the one hand, dancing is not inherently sexual or romantic, and two old friends should be able to dance together at senior prom, even if they used to date. This isn’t Footloose. But on the other hand, Dawson did just proclaim his love for Joey, and they still haven’t kicked their nasty habit of demanding all of the passport stamps for each other’s genitals. Survey says: inappropriate.
Pacey finds Gretchen drinking away her sorrows outside, and she tells him that when she walked into the prom, she didn’t just feel older than Dawson, she felt “old.” “Too old to be doing what I’m doing.” He sadly tells her that he couldn’t pick up the tickets because he’s not technically a senior, since he has so many classes he needs to pass to graduate. Then he tells her that ever since he got back from his trip, he’s been feeling angry. “Not at myself, it’s actually worse than that. I’ve been feeling really angry at Joayy [shot!], and I don’t know why.” The ever-mature Gretchen tells him he should try talking to her about it. Aw, I’m gonna miss her when she’s gone!
Gretchen and Pacey return to the dance floor in time to see Joey and Dawson slow-dancing, and it looks fairly platonic (although they do look a little too happy, especially when Joey does her crazy open-mouthed laugh).
It serves as another contrast to “The Anti-Prom,” when Joey was miserable while she was dancing with Dawson, and only cracked a smile when she danced with Pacey. Now, the tables have turned, as we see when Joey does the exact same over-the-shoulder look of realization when she sees Pacey watching them.
Oh god, here we go. I’m not sure I’ll be able to recap this without bawling. Pacey comes in hot and gets all jealous, to which Joey says, “This isn’t about Dawson and you know it,” and asks him to tell her what’s going on with him. (Be careful what you wish for, Jo.) He says that when she was dancing with Dawson, that was the happiest he’s seen her in weeks (which seems pretty unfair to put on her shoulders, considering that he’s been cold and/or absent for the last few weeks). But the worst part is, he says, when he saw them dancing together, he felt nothing. Oof.
Joey wisely tries to take the fight outside, and he just starts to unload on her. I don’t think I can convey how well Joshua Jackson and Katie Holmes escalate this fight, but it’s very stressful and sad. He asks her why she’s with him, “because I don’t know why I’m still with you. I used to know, but I don’t anymore.” Joey, taking this much better than I would, says with angry tears in her eyes, “I’ll make a note of that.” He says he feels like “Josephine Potter’s little charity project” and the “designated loser,” and Joey looks so, so hurt.
She keeps her cool, though, and tells Pacey that “this isn’t about me, it’s about you.” So true. But Pacey is determined to blame her for his feelings of inadequacy, and starts screaming at her. “It’s about you and how you make me feel when I’m with you! I feel like I’m stupid and I’m worthless and I’m never right! But you know what I’ve realized, that is not my fault!” Joshua Jackson screams these last lines so viciously that he gets visibly red in the face:
He brings up the corsage/limo/dress again, and throws in not getting into college, and she screams back that she’s never cared about any of that stuff. “But I want you to care!” he screams. “I want you to care! I don’t want you to just accept it like that’s the way it’s supposed to be!… I can’t take it anymore, Joey. When I’m with you, I feel like I’m nothing! I feel like I’m nothing.”
Ugh, I don’t even know what to say. It’s too sad. I’ve seen this so many times and I’m still crying a little. [I started choking up before the scene even started. How old am I?! —Nerdy Spice]
While Joey is trying not to cry, Pacey twists the knife by telling her that this is why he hasn’t been able to touch her, and why he “flinches” when she touches him, because it “reminds him that [he’s] not good enough.” She maintains an impressive amount of composure, asks him if he’s done, and quietly tells him to go to hell. Good for her.
Joey runs out, and Dawson runs after her, this time without asking Gretchen to come. He gives Joey his suit jacket as she starts to cry, and she says, “He humiliates me in front of a roomful of people, and it’s not even true. It’s not who I am.” Dawson says he knows, and lets her cry on his shoulder. I know this is pandering to D/J shippers, but poor Joey! She deserves a shoulder to cry on.
Dawson finds Gretchen afterwards, and Gretchen claims to be fine with him running after Joey, but then says, “That doesn’t change what I have to do.” Oh, no. She says she has to “move on with her life” and go back to college, and that she doesn’t belong in Capeside or with him. Then she abruptly switches tack and says, “You’re still chasing after Joey.” She says there are “so many loose ends between you, so much left unresolved.” (Um, is there?? If they would just stop asking about each other’s sex lives, I think everything would be fine.) He sputters that he’s not ready for this to be over, but she’s sure about her decision.
