The Great Dawson’s Creek Rewatch Project: Final Thoughts

By Nerdy Spice and Janes

[In 2018, we rewatched all of Dawson’s Creek. See our posts here.]

Nerdy Spice: I’m so sad to have finished up this rewatch. It was bringing me so much pure delight–often to the point of tears, and even when an episode was sort of stupid or even infuriating or angering. Living with Dawson, Joey, Pacey, Jen, and Jack day in and day out remains a pleasurable and even magical experience.

I wrote about this in the first episode, but I also really appreciate how non-aspirational it is:

It’s about truly regular kids: kids who wear J. Crew, who don’t drive limos or hunt murderers or make out with vampires, who live in slightly shabby houses and work their way through college and borrow their sister’s lipsticks and fall in love with each other against the backdrop of a gorgeous waterside town where they aren’t visiting on a glamorous vacation but living as unglamorous “townies.”

Since I’m also watching Riverdale, where the kids are all wearing ballgowns to prison fight clubs and shit like that, I appreciate even more the fact that Dawson’s Creek decided the stories of four regular kids were worth telling. (Would it have been better if they’d decided that the stories of non-white kids were also worth telling, well, yeah. But the show did its share of good work, too, in fighting to represent gay kids and their love lives on network television.)

Once Keets asked me, before we were dating, what the big deal was for me and Dawson’s. I said it was like a 100-hour-long romantic comedy where the right couple ends up together. And really, that’s what it is to me: a story about two loves, one of which was never meant to survive to adulthood, and one of which was.

Janes: It’s amazing how well Dawson’s Creek hangs together as a 100-hour rom-com in the end, because so much of its magic is accidental. At the beginning, the writers bought their own hype: they told the audience over and over that Dawson was the last of the “nice guys” and that Dawson and Joey were soulmates because they honestly believed it. But just as in life, that self-mythologizing was stifling, and prevented the characters from building a healthy, dynamic relationship. They introduced P/J, not because they consciously changed their minds about Joey’s true love, but because the D/J ship had been crushed under its own weight.

As a result, Dawson’s Creek reflected real life more than anyone watching the first couple of seasons could have imagined. Like the writers, the characters thought they were destined to play prescribed roles in a predetermined story, and like the writers, they realized that things don’t always turn out the way you expect them to. As kids grow up, and their identities shift in subtle and not-so-subtle ways, the promises they made to their younger selves become at best irrelevant, at worst suffocating. As Joey would say, “Things change. Evolve.”

By all accounts, Pacey and Joey wasn’t “endgame” for the writers–it just sort of happened as a result of any number of interrelated factors: Katie and Josh’s amazing chemistry, Joey becoming the most rounded character and de facto protagonist, the need for fresh conflict, etc. Pacey and Joey came into the picture mostly to breathe new life into the proceedings, which also imitates real life. The relationship that breathes new life into you is usually the right one—at least for that moment, maybe for the long haul.

If you haven’t noticed, we have a deeply personal connection to this show. Growing up, when we had a quandary in our love lives, we always asked ourselves: “Who is the Pacey?” But when we called someone “the Pacey,” we didn’t mean the hotter one (although, yeah) or the “bad boy.” We meant the ones who encourage us to grow without needing us to change. We meant the ones who fit into our dreams for ourselves, rather than writing us into their own. I almost ended up with my Dawson, someone who tried to shoehorn me into the “Girl Friday” role, and I literally thank my lucky stars every day that I didn’t. At Nerdy Spice’s wedding, I said that Keets was “her Pacey” in my maid-of-honor speech. Dawson’s Creek didn’t make these things happen for us, but it empowered us to make healthy choices in our romantic lives and be the protagonists of our own stories (if only accidentally).

