The Dawson's Creek Episode Guide: Discovery
At the tail end of the fourth episode of Dawson's Creek's first season, Dawson says to his friend, "I'm mad at the world, Joey. I'm a teenager." I nearly went blind rolling my eyes into the back of my skull—not because that's a ridiculous line of dialogue (though it sort of is), but because I intoned that sentiment repeatedly during my puberty years. If there's one thing that this re-watch of my favorite teen show has brought to the fore, it's that I have a deep distaste for the person I used to be. All of 15-year-old Kyle's worst character traits—hubris, vanity, pettiness, misdirected angst—exist in the character of Dawson Leery, and I'm starting to wonder if I identified with the character because I saw myself in him or if I used him as a role model because I was impressed with his vocabulary and his passion for art.
I know it has become a recurring theme in these recaps, but Dawson is awful in this episode. He talks in circles about how much he's focused on romance with regards to his relationship with Jen, but he passive-aggressively pressures her for sex (after only just kissing for the first time last week!) and then pushes her away when he finds out she's not a virgin. Later, he has another blow-up with Joey after she admits to him that she knew about his mother's affair, and he burns the bridge between them for the first of many times when he says she "disengages this friendship," which is ridiculous. After witnessing his mother making out with Bob at the news station where he is allowed to use the equipment for sound editing, he decides he wants to tell his father about it as he is preparing for their 20th anniversary date. (He ultimately backs down, luckily.) He creepily obsesses over film footage of Jen while Joey is in the room (though Joey's counterpoint about Jen's likely New England suburban future is pretty satisfying—one of the many times in this episode that finds Joey gaining more of her own agency). He's just a generally off-putting guy.
But by far the weirdest Dawson moment in "Discovery" comes early in the hour when he returns to his room to find Pacey rifling through his pile of video tapes. Pacey's tryst with Tamara at the ruins was captured on video in an incredible plot contrivance, and Dawson and Joey recognize the teacher but not the guy she's banging. When Pacey hears of this, he's desperate to track down the evidence—not necessarily to keep his secret, but to evaluate his ability to fuck. "Performance-wise, did I cut it?" he asks Dawson, who reassures Pacey that he looked good on the tape. I know he's just trying to ease some of his pal's anxiety, but it is exceptionally odd for one teen to tell another, "You fuck pretty good."
I've said in the past that the Pacey/Tamara coupling has been infinitely more off-putting to me this time around (and luckily that arc is almost over), and this episode continues to treat every aspect of that relationship way too casually. Though they had to run off to a (theoretically) secluded place to bang at the end of last episode, "Discovery" finds Pacey just casually hanging out at Tamara's apartment while the two of them discuss her sexual past. Even though their sexy times are both culturally taboo and explicitly illegal, neither Pacey nor Tamara seem all that hung up on anything. In fact, Pacey repeatedly talks about having sex with his teacher in public places (including at the video store) and in Dawson's room with the door wide open. His complete lack of instinct for subterfuge is sort of endearing and probably more true to life than I'm giving it credit for, but it does seem sort of jarring for a television show. (It really is true to real life, however, where everything is fine until it's suddenly not.)
The "Discovery" of the title doesn't just apply to Pacey's sudden lack of virginity. It also references Dawson's revelation that his mom has actually been banging her co-anchor (something he posited way back in the pilot), and the fallout of that revelation affects his relationships with both Joey and Jen—the former because she reveals she knew about the affair weeks ago, the latter because Dawson's insistence that there be no secrets between them leads to Jen finally revealing why she was sent to exile in Capeside (it turns out she used to bang around a lot in Manhattan). Dawson essentially rejects Jen because of that news, even though he explicitly demanded that she come clean as part of their new "no secrets" policy. Dawson makes his hurt face (which, taken one step further, leads to the infamous "crying face" meme) and storms off, and though he's acting like a petulant child, it does lead to a nice exchange between Jen and Joey. Those two women are almost never on the same page over the course of six long seasons, and that's a shame, because when their powers combine, they are quite a force. (There's a great alternate-reality version of this show that only deals with Joey and Jen.) After Dawson blows up, Jen goes to visit Joey at the Icehouse and asks Joey how she should handle him. Joey gives good advice, and the two of them bond over Dawson's shortcomings. It's a brief scene but full of sweetness and potential. If the message of Dawson's Creek is that women are always wiser and more evolved (a fundamental truism), then it has already arrived at its pinnacle.
- Pacey gets jealous of Tamara, who sits at the weird Parisian café across the street from the video store and hangs out with Mr. Gold. But he has nothing to worry about, because Mr. Gold is gay (and really into Mel Gibson).
- One of Pacey's early signifiers is his lack of academic prowess, but he shows a pretty strong mastery of high school literature, referencing Romeo & Juliet, The Scarlet Letter and Oedipus. Either he just doesn't apply himself or having sex with his English teacher has actually made him better at school.
- There are two strong music cues in this episode: One is a strangely loud Toad the Wet Sprocket song called "Amnesia" (it's the angsty tune that plays when Dawson sees his mom kissing Bob) and the other is a lovely Barenaked Ladies song called "I Know" (from Born on a Pirate Ship) that plays while Dawson and Joey shop for Dawson's parents' anniversary. Barenaked Ladies will forever be remembered as a bunch of goofs who somehow scored a number one with that Chinese chicken song, but there's some real heartbreak on that record (particularly on "This Is Where It Ends" and "When I Fall"). Maybe You Should Drive has some bangers, too.
- The scene where Dawson goes to Joey looking for comfort after finding out about his mom's affair is a tour de force for Katie Holmes, who does little more than stare and listen but is goddamn irresistible while doing so.
- Dawson has a really weird scene with Jen's grandmother where he pretty much says he's after more than sex. Grams' skepticism of Dawson remains mildly hilarious, and I'm really looking forward to the overhaul of the Grams character in episodes (and seasons) to come.
- What kind of a name is Pacey, anyway? There's one scene between him and Dawson where it gets used a lot, and only then did it seem sort of insane.
- Dawson and Jen hold hands and kind of swing them around a bit in this episode; it's easily the sweetest moment of their entire run together.