I think Gretchen is making a mature decision here, but why the hell did she have to do it on prom night? Let alone before they got off the boat?? Pacey’s meltdown was clearly unplanned, what’s her excuse??
Speaking of Pacey, this last scene with him and Joey always, always makes me cry. Joey is sitting by herself, crying, when Pacey comes to sit next to her. She won’t even look at him. He launches into the inverse of all of his romantic speeches, listing all of their most potent memories together: “Last year, I felt I could give you something that no one else could give you. I could give you that wall to paint a mural on, I could give you that summer on a sailboat, I could even give you that night in the ski lodge.” By this point, I’m already ugly crying. I actually rewound the scene because I was crying too much the first time, and I’m still ugly crying.
He tells Joey solemnly that he has nothing left to give her, because he’s “become a man who hates himself so much he can’t even look at himself in the mirror.” And even though it’s not her fault, the more she loves him in spite of his hatred for himself, the angrier he gets at her, “and the more I stop loving you back.” Oh, god. She asks quietly how long he’s felt this way, and that gets me too, because their first time wasn’t that long ago, and I imagine she might be wondering if he felt this way before that. He tells her he doesn’t know, which is awful. He tells her he knows his “failures and shortcomings” have nothing to do with her, but if they stay together, he’ll keep taking them out on her. “I have news for you, Pacey,” Joey says, “how you treat me is actually totally within your power.” Ugh. YES.
Pacey is set in his decision, though. He tells her their senior year is over, and they’re on very different paths. He says, “For us this summer, there is no boat, and there is no sunset,” and it kills me. I look like Joey right now:
Pacey says that she’s spent her entire life trying to get out of Capeside because she “thought she deserved better,” and she’s right. “You deserve better than Capeside, and you deserve better than me.” Oof, that’s a painful callback to the “townie” episode at the beginning of the season. But still, BULLSHIT. Joey agrees with me, and says, “You break my heart into a thousand pieces and you say it’s because I deserve better?” She says to leave her alone, and he does. And that’s it.
Only one person gets a happy ending out of all this, and it’s arguably the one person who deserves it most: Jack. He and Tobey have a grand old time, flirting and bantering about whether Ted Danson could get it (answer: yes, definitely, even 20 years later). Tobey asks Jack to dance, and Jack flips out about Tobey “misinterpreting things.” And yes, Tobey is pushy, and continues to be so when he insists that “nothing about tonight has been platonic,” but word to the wise, Jack: when you invite someone to prom, even as a friend, they proooobably expect to dance at some point. Just saying.
Jack finds Tobey outside, and he admits that his feelings are “so much more than platonic,” and that he was just afraid. He says he was intimidated by how “out” Tobey is, but now it’s just another thing Jack likes about him. He says, “I’m so not afraid anymore,” and kisses him! Yay! I’m more annoyed by Tobey this time around, but it’s nice to see Jack coming to terms with himself and having a real relationship.
We finish off with an almost-funny shot of everyone in the prom limo, sitting as far away as humanly possible from the partner they just broke up with. The driver asks if they want to go to the afterparty, and Joey shakes her head no. I would laugh if I weren’t still crying a little bit.
- The bloom must really be off the rose if Joey can call the anti-prom a “debacle.” She got away from Dawson and Pacey called her “elegant,” what more could she possibly ask for?
- Pacey rips Joey’s dress by… unzippering it? Whatever, I guess it works. It makes him seem as cursed as he thinks he is.
- I gotta hand it to Pacey. There’s probably no better way to get your horny girlfriend to leave you alone than to come back to bed smelling like turkey. —Nerdy Spice
- Jen straightsplains to Jack that “nobody cares” if Jack takes a guy to prom. Really? After last year’s Barbara Johns debacle, it only took one year for all the evangelicals to get woke?
- It’s 2001, so Gretchen makes a joke about how her prom was “last century.” Aw! Remember when everyone used to make that joke?