Nerdy Spice: You actually also quoted me saying that Pacey was “not as good as Keets.” So I just want to clear that up. 🙂

But yeah, almost every straight girl has experienced what Joey experienced–not in the sense of drawing out a love triangle for nine effing years but in the sense of being put on a pedestal by a boy and then being blamed for falling off of it, the way Joey was with Dawson. That is how boys, as opposed to men, relate to girls–and it’s the best most girls are taught to hope for. Crazily enough, Pacey the class clown really does represent adulthood and growing up.

And this love triangle remains eternal partially because it’s so archetypal. There’s the one path that’s safe, that represents a person (or a habit or a pattern) clinging to you and not letting you go; and another path that represents respect and autonomy and the terror of freedom. Adulthood, in other words.

Which–the fact that Joey Potter’s entry into adulthood is the real story of Dawson’s Creek–is another nice thing about this show, and another thing that was apparently completely accidental. The show was supposed to be about a nice boy and his girl next door. Only by the end, it turned out the real story was hers. Isn’t that kind of great? That scrappy, poverty-stricken Joey Potter’s ambition, her hard work (even if she so often seemed to end up watching the film adaptation instead of reading the assigned book), her charisma, and the force of her personality ended up the central through-line of this show which was originally supposed to be about the boy who had a dream–and dozens of people telling him he was sure to get it.

I mean, love triangles will do that to a show. Whoever is in the middle of the triangle gets to be in the middle of the story. But I like to think it’s also that the writers created a character in Joey Potter (as much as Janes, and most people, like to rag on Second-Gen Joey for being kind of an airhead) that transcended the limitations of her story.

Janes: Exactly. No matter how much we like to rag on her (which is approximately 50% more than Pacey and 1700% less than Dawson), it says a lot that we’ve basically forgotten to talk about any other characters. Like poor Jen, who became structurally and spiritually irrelevant once the original Dawson/Jen/Joey triangle was eclipsed by the real one. Or Jack, who made history with his mere presence in the show, yet was often relegated to the “sidekick” role in Jen’s increasingly isolated corner of the plot.

We’ve talked a lot about how Dawson’s Creek has aged over the last two decades (ah, we’re so old!!), but one of our most troubled relationships is with Jen. From a very unscientific examination of internet comments, it seems like a lot of feminist fans want to “take back” the character of Jen Lindley, the “bad girl” from the big city who is unfairly vilified for her sexuality. As a lifelong feminist who has only become more radical over the past few years, I thought I would sympathize with Jen on this rewatch a lot more than I do. But unfortunately, the writing of her character is too atrocious to salvage. She starts off as a romantic object/evangelical atheist, veers suddenly towards Eve-level cartoonish sex kitten in season two, graduates to fake feminist who shit-talks other women all the time, and then–God, I don’t even know how to condense the terribleness of CJ-era Jen. She is, indeed, unfairly vilified for her sexuality (despite almost never having sex) throughout the show. But even in retrospect, her tepid sex life is the very least of her problems.

Several 90s/early aughts teen shows followed an eerily similar formula: they would introduce the bombshell blonde/projected star (Marissa Cooper/Peyton Sawyer/Serena van der Woodsen) and a slightly antiheroic-but-equally-beautiful brunette as the side character (Summer/Brooke/Blair), realize that the brunette was becoming the fan favorite, and then flatten the blonde bombshell character beyond all recognition. And Dawson’s Creek was not immune from this affliction; once it became clear that Joey would be the primary love interest, she essentially sucked all of the appealing qualities out of all the other female characters. Jen didn’t even get to be the “blonde bombshell” anymore, and instead landed somewhere in the area of “blonde irritant” (where the once-wonderful Audrey also ended up, and where Andie was from the very beginning).

It would be relatively easy to recast Jen as a feminist hero–the rebel who refuses to conform to a small town’s ideal of femininity so perfectly embodied by girl-next-door Joey. But since Joey got an actual arc, maybe even a journey, she came out feeling like the most feminist character. Not to say she’s a feminist hero—she’s more like an earlier iteration of the “different from other girls” trope, similar to her namesake, Jo March. (Which makes Jen the… Amy?) But like Jo March, she was still an inspiring character, relatable to so many girls who were looking for permission to take their dreams as seriously as the Dawsons of the world.

