The Dawson's Creek Episode Guide: Double Date
In last week’s episode, Dawson exhibited some pretty evolved maturity in his faux-seduction of Nina the film student. But in returning to his element, our eponymous protagonist takes a huge step back, not only regressing to his post-Jen breakup emotional wallowing but also becoming a flat-out monster. Though it’s frustrating storytelling, that inconsistency is one of the most purely teenage elements of Dawson’s Creek, because even when you do learn a lesson, it doesn’t always stick.
We begin in Dawson’s room, where Dawson is once again brooding at Joey, this time about the fact that Jen has not made any attempts at getting together with him since their break-up two weeks prior. Joey remains bored by his wallowing, but saint that she is she presents him with some deeply pragmatic advice. She points out to Dawson that he must steel himself for two inevitabilities: First, that he will be considered tainted goods for what’s left of the semester, so his dating options are likely limited, and second that Jen will inevitably begin dating again—a development that will undoubtedly re-open any ill-tended-to wounds. Joey also tells Dawson that he has to have an answer ready when Jen finally asks if they can be friends—and Dawson, clueless as ever, responds, “How can you be friends with someone when every time you look at them you want something more?” (That bit of writing is a little on the nose, but since this is a teen show I’m willing to let it slide.)
Of course, Dawson takes that very reasonable series of facts and somehow mutates them into a truly stupid and borderline evil scheme to sabotage Jen’s upcoming carnival date with Cliff (a returning Scott Foley, pre-Felicity and super-pre-Scandal) in the name of getting close to her again. He proposes that they all go on a double-date to the carnival, a development that Pacey applauds save for one detail: Dawson does not have a date, nor any real prospects.
Enter poor Mary Beth, who made the mistake of showing mild interest in Dawson during marine biology class. He pitches the idea of going out, and she initially balks at the idea, citing Dawson’s recent break-up with Jen. He lies and says he’s ready to date other people, which poor deluded Mary Beth accepts. She says yes, then goes back to reading an Erica Jong novel by herself at lunch like high school kids do.
The double date is, of course, a disaster. Mary Beth was not told ahead of time that this was a double date, Dawson engages in a one-sided dick-measuring contest with Cliff at a carnival game, and after revealing that the main reason she agreed to this whole charade was so she could get closer to Cliff, they pull an awkward switcheroo on the Ferris wheel so that they are each seated with their objects of affection. (Mary Beth’s flirtation game remains on point: She tries to impress Cliff with the fact that “flammable” and “inflammable” mean the same thing.) It’s left up to Jen to put Dawson in his place on that Ferris wheel: She admits that she doesn’t actually want to be friends with him, particularly not after the day’s display. Dawson asks (somewhat rightly) why she was already dating if the reason why they broke up was because she wanted to be alone for a while, and Dawson comes to realize that she wasn’t tired of men, she was just tired of him. Jen does not protest this revelation, which is stone cold but actually refreshing. (I realized that this is the first of many times Dawson will be dumped because a woman wanted to find herself, only to immediately start dating again—what a terrible theme for him!)
Dawson barely has any time to register this gut punch, because here comes Pacey. He’s been working on a marine biology extra credit project (he totally boned his aforementioned midterm) alongside lab partner Joey (who is doing everything she can to goose her grades so as to be attractive to anybody handing out college scholarships). Pacey manages to screw up just about every aspect of their strange snail mating experiment, but in their misadventures the two sworn enemies seem to cotton to each other. Though he often pitches himself as a horndog lothario, Pacey is actually capable of a remarkable amount of empathy, and Joey (who, having come from a similarly trying family background, shares that trait) starts to open up to him. They’ve clearly been friends for a long time and share a certain level of intimacy, but there’s a warmth to their exchanges that is as sweet as anything on this show. The moment is spoiled a little bit when Pacey peeps on Joey getting undressed after wading through the creek (and it’s double-spoiled when that moment is scored to Bryan Adams’ dopey “(I Wanna Be) Your Underwear”).
Pacey thinks there’s something there but also knows that his romantic pursuit of Joey would undoubtedly upset the delicate balance of their mutual friendship with Dawson (his empathy at work once again), so he asks Dawson’s permission to go after her as though Dawson is her dad. Dawson waffles, because that what Dawson does, but ultimately lies and says he’s fine with it with the deeply unconvincing and super hilarious line, “My two best friends kissing! What could be better than that?”
Pacey makes his move, but Joey isn’t interested (though to her credit she lets him down so easy that it’s almost superhuman). Dawson, still brooding, tracks Pacey down at the video store (the site of all the most important conversations on this show) and tells him that he isn’t OK with it. Pacey admits that he already kissed her and she didn’t dig it, but he lays it out for Dawson: Will it be the blonde or the brunette? “These questions are not going to go away, Dawson. It’s time to provide some answers.” It’s a great motivator for Dawson, and another sharply-executed slow burn to the climax of the season when he realizes he’s been in love with Joey the whole time. If there’s one thing the show has done right in the back half of its first season, it’s building a convincing arc for Dawson’s revelations, and the fact that part of that is spurred by Pacey’s blooming interest in the woman he will ultimately end up with makes it all the more poetic.
- Dawson’s dad got upset about Gail’s ex-lover/co-anchor calling the house in the opening act, and by the end of the episode the two of them are dancing in the kitchen. So apparently they did some off-camera healing, and I still don’t care at all. I thought that because I'm older and married now that I would relate to Dawson's parents a little bit more on this rewatch, but the emotional complexity of their relationship isn't nearly as interesting as the kids', and the storytelling on the Mitch and Gail stuff has been largely pretty weak.
- The “mornings at Capeside High” series of establishing shots often include some kids tossing around a Frisbee, which seems insane in hindsight. Hacky-sack would have been convincing, though.
- While the marine biology teacher explains the extra credit project to Pacey, there’s a diagram on the blackboard behind him, and one of the labels reads “ANUS,” which I laughed at for around three hours.
- The show keeps trying to let Dawson off the hook for his manipulation of Mary Beth, particularly when she admits that she’s more into Cliff than him, but even though he admits it’s wrong, it’s still pretty monstrous.
- Meanwhile, Pacey trying to pump up Joey’s self-esteem regarding her ability to go to college is flat-out the most romantic thing to happen on this show yet. When Pacey says, “Don’t bet against that Potter girl,” I nearly wept as much as I did when Don Draper told Betty, “Knock’em dead, Birdie” in what ended up being their final scene together.
- Music cues this week include a double-dose of World Party’s “She’s the One” and an extended taste of “She” by Louis Says (a song that also turned up on Buffy the Vampire Slayer—there's a whole generation of bands that had runs on WB shows and never did much of anything else). And of course that terrible Bryan Adams tune.
- Pacey watches the Three Stooges after being rejected by Joey. I thought he was a total unrealistic dope when I watched this show the first time, but Pacey absolutely rules.
- On the next episode: We take a detour into genreland with the seasonally inappropriate “The Scare”