The Dawson's Creek Episode Guide: Boyfriend
I’ve been griping a lot about how the first season of Dawson’s Creek doesn’t spend nearly enough time on its central love triangle narrative, or at least doesn’t focus on it enough as I would like (or as much as I remembered it did). But I do give it credit: While we’ve been distracted by Dawson’s parents’ drama, Pacey’s statutory rape fantasies and Bessie’s dumb baby, the show has done a nice job of fleshing out the relationship between Dawson and Jen even though the bulk of their romance happens in the background and between episodes. Dawson’s constant sabotaging of his courtship of the girl from New York plays out the same way as it did for Holden McNeil in Chasing Amy: He just cannot get over the fact that his partner is vastly more sexually experienced than he is. As I noted a few episodes ago, Dawson knows all the right moves: He’s an intelligent kid who knows exactly what a sensitive, understanding guy is supposed to say and do. But knowing how the pieces move does not automatically make you a chess grand champion, and Dawson constantly finds himself tripped up by his own dumb teenage instincts which are exacerbated by the fact that the same girl who got sent to Capeside for having sex on her parents’ bed wants to take it slow with Dawson. The more he finds out about Jen and her bad girl ways in New York, the more he finds himself pushing her away.
Dawson’s misguided teenage boy ways more or less doom his relationship with Jen from the start, but it’s the arrival of her old boyfriend Billy (played with gleeful smarm by Eion Bailey) that ends up providing the catalyst for Dawson and Jen to call it quits. Not a lot about Billy’s arrival in town makes sense, though he does act as a nice little agent of chaos for everybody involved. Jen’s exit from New York was hasty, and so it isn’t surprising that she still hasn’t resolved her feelings for Billy. Her hesitation about her own emotions gives Dawson fits because he has finally found an emotional shortcoming into which he can channel all his frustration regarding his non-existent sex life. Dawson knows a sensitive guy can’t blow up at a girl because she won’t touch his penis, but he also is aware he has every right to get emo over her wavering devotion. Jen increases the weirdness of Billy’s arrival when she asks Dawson to house the idiot while he’s in Capeside, the gesture that Jen thinks is reasonable but Dawson finds is exhibit A in the case of his less-than-devoted girlfriend taking advantage of him. (It’s hard to tell exactly what Jen’s mindset is—the writing isn’t strong enough to suggest it, and in a rare misfire, Michelle Williams doesn’t seem to have made a choice either way in her performance.)
The episode—and the entire Dawson and Jen affair—ends with a dramatic break-up scene on the pier, which hits just the right teen angst notes and just grazes the threshold at which soapiness becomes camp. Though Jen is the one who breaks it off, it’s Dawson who ironically walks away the victor because for once he’s in the right: Though he can be stubborn and pigheaded, he has been vaguely victimized by Jen’s need to reconfigure her own life. She tells Dawson she envies him, and that she would trade all of her experience for a little bit of his idealism. Jen intends it to be a compliment, but it comes across as condescending in the same way it did when she would bring up Dawson’s “purity.” In Dawson, she sees a small town boy who she can lean on for emotional support far away from the distractions and enticements of her New York roots. It’s a reasonable want for Jen, drawn from an evolved realization that her life needs to change. But it’s also emotionally manipulative, and while Dawson is often a sex-obsessed idiot, he doesn’t deserve to be Jen’s stepping stone to a more balanced life (that’s what yoga is for).
The Viking funeral for Dawson and Jen happens to coincide with the continued unraveling of Joey Potter, who gets hammered at a beach party, gets hit on by a Thor-looking dude, and ultimately kisses Dawson while barely conscious. Joey’s quiet pining for Dawson was and always has been the show’s greatest strength in its early stages, and Katie Holmes keeps hitting absolutely perfect notes. Pacey calls her out on her passive excitement that Billy is in town to take Jen away, leaving Joey to swoop in and escalate her relationship with her longtime friend. In the beginning, Joey did everything she could to actively sabotage Dawson and Jen’s relationship (think about how hostile she was in the pilot), but the last few episodes saw her settle into a more melancholy state. It’s a beautiful, subtle state that you don’t normally associate with teen soaps, but Holmes (and the writers) really nail it. Because all of her struggles have been compartmentalized, she drinks to forget her lot in life, and the second she loosens up she gets seduced by that Thor-looking dude. This affair is brief and terrible and ends with Pacey (ever the actual hero Dawson believes he has fashioned himself to be) punching that dude out and keeping baby Alexander quiet while Dawson and Joey have yet another moment. Despite his pigheadedness and his narrow-mindedness, I still find myself rooting for Dawson to wake up and embrace Joey on this rewatch. Some things never die.
- Billy wants to take Jen back to New York, but how would that work? Certainly her parents would just send her back to Capeside. Would she move in with Billy in this scenario? Would they just get an apartment they can’t afford? Shocking that Billy’s plan isn’t all that well thought out.
There are some truly awesome music moments in this episode. The song that plays during the first part of Cliff’s beach party is Blink-182’s “Dammit” in a sequence that essentially predicts American Pie one summer later. Joey gets drunk to the sounds of INXS’ underloved but impossibly louche “Elegantly Wasted,” the title track from Michael Hutchence’s final album with the band. And the Jen/Dawson break-up is underscored by Ben Folds Five’s heartbreakingly earnest “Evaporated,” a song that teenage Kyle thought summed up his entire romantic life and whose lyrics I can still recall vividly. The last verse is a corker, though I suspect it’s all nonsense: “Blind man on a canyon’s edge of a panoramic scene/ Or maybe I’m a kite flying high and random dangling on a string/ Or slumped over in a vacant room, head on a stranger’s knee/ I’m sure back home they think I’ve lost my mind.”
“I’m sure back home they think I’ve lost my mind” was one of my go-to Away Messages on AIM during my freshman year at NYU.
Joey and Pacey have a nice scene in the video store (a setting that I think disappears pretty soon, which is a shame). Joey goes in looking for The English Patient because it put Alexander to sleep. Pacey later gets the baby to quiet down by recounting the plot of The English Patient. Dawson definitely made Pacey and Joey watch The English Patient, right? Outside of a budding cinephile, what teenager cared about that movie?
Dawson’s parents try scuba diving in order to save their marriage. At this point, I’m rooting for them to break up.
Joey makes a reference to cleaning up mung, which I forgot was a thing.
Also, Joey remains the worst waitress in the universe. I know the Icehouse is a family-run business, but she’s often doing more harm than good there.
Dawson makes a big deal about the fact that the decorations in his room are primarily Spielberg posters. So why the hell does Dawson have a City Slickers II: The Legend of Curly’s Gold one sheet hanging up?