Aaaaand, I’m talking about Joey again. Whoops!

Nerdy Spice: Yeah, I am SO not on board with reclaiming Jen Lindley. Let’s leave her fake feminism and whining in the past where it belongs.

Anyway, we just want to wrap this up by thanking everyone who read these recaps! We had a seriously fantastic time on this project and we were happy to hear from everyone else who has similar nostalgia for Dawson’s Creek. Thank you! Say goodnight, not good-bye!

Overhead shot of Dawson and Joey sleeping side-by-side in bed.

17 Comments

  1. Hi! I rewatched this glorious and silly show alongside you girls all the way from Argentina and i loved it!!! Loved your take on misogyny, poorly developed characters and just laugh out loud at mitchs death by ice cream and the best cry- face of all time. I really hope for a Gilmore Girls rewatch or at least a year in the life recap (I need to know your impressions on the whole thing)

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    1. Ooh we wanted to do a Year in the Life recap and then found it too depressing because Rory had turned out so … well, you know. But we should, now that the trauma has worn off a little 🙂
      Thanks for reading!!!

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      1. YES YES YES this please!!! Gilmore Girls recaps by you would be HILARIOUS, so pleaaaase if you have the time, after Buffy of course! 🙂

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      2. ❤ We do love GG!! But don't worry, we'll definitely finish Buffy before we start on any more huge projects. (And I'm loving it as a new viewer, in case you can't tell!) Also :waves: hello!

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  2. Reading this website from New Zealand where I have also recently completed a Dawson’s Creek rewatch (although admittedly I did skip a few episodes here and there, and I still refuse to watch the second half of Promicide, because if I don’t see it, I can pretend it never happened, right?). Your recaps are great, absolutely hilarious and your highlights are the true highlights of the episodes (basically any time Pacey and Joey are cute – or even together at all). This show wasn’t exactly a high water mark of television, especially in the later seasons, but I love it anyway, even after all these years. P/J forever.

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  3. Hi, AbbieJean again here. I missed your final thoughts. When I watched Dawson’s Creek live, I thought it was ridiculous and then came, season 3 and 4 (up to Promicide which I will never rewatch) when it became brilliant and must see tv. I always liked Joey and Pacey, but Dawson was just too much. It was sweet when he and Joey got together, but only for a few seconds and then it was a dirge.

    I actually find Dawson to be the most problematic character with Jenn as a distant second. Dawson’s privilege and entitlement is beyond the pale. His ownership of Joey’s friendship, attention, and love was horrific. Then there was Dawson looked down on Pacey, constantly insulting him with the occasionally compliment and support to keep him hanging around. Honestly, I think that it was because Dawson was such a horror show that why so many fans happily embraced Pacey as the co-romantic male lead in season 3.

    I always thought that the show ended on a good note and should never come back, but after the actor’s reunion last year, I can’t help wondering if they will ever do a reboot, maybe they should do the next generation in Capeside with Lily, Alexander, and Amy.

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    1. Thanks for all these thoughts! I totally agree, it got to the point where we would get legitimately confused every time we went for a whole scene without getting annoyed by Dawson. He just sucked so much it’s hard to believe it wasn’t on purpose!

      The show did go out on a great note, and very few reunions live up to what the fans hope, and yet… can’t help but think it would be super awesome if there were a Dawson’s reunion!

