Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Dawson’s Creek: “Discovery”/“Hurricane”

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“Discovery”/“Hurricane” (season 1, episodes 4 and 5; originally aired 02/10/1998 and 02/17/1998)

“Discovery” and “Hurricane” are sturdy structural mirrors of each other, the better to fully examine the effects of selfishness that aren’t resolved in 43 minutes. Both revolve around secrets coming out, and all of those secrets just remind Dawson that he’s the only person in the known universe who isn’t getting laid—this despite the fact that his best friend is scowling at him from just off-screen. Both show Dawson struggling with the knowledge of his mother’s affair and Joey’s betrayal. Both deal with Dawson’s insensitive treatment of Jen, though they unfortunately shed no light on what she sees in him. Both even find a way for Joey to counsel Jen, making good on Jen’s promise to make it hard for Joey to hate her. But where “Hurricane” has a symbolic natural disaster, “Discovery” just has a close-up of Miss Jacobs’ world being rocked by Pacey.

How does one cobble together a coherent worldview out of Pacey’s rom-com shtick with his teacher and Jen’s speech about the regret of being sexualized too early? Well, Pacey’s not 12. He’s a sophomore—yes, a sophomore, not a freshman like I said last week, so all bets are off! Though it purports to explore real-world issues, Dawson’s Creek isn’t the real world. It’s a soap opera, and Tamara Jacobs is a femme fatale, a woman from New York—these Capeside jezebels invariably hail from New York City, don’t they?—who left town under shady circumstances and now is under the spell of the lothario who gave her that close-up. Pacey is a boy who is destined to make mistakes and learn from them (or not), and that seems to be what this is, just the first little mistake in the life and times of Pacey Witter. After all, Tamara’s only concern is that it’s a felony. As long as they don’t get caught, everything’s hunky-dory. So Pacey jumps to conclusions when he sees Tamara being physically friendly with another man, and they fight and make up. During the hurricane, Tamara, Pacey, and Pacey’s older brother Doug play games on numerous levels with one another. After the hurricane Pacey tells Tamara how jealous he is of every man who’s ever been in her life—a theme that surely resonates with Dawson—and then he salaciously asks what one thing she would do if she could. Obviously Pacey is all that springs to mind, and she whisks him off to her bedroom. What a cute couple!

In other torrid affair news, Gail is awfully indiscreet. She makes out with Bob in the hallway at work, and later, when everyone in Capeside is holed up in her home, she sits on the stairs making kissy noises at Bob on the phone. Even the sound guy at the station pointedly asks, “Seen your mom today, Dawson?” The obviousness of her adultery feels ridiculous, but based on her explanation to Mitch, it’s clear she wants to be caught. When Dawson’s dramatic but totally understandable anger and Joey’s daggers finally get her to confess the affair to Mitch, it’s one of those classic hurricane scenes where the thunder roars and the lights go out. The rest of the scene is lit by the flashlight Mitch has pointed at Gail’s right eye, a moving visual expression of Mitch suddenly seeing her in less than flattering light. “You don’t get to cry,” he says, and already it’s clear where Dawson gets that charming personality. Both “Discovery” and “Hurricane” are stylistically impressive, from that screaming electric guitar to the delicate color-coding, but the standout scene is Mitch and Gail in the car in the rain. It’s difficult to make them out clearly through the darkness and the rain splattering on the windshield. They’re just impressions of Mitch and Gail. With so many words on this show, so much delicate description of relationships, it’s refreshing to see—not just hear—such lack of clarity. Mitch begins to reminisce about falling in love with Gail, but the good feelings are gone. He doesn’t love her any more. And he drives off, leaving behind another evocative image: Gail’s blue-black silhouette standing outside in the rain, her dress moving in the wind like a scratchy animation.

After the storm passes, Gail has a final stirring moment, her hair covered in twigs as she sits on the calm porch. She says she cheated because she had the perfect life and wanted to want again. “So I set out to achieve it, and boy did I succeed. Because I want now. I want back everything that I’ve lost.” Mary-Margaret Humes plays the scene as naturally as possible, turning this obviously written speech into something that feels improvisational, concluding on a note of simultaneous contrition and determination. Mitch doesn’t seem receptive.

