Dawson’s Creek: In Too Deep

We’re back in the creek, and we got in far too deep. All six series of this sleepy melodrama are finally over and it’s really hard to decide how I feel about this rollercoaster of a series.

Last time I wrote about Dawson I was of a very different mind, being only one series in it was really hard to see what all the fuss was about. While obviously this was the starting point for most modern teen-dramas, it seemed very weak in terms of stories. The entire first series rests squarely on the Dawson/Joey/Jen love triangle, a classic retelling of the Archie/Betty/Veronica romantic escapades of the Archie comics. Outside Pacey sleeping with his teacher there was very little of any interest going on, and side stories are just as likely to be dropped after single episode as they are to be beaten into the ground.

I’m pleased to say the writers clearly learned from their mistakes and the show got a hell of a lot better. At the start. For a while. Well just for series two really, but it was certainly a nice change of pace for the show. You can tell they hit their peak here because in the final few episodes all the nostalgic moments of any interest are from this run of the show.

Series Two – Dawson’s Peak

They turn the entire dynamic of the show on it’s head, giving Pacey actual plots to work with that last the entire run of the series. While he was always the most likable character, it’s this series where he starts to become the main character. As Dawson begins to wallow Pacey gets busy! He gets a girlfriend, starts leading social change in the school and rebels against his corrupt English teacher.

New characters save the audience from more tedious padding, as mysterious siblings Jack and Andie McPhee move to town, and these guys are great! Andie becomes a great foil and romantic interest for Pacey, an overachieving perfectionist to drive him to become a better man. The pair have great chemistry, it’s a really sweet relationship. Andie brings loads of raw emotion to her stories, as they explore how the death of her brother has left her and her mother deep in mourning, and eventually their underlying mental illness becomes too much to cope with.

Jack’s a rarity in that he’s an actual nice guy, not a self proclaimed ‘Nice Guy’ like Dawson. He comes to town, he’s a bit of a shy goofball and just bumbles through life annoying Joey with his lack of waiter skills. Somehow he managed to stumble into the hearts of the audience and cast though, as with Pacey now dating his sister he is forced into the friendship group, and provides much needed positivity. He’s such a nice guy that he even steals Joey’s affections, being the definitive destroyer of Joey and Dawson’s relationship. It’s weird seeing the couple that seemed to be the whole point of the show get together and split apart so early, and this is something they constantly try to restart but never come close to succeeding over the next four series.

Just get a load of this great mid-series speech against the evil Mr. Peterson (Dawson’s Creek Series 2 episode 14-15)

What’s even stranger, just a few episodes later, after politely sweeping Joey off her feet, the writers were bold enough to have him reveal his hidden depth. It turns out sweet Jack is a very unhappy young man, as he is haunted by homosexual thoughts, that he finds through the form of his poetry. While it gave me quite the whiplash, seeing him come in and seduce Joey only to then figure out that he’s actually gay, I can’t pretend to know what it’s like to be in the closet or not even realise that you’re homosexual so I hesitate to look at it as narratively weird. Knowing that Kevin based Creek on his own life, except for the fact he wasn’t allowed to reveal or write Dawson as gay, Jack becomes a really good alternative for him to build a strong gay role model for teen viewers. Replace the passion for film with painting and you have a very similar shy artistic youth. After a really powerful few episodes covering his coming out, he’s always there as an openly gay member of the team and it’s just lovely.

Due to the whole Dawson/Joey mess the gang is fairly split from here on out, Pacey hanging with the McPhees and Dawson sticking with Jen as two salty rejected lovers united. Being the entitled incel he is, Dawson decides to make an entire movie about Joey’s life after she dumps him, recreating frame by frame scenes of them having really private moments and talks, all done by actors chosen from their own class at school.

These big story arcs keep things fresh and moving constantly, and the show really benefits for it. Series two starts with Pacey and Dawson’s new relationships, leading to the messy breakup in the middle for Dawson. As soon as that movie is all done you go straight into Jack’s coming out before having an actual death on the squad.

