Image B Sound B+ Extras B
"Like a Virgin", "Homecoming", "None of the Above", "Home Movies", "Indian Summer", "Secrets & Lies", "Escape from Witch Island", "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner", "Four to Tango", "First Encounters of the Close Kind", "Barefoot at Capefest," "A Weekend in the Country", "Northern Lights", "The Valentine's Day Massacre", "Crime and Punishment", "To Green, With Love", "Cinderella Story", "Neverland", "Stolen Kisses", "The Longest Day", "Show Me Love", "The Anti-Prom", "True Love"
by Bill Chambers SPOILER WARNING IN EFFECT. With zeitgeist lightning-rod Kevin Williamson having jumped ship at the end of the second year, the training wheels were off for season three of "Dawson's Creek", and the show immediately drove, arms flailing, into a tree, an analogy that draws itself when a slaphappy Dawson (James Van Der Beek) crashes a speedboat in the premiere. However ironic my appreciation of the show might ultimately be, its third season starts out appreciably terrible. Falsely equating Williamson's liberal mindset with titillation, a mostly-new writing staff (there was something of an unrelated mass exodus when Williamson left, with head scribe Mike White answering the beacon of "Freaks and Geeks" and others taking similar advantage of the teen boom) resorted to Aaron Spelling licentiousness--even wallflower Joey (Katie Holmes) doffs her clothes in the season opener. It's her attempt to win back Dawson after ostracizing him at the close of the previous season, and more absurdly than that, it backfires.
A questionable morality takes over from the get-go. On the bus back to Capeside from a summer in Philadelphia with his mother (Mary-Margaret Humes), Dawson encounters Eve (Brittany Daniel, a bit too garage pin-up for this series), who lives up to her biblical name by later tempting Dawson out onto the water for the TV equivalent of fellatio. This is how he winds up careening into a dock; Eve, a waitress at a nudie bar, takes up a collection from the strippers to help pay for the damages, but Dawson refuses, instead concurring with Pacey (Joshua Jackson) that he'd be better off transforming his house into an all-ages strip joint for a night. Since when would Golden Boy Dawson be more amenable to exploiting women than to accepting charity? Since never.
Eve ultimately serves as a pretext for movie-buff Dawson to verse himself in film noir, effectively launching the identity crisis that constitutes the bulk of his third-season storyline. Certainly, you can't imagine such a dramatic cul-de-sac as Eve's arc (which simmers to an anticlimax in the sorry Sweeps bid "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" (3.8)) having been premeditated, though losses are cut at the price of a lame genre parody (Dawson happens upon the perfect adjective to describe Eve ("femme fatale," natch) in the saxophone-smothered "Indian Summer" (3.5), which finds our eponymous hero tailing the enigmatic corruptor like Encyclopedia Brown) that only reminds us of the supreme inflexibility of the show's aesthetic. (Witness "Escape from Witch Island" (3.7), a shambling homage to The Blair Witch Project.) The series picks up a little steam by the time it reaches "First Encounters of the Close Kind" (3.10), a Boston-based episode in which Dawson screens his Blair Witch rip-off at a film festival (where it is dismissed as unoriginal, a sign that the writers have regained consciousness of Williamson's patented self-reflexivity), Joey is escorted around the campus of Boston U. by a limpdick love interest named A.J. (Robin Dunne), Andie (Meredith Monroe, still more annoying than a rabid badger on crack) tries to talk her way into an early admissions meeting, and Jack (Kerr Smith, the show's steadfast human component) consults the Pink Pages, hoping to interact with fellow homosexuals for a change.
It's a key episode in that it lays track for the rest of the season: Dawson meets an outrageously egotistical student filmmaker (Bianca Lawson) whose influence on him--she inspires him to take a sabbatical from the cinema--is dubious but lasting; Joey and A.J. fumble through a courtship that puts her on the path to discovering her true love is none other than Pacey; and Jack takes on a mentor in gay relations by the name of Ethan (Adam Kaufman). Thus, we are retaught the lesson of Season One that "Dawson's Creek" would've done well to shorten its episode order to thirteen per year: The first half of each season--this one, because of the trial and error that was going on behind the scenes, in particular--does little to advance the mythology, as it were. The many dyadic permutations (here, Pacey and Jen (Michelle Williams) are briefly an item before Pacey fixes his gaze on Joey) that annually yielded nothing save the bemusement of fans bear the tincture of obsessive cushion-rearranging in anticipation of guests.