- What with all the Freud talk why does no one remark how it’s kind of weird for Pacey to be in charge of getting Gretchen’s corsage? —Nerdy Spice
- Gretchen got rejected from her magazine job by pager. That’s an early-aughts style tough break. —Nerdy Spice
- It is super unrealistic that two teenagers are sitting around reading books fully clothed in bed. What’s even crazier is that Joey’s reading a magazine and Pacey is reading a textbook. —Nerdy Spice
- Oh man. Dawson had no way of knowing that Joey already condescendingly checked whether Pacey got the limo, but it’s hard to blame Pacey for snapping at him. Poor Pacey. —Nerdy Spice
- When Jack is furious at her, Jen reminds him that he “orchestrated the entire Henry relationship against [her] will,” which A) reminded me that Henry exists, and B) makes me mad at Jack all over again. This violation of the friend code is technically in the past, but take a shot anyway.
- Ugh, Dawson holding baby Lily and talking to her is actually really cute. I’m such a sucker.
- Dawson makes an “innocent” joke about Pacey forgetting the limo, and then gets a hurt bunny look when Pacey snaps at him. Oh yeah, like he didn’t know that Pacey has been insecure about being a screw-up all his life, even though Pacey has told him as much several times. Shut up, Dawson.
- The dress Jen settled on is the least terrible we’ve seen on her so far, but that’s not saying very much:
- Aww, I like the dress! It’s very early-90s Betsey Johnson punk prom. —Nerdy Spice
- Aw, Drue saying to Jen, “You’re adorable when you’re angry!” totally got me off the Joey/Drue train.
- Wait. Does anyone ever explain why it was so easy for Jack to get a ticket to this year’s prom with a boy? What happened to Barbara Johns, did someone pour water on her and melt her? —Nerdy Spice
- For some reason on the way to prom they all stop for snacks. Does this prom not serve food? Why are they pregaming with SnoBalls at the local convenience store? —Nerdy Spice
- Jack tells Tobey that Ethan looked like “a Disney prince version of a human,” like the prince from Snow White. Um, no, definitely Prince Eric.
- OMG, Jen and Drue laughing when he takes away her airplane bottle and she takes out another one is priceless. They’re so cute!!
- Jen decides she wants to go to Boston instead of New York, and Drue says he’s going to be in Boston too!! I will never get over the fact that Drue was clearly supposed to be in the fifth and sixth seasons. Maybe he would have made them watchable!
- And Drue doesn’t even take Jack’s money for being Jen’s date! They were totally supposed to be the new OTP!
- I really think this show could’ve been so different in its last two seasons if Jen had had Drue to play off of, instead of a series of boring pretty boys who had nothing to do with anything. Their scenes on the boat together are just the sweetest thing, and it actually connects to her whole storyline instead of just being a way to kill time with a character the other three have long stopped caring about. —Nerdy Spice
- Dawson says he’ll never find anyone he loves as much as Joey (ugh, vomit, stop fetishizing first love!) and Joey says carefully that she’ll never find anyone she loves the same way. Excellent sidestep, Jo. —Nerdy Spice
The P/J breakup scenes are perfectly crafted, but we need some happiness right now. Drue saying, “Oh cool, a baby, can I hold it” and literally the entire cast screaming “NO” made me LOL. Drue is the best!!
Most cringeworthy moment:
The show’s failures in portraying teen suicide are well-documented, but the one thing you can say about Jen’s fire debacle is that it wasn’t a Titanic reference. (Shot!) I guess it’s sad when Jen wants to jump off the edge of the boat Rose-style, but it’s hard to take it seriously when it copies one of the silliest scenes from a silly movie (that came out only like, three years before this), right down to Drue telling her exactly how cold the water is. (Except the “king of the world” line is actually in a different Titanic scene, so that’s another shot.)
Eleven (including two for Joey bringing up sex with Dawson when she had literally just said she hoped he wouldn’t bring it up), so, not enough to make us any less sad.
Season 4, Episode 21 “Separation Anxiety”
By Nerdy Spice
As you would expect, this episode is mostly dealing with the fallout from the prom. (And I can already tell you that after I cried like a baby at “Promicide,” I’m definitely going to be crying again in this one.) Jen and Jack get us up to speed with a regular old gossip session, though Drue protests that no one cares: neither Dawson and Gretchen nor Joey and Pacey are talking. Jen thinks Gretchen and Dawson should’ve gotten back together because they’re so good for each other, but Jack says that long distance never works out and he thinks Joey and Pacey would be the ones to get back together.
Jen and Drue are so in love right now. “How many prom drownings do I have to rescue you from before you accept the new me?” Drue says. Jen says demurely, “One. Maybe two,” and they share a very cute little smile. Drue, of course, returns to evil form by setting up a bet as to who’s going to get back together.