Annoying party-girl and town gossip Abby has been a horrible person through series one and two, but she was always a good laugh for the audience, pointing out how pretentious and terribly written the Creek Gang are most of the time. However in a strange twist of fate, she gets drunk at a wedding, which Andie kicks her out of, where she then messes around with Jen on the dock. Here she slips into the water and drowns, while Jen watches horrified.

This was a major twist for the kids, making them all question what they were doing with their lives. Abby was the movie lead as Joey, and after she dies Dawson retires the project, instead of realising that a young film about teen angst and drama where the lead actually died would probably be killer on the student film circuit. Jen has yet another boozy-burnout as no one in her friend group actually likes her enough to support her apart from Jack. The saddest outcome would be that it starts making poor Andie start to see visions of her dead brother, her fragile mental health that had been on a tightrope all series finally taking a nosedive. This leads to a very emotional finale, Andie parting with Pacey and Jack to recover at a specialist institution, while Jack moves in with Jen to get away from his father trying to “cure” his gayness.

This is the peak of the show, and while the rest never really comes close, if you’re invested in the lives of our young stars you might as well stick along for the ride a bit longer, even if you start to fast forward your way through the most boring segments.

Series 3 – Creeks in the Foundation

If series two had learned to focus on quality stories, series three really thought that quantity of stories was the way to move forward. They throw so much at the wall this series and most of it disappears as quickly as it came. Jen has a secret evil half-sister? Don’t worry, we won’t ever see her again. At one point, the town becomes racist monsters and chases the amazing new headmaster out of town, along with his daughter who’d been a potential love interest for Dawson for about five episodes, this never comes up again. Change was the name of the game here, probably in an attempt to maintain the goodwill they’d got for their rollercoaster of emotions last series. Some come out of this more scathed than others.

Jack steps up as a main character even more here, in a really healthy progression of his coming-out in series two. He finds himself stepping out of his shell and into the padding of the school football team. On the whole, the town have come to terms with his openly gay status, and are actually proud of some representation. He’s moved into Jen’s house and lives with her and the granny and it’s super cute. While he’s hardly given the deepest plots to work with, his new tag-team status with Jen means there’s finally one character that doesn’t slut shame her constantly. Jen sadly melts into the background, when she’s not pining after Dawson she’s normally being insulted. She’s barely more than Jack’s cheerleader, but the acting is still good and I can’t help but like her, everyone in the show insults her so much it would be hard for me to think of any way to critique her that the horrible characters haven’t said to her face already.

Joey and Pacey really steal the show here, at the great expense of all the other side-characters in the show. They were always stealing the scenes, but normally these two power-house talents are the angel and devil on Dawon’s shoulders, but as he abandons them both this series they find each other, and their chemistry is palpable. Andie is revealed to have cheated on Pacey while in her mental institution, a horrible move that basically destroys her character, but does free up our young star to pursue different romantic paths. This was a major blow as their relationship was the driving force for all the plot’s last series, but the show manages to slowly move on from this messy beginning. It could be seen as just pairing up characters that they had left over after all the previous break-ups, but they’ve had subtle shipping since the start of series one, so I think it’s a fair pairing. Pacey had kissed her and tried to pursue her in an episode of series one, only to be threatened off her by the ever-indecisive Dawson, so it’s only fair he just ignored him this time.

And that brings us to the lost causes, Dawson and Andie. Apparently Kevin wanted these two to end up together at the end of the show if he hadn’t left the writing team, so maybe that’s why he took the time to ruin all their relationships and turn them both into absolutely horrible people. Andie cheats on Pacey while in the help centre for her mental health, which isn’t ideal but she was under a lot of stress, it’s her downward spiral following their breakup that really sours me on her. She steals test answers, stirs disharmony throughout the group constantly, and she uses a fake sexual harassment to try to guilt-trip Pacey into sleeping with her again. Following this she can’t understand why he doesn’t want to be with her anymore, a far cry from their perfect happy relationship of series two.

