The Dawson's Creek Episode Guide: Full Moon Rising
Dawson’s Creek was sometimes referred to (often in derisive terms) as a “teen soap,” and “Full Moon Rising” is certainly an episode that could be submitted as evidence of its soapiness. It features the continued presence of Tamara Jacobs (I had completely forgotten how long she sticks around in her second visit), as well as a deeply twisted escalation of the open marriage plot between Mitch and Gail and the sexual assault of poor Jen Lindley. It’s all pretty soapy. But on the other hand, the story that unfolds around Andie’s mom and her twisted family drama could have easily become elevated into something heightened and melodramatic. Instead, it is handled with remarkable grace largely thanks to the writing of Dawson’s all-star Dana Baratta (she wrote the excellent season one eps “Boyfriend” and “Beauty Contest” and was a co-executive producer on the first season of Jessica Jones) and the performance of Joshua Jackson, who is quickly becoming the hero of the piece.
I’ve talked about this before: despite being the title character of the show and my own personal surrogate for the show, Dawson sucks. He’s whiny and petty and takes Joey completely for granted even after he gets what he wants from her. At the same time, I always resisted embracing Pacey (I originally hated the show’s finale because it finally paired Pacey and Joey together), largely because he was introduced as a loveable goof—exactly the kind of person I tended to resent when I was 16 years old. But I realize now that the whole forward thrust of the show relies not on the arcs of Dawson and Joey but rather on Joey and Pacey. Joey’s evolution is clearly plotted from the beginning (and creator Kevin Williamson has always said that the show was always about her—which plays out in the fact that Katie Holmes is the only actor to appear on every single one of Dawson’s Creek’s 128 episodes), but Pacey’s takes a little longer to click into place. But it’s his ultimate redemption that keeps Dawson’s Creek interesting even in its weakest moments, and that process begins with Andie and hits a key fulcrum point in “Full Moon.”
Ever since their meet-cute in the season premiere, Pacey and Andie have been dancing around the idea of their coupling, but after an encounter at the video store that finds Pacey casually watching porn while at work, he finally asks her out on a date. When he offers to be chivalrous and pick her up at her house, she waffles and pitches that they meet in a neutral location. Why is she so skittish about Pacey visiting her home? He posits that, like many other people in his life, Andie is mildly ashamed to be associated with him. But her concerns run much deeper, and by the end of the episode the secrets about her family come out: Her dad abandoned them after a car accident left her brother Tim dead and her mother permanently psychologically scarred. Andie now operates as her mom’s primary caretaker (with an assist from brother Jack) and often feels overwhelmed by the combination of her mother’s situation and general high school anxieties. Pacey, perhaps the best boyfriend in TV history, simply listens and holds her as Andie weeps over her lot in life. It’s the first of many times Pacey will come through in the clutch as a deeply empathetic shoulder to cry on. He’s still mildly boorish, but when Pacey’s on, he’s really on.
Meanwhile across town, Dawson absolutely cannot keep it together, though this time around it’s hard to blame him for his freak out. His parents still have an open marriage, and the rules they set up surrounding that arrangement are slowly eroding. Mitch looks on with suspicion as Gail entertains another reporter from out of town, and he responds by inviting Tamara over to talk about the warehouse she’s trying to sell to him. (That subplot, taken out of context, is insane. As I’ve asked before: Why does she own a damn warehouse?) The Leery household becomes a pressure cooker, and the sequence that whips Dawson between his parents respective dig-ins is a pretty well-crafted bit of social psychosis, like the escalating tension in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf? (or more acutely the moment of panic just before the killer emerges in a good horror movie, something Dawson’s creator Kevin Williams knows a thing or two about). Dawson finally has a showdown with his dad about how he should forgive Gail for her infidelities, which is a pretty mature and evolved thing to demand of someone and thus makes no sense for Dawson, who (as a reminder) sucks. But it’s clear the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, because Mitch comes back with a weak monologue about his own father and ends up crying and storming off. It’s no wonder Dawson is so damn emo.