After their big kiss, Jack and Toby are scheduled for another date. We have one off-hand mention of this, followed by… nothing. Good to see gay storylines getting their fair share of attention!
As for Gretchen and Dawson, they haven’t talked since prom. Gretchen gives notice at the restaurant but doesn’t tell Dawson, leaving his buttinsky mom to reveal her news. At her suggestion, Dawson goes over with the pretext of asking Gretchen to sign his yearbook, which, like… isn’t that a little awkward when the reason you broke up is the fact that you’re still in high school signing yearbooks? She does agree to sign it, and tells him she’s leaving in a day and a half. After a dumb pep talk from Mitch about how Dawson is just like AI Brooks (shot!), Dawson shows up to tell Gretchen he wants to go with her, complete with a tepid romantic speech that includes an inappropriate mention of Joey (shot!). Gretchen agrees, but you can see her realizing her giant mistake when Dawson mentions Joey yet again (shot!) in the context of his baby sister, wondering if Joey’s baby brother will be her inappropriate best friend. She tells Dawson it’s cool to write a letter to both his parents and to Joey, but it So Isn’t. When Dawson wakes up the next morning, she is gone without him. She leaves him a note in his yearbook, telling him that his life is about to change so he needs to stay, and to “have a bitchin’ summer.”
As for Pacey, he busies himself working on Gretchen’s car and avoiding Joey. (Gretchen sweetly pays the rent for the next month, and after that Pacey’s an adult and on his own, poor guy.) But Joey gets invited to yet another party by the Worthington deans, who say they have an “offer” to discuss with Pacey. Joey goes over to tell Pacey, and he interrupts her by just saying he misses her and that it wasn’t supposed to end like that, which is… oh it’s so sad and lovely, but like, it’s not like they were separated by an evil fairy godmother or something! You dumped her, Pacey! You didn’t have to end things like that!
Anyway, they both think that this means Pacey’s going to get an offer of admission (yikes), and both of them are visibly, sweetly, so so wrongly hoping that this will be how their relationship gets saved. Tragically, the offer turns out to be for a summer job as a deckhand on the dean’s yacht. Poor Pacey’s face falls as he realizes what’s going on and it’s completely tragic. When Joey finds him, she insists on leaving, even though he tries to make her stay and enjoy it. “How can I enjoy it without you?” she asks tearily, and leads him away by the hand.
[Spoiler alert – season 6 spoilers ahead!] The saddest part is that Pacey realizes his Savior Shtick isn’t going to work anymore, now that Joey really has grown up (surprisingly, without saying it) and come into her own. (He adds that “The only thing that remains the same is you’re still the most beautiful girl in the room,” and damn if he doesn’t make that sound super romantic even when I would normally be annoyed that he’s reducing Joey to her good looks.) She’s doing fine at the party, he doesn’t need his white horse, and now he has no idea why they should be together. And I think it really isn’t the same on Joey’s side at all. Yeah, she loved him because he challenged her, but also just because he made her laugh and was kind. It takes another few years (but spoiler, it does happen!) for him to figure out that he still has something to offer her.
Anyway, the last two scenes between them are absolute murder on your recapper’s Pacey-and-Joey-loving little heart. When Pacey brings Joey home, she asks if she can come over–just to sleep–and they hug, with Pacey gripping her hair, and it’s SO SAD. Then Joey wakes up without Pacey in the bed, and finds him out by the dock, reminiscing about their summer on the True Love. She confesses that she, like him, was hoping the party would bring a sign that they could be together, and he says that it was actually a sign for something else. He apologizes sincerely for not acting like he was proud of her, tells her that he is proud of all she’s accomplished, and tells her none of this is her fault. So basically he checks off every box you’d want him to check. And then they just hold hands and stare off at the water, sadly. God it fucking breaks my heart. What a good episode.
- In a side plot not worthy of a proper recap, Grams lists the house without telling Jen so she can pay for Jen’s college and go live in a retirement community, but Jen says no. Apparently Grams offered help, which Jen previously accepted not realizing it was going to literally render Grams homeless. Jack borrows a page from the Secretly Sexy Therapist’s playbook and psychologizes Jen until they both agree to continue their codependent relationship by moving Grams to Boston to live with both of them. It would be absurd, but I mean, at least they didn’t turn Grams into a college professor to maintain her as a regular cast member (looking at you, Boy Meets World)?
