The Dawson's Creek Episode Guide: The Kiss
The second season of Dawson’s Creek opens exactly where the first season finale left off, with Dawson and Joey lip-locked in Dawson’s room. Picking up in media res is a brilliant move by the producers, as the conversation that the two of them would have immediately following that moment would have to be incredibly important. For a lot of shows, the kiss would be the logical climax and end point. But for the inhabitants of Dawson’s Creek, the analysis of the act is just as important as the act itself, and skipping forward would have denied devoted viewers an incredibly vital exchange.
The show punts that conversation just a little bit, as both Dawson and Joey are a little dumbstruck by the bold action they took at the end of the finale. Joey says, “You kissed me,” to which Dawson replies, “I know,” which feels like an homage to Leia and Han in The Empire Strikes Back and is a pretty cool piece of business. But as soon as the afterglow fades just a tiny bit, they both start waffling about what happens next. Dawson, of course, waffles way harder and nearly drives Joey away with the sheer force of his extra-powerful over-analysis. But they agree to sleep on it (separately), and Dawson kisses her again just before the theme song swells.
The real breakdown of the big event happens the next morning in an on-the-nose but no less neat juxtaposition: Dawson and Pacey break down the kiss while they get their hair done, and Bessie interrogates Joey about her good mood while the two of them change a tire. Both Pacey and Bessie want to know how soon the two of them are going to bang, which makes sense for Pacey but is mildly weird for Bessie (if only because we still don’t have a solid sense of who she is; Bessie seemed like a character who was only around for pregnancy-related bits, and since she gave birth halfway through last season she’s been basically AWOL). Pacey also plays with the meta nature of the show as he invokes both Sam & Diane and Mulder & Scully as members of the all-time “Will They/Won’t They” club. For once, Dawson is level-headed, and he wants to focus on something simple and straightforward: He asks Joey on a proper date to see The Last Picture Show at the closing Rialto, a mirror of the pilot episode that found him taking Jen there.
Back in that very first episode, Joey was the unwanted sullen interloper, but now Jen takes up that mantle this time around. I’m glad that Jen will begin to come into her own very soon, because so far Michelle Williams’ considerable talents have been wasted on this show. She spends this episode getting angry at her grandmother for her methods of mourning, crashes Joey and Dawson’s date, and then goes on a rant to Dawson about how she wants to get back together but also may kill herself if he dates Joey. She’s flailing at the moment, and I’m very much looking forward to the exit of Sad Jen (who is just kind of aimlessly mopey) and the arrival of Angry Jen (who wears a leather jacket and shoplifts with Abby Morgan). It’s not that Jen shouldn’t be sad about her late grandfather or her inability to navigate the treacherous waters of her relationship with Dawson, but this show doesn’t have a whole lot to say about death or grieving, nor does it seem all that interested in its original love triangle—though the beloved Pacey/Joey/Dawson intersection won’t begin for a while thanks to the arrival of Andie McPhee.
Andie and Pacey have a pretty dumb meet-cute: Pacey—sporting freshly frosted tips—is driving his dad’s police cruiser in pursuit of hot girl Kristy Livingstone (Ali Larter a year before her big breakout in Varsity Blues alongside James Van Der Beek) when he collides with Andie (Meredith Monroe). She immediately assumes that she hit a cop with her car even though the guy driving the vehicle is dressed like a Structure salesman and is the exact same age as her. (And that’s just in storyline—in reality, Monroe is a full decade older than Joshua Jackson.) Being the hustler that he is, Pacey plays into her mistake and makes her feel stupid (because, admittedly, she definitely is). His ruse evaporates an hour later when they run into each other at school, and Andie decides to extract revenge by setting Pacey up on a date with Kristy, who agrees to see him only because Andie told her he has a terminal condition called a heart stripe. Looking back, it seems like an incredibly elaborate and far too mean revenge plot, but it works for the world of a dumb television show for teens. In the end Andie takes pity on Pacey and gives him advice on how to unfrost his tips, though there is little indication of the romance that would bloom between the two of them later in this season.