The only reason Dawson even considers the idea that his parents might be having an open marriage is because of Abby Morgan, who is gradually working her way into the lives of our core four and who is still angry at Jen because Longshoreman Vincent was more interested in her. In fact, Vincent is still in port and wants to take Jen out on a date, though he is unaware that she is as young as she is. Abby tries to apologize to Jen earlier in the episode (while Jen shops for Urban Decay lip gloss!) but rapidly boomerangs back to being terrible again when she calls Jen an easy lay (though that does earn her a slap in the face). Abby has the insane idea that if she breaks into Dawson’s room and convinces him to kiss her in front of the window so next-door-neighbor Jen can see, that would make her jealous and they’d be even? Abby Morgan is one of my favorite characters on this show, but this is not one of her finest hours.
Nor is it one of Jen’s. Her date with Vincent is rolling along smoothly: He’s charming and gentle, and they share stories about embarrassing sexual encounters and he talks about how he is only working on boats so he can pay for law school. But eventually things get hot and heavy, and Vincent tries to have sex with Jen (this happens on Jen’s grandmother’s kitchen table, which seems like a bad idea all around). Grams comes home from Bible study just in time to send him away, but the rift between Jen and Grams is about to get even greater. On the bright side, Jen has a skirt and blouse combo in the beginning of the episode that is a total winner and might be the most ‘90s thing anybody has worn on this show yet.
So everybody has a pretty bad time under the full moon, save for possibly Joey. Sure, she was stuck at the Icehouse for most of the evening while a single customer nursed a bottomless cup of coffee, and she nearly lost a whole tank full of lobsters, but she did find out more about the fountain of empathy that is Jack McPhee and also walked away with half of a hundred dollar tip. She also got a moonlight kiss for her troubles, the latest in a series of fissures that will lead to she and Dawson breaking up in next week’s installment.
While some of the details did slip by, I have a distinct memory of watching this episode when is actually aired, as opposed to watching it on tape with some friends like we usually did. I believe they had teased the idea of the Joey/Jack kiss and I unilaterally decided that I had to be home to watch this episode as it unfolded. For most every other episode of the second season, my friend Casey would record the show on VHS and she would bring the tape to my house for a viewing party a few nights later (my family had the biggest TV).
I was shocked to find that the closing montage of this episode—which finds Jen crying alone, Joey reading the poem left behind by the coffee man, and Pacey and Andie embracing in the latter’s kitchen—is preserved for the streaming release. It’s Jewel’s “Hands,” and the whole episode exits with her singing “Only kindness matters.” (Another great music cue is not preserved: Semisonic’s “Secret Smile” is nowhere to be found during the Jen/Vincent sequences.)
The porn film Pacey is watching while at work is called Jacuzzi Floozies. I also noticed a Godzilla poster (the Matthew Broderick version that had bombed the previous summer), a stand-up for the re-release of Heavy Metal, and a ton of Dragonball-Z videos for rent at the store.
Urban Decay was a relatively new make-up phenomenon in ’98. They produced “edgy” lipsticks and such with color names like “Roach” and “Smog.” They’re still a thing 20 years later, though they were purchased outright by L’Oreal back in 2013.
Mitch resolves to move out, which means for the next stretch of episodes we’ll get the separated versions of he and Gail. As always, I had completely forgotten how much Dawson’s parents were a part of the main plots of the early seasons. In my memory, they’re completely abandoned as plot drivers in seasons three and four, but hey, I’ve been wrong before.
I’m not sure if the writers knew they were going to make Jack gay at this point in the show’s development, because at the moment he’s just sort of this Zen guy who rhapsodizes about the transient nature of restaurant customers and asks Joey why she’s so angry all the time. It’s a different energy that doesn’t stick around but I’m really into it during this re-watch.
Next time, Joey dumps Dawson at the homecoming dance, which leads to Downward Spiral Dawson, a character no less jerky but infinitely more interesting.