“Reunited” (season 2, episode 20; originally aired 5/12/1999) and “Ch… Ch… Changes” (season 2, episode 21; originally aired 5/19/1999)
Sophomore year on Dawson’s Creek comes to an end with a scene two seasons in the making: the six regulars hanging out for the first time in Dawson’s bedroom. Two happy couples, no apparent grudges, and a 90210-parodying pillow fight. It may have taken countless breakups, parole, and the death of an acquaintance, but at last the heroes are all friends. The only problem is that the season keeps going.
Leave it to Kevin Williamson to structure a season like a horror movie. Not that Abby Morgan is a Big Bad, but her death and funeral make a natural climax and coda, especially on the heels of Jack coming out, Mr. Potter’s return, and Dawson and Joey getting together. The season builds in energy, and at last there’s a denouement. It’s the happy ending before the killer gets back up again. Only instead of killing people, he just really wants to fuck with relationships.
It feels like there’s an episode missing between Abby’s funeral and the happy ending, because the gang isn’t exactly hunky-dory even after Andie and Jen apologize to each other. So unfortunately the “best friends forever” scene feels as schematic as it is. Dawson’s Creek was always heading to this point. Abby’s funeral just swept away the petty hangups preventing it. But if the season is about the internal bonds among all the friends, or at least some of the major bonds, it hasn’t really earned this ending. Most obviously, Pacey has been so sequestered with Andie—and sometimes Jack—that my jaw dropped to see him and Dawson have a real talk finally in “Ch… Ch… Changes.” The most glaring oversight, though, is the Pacey-Joey relationship. The simmering arc of season one cools off so completely in season two that I can’t even remember the last time they had a one-on-one scene together.
But Pacey as a character has had a great year. His relationship with Andie has brought out the best in him, so much so that he’s written like a saint. I complain about Pacey’s flawlessness because it’s uninteresting, but there are two major wrinkles to my complaint. The first is that it’s working. I swooned over Pacey and Andie even when they were courtship-bickering in the exact same way for the third time in an episode, and “Reunited” takes Pacey to an even higher plane. When Andie has another episode, locks herself in the bathroom, and breaks the mirror, talking her out is quite possibly life-saving. What’s more, Pacey’s “Choose me” speech really shows how much he’s grown. It’s hard to imagine the season-one screwup saving Andie. Flawlessness may be uninteresting, but that growth is what this show’s all about. And given his situation at home, Pacey doesn’t exactly have the perfect life.
Which brings me to the second wrinkle: Pacey makes an infinitely better romantic hero than Dawson. Dawson’s sweet moments invariably curdle in the presence of his condescending baby voice, but Pacey can give a speech. Both veer into smothering territory, but them’s the breaks when it comes the great romantics of the ’90s. Mostly, Pacey’s been drawn so flatteringly that it’s stuck. Pacey is unassailable. Nobody can compete with that. Of course, Dawson isn’t even trying. Dawson and Joey are occasionally kissing and agreeing not to talk about their relationship while Pacey and Andie are reminiscing over their first kiss and first date on what might be their last. As “Reunited” ends, Pacey and Andie finally get the overhead bed shot, though it’s naturally askew. The shot through the back window as Andie rides off leaving Jack and Pacey standing there helpless is as moving as the show has ever been. So, as Joey takes over lead protagonist duty, Pacey usurps Dawson’s romantic hero role. Season three is shaping up nicely.
In the mean time, there’s a new status quo to destroy, most notably in the living arrangements. Mr. McPhee immediately yanks Andie out of school, just before she would finish her sophomore year, so she can see a specialist in Providence. Jack argues that Andie needs Pacey, but Mr. McPhee rebuffs him. “I hardly think a teen romance is the solution to her medical problems.” He’s right. But Jack responds, “Her solution will come from the people that love and care for her.” He’s more right, but it doesn't matter. Mr. McPhee tries to take Jack, too, telling him that he has no need for the Capeside house anymore. But Jack decides to stay, and Mr. McPhee isn’t quite the authoritarian he was last time. He’s so much more interesting now that he’s human. He still casually drops gay conversion therapy into the conversation, but not because he hates Jack. He truly wants what’s best for his family, and he comes right up to the edge of saying he loves Jack or is proud of him or something, but can’t. Jack and Andie are right to feel betrayed—especially considering their parent is perpetually incapable of behaving like a parent—but from a more objective perspective, some insight into Mr. McPhee helps clarify that he’s more emotionally stunted than heartless, and that he’s trying. Somewhere in the subtext he agrees to keep paying for the house.
