This article originally ran on Den of Geek UK.
There’s something about teen television shows that sticks with the generation who watched them; the early ’90s had Beverly Hills 90210, the mid-90s had My So-Called Life, the early ’00s had The OC, and slap-bang in the middle of it all was Dawson’s Creek, a show that launched the career of a future Oscar nominee, the future ex-Mrs. Tom Cruise, and gave us the most comical crying face ever to be put on celluloid.
Thanks to the mid-season success of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, The WB began to court the teen market with a vengeance. In the January of 1998, we were first introduced to the kids of Capeside. The world has never been the same since. Here are ten of the best Dawson’s Creek episodes they had to offer:
10. The Song Remains the Same– Season 6, Episode 2 (2002)
After six seasons and over 100 episodes, Joey and Dawson finally get the intimate moment that’s been building since Joey donned a sparkly dress and belted out “On My Own“ in season one. Could this mean the start of something new for the star-crossed lovers? After all, it is the final season…
The answer of course is a big resounding no, and by the end of the episode we are back to where we started, which is what makes this such a good episode as it doesn’t fall into the trap of season two where Joey and Dawson date for two seconds but are pushed apart. This was much more real; sometimes things just don’t work out and in their case, it was never really meant to be.
That Dawson and Joey’s relationship should fall to friend rather than lover is a pretty brave move for a show based around a will they/won’t they dynamic. This leaves the rest of the season for the pair to grow as characters and live outside each other’s shadow. In many ways, it felt a lot more like Joey’s Creek than Dawson’s in season six, which, given the fact Joey was always a far more interesting character, served the show well.
9. The Long Goodbye – Season 5, Episode 4 (2001)
Poor Mitch Leery, who knew an ice cream cone could turn so deadly? Dawson’s Creek didn’t do death often but when they did it propelled the characters into some interesting and new directions. In season two, the death of Abby Morgan sent Jen into a tailspin which eventually led her back into the group and cemented a relationship with Grams and Jack that lasted the entirety of the show.
Mitch’s death took something of a softer approach and finally did something that I thought was near-impossible the season before: for all of about 47 and a half seconds, it made Dawson a likeable character. This didn’t last long though, and soon the titular lead was soon back to his normal, navel-gazing self. The episode also represents the return of Saint Pacey, whose ode to Dawson about how his father’s death wasn’t actually his fault made an entire generation once again swoon over the “bad boy” from the Creek and the reminiscent flashbacks that played in the present were well made, well-acted, and really managed to capture the sense of loss.
As TV deaths go, Mitch probably deserved better than death by dairy but it was the kick-up-the-bum requirement to propel Dawson into adulthood and hopefully John Wesley Shipp back to The Flash (a girl can dream).
8. Pilot – Season 1, Episode 1 (1998)
The life of a pilot screenwriter must be a tough one. After coming up with an idea that gets past the green light stage, you need to make an episode that is engaging, introduces the characters and sets up a plot, all usually within the space of 45 minutes. Some try and fail, but I would honestly say writers could learn a lot of the first episode of Dawson’s Creek, which has for my money one of the best opening scenes of a pilot ever as it sums up beautifully the relationship of Joey and Dawson and then everything that follows falls right into place.
Lest we not forget the pilot episode featured “that kiss” between Pacey and Miss Jacobs and probably the best entrance of a character in the ’90s when sweet little old Jen steps out of a yellow taxi and straight into Dawson’s heart. Yes, they all used far too many big words and were totally unrealistic in their own self-awareness but it was something different. No, it wasn’t My So-Called Life (which may I point out is an exceptional show), but it was something new, and it connected with an audience that felt somewhat forgotten in the TV listings. All of which is summed up perfectly in the pilot episode.
7. You Had Me at Goodbye – Season 4, Episode 7 (2000)
I love a good rave/drugs episode and not since Brandon Walsh got high with bad girl Emily Valentine in Beverly Hills 90210 has anything come closer than Andie passing out on a bouncy castle. The fall-out of this event carried into this episode where Andie decides to leg it off to Italy, thus bringing the fractured gang together.
The reason I’ve picked it is that it is just so well-written, acted, and directed you get sucked up into everything that is going on and you connect with the characters and the situation on such a level you could feel like you’re a guest at the reunion dinner. The characters all get an equal chance to shine and it’s a reminder of when Dawson’s Creek was on the ball as a great example of the teen television genre.
6. Ch..Ch..Changes – Season 2, Episode 21 (1999)
Oh Saint Pacey, for six seasons of Dawson’s Creek every one of your heartfelt speeches or actions made women and girls swoon all over the planet, and none so more as when you helped rescue Andie from herself and admit she was having issues with her mental health. Who could forget your impassioned plea for her to pick between you and the apparition of her dead brother (all for it to be sorely taken away in season three when she cheated on you, but that’s another discussion).