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  4. Dear Janes and Nerdy Spice,
    Let me start by saying that I thoroughly enjoyed reading your blog.
    I just finished (re)watching “Dawson’s Creek” and reading your blog. I watched a number of episodes of “DC” on the other side of the ocean, over 20 years ago (I watched until part of season 3). I was already in my 20s, so I couldn’t really relate to the contents of the show. But shortly before starting watching it, I had spent one month in Rhode Island as a (very young) visiting scholar at a university. For me, watching “DC” was a way to remember my stay in an exotic region called New England. Little did I know that less than 10 years later I would move not too far from that exotic place! (luckily I didn’t watch seasons 5 and 6: I wouldn’t have wanted to pursue an academic career in North America if I had seen the awful, appalling characterization of American professors lol! More on that later).
    (Re)watching DC is something that, a long time ago, I promised myself I would do one day. The movement restrictions of the last months have contributed to make that project come true.
    I generally agree with your assessments on storylines, etc. Nevertheless, I have to notice that my perspective on some plotlines is different from yours. You have expressed in many cases very strong feeling towards any situation portrayed in the show that expresses any sort of patriarchal, sexist, or male-chauvinist values. While such feelings are often justified, in some cases your anger sounds excessive to me. Rather, in some cases I would just observe that until a couple of decades ago it was acceptable to portray on TV behaviors that are considered as inappropriate / unacceptable nowadays. Judging behaviors held by characters in a TV series from 20 years ago based on nowadays’ standards risks to anachronistically attribute to the (recent) past some values that back then were not as commonly accepted as they are now. This, because many societies around the world have changed a lot over the last years (for example, in the US a man who openly disrespects women could never get to a position of power… oops sorry, bad example!).
    Being a university instructor, I was rather deeply disturbed by the portrayal of the behavior of Joey’s professors in seasons 5 and 6. You have an almost-affair with your student? Fired! You abuse verbally and break all sort of boundaries with your student? Go away! Seriously, what the two profs do and say to Joey is just ridiculous and unthinkable in any North American teaching institution (luckily!).
    Another issue I have with your blog is the strong negative attitude towards whatever some characters do on the show, especially Dawson, Andy, and Jen. I understand that you are a fan of Pacey, but actually I wouldn’t say that Dawson is a monster. I would just say he’s just not a very interesting and definitely not an altruistic person. Andy is hard to bear (especially in season 3), but still she’s not the worst person on the planet (and on the show!). (I confess that I have a soft spot for her: I liked Meredith Monroe a lot when I watched the show the first time; which is fair enough as she is actually older than me. It would be quite disturbing if I liked the character of a high school girl now, plus God forbid I end up teaching at Worthington! Anyway, after seeing Meredith Monroe play many years later, I can say with Virgil “Agnosco veteris vestigia flammae” = I recognize the traces of the old flame [shot?]).
    As for Jen, she is not always horrible, I think she is just stuck in uninteresting plot lines from season 2 to the before-last episode of the series… Which leads me to Jen’s death. I found her message to her daughter so moving, so heartfelt that it compensates all of the uninteresting / dumb / negative things she has done during the previous seasons. I add that the acting of the various actors on the show is in my opinion between passable and excellent (Joshua Jackson in particular did a great job, and the chemistry between him and Katie Holmes is fabuous!). But Michelle Williams, in representing the last days of Jen’s life, outdid all the performance I have previously seen by the other actors through the 6 seasons. That is why Jen’s goodbye message to her daughter is the only scene of the whole show that I feel like watching over and over!
    The meaning of Jen’s death can be seen, as you pointed out, that her death is the only way for D, J and P to remain friends. Which creates an interesting contrast between Jen’s introduction, in season one, as the anti-Virgin Mary (a nonvirgin young girl who doesn’t believe in God), and her departure as a female version of Christ, who sacrifices her life for the good of the others. Plus, one could see her death as a meta-reference to the fact that Jen’s character ended up never finding a real place in the show after season 1…
    Anyway, the finale of the series was really great. The series is perhaps not “great”, but it still deserves being considered as iconic.
    Reading your blog made me feel less awkward watching it, as it showed that DC may lend itself to a deep analysis.
    Thank you!
    Enrico

    p.s. and thank you for adding the video to the last montage: very nice! I wouldn’t have known about it without your blog.

