The Dawson's Creek Episode Guide: Tamara's Return
I have lost track of the actual number of times I have made my way through Dawson’s Creek, though I estimate this current run is at least the sixth time I’ve made my way through the series in sequence. There are plenty of my favorite episodes I have revisited as one-offs, including the hour that is coming up next in sequence. (Actually, the next dozen or so episodes make up what is probably my favorite run of television in history.) And while I love Dawson’s Creek as a grand monolithic experience, it remains a serialized television show, and with the number of episodes they produced over the course of six seasons, there are bound to be some duds. We have already discussed several of them, and there are plenty more to come. Some of those fail for character reasons. Some of them simply have narratives I hate. But in the case of “Tamara’s Return,” my esteem for it remains diminished specifically because I can never remember anything about it.
It’s not that “Tamara’s Return” is a terrible episode of television. In fact, considering how gross I have found the entire Tamara storyline this time around, it certainly had the potential to be a complete disaster. But it’s merely forgettable, weighed down primarily by a story beat that felt pretty much resolved in the first season mixed with a bunch of tonal water treading.
We’ll get to Pacey and Tamara in a second, but the actual reason I hold any type of animosity against this episode is because of the continued break-up dance going on between Dawson and Joey. You could tell the writers could not figure out what to do with TV’s favorite couple once they got them together in the gloriously satisfying season one finale, and they were scrambling to get the pieces in place so the two of them could break up. The thing between them? Art. Joey has another visit with Laura (Tamara Taylor, who we last saw in “Alternative Lifestyles”), who gives a lecture about an abstract expressionist and invites her to join a drawing class. Dawson also attends the lecture and has HOT TAKES, declaring abstract art bad because it is so unresolved. “I like my art with a verdict,” he declares, stupidly. Joey feels belittled, because she loves the pieces and finds herself drawn more and more to expressing herself through art (partially in tribute to her late mom; did we know that she was an artist?). Dawson is a classic insecure culture vulture, always armed with bold declarations but never actually wanting to debate the ideas that lay within them. Later, he slips up and refers to Joey’s drawing as a hobby, which sends her into a fit of righteous indignation. Why is Dawson’s interest in film a lifelong passion and Joey’s calling is merely a hobby? He has no idea, and he slinks off before anything can actually be discussed.
Dawson, as has been well established in these recaps, is an idiot. He thinks Joey is acting irrational but doesn’t want to take the time to get to the root of what is bothering her. (Or, perhaps more cynically, he simply doesn’t care.) Meanwhile, Joey’s situation becomes exacerbated by the fact that Jack, her clumsy Icehouse co-worker, is a huge fan of abstract expressionist Jarvis, and the two of them duck out of a quiet day at the restaurant in order to take in the art. Their actual conversation about ideas is once again interrupted by lunkhead Dawson, who drives Jack away and further pisses off Joey. She finally does get to the heart of the matter at the end of the episode, when she reveals to Dawson that she was told to draw something meaningful to her, and the only thing she could think of was Dawson. I have to give the show credit in this regard: The reveal of Joey’s Dawson sketch would have made for the endpoint resolution on a lesser show, with Dawson realizing just how much passion and potential Joey has and Joey realizing that Dawson is the muse pushing her into these new pursuits. But instead the script, written by Mike White, finds Joey frustrated and angry that she could only focus on Dawson even while she was trying to do something for herself. She is conflicted between the lifelong feelings she has had for Dawson and the realization that she doesn’t want her entire young life to be defined by him. She is not content to simply be his sidekick. As I was re-watching their final conversation, I actually thought this was the episode where the two of them break up, as the sketch reveal would have been an emotionally devastating place to cleave their coupling in two. But that’s still to come, and the narrative blue balls of that final moment really takes this episode down a notch.
The other thing that doesn’t help is the supposed A plot between Tamara and Pacey. She’s back in town to sell off an old warehouse she owns for some reason. (She may sell to Mitch for his restaurant project, but for the moment she’s apparently storing old oil drums in there.) She runs into Pacey while he is out with Andie, and he panics and acts weird around his would-be girlfriend. They have a series of awkward conversations that end in the warehouse (again, amongst the many barrels) with Tamara admitting that she misses him. But what was the point of bringing her back around to say that she’d still fuck Pacey if given the chance? She doesn’t really cause any trouble for Pacey or anybody else in town, and it only serves to throw a minor monkey wrench in his courtship of Andie.
I had forgotten how much I love the Pacey/Andie relationship. In fact, considering I’m a monster who was never all that on board with Pacey/Joey, Pacey/Andie is probably my favorite couple in the history of Dawson’s Creek. (They will see competition from Dawson/Gretchen, Dawson/Jen 2.0 & Pacey/Audrey, but those are all coming much later.) Their meet-cute in the second season premiere is well done, but I love that the show gives them a nice slow burn to get to know each other and to allow both of them to let their respective guards down. As Dawson becomes more obtuse, Pacey is evolving into a far more well-rounded character (and human!), which make his next couple of episodes—where we dive deep into their relationship—all the more satisfying.
- There’s a third plot that finds Abbey getting mad when she flirts with an older guy and he decides he’d rather have Jen. I’m a big fan of the Jen/Abbey tag team, but this is a pointless diversion and another aspect of the episode that drags it down.
At one point, Abbey declares that Dawson has “a limp Billie club,” which is such a weird way to describe someone’s penis.
The clothes in this episode are off the charts insane. When we first see Pacey at school, he is wearing that rare mid-‘90s combination of a shirt that is too long and shorts that are too short. Meanwhile, Dawson not only wears a J. Crew sweater vest that I owned but also mostly tromps around Capeside in cargo shorts. Speaking as someone who still occasionally wears cargo shorts, I have to ask: Why have we ever considered them OK?
Also, not to be a retroactive creep, but Andie is wearing short-alls in one scene that are absolutely dynamite. Katie Holmes was absolutely my teenage crush but I appreciate what Andie was going for.
The pre-credit sequence finds Dawson and Joey making out at the weird ruins we last saw in season one. It was the site of Pacey’s first sexual encounter with Tamara, and it will also return a handful more times, including in the cold open to the season four finale “Coda,” one of my favorite all-time episodes of TV.
This episode aired on October 28, 1998. That was the day after the release of Phish’s The Story of the Ghost, so it was a pretty good week for 16-year-old Kyle. I don’t have the same sort of interest in Phish as I did then, but “Wading in the Velvet Sea” can still tug at the heartstrings.
At one point Andie rents The Way We Were, Ghost & Dumbo from the video store, and she carries them all in those clear plastic cases that were a staple of mom & pop VHS emporia throughout the country.
It’s pointless to talk about the soundtrack of the show at this point, as pretty much every song in the Hulu versions has been switched out by now, but the tune playing when Pacey and Tamara meet in the warehouse was originally a total jam by Shawn Mullins called “And On a Rainy Night.” Mullins was one of the underrated studs of the Dawson’s Creek music world.
Next time, an extremely dark and heavy and wonderful episode called “Full Moon Rising.”