As you may have gathered, the passion of Saint Pacey is why this episode ranks so highly on my list, but it’s also here because it took us right up to the finale in style. Pacey is a broken man without Andie, Dawson catches Joey’s dad dealing drugs again and Jen, the outcast after having a breakdown at Abby Morgan’s funeral, starts a new life and indeed friendship with Jack that would grow and last throughout the rest of the run. Huge kudos to Meredith Monroe on this episode though, her portrayal of Andie’s breakdown would bring a tear to even the coldest of hearts and really exposed the anguish her condition can cause.
5. Castaways – Season 6, Episode 15 (2003)
Joey and Pacey (with an impressive amount of facial fuzz) get locked in a K-Mart overnight. Joey and Pacey discuss their past, present, and future relationship. Joey and Pacey do not end up with each other at the end of this episode. The Dawson’s Creek writers make you wait another eight episodes for this to happen.
This episode is a great old-fashioned example of a two-hander and really shows the skills that Joshua Jackson and Katie Holmes have as actors (if you don’t believe me watch Fringe and Pieces of April for further confirmation). It’s simple but effective, bringing up issues that will feed through into the end of the series and harks back to a simpler time when Dawson’s Creek was a great show, compared to how it had dropped off in its latter two seasons. It also is a great reminder of how amazing Joey and Pacey were together and how much the show missed that dynamic once they had split up.
4. To Be or Not to Be/That is the Question – Season 2, Episodes 14 & 15 (1999)
It doesn’t take a lot to shock the Mary Whitehouses of America and having a character come out as gay on primetime television stoked the fires for months. All controversy aside, what you have here is two beautifully crafted episodes about a normal teenage boy coming to terms with being gay.
Jack wasn’t an over-the-top caricature of a character, he was quiet and unassuming and although his relationship with Joey felt forced (mostly as a catalyst for the writers to drive Joey and Dawson apart) their scenes together in these episodes were lovely and honest, as was Jack’s breakdown to his family over his sexuality. The side story of Saint Pacey taking down the teacher who very publicly outed Jack brings further gravitas to the episode and although it will take a couple more seasons for Jack to get lucky in love (and give American network television its first gay male kiss) it cleverly, thoughtfully and honestly covered the dilemma of coming out in high school in the late 90s.
3. True Love – Season 3, Episode 23 (2000)
Joey/Pacey/Dawson – could there ever be a more complicated love triangle? In the beginning it was Dawson and Joey, then it was Joey and Jack, then Dawson and Joey again, until Dawson ratted out Joey’s dad to the police and she could never, ever forgive him (well at least until the season hiatus was over), but by then Dawson was getting it on with one of the Sweet Valley High Twins and so asked Pacey to look after her for him, and over the season the two fell in love.
Flash forward and after the tears and confessions Pacey is about to sail off for the summer and Joey is going to stay behind with Dawson while pining for a love that could have been. When Dawson finally picks up on this clue, and it takes Joey to basically break down in his arms while talking about how much fun they will have this summer, he finally lets her go and in the process produces what can only be described as a crying face that is somewhere between tears and constipation, but the winner for me in this episode is Joey and Pacey’s reunion at the dock, when she finally confesses her feelings for him you know things in the Creek will never be the same.
2. Detention – Season 1, Episode 7 (1998)
John Hughes meets Dawson’s Creek. Lovingly ripped off from The Breakfast Club, all our characters are locked in detention on Saturday morning with only the annoying and somewhat repugnant Abby Morgan as company. Joey finally kisses Dawson and her feelings for him become known to the group, Pacey kisses Jen just to annoy Dawson, and we find out the big D-Man was once known an Oompa Loompa. Throw in a great corridor chase scene and Joshua Jackson making a joke of how much he loved The Mighty Ducks movie and I am in pop culture heaven. Even if you’ve no interest in the series, watch this as a standalone episode just for fun.
1. All Good Things/Must Come to an End – Season 6, Episodes 23 & 24 (2003)
It’s pretty hard to find a good final episode, let alone one that actually gives the characters something other than the textbook happy ending.
Let’s start with the obvious: Jen. Her final scenes could bring a tear to the eye of even the most hard-hearted of people and although I would have preferred another of the leads to have pegged it (cough – Dawson – cough) her death was heart-breaking because it was unexpected, I mean how many shows have the balls to kill off one of their leading characters (The Sopranos I’m looking at you)? Then we have the light touches, after years of joking it turns out Deputy Doug is gay and in a relationship with Jack and we finally get a resolution to that pesky Dawson/Joey/Pacey triangle and in fairness could she really have made any other decision?
A verison of this article originally ran in 2012. It’s been updated to celebrate the show’s 20th anniversary.