The second half of Season Three has its lowlights, to be sure. I'm especially uncomfortable with the (alarmingly) temporary installation of black characters for the patronizing manner in which they're treated. As Nikki Green, Lawson is allowed to influence Dawson into tearing down his Spielberg posters and broadening his horizons, but given the relative stasis of her character, this just makes her a symbol of white guilt. Nikki's father (Obba BabatundÃ©) is the headmaster of Capeside High, a principled man essentially martyred when he refuses to back down from expelling a trust-fund kid for defiling a mural painted by star pupil Joey. (The PTA drives him out of Dodge.) With this episode (cheekily titled "To Green, With Love"), then, "Dawson's Creek" upholds a Hollywood tradition of sanctifying white women through the sacrifice of black men, and as happy as you are to see faces of colour on the show (recurring player Obi Ndefo notwithstanding), it opens up a can of worms that requires the same political diligence accorded Jack.
On the other hand, this is easily the most infectiously romantic season of "Dawson's Creek", perhaps because Joey finally has a suitor worth rooting for in Pacey. Even without the knowledge that she dated him for a spell in real life, it's obvious that Holmes has fewer actorly boundaries around Jackson than she does around any of her other male co-stars. (Watch the whale of a smile she gives in the finale ("True Love" (3.23)) as Jackson scrunches her cheeks together--it's electrifyingly unguarded.) The episode where Pacey and Joey at last profess their feelings for one another ("Stolen Kisses" (3.19)--as you can see, borrowed movie titles are the rage in Season Three) is so unapologetically tacky (an earth-mother aunt (Julie Bowen) paints a lovey-dovey portrait of Dawson and Joey as kids, Pacey and a childhood friend hustle a couple of pool players, Dawson and Joey perform a karaoke duet of "Daydream Believer," etc.) that a reprise of "Daydream Believer" (Mary Beth's gentle cover version) over Pacey and Joey's illicit fade-out nuzzle is actually sort of sublime. Whatever genius for teen melodrama Williamson left behind crystallizes in the Pacey-Joey coupling and all the good, the bad, and the ugly that stems from it.
Columbia TriStar presents "Dawson's Creek: The Complete Third Season" on DVD in a four-disc package. Miraculously, despite the studio's continued miserliness when it comes to rationing platters (Warner assigned six discs to "Gilmore Girls"' comparatively shorter first season), this is the show's handsomest batch of DVD transfers to date. Grain is minimal, and while detail is a bit soft, compression artifacts are rarely an issue. After you get past the unforgivable substitution of Jann Arden's putrid "Run Like Mad" for Paula Cole's "I Don't Want to Wait" as the show's main theme ("Run Like Mad" may adorn the international version of the series, but for inveterate North American viewers, this is akin to replacing the "Friends" theme with Bon Jovi's "I'll Be There For You"), the Dolby Surround soundtracks are on a par with those of the previous seasons, i.e., sharp as a tack and resolutely unimaginative.
In his commentary for "First Encounters of the Close Kind" with Smith, executive producer Paul Stupin claims that a combination of ennui and frugality led to the change of anthem for this set, but I'll personally slap Stupin with a wet trout if he ditches Paula Cole again on future seasons--you shouldn't tamper with alchemy. (The two songs are hardly interchangeable besides.) The irony, of course, is that Season Three contains an explicit reference to "I Don't Wait to Wait" (a wannabe cheerleader butchers it at tryouts), and the Paula Cole poster on Jen's bedroom wall now looks curiously like something the Lacuna Corporation neglected to erase.
Stupin and Smith return on "True Love," but as in their "First Encounters..." yakker, conversation is tangential at best. A lot of energy is devoted to Smith's sixth-season directing chores, his recent relocation to L.A. with wife Harmoni Everett, and his upcoming gig for Aaron Spelling, yet for all that, Smith doesn't say much. (Stupin is windy enough for the both of them.) Stupin's criticisms of the show are engaging as always; he's notably brutal, in his passive-aggressive way, during a post-mortem of Jen's relationship with freshman Henry (Michael Pitt, inducting his bonked-on-the-head-with-a-frying-pan shtick for the masses). An ergonomically-trying "interactive map" of Capeside that leapfrogs to location-relevant clips, previews for "Dawson's Creek", 50 First Dates, "Contemporary TV", and "Original Programming" (that is, short-lived cult items "The Critic", "Dilbert", and "The Tick"), and ROM-enabled weblinks round out the set. Episode synopses and flyers for past and upcoming 'TV on DVD' releases are tucked inside a pocket of the gatefold/slipcase container. Originally published: July 19, 2004.