Last Christmas I went through a bout of re-watching Dawson’s Creek , and it has since become one of my favorite shows. This all came about because Target was having a sale on Season One, and then every time I went back to Target, more seasons were on sale. I bought all 6 for about $15 each, and sold a few on Amazon (for more than I paid, score!) but I kept Seasons Three (the lead-up to Pacey & Joey getting together), Four (Pacey & Joey are together), and Six (the final season).
DC aired from January 1998 through May 2003 on the WB. The show is vaguely autobiographical, based on the life of creator Kevin Williamson. DC made stars of its unknown lead actors and was a flagship show for the network. According to a Wikipedia article:
“Dawson's Creek generated a high amount of publicity before its debut, with several television critics and watchdog groups expressing concerns about its anticipated ‘racy’ plots and dialogue; the controversy even drove one of the original production companies away from the project, but numerous critics praised it for its realism and intelligent dialogue that included allusions to American television icons such as The Dick Van Dyke Show and The Mary Tyler Moore Show. By the end of its run, the show, its crew, and its young cast had been nominated for numerous awards, winning four of them. The series is known for the verbosity and complexity of the dialogue between its teenaged characters—who commonly demonstrate vocabulary and cultural awareness that went beyond the scope of the average high school student, yet that is combined with an emotional immaturity and self-absorption reflecting actual teens. This precociousness has been a staple of a number of teenaged-themed shows since, notably including Gilmore Girls and The O.C.”
When I first started to re-watch the show, I was happy to see it again mostly to relive a particular time in my life. I first began watching DC in high school but, like many other things in my life, it was lost to me once I entered college at a beautiful but remote institution in the middle of Ohio, where television reception was spotty at best. When I rekindled our affair at the ripe old age of 27, I certainly did not expect to like the show. Enjoy it, sure, but not actively like it. Imagine my surprise.
And so, in the wake of the WGA strike, we begin SDYW’s five-part Friday series on the magic of Capeside, Massachusetts.
Part One: The Characters
The main reason Dawson’s Creek was so appealing to me, and remains that way all these years later, is the attention paid to character development. All five of DC’s main characters change immensely over the course of six seasons, but — and this is really the key — they are all still completely themselves. The viewer continues to catch glimpses of the characters’ 15-year-old selves well after they have matured into adults. Each character has one severe hangup that they let dictate (often subconsciously) how everything in their lives goes down: Joey's fear of change, Dawson's naivete, Pacey's self-deprecation, Jen's deluded sense of self-awareness, and Jack's homosexuality.
“Just because I don’t fit into that place you want me to doesn’t mean there’s not a place for me.”
Joey is easily the most complex character in the DC universe. Equally tough and vulnerable, she is from “the wrong side of the tracks.” Her mother dies of cancer when she is young, and her father is in prison for drug trafficking. Her older sister Bessie raises her, and the family is poor, looked down upon by other members of the community, and — for lack of a better word — kind of white trash. Joey has a complicated, co-dependent relationship with her best friend Dawson, which morphs from adoration to love to hate to friendship and hits every high and low point in between.
Over the course of six seasons, Joey goes from a from scared, prudish little girl desperately afraid of growing up to a successful, independent woman who recognizes and is able to deal with her own downfalls. Throughout the show, Joey is terrified of change, so much so that she contributes to her own self-destruction via her refusal to act. Going along with this, she consistently blames others when things do go wrong (as she expected them to, naturally). The queen of the “worst-case scenario,” when Joey misses an exam during her second year of college, her train of thought goes from “missed exam” to “I’ll be kicked out of school” to “I’ve ruined my entire future” in about five minutes. And yet, when we flash forward in the final episode, Joey has made peace with herself and her OCD tendencies in adulthood.
In the finale, we see that Joey moved to Paris after college. In adulthood, she works as an editor at a New York publishing company, and is happily living with her boyfriend until she returns to Capeside for a wedding and realizes she is meant to be with Pacey Witter. In the end, Joey and Dawson are soul mates — meant for each other, certainly, but not meant to be together in a romantic sense.
“I guess everyone has someone who challenges them and makes them shoot for something just beyond their reach … you’re with me everywhere I go.”
Dawson Leery is an idealistic, romantic film geek who is determined to spend his life making movies in Hollywood. Of all the characters on DC, he has the most stable family life (more on this in Part 2: The Parents of Dawson’s Creek). Dawson’s main problem is that he bases his life largely around another person, and that person is Joey.