- Jen begs Jack for a “juicy little morsel” about his love life (ew, and shot!). Jack objects to the use of “juicy” and “morsel” but not to “little.” Nice to see he’s secure in his masculinity!
- Ha! Drue was betting on his friends’ relationships before Marshall and Lily made it cool. –Janes
- Dawson deals with his grief by applying to a summer program at USC. Oh, goody, more application storylines.
- The Worthington deans certainly pay a lot more attention to freshman than anyone did at the illustrious school Worthington is based on.
- Gretchen says that Dawson has a day and a half to come up with an amazing going-away speech for her. Hey, maybe he should buy her a wall and then paint it with a romantic message in giant letters! Oh, wait, his far superior romantic rival already did that.
- Pacey embarrasses Joey, who’s spent an incredibly long time outside his door, by remarking that he’d wondered if she was ever going to knock. Then when she looks embarrassed, he lies that he didn’t see her standing out there. Heh, nice chivalry, Pace, but maybe do that before you point out that you saw her.
- I’m still raw from “Promicide,” so the ridiculous music playing after Pacey says “I miss you” totally got me. –Janes
- Pacey calls Gretchen “Miss Pack Up And Leave Town,” and says she’s not his romantic role model. Yeah, Pacey would never just pack up and leave. Oh wait. Just kidding. That’s EXACTLY what he did when Joey shot him down a year ago.
- This is the quintessential expression of an older sister whose younger sibling is talking about Signs That We’re Supposed To Be Together but who is valiantly not pointing out all the problems with that premise:
- Pacey and Gretchen say an adorable good-bye, with Pacey grinning and shyly refusing to say “I love you” until Gretchen says it first. Aww, sibs!
- I think Mitch telling Dawson that he managed to make Mr. Brooks seem like Harrison Ford counts as unwarranted praise of our intrepid young hero. Shot! Also, do the Leeryso not look up to any men other than Harrison Ford? His name comes up a lot. Like a lot. I’m just saying.
- Oh MAN this is so awkward when Joey almost goes for a kiss out of habit. Super super awkward.
I’m basically sitting here like:
After that you can see her face fall first in sheer embarrassment and then in sadness as she realizes that they might never kiss again. Then he puts a caring hand on her back as they walk towards the car, which I just found so sweet I almost cried again. Dammit, you guys, before I met Keets I seriously was not this sentimental.
- Aw, I love when Pacey touches Joey’s back after they awkwardly almost kiss. They have so much chemistry! (Yes, I’ve already forgiven Pacey a little bit, don’t judge me.) –Janes
- Dawson claims to have “spent the last eighteen years making everyone around me happy.” Ummm… sure. (And, shot!)
- I love how Pacey starts calling the deans “Gentlemen” like he thinks he’s in Oxford or something.
- Ugh, she never needed you to be her “savior,” Pacey! Gross! All right, I un-forgive him again. –Janes
- OK, Dawson talking about “the open road” is about as convincing as James van der Beek pretending to be eighteen.
- Thank god, Dawson didn’t listen to all Mitch’s stupid lectures about how you need “a breast” to love a baby:
- When Jen insists on leaving with Grams, Grams tells Jen she has a “big, beautiful heart” (shot!). I guess Grams knew about Jen’s enlarged heart issues before anyone else WOMP WOMPPPP.
- The montage of Dawson, Pacey, and Joey sadly staring down their separate futures as Gretchen’s voiceover reads the good-bye note is really sad. But also very telling: NOBODY CARES ABOUT JEN. She doesn’t even make it into the “pondering the end of high school” montage!
- What is going on with Dawson’s bangs?? –Janes
- I’m 100%, seriously not joking that I almost choked up again at the end at the thought of poor Joey having to spend the summer with Dawson instead of with Pacey.
How to pick? Pacey manages to utter a lot of really heroic lines for someone who spends the majority of the episode whining about hating “the ending” that he 100% caused on his own. How about this one: “I know what I said, and I know how I said it, and it makes me sick to my stomach every time I think about it. Blaming you for my insecurities and then making you feel guilty for all the things that you’ve accomplished when you should feel nothing but proud. And I’m so proud of you… But I didn’t show you that.”
Most cringeworthy moment:
At the Worthington party, it’s really weird how Joey takes the arm of a guy who is going to be a fellow freshman with her just because they’re walking over to the next room together. Um, do these people think that Joey is going to college at a Victorian-era dinner party?
Six, including two instances of Potter Mentionitis.
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