Meanwhile, Dawson’s break up with Joey in the last series has still left him fairly deranged, but here he feels on the brink of violence. When he finds out his friends are having a secret affair he emotionally blackmails Joey into breaking up with Pacey, and keeps her close to him like he’s some sort of Bond villain. In the final scenes of the series he finally realises he’s been holding her back and lets her run off into the sunset with Pacey, but not without spawning a terrible internet meme.

Series 4 – Dead in the Water

This is the first series following the departure of the original creator, and it shows. Series four really drags it’s feet. Everyone is just a bit of mess for this final year of school, and it feels so much worse coming off the happy ending of series three. Joey and Pacey return from sea and much like the end a happy dream, reality comes crashing in for a rude awakening.

While Dawson is nothing special, he brings quite a cool grumpy old man character to the show with him. An old retired director, he teaches Dawson to get the spark for film back while Dawson does community service repairing his house. He doesn’t last that many episodes before passing, but he whipped Dawson back into shape, stopped his moaning and made him get his act back together. He’s a love interest for the granny and makes her happy for a bit, and when he dies his money is what eventually pays for Joey to go to college, so his impact echoes across the series long after he’s gone. Even though Joey never mentions him, or thanks Dawson for the money after this series.

Pacey and Joey start strong, but as he starts to slip at school he gets progressively angrier with himself, and her by extension. While they have lots of cute moments and end up sleeping together for the first time, which is done very romantically, the shadow of Dawson hangs over them constantly. While Joey is very much a firm team Pacey throughout the series, she finds it awkward to discuss her new love life with Dawson, which leads to loads of tension throughout. Dawson also starts dating Pacey’s sister and the pair are great together, but this leads to everything getting even messier, with her letting her frustration of the weird Dawson-Joey bond lead to more confrontations with Pacey.

This all blows up to a point where he dumps her horribly in the middle of Prom, which really wasn’t deserved seeing as she had forgiven all his previous outbursts and only offered to help him. For a pair of actors so good, the scripts really didn’t give them strong enough motivation or dialogue to justify their sudden domestic blow-up.

The other characters sort of just bumble around existing, Jack becomes a football coach but then gets fired because he’s gay. Jen becomes Jack’s bestie, and then tries to sleep with him before trying to sleep with her therapist. It’s not a great look on either of them, but their actors are some of the better ones so it’s not painful to watch.

After this wet fart of a series they really needed to pull their fingers out for series five in order to keep anyone invested. One more trainwreck of purely melodramatic twaddle would just leave the show unwatchable. The perfect ending for this teen romantic drama would have been Pacey and Joey sailing off into the unknown. By bringing them back and letting us see the aftermath of a “happily ever after” we are brought back to Earth, much more realistic but far less whimsical.

The show began with a group of fairly nice kids hitting puberty hard, evolving into hormonal selfish messes. This final graduation year really shows how far they have come, they really aren’t the same people we met all those years ago, and they aren’t very likable. Dawson is a manipulative sociopath who throws away his dreams as quickly as they come, Joey was finally softening up a little before being crushed again by another heartbreak, and Pacey switched from the best guy in the world into an angry mess. This doesn’t even come close to covering the devolution of the side cast, Andie becoming so miserable she had to leave for Italy, Jen having decided to just be in love with Jack instead of getting hurt again. Will another series make me care about them again, or have they all gone too far?

Series 5 – Learning Their Lessons

As close to a fresh start as the series ever came, the kids are out of the creek and their whole futures are ahead of them. It’s surprisingly good, basically dropping Dawson as the main character, focussing more on Joey and her shiny new life.