Good thing for Jen, who has a parental betrayal of her own. She’s staying with the Leerys, which leads to a weird girls’ night with Gail, but eventually she calls home. It’s quietly heart-breaking. We only see her side of the conversation, but it’s clear that Jen doesn’t take the bait and keeps pushing for more and more rejection. The scene just isolates her, backing her into some dark corner of the enormous Leery household as her hopeful smile drops. She tries to run away, but Jack literally races to catch her before she gets on a train to nowhere. Almost nothing about the setup makes sense, but the point is Jack is down a roommate and Jen is down a house, so they make a perfect pair.
And just as Dawson and Joey are nesting, complete with a picket fence that Dawson spent all night making, everything conspires to fall apart because Dawson sees Mr. Potter at the wrong time. Guess who’s trafficking marijuana again. The romantic sense of fate—in this case accident, coincidence, and external forces way beyond the control of teenagers—is behind all of these shake-ups, but this is the biggest example. Everything is going perfectly, and now it’s just a matter of time before the house falls down. Not even Dawson deserves that.
- Pacey agrees that the group is starting to gel. “There has been a lot of hanging out lately.” Jack says, “Like when?” Pacey responds, mouth full of popcorn, “Like right now, for instance.”
- Dawson made reservations for a fancy one-month-iversary dinner two weeks into his relationship with Joey. These guys really dive in.
- Meredith Monroe is amazing in these two episodes, especially in her therapy scene. The therapist is trying to be reassuring, but Andie is totally naked in her anxiety about pills and ghosts. And that’s nothing next to her crying, “Why is this happening to me?” in the car.
- I guess I’m back on Team Dawson, because I was pumping my fist all through his snippy double date. Miss Teen Soaps Are Stupid tries to suck up, and he immediately, calmly retorts, “Apology not accepted.” Agreed.
- Everyone misuses “persnickety”—okay, mostly Joey—but nothing rankles more than Miss Kennedy’s absurd claim about the state of film in 1999: “I just feel that the quality in films these days… It’s just, it’s, the story is lacking.” Pretend she hasn’t seen a movie all year. 1998 delivered The Big Lebowski, Rushmore, The Thin Red Line, Velvet Goldmine, Out Of Sight, and more, and that’s just in America.
- Okay, one joke at Dawson’s expense. At dinner, he sees Joey and Jen, who came in with Gail, and he asks, “Operation: Reunited? Okay, what is going on?”
- Also, I love that Mitch tells Gail that Dawson isn’t good at expressing himself. He means that Dawson is too polite to state his displeasure—highly fucking debatable—but it’s funny that it comes right after a dinner conversation all about Dawson’s questionable abilities to express himself with a camera.
- Once again, silence builds more pathos than a score. “I’m begging you from the bottom of my heart to please choose me.” Piano and flute are cushions, and they put you right where they want you to be. Silence makes you strain your ears, draws you in, disorients you. It’s exactly right for Andie’s bathroom scene.
- Dawson made a funny! He says to Joey, “You mean a relative of yours is grumbling and negative? That’s not possible!”
- Andie ultimately decides for herself to go to Providence, and she’s the reason Jack finds it in himself to stay in Capeside. “You go, I go,” he says. She asks, “What about what you want?” And that’s just practice for her last night with Pacey, but Andie has always been very mature. “I’m gonna leave tomorrow. I have to.”
- At the end of “Ch… Ch… Changes,” Dawson questions the idea of a character arc. His hypothesis: “I think love is change. Or at least I hope so.” There’s a lot of unpacking to do there, but the big arcs for Pacey and Jack, at least, seem to back him up. Suddenly season two is looking a lot more planned than it did in the thick of it.
- Next week: “Parental Discretion Advised,” which features a fire, a sting, a separation, a reconciliation, and, for now, one last glorious rendition of Paula Cole.