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"Coming Home," "Failing Down," "Two Gentlemen of Capeside," "Future Tense," "A Family Way," "Great Xpectations," "You Had Me at Goodbye," "The Unusual Suspects," "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang," "Self Reliance," "The Tao of Dawson," "The Te of Pacey," "Hopeless," "A Winter's Tale," "Four Stories," "Mind Games," "Admissions," "Eastern Standard Time," "Late," "Promicide," "Separation Anxiety," "The Graduate," "Coda"
by Bill Chambers SPOILER WARNING IN EFFECT. "Dawson's Creek" recuperated from the departure of Kevin Williamson in time to mastermind the series' shrewdest tangent yet, that which brought Joey (Katie Holmes) and Pacey (Joshua Jackson) together as boyfriend/girlfriend. Stoking the fourth and smoothest season of the show, the growing pains of that initially illicit union are deftly drawn within the parameters of entertainment for--I shan't kid myself--the young and the docile. Indeed, year four of "Dawson's Creek" is arguably the first (and, unfortunately, indisputably the last) in which all of the protagonists are recognizably human at regular intervals--even the series floaters are not their customarily boorish selves, with the exception of a snobby yacht club proprietor (Carolyn Hennesy) whom the creators just as admirably demonstrate no urge to redeem. (Of course, they can't resist a few geek-revenge moments at her expense.) Most of the season's missteps are, tellingly, not only a by-product of striking out into fairly virgin territory (literally, in some cases), but also harbingers as ominous as black cats and broken mirrors of "Dawson's Creek"'s downward spiral once the action moved from fictional Capeside to refinished sets posing as Boston.
The season gets off to a strong start with a premiere that foreshadows Joey and Pacey's cataclysmic break-up without inviting rash prognostications of doom. The couple's return from a summer at sea disturbs a sleeping dog in Dawson (James Van Der Beek), who's absorbed himself in photography (a hobby subsequently jettisoned by the writers despite the plum, if claustrophobic setting of Dawson's darkroom for the kind of intimate conversations this show favours) to get his mind off losing Joey to his former best friend. What I particularly like about this episode--titled "Coming Home," in continuation of season three's movie motif--is Dawson's complete and instantaneous transition from good-humoured to belligerent when Joey arrives at the "dive-in" with Pacey in tow, his petty refusal to say "hi" before she does an attitude with which we're all cringe-inducingly familiar, I'm sure. The protagonists have paradoxically regressed beyond the precociousness that made the show ripe for parody (see: "MADtv"'s hilarious "Dawson's Crib") during the Williamson era; it's not that Dawson and the rest are suddenly troglodytes like the gang of "That '70s Show", but their intellectual bravado has definitely cooled. Though episodes continue to close out with hugs and kisses in the form of abstract monologues, until then things can get messy, with Pacey's own attitude at the dive-in--he's so deathly afraid of Dawson and Joey reigniting their old spark that he gets too proprietary with her--pushing things into the territory of a junior-league Closer, which will prove no fluke as the season wears on.
Joey and Pacey's relationship is handled with an emotional intelligence that's difficult to overstate given the series' enduring status as a pop culture punchline, but it's not the only compelling arc of the season. Fargo's Harve Presnell delivers the best performance in the show's history as A.I. Brooks, a retired B-movie director yanked into Dawson's orbit after Dawson steals his boat to save Pacey and Jen (Michelle Williams) from drowning--a clever contrivance in that it results in Dawson having an excuse to visit Brooks (he's forced to paint the curmudgeon's house) and, furthermore, buys him a get-out-of-jail-free card with Pacey and Joey. (That said, sheer laziness on the writers' part inadvertently casts Joey in an unflattering light, since she shares responsibility for the boat theft but, in order to hasten the bond between Brooks and Dawson, doesn't hold herself accountable.) The seasonal throughline of Dawson's romance with Pacey's older sister Gretchen (Sasha Alexander, the rare "Creek" interloper capable of challenging Holmes and Williams in the charisma department)--implausible in and of itself but handled with tact--intersects gracefully with the bounteous Brooks arc, the developments of which include a foray into the documentary realm for Dawson, Brooks's own courtship of Jen's grandmother (Mary Beth Peil, a bright spot in Frank Oz's misguided remake of The Stepford Wives), a terminal illness, and a gratifying Andy Griffith cameo marred only by the underlying notion that Matlock was once a star of gritty films noir.