After watching her save up so much money, work so hard and be so miserable stressing about getting into college, seeing her finally make it is really cathartic. In a surprising turn she doesn’t moan, she doesn’t ruin her education, there isn’t some tragic event that sours the whole experience within 10 minutes of arriving. Other characters aren’t so lucky, but it’s good to see at least one of them sit down and actually enjoy the higher education experience.

Jen and Jack kind of have nothing to do again in this series, Jack joins a fraternity and messes up his life. They act like the Frat-pack was the reason he failed, but all the guys in the house were perfectly happy to help him with his life and his problems. Pacey has a fun time this series, he starts sleeping with Joey’s roommate Audrey and they make a good couple. He finds out he’s an amazing chef, gets a job at a classy restaurant and pulls his life together.

New girl Audrey is very happy, brings some much needed positivity. She gets Joey to do stuff like go out and live life rather than mope. She even blends in with the rest of the cast really naturally, becoming the star in Dawson’s next film project, which is what leads to her and Pacey getting together. She has just enough stuff going on to give her depth, a bad mum and a weird relationship with sex etc, but it isn’t distracting.

Dawson becomes a bit of a drifter this series and hardly has any relevance to the plot. Him and Joey have gone long-distance for awhile, he arrives in Hollywood and is instantly fired because he insults the director. This makes him rethink his life, he surprises Joey by moving to Boston to be with her, only to find out that she’d dumped him over a voicemail he hadn’t had a chance to listen to. He doesn’t get much else to do other than mope due to the big ‘twist’ of the series that they throw in early. He even sleeps with Jen, losing his virginity, which after a million episodes of sexual shaming and turning down perfectly nice girls was quite a surprise. It doesn’t get much attention and is quickly brushed past.

Dawson’s dad dies because he tries to eat an ice cream whilst driving. There was an entire episode leading up to this ‘tragic’ death, but this is one of the least justified deaths I’ve ever seen in the history of television. Him and Dawson have a fight about leaving film school, so he goes to get an ice cream to cheer himself up, drops it while driving and smacks into a truck. It’s Dawson’s guilt based motivation for the rest of the series, but as an audience there’s no way you can blame anyone other than Mitch. Apparently it was due to financial disputes between the actor and the crew, but even if the death was added coming from a place of bad faith, you could pride yourself as a writer to do it better than this.

Overall this series breathed some new life into the dying horse of Dawson’s Creek. It’s a Joey show now really, maybe they should have called it Joey’s City because they only go back to their hometown once or twice, and they normally just moan about how boring it is. There are some really weird episodes, Pacey gets sexually harassed by a sexy boss, Joey gets an entire episode just about her getting mugged by a weird joker-level psycho who gets hit by a car and she watches him die. If you couldn’t stand watching all the high-school drama then I would recommend skipping series four and going straight into this one, it’s worth a try!

Series 6 – Dawson’s Bleak

Dawson is finally likable again! Well, I don’t know if I can go that far, but he’s certainly the least hateable that he’s ever been. Remember that director that got Dawson fired within two minutes at the start of last series? They met up over the summer and now they are an amazing comedy duo. Todd Carr is the opposite of the role model Dawson would’ve wanted, he makes cheap horny-slasher movies for easy payouts, flirts with half his cast and spends the rest of the time insulting the crew. It’s here that Dawson actually develops a backbone, learns how to be less of an annoying boy scout and enjoy having fun for a change.

Joey has a revolving door of stories between boy troubles and teacher troubles, sometimes at the same time, but it’s fairly by the numbers completing her second year at university. Her room-mate Audrey takes a massive turn for the worst, developing a substance abuse problem and turning on all the cast. Her frustration gets to such a point that she steals Pacey’s car and drives it into Dawson’s kitchen in the middle of Christmas dinner. They drag her off to rehab and she’s ungracefully ejected from the show, but she was a monster by this point so I can’t say her departure was unwelcome.

