“Full Moon Rising” (season 2, episode 5; originally aired 11/04/1998) and “The Dance” (season 2, episode 6; originally aired 11/11/1998)
So this is what good Dawson’s Creek looks like nowadays, two solid episodes oscillating between funny and wrenching as Dawson fends off the ladies. But then, the guy deserves a break. Dawson’s sexual irresistibility is just a way to butter him up before the heartbreak sets in. Mitch and Gail’s divorce has always brought out the best in James Van Der Beek—remember him sitting at his desk while his parents’ argument drifts into his room?—and the episodes where they finally make it official clinch it. Dawson’s adrift, first in a sea of passive-aggressive sniping about Thursdays, then in the wake of his parents embarking on an open marriage, and finally with even Joey is pried from her Don Juan. I laugh at Dawson lecturing his parents, but what is he supposed to do? He yells at Mitch to forgive Gail, finally, sincerely. When they tell Dawson they’re separating, he’s so quietly sad that I forget the pompous prick and see the kid who has major changes in store. Van Der Beek’s best moment yet might be that scared “I love you” as Joey climbs out the window. He’s desperate, and it shows. Unfortunately that isn’t enough to rescue his relationship.
Relationships are the tight focus of both episodes. “Full Moon Rising” organizes the cast into pairs as the full moon makes everyone a little bit crazier (a variation on the “heat wave” or “flu” episodes of other shows), and “The Dance” is the saddest game of musical chairs in Capeside history. At least Andie and Pacey wind up in a happy place, albeit after an arduous climb. They banter a lot, which is still vital relief from the writers’ emotional sadism, and he formally asks her out. But before she can say, “Let’s take it slow,” she’s forced to open up about her family trauma (her older brother was killed, and her mother has bouts of delusion thinking he’s still alive ) and watch Pacey dance with Kristy. Pacey apologizes to her on the pier—these kids love contemplating their dramas late at night alone on the pier—and they dance and kiss and generally outdo Dawson and Jen in every way. It’s just that poor, control-freak Andie always wants everything to go perfectly, even orchestrating every little pairing at the dance, and twice in a row she’s confronted with her powerlessness. A little romance with Pacey is bittersweet at the moment.
Jen actually gets off pretty well, her grandmother’s “Not on my watch!” speech notwithstanding. “Full Moon Rising” softens the statutory rape situation like it was caught with porn on its computer: Apparently he’s not actually as old as Jen said, and he didn’t know she was only 16, and he is really hot, right? So Jen spends a nice, flirty evening with a guy, cuts it short before it goes too far, and uses her age as a cold shower. Grams busting in made me jump (and then laugh), but it looks like Jen really did have the situation under control. Later Jen lets Andie and Dawson try to fix her up with Jack in a delightful (and momentous) first dance, and she goes home happy. Oh, and somewhere in there, she tells Abby off, and the relationship so toxic that even Joey recognizes its stench finally becomes a two-way street. Considering Dawson’s romantic fate, Jen could not have picked a better time to grow a pair.
Dawson’s Creek is so much better now that the cast isn’t so segregated. Andie joins the movie-watching cult in Dawson’s bedroom. In one episode, Jen grudgingly acknowledges Dawson and Joey, and in the next, she accepts their invitation to the dance. I love the deliberate pace of the group’s assembly, but the show is a lot more efficient with its character interactions when everyone’s in the same room. Now we have a much better sense of Andie and Jack’s relationship. Andie describes Jack as a guy who is really good at pretending something isn’t real (wink, wink), but he sure capitalizes on Joey’s full-moon superstition and the ancient mariner’s advice by kissing Joey in silhouette. He’s smitten, not so much that he won’t try and have a good time with Jen at the dance but enough to earn a black eye from Dawson. With Joey looking to find a life outside of Dawson, Jack is perfectly poised to help.
Mitch and Gail are also busy screwing with Dawson’s status quo, and Tamara can’t help but join the fun. At the end of “Full Moon Rising,” Mitch and Gail reluctantly confront the obvious: They cannot get along anymore. In “The Dance,” they reprise their big scene from “Hurricane,” Gail standing in the front yard crying as Mitch drives away. Their rapport is better than ever now that Mitch is in a motel. It’s also the first progress they’ve made in eons. As much as I love parsing Mitch’s passive-aggressive righteousness and Gail’s fresh haircuts, it’s nice to see them finally break out of their rut, even if it’s incredibly painful.
And it is incredibly painful for Dawson, both episodes remarkably good at showing how Dawson is caught in the middle of all these unfortunate circumstances. Even if Abby’s right and his family will be that much happier, his parents’ separation is a stressful, seemingly permanent change, and Dawson’s an emotional, reactionary guy. He’s already having a hard time when he finds out Jack kissed Joey, and that starts a chain reaction that can’t be stopped. Dawson gets mad at Joey, he provokes her into reprising their tabled conversation about Joey’s dreams, and she does what she obviously wanted to do then: break up with him. Joey’s dissatisfaction is poorly defined, but maybe that’s appropriate. The point is Dawson doesn’t understand it, and his whole life is being remodeled at once, and he’s scared. So he utters that last-ditch “I love you” and gets the response he wanted. Of course Joey loves him. But right now Joey needs to find herself. That’s why you always pick a semester in Paris.
- Does Tamara work during daylight hours? Or is she too busy stalking her exes at the high schools they attend?
- Dawson justifies fixing up Jack and Jen like a pro: “I’m not sure they’re a perfect match, but they’re both single.” Andie can’t resist. “Jack and Jen, I like it, I like it a lot.” Me, too! Finally all of the kids will be together!
- Upon Andie’s introduction, Jen says, “Hi, Jack, Andie’s brother.” “It’s just Jack, actually.” Just Jack! Coincidence? Yeah, probably.
- This year’s dance has a lot more professional dancing going on. Season two is so subtly different, like a reimagining of the same core concepts. But why is Capeside’s homecoming in the spring?
- As Jen dances with Jack, she asks, “Do you get the feeling that we’re being set up here?” The camera pans to Andie waving at them.
- Just as I jumped and laughed when Grams shows up to lay the hammer down, I did the same thing when Jack is talking about kissing Joey and he wheels out of frame, revealing Dawson behind him.
- The breakup is shot in some nice, shadowy close-ups, but at a certain point the camera gets horror-movie close to Katie Holmes face. We don’t need to see the scowl lines to know Joey’s frustrated.
- At the end of “The Dance,” Dawson kicks the ladder down with the historic gravity of Pontius Pilate. But when did the ladder go back up?
- Next week: The kids study for a major exam at a rich kid’s house in “The All-Nighter,” and Jack and Joey move even closer in “The Reluctant Hero.”