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      1. Thanks for the comment and for sharing your thoughts! I agree that Jen’s last message to her daughter is one of the best moments of the show. I cry soo much when I watch that (especially now I have a daughter). And that’s an excellent point about Jen becoming almost a Christ-like figure.

        I think the thing about the sexism on the show is that a lot of people working on the show wouldn’t have seen it at the time, but *women* (and girls) would have seen it. Even then, we knew it was annoying to be held to different standards than men. And similarly, there are a lot of race-related things that I wouldn’t have noticed at the time, being a white/mostly white woman, but that doesn’t mean that they weren’t problematic–just that I didn’t know enough to recognize certain stereotypes and patterns. And when stuff is problematic, we are compelled to talk about it! We are angry feminists after all. 🙂 But we love the show deeply: that’s why we spent a year of our lives dissecting it twenty years after the fact.

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  5. Great final impressions! I’m so happy to have found this when I decided to watch all of DC these last few months on my maternity leave.

    My big unresolved question is… how could the writers have gotten themselves so lost on Dawson’s character? Did they MEAN for their “last nice guy” with heaps of potential to be so terrible ? Or, did their entire title character just land WRONG? OR, do we blame James Van der Beek for his portrayal? I remember a film criticism prof once telling us that good writing “shows” instead of “tells” – and I feel that all of these supposedly wonderful traits about Dawson were NEVER shown and always told. We never once actually experienced the great friendship of Dawson and Joey – it is always referred to as their childhood. And the actors never had enough chemistry to actually make it believable (at least in my opinion.)

    No, I think it’s so interesting how it’s “Dawson’s Creek” but really Joey’s story. And my cynical opinion is that it is wholly attributable to ratings and fandom – Katie Holmes took off as an It Girl and therefore the story moved to feature her more and more to capitalize on it.

    But still a fun and totally nostalgia-filled rewatch! Thank you thank you. 🙂 You gals are awesome thinkers and writers.

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    1. Thank you for commenting!! We’re so happy you enjoyed it. And I am on maternity leave myself… congratulations 🙂

      It is such an interesting question about Dawson. How did they make him *so* far from what he seemingly was intended to be? Was it on purpose? It’s absolutely true that, as you point out, telling rather than showing that a character is great usually has the opposite effect of what’s intended–it tends to make the audience hate the character, especially when he truly doesn’t live up to it, like Dawson. I remember the same thing happening with Mark Greene on ER. So for that reason, I blame the writing rather than the acting. We made a little fun of James van der Beek’s acting, and certainly I’ve heard that he was kind of a pill at that age though he seems to be a great guy now, but I doubt even George Clooney could’ve made Dawson truly likeable! Or, OK, maybe Clooney, but no one else. 🙂

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      1. This is actually not supposed to be a comment to your reply to Shannon’s comment.
        It’s just that for some reason I can’t reply to your comment to my message. I just wanted to say thanks for replying. I definitely see your point, and it’s good you expressed your criticism on different questionable aspects of the show.
        Happy maternity leave!
        Enrico

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  6. Thank you so much both of you for a hugely entertaining recap. I have just watched Dawson’s Creek for the first time in my 30s, after it somehow passed me by in my teens. Your commentary is thought-provoking, informative and at times so funny that I found myself laughing out loud at length. Plus I was relieved to hear I wasn’t the only one to find Dawson insufferable! I kind of want to go back and watch the entire thing all over again now that I’ve read your recap.

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  7. I just watched Dawson’s Creek for the first time, at age of 24. I read all the recaps and I LOVE IT! Thank you! Of course, at this age, I no longer see things as a teenager but I indentified a lot with the problems experienced by the characteres trhouhout the end of the sixth season. I just finish college and this series was a fun. I had a lot of problems with the 5th and 6th seasons, but your reviews made me see many things in a different way and can also complement my thinking on some issues. I found myself laughing several times with you, girls (or women, as Pacey says). It was great to share that with you, really! I will certainly read Buffy’s reviews.
    Love from Brazil!

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