Pacey has a really weird time this series, he gives up his dream job of being a chef because he worries that if he has too much fun he’ll be a good-for-nothing party boy his whole life. He takes a job he initially hates for the fat paycheck, works with horrible people and starts to have a very messy love life. It’s supposed to be out of character to show how far he’s fallen, but still it does feel more than a little jarring. He finally becomes friends again with Dawson, and to celebrate Dawson gives him all his money to invest in the stockmarket. Obviously the stocks crash and Pacey loses every penny, meaning Dawson hates him again. However, this time Joey comes to comfort Pacey, about time given her obsessive need to mother Dawson has made him feel rejected every series until now.

We finish our time with our kids from the Creek with a nice 5 year time skip to round things off. While not necessarily bad decisions, a lot of characters have mind bogglingly strange conclusions to their stories. Pacey has been making homophobic jokes at the expense of his brother the entire show, but other than being well dressed and never caught actively sleeping with a women, there was no reason to think he was actually gay. Post-timeskip we see him as Jack’s new life partner, a pairing I think had no set up whatsoever and took me a little off guard. I’m not sure if him actually being secretly gay makes Pacey’s gay-bashing more or less offensive.

Pacey is finally the big man in town, owning a restaurant and seemingly being well loved by the community. At least most of it, because he does get the hell kicked out of him by some goons after sleeping with their boss’s wife. Some things never change, especially as Joey returns to town and the two finally rekindle their flame for good, waltzing off into the sunset together. Much like his mentor Todd, Dawson has hit a professional level of success, but apparently has no chance of love in his life, never getting over Joey in his heart.

Jen comes back and dies. It’s not really well explained, she just sort of stumbles into town as a haggard mess, baby in hand with no father anywhere to be seen. It’s a massive dump on the character of Jen to be fair, after so many years trying to be better and finding herself, she finally finds a way to be happy as a mother, then has a heart attack and dies at Dawson’s mum’s wedding.

Other people have gone into the mess that was Jen Lindley’s character many times before, but it was just an embarassment. It was meant to be a ‘coming of age’ moment to have her die, a final rite of passage into adulthood. This would almost make sense … if it wasn’t for the fact we’ve already done this back in series two with Abby, we’ve learned this lesson already Kevin! If anyone should have died it should have been the granny, she’d already been diagnosed with cancer earlier in the series, and it would have shown Jen developing from a woman entirely dependent on her grandmother’s support to someone who could be a parent in her own right.

So we end on rather a down note, Jen’s dead, Jack and Pacey’s brother are left raising her kid, and Dawson is a loveless career-loner. Joey and Pacey are finally free to live their lives away from the Creek, for these two hopefully the only way is up, but knowing this universe the next day would have brought some kind of surprising trauma to their door to shake things up.

My final strange thought is the fact that in the universe of Dawson’s Creek, Dawson has had FOUR plotlines, all based around him making Dawson’s Creek, every time taking up all his time and being a major issue. In series two, when he breaks up with Joey, the entire second half of the series is him making a movie out of the first half of series two, called Creek Daze. Then in series 6 he pitches a movie about his life, remaking all of Dawson’s Creek to the movie executives he works for about his life. They wanted to make it all horny and sexual, so he leaves and decides to make his own independent project … another movie of his life called The Creek. Where do you think we find him after the timeskip? Making a televised version of the film of his life, also called The Creek! What’s even weirder is he’s still in love with Joey and still decides to keep adding romance scenes between the character of him and Joey character, despite knowing that Joey and Pacey will watch it together as a couple.

Dawson’s Creek is a mess but I don’t regret watching it for one minute. I might have done while I was watching, but it’s such a wild ride. There are countless plotlines I’ve forgotten, and more I wish never happened, I can’t even hope to convey some of the weird stuff that goes on in these arcs, and I could never do it with such terribly clunky dialogue.

Published by James Sumner

Writer, reviewer & journalist. BA: Multimedia Journalism. MA: PR & Digital Comms.

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