It seems intentional that Dawson's interviews with the dying Brooks resemble Jen's video message from beyond the grave in the very final episode, "...Must Come to an End" (6.24), the second of a two-parter that skips ahead a half-decade to catch up with Dawson and co. in adulthood (thereby unofficially honouring the pact that Joey, Jen, and Andie strike in "Future Tense" (4.4) to meet up again in five years' time). This more firmly entrenches the idea that the series ender works better as a coda to season four than it does to season six--I'd go so far as to recommend substituting "Coda" (4.23), a superfluous successor to the obligatory commencement hour ("The Graduate" (4.22)), with "All Good Things..." (6.23) and "...Must Come to an End." At the very least, this allows a more merciful send-off for Jen, who would spend the next two seasons trying in vain to carve out a niche in Dawsonland. I believe Kevin Williamson chose to sacrifice Jen in the finale because he ultimately figured out that she's the martyr of "Dawson's Creek".
What with Joey losing her virginity, Jen confronting her ugly past head-on, Jack (Kerr Smith) gaining a boyfriend (David Monahan, abrasively righteous in a way that invites a little too much schadenfreude), Andie (Meredith Monroe) moving to Italy (good riddance), Dawson's remarried parents (Mary-Margaret Humes and John Wesley Shipp) bringing their second child into the world, and, of course, each of the six principals graduating from Capeside High, this is unquestionably a monumental season for the show. But the daytime-serial quality that began to seep into its fabric the second year has been diluted by a newfound sangfroid, perhaps a sign of creative empathy with the leisureliness that commonly manifests itself in the high-school homestretch. Quentin Tarantino talks about Rio Bravo being a "hang-out movie," where the actors outshine the plot--repeat viewings are akin to visiting old friends; I would definitely classify this as the hang-out season of "Dawson's Creek", for whether their behaviour is abominable (as in the aptly-titled "Promicide" (4.20)) or altruistic ("Admissions" (4.17)), the characters feel less shackled to a potboiler than ever before. Enjoy it while it lasts.
Columbia TriStar presents "Dawson's Creek: The Complete Fourth Season" on DVD with Jann Arden's shitty "Run Like Mad" again replacing Paula Cole's picture-perfect "I Don't Want to Wait" as the theme song on every single episode. In the first of his two obligatory commentary tracks, executive producer Paul Stupin implies that it's cost-prohibitive at this point to use "I Don't Want to Wait" before snippily inviting the likes of yours truly to fast-forward through the title sequence. (Kudos to Sony for denoting the change on the packaging this time, however.) Stupin, for what it's worth, flies solo in his yakker for "Coming Home," while consulting producer Alan Cross joins him as his "secret guest"--oops!--on "The Graduate."
Obviously struggling to maintain diplomacy in a catty mood, Stupin bemoans the buzz-cut and cheap-looking camera that Pacey and Dawson, respectively, sport in the opener; less valid are his criticisms of the Dawson/Gretchen pairing--and, by extension, Alexander herself, characterized here as disingenuous--as well as Pacey's "nebulous" reasons for splitting up with Joey (they're actually quite sound, regardless of the fact that you'd have to have mad cow disease to consider dumping Katie Holmes). Disc four of four also features a challenging "Dawson's Creek" trivia game whose questions date back to the pilot, plus a batch of previews for 13 Going on 30, 50 First Dates, "Contemporary TV," and "Original Programming." Picture quality for the episodes proper is an inconsequential step down from the pleasant surprise of "Dawson's Creek: The Complete Third Season", though a switch in cinematographers may account for the slightly darker, grittier image. Audio is in Dolby Surround and, as usual, sounds very meat-and-potatoes, The Perfect Storm-inspired "The Two Gentlemen of Capeside" (4.3) no exception. Originally published: November 29, 2004.