Dawson’s naturally preoccupied with his parents’ dissolving marriage, spending all of “Discovery” trying to tell Mitch about Gail in advance of their 20th anniversary, but that’s not the only reason he’s cold to Jen. As Grams loves to imply, the real reason Jen is in Capeside is because she was a wild child in New York, losing her virginity at 12 because some guy got her drunk, sporadically using protection, and eventually having sex in her parents’ bed. It’s clearly not a period Jen’s proud of, but all Dawson hears is “Fallen woman!” So he spends the next two episodes sulking about it, even while everyone in his life calls him an idiot. Pacey suggests it’s a sign of trust (and a cracked door), Joey tells him he’s blowing it, Jen delivers a fantastic dressing down at school. Eventually Dawson takes his contrite voice for a ride, and Jen is quick to let bygones be bygones, if you catch her drift.


For all those big, dramatic scenes, though, the spine of these episodes is Dawson’s quietly changing relationship with Joey. They have a little fight when Dawson finds out that Joey knew about Gail’s affair, but what’s most powerful are the scenes where Dawson and Joey try to hold onto their relationship. Both episodes begin in the usual way, Dawson and Joey in bed watching movies. In “Discovery,” though, they’re watching dailies for Dawson’s movie, which turns out to include surprise footage of a woman who looks like Miss Jacobs. It’s an adorable scene played like two kids finding themselves watching a softcore porno and rationalizing watching it. The episode ends with Joey finally getting Dawson back on speaking terms (not accidentally) by engaging the romantic in a fantasy. They talk about how they’re probably married in some alternate universe, bantering about what their wedding was like just so they can pretend they’re not feeling a lot of feelings toward each other. They make like they’ll be together forever, but the episode ends with them each alone, giving into their fears about their relationship.

Maybe that’s why Joey spends “Hurricane” clinging desperately to their youth. She wants to take Dawson’s mind off of his problems by playing Jaws in his closet like they used to. At first he rejects her, but at the end, after Dawson’s made up with Jen, he invites Joey into the closet. Just as the first three episodes end in voyeurism, these two end in fantasy. But in “Discovery,” Joey and Dawson accept their eventual divorce. “Hurricane” shows them fighting it, and only because Dawson behaves selflessly for a moment. Playing in the closet with Joey might just be the most grown-up thing Dawson’s done.


Stray observations:

  • Subtext alert: Joey describes Miss Jacobs’ lover as a guy with brown hair and throbbing neck muscles.
  • The running joke about Pacey implying and/or saying his brother is secretly gay is awfully aggressive in its first episode, but it does score some laughs. It helps that Pacey isn’t saying anything bad about Doug—he’s just setting his brother up for fun misunderstandings.
  • Quietly contributing to the rising tension of “Hurricane” is the crowded Leery house. Bodie and Bessie are arguing about circumcision, and Grams is just sighing and judging everyone (though, in fairness, she does jump-start Dawson’s forgiveness tour). It’s really effective, and it’s always nice to see the world outside of the regulars.
  • Movie Topic Of The Week: Speaking of Grams’ scene with Dawson, Spielberg or Capra? Grams, to my head, it comes down to two movies, and I think I’d have to have Raiders Of The Lost Ark. Sorry, George Bailey.
  • How James Van Der Beek went un-nominated by the Emmys after that dramatic collapse onto his bed as good as proves that the awards are rigged.
  • Dawson’s strained movie metaphors are at least laughable, but I thought it was cute when he makes up with Jen and says, “Take two?” On the other hand, Joey saying, “Fasten your seatbelt, it’s going to be a bumpy life” reads like a promo.
  • When Jen sees Grams watching her and Dawson from her window, she describes them as “practically a ménage à trois.” If only! Speaking of niche sexual images, Jen and Joey discussing whether Dawson has a pistol or a rifle is a surprisingly warm bonding moment.
  • Oh, Dawson. “I’ve got a new award for you, Mom. It’s not a trophy, though. It comes in the form of an A, and you have to stitch it right here.” Close-up on his face: “Congratulations.”
  • Jen really has a way with a double entendre: “I guess I’m no longer the virgin queen of Dawson Leery’s handheld fantasies.” Great connection of the two major themes: sex and movies.
  • I can never get enough of Joey scowling at people who deserve it, so I was rolling on the floor when she introduces herself to Bob the adulterer with the world’s driest “Real thrill.” The only thing better is when she finds Dawson sitting alone and says, “Hanging out with all your friends?”
  • Next week: Everyone finds out about Pacey and Tamara in “Baby,” and the gang does The Breakfast Club in “Detention.”