Back at the Rialto, Joey freaks out just enough when Jen has her breakdown to Dawson, though she immediately sets the record straight in their post-movie conversation that is one of the sweetest sequences the show ever did. Before heading out on her date with Dawson, Joey gets some advice from Bessie, who delivers a pretty good speech about the importance of second kisses. The argument (which I repeated verbatim to more than one woman in my younger years) is that the first kiss is a wild and impulsive act of passion, while the second is more meaningful because it requires a level head and a series of decisions. First kisses can be written off as miscues in the heat of the moment, but second kisses can only be meaningful. Joey takes those words to heart, and there’s a cool little dance that she and Dawson do during their date where they are both constantly re-evaluating where and when to kiss again. I haven’t been 16 years old in a long time, but I remember how incredibly important kissing was at that age. Since it was the only real act of physical contact accessible (both physically and psychologically) at the time, kissing was loaded with power and meaning. I remember plotting out kisses like a damn psychopath. That strange obsession is perfectly captured in the closing sequence of “The Kiss,” as Dawson and Joey sit on swings (vestiges of their still-accessible childhood together) and talk very frankly about why Joey didn’t go to Paris and what they both hope they can accomplish in their relationship and their lives. It is the platonic ideal of a Dawson’s Creek scene, full of big ideas and wordy monologues but still anchored in the melancholy ache of being a teen.
The other plot in this episode involves Dawson’s parents, who are still boring. Though they appeared to have resolved their issues in the last third of season one, the premiere of season two finds Mitch visiting divorce lawyers because he’s not sure if he can stay married to a woman who he loves and hates in equal measure. Snore.
The Dawson’s Creek jukebox was cranking some hot tunes in the premiere. The second season began the show’s run as an outlet that could break bands, so the first episode is loaded with then-new hotness from Fastball (“Out of My Head”), Heather Nova (“London Rain”) and Phish (“Birds of a Feather,” which was also used in promos touting the arrival of the second season—the image of our four protagonists walking towards the camera as the chorus of “Birds of a Feather” played underneath is permanently tattooed on my brain). Since the music clearance is pretty spotty from here on out, I’m shocked that all those songs were preserved for the streaming versions of this show.
- "London Rain" scored a great montage in the episode that finds Dawson and Joey getting ready for their date and Dawson speeding to Joey's via a motorboat, which he apparently has always had? "London Rain" also provided the soundtrack to this perfect promo.
Of course, it wasn’t all just young people music—the closing Dawson and Joey moments are accompanied by John Hiatt’s “Have a Little Faith in Me,” an old man blues ballad if there ever was one.
The Rialto, which was a hugely important setting in the first season, doesn’t actually close—Dawson reveals the theater is actually being remodeled and will be returning soon.
Pacey gets so excited about his date with Kristy that he keeps repeating a weird limerick he wrote for the occasion, and it makes Pacey seem deeply mentally ill.
Speaking of which, Andie alludes to having an anxiety attack after her encounter with Pacey when she thought he was a police officer (which, to reiterate, is a profoundly stupid mistake). Andie’s mental health becomes a huge plot point for her as time goes on, and it eventually leads to her exit from the show.
I hate to bag on the show’s continuity, but it’s supposed to be late fall in Capeside (season two carries us through the remainder of the kids’ sophomore year), and everybody is dressed like it’s California (it was actually North Carolina). Dawson even wears shorts like a dork.
Meanwhile, Pacey shows up to his fake date with Kristy wearing an exceptionally ridiculous shirt that was straight out of Chess King or Structure, two mall stores that seemed to cater to dudes who thought they could get laid if only their shirts had personality. I shopped at these places often. (Did I also contemplate frosting my tips after Pacey colored his hair? Of course I did.)
This episode aired on October 7, 1998, the same night as the series premiere of Charmed. I was so incredibly jazzed for the return of this show, and the second season represented my most slavish devotion to the program. It was exactly the right time for me to get obsessed, as I had just started my junior year of high school, was armed with a license and a car, and was experiencing my first real tastes of teenage freedom. Dawson’s Creek truly felt like it was mine, you know?