After the first season, when Dawson realizes that he has romantic feelings for his best friend, he never, ever gets over her. He is a whiny, self-righteous brat right up until the moment that he faces death for the first time—the death of Mr. Brooks, a friend & film icon, and the death of Dawson’s father, Mitch. Unlike many shows, the death of Dawson’s father is not wrapped up in just a couple of episodes. After Mitch dies, Dawson drops out of USC film school and moves back to Capeside to help his mother care for his newborn sister, and from this moment on Dawson becomes a man. He does not return to school, and ends up working from the ground up as a PA for a director he had met earlier in the show. The shock of real life in Hollywood cements Dawson's character change. He continues to make mistakes, to be sure, but now he actually takes responsibility for them.
In adulthood, Dawson is the creator/director of a popular teen soap called “The Creek,” which is based upon his own life. In the finale, he and Joey finally gain closure in their relationship, with Dawson telling her that he will always love her. They are beyond romance and beyond friendship, and are true soul mates.
“Now all I can do is wait for the other shoe to drop. Wait for you to realize what a big mistake you’ve made. Wait for you to realize that I’m just gonna be a big disappointment.”
Pacey Witter is a charming, roguish slacker. He is a poor student, and his family life is abysmal. His father is an alcoholic and a domestic abuser who both verbally and physically attacks Pacey and his siblings. Pacey is constantly being told that he’s worthless—by his parents, his brother, his teachers, and even by his supposed “best friend” Dawson.
In reality, however, Pacey is probably the most self-aware, mature member of the bunch. From the very first season, when Pacey has an affair with a teacher, he comports himself with style and grace, always taking full responsibility for his actions. However, due to his upbringing, he craves respect from others while not respecting himself, often to his detriment. Pacey is never able to believe that he is “good enough” for any opportunity that might come his way. Like Dawson, Pacey invests much of his being in another person. Like Dawson, this person is Joey. Unlike Dawson, Pacey believes that Joey is far too good for him, and his insecurity ruins their relationship.
After losing everything in a stock market meltdown, Pacey returns to Capeside. In adulthood, he runs a successful restaurant while having an affair with an older woman (i.e. comes full circle from first season). When Joey returns for a wedding, she tells him that they are meant for each other, and he moves to New York to be with her (which is actually kind of lame, but we’ll get into this more in Part 3: Dawson vs. Pacey).
“Relationships are just one big sorry after another culminating in a big, final, messy sorry.”
Jen Lindley is a smart, savvy girl with a precocious past of abusing alcohol, drugs, and sex. Unable to handle her, Jen’s parents send her from New York to live with her grandmother in Capeside. Jen is considerably more sophisticated than the rest of the gang, but as a teenager she often fools herself into believing that she “knows it all.” Jen is terrified of trusting others, because when she does she usually gets hurt.
Jen eventually makes peace with herself in college, when the revelation that her grandmother has cancer, a great therapist, and her involvement with a teen help line cause her to realize that she can’t control external forces. In adulthood, Jen is a single mother with a heart condition who ends up dying far too young.
“It’s naïve to think that people aren’t gonna be small-minded and bigoted and ignorant and this whole thing isn’t just gonna get worse from here on out.”
Jack McPhee moves to Capeside during second season. He is a shy, clumsy, earnest boy who begins a relationship with Joey but eventually comes out of the closet after much soul-searching. His brother passed away at a young age, his mother went nuts soon after, his father refuses to accept his homosexuality (at first), and his perky, overly driven twin sister also goes nuts (though she bounces back eventually). Jack, left alone, moves in with Jen and Grams, where he is fully accepted and becomes part of their family. In college, Jack goes through small downward spiral of drinking and partying, but he cleans up his act.
Unfortunately, most of Jack’s character deals solely with the fact that he is gay. He has a few non-gay storylines, but mostly it’s him berating himself. He can’t handle having a boyfriend, other gay males he meets are “too gay,” and he refuses to accept himself or others. By the final season, however, Jack has come to terms with himself and his lifestyle. He is comfortable in his own skin.
In adulthood, Jack has returned to Capeside and is a teacher at the high school. He is in a committed relationship with Pacey’s older brother Doug, although Doug is closeted. After Jen dies, Jack and Doug adopt her baby daughter.