**½/**** Image B+ Sound B+ Extras A-
starring James Van Der Beek, Katie Holmes, Michelle Williams, Joshua Jackson
screenplay by Kevin Williamson & Maggie Friedman
directed by James Whitmore, Jr. ("All Good Things...") and Greg Prange ("...Must Come to an End")
by Bill Chambers SPOILER WARNING IN EFFECT. When it first aired, I was fuming. But I've not only come to terms with the series finale of "Dawson's Creek", I've grown to appreciate it, too. What I realized on a second viewing (not as superfluous as you might think: the DVD that facilitated a reassessment restores 20 minutes of footage cut from the broadcast version) was that my own tenuous identification with the main character, a movie lover and amateur filmmaker prone to befriending unattainable hotties, was getting in the way of appreciating a perfectly laudable reversal of expectations. There's no sense beating around the bush: Joey (Katie Holmes) picked suave Pacey (Joshua Jackson). The first "Dawson's Creek" scripted by series creator Kevin Williamson since the second season's "...That Is the Question" (in tandem with which he announced he was stepping down as the show's Professor Marvel), the two-part capper--aired as a movie-of-the-week--leaves Dawson (James Van Der Beek) without a fallback girl, as Joey romantically rejects Dawson on the heels of the passing of her alternate: single-mother Jen (Michelle Williams), who dies from a rare heart condition.
The "Dawson's Creek" journey officially closes with Dawson alone in a production office talking to coupled Pacey and Joey via speakerphone. Dawson has just barely scraped through another week on the TV drama he writes and produces, "The Creek", and is listening for the reactions of his best friend and quote-unquote soulmate, respectively, to the ending of the episode that just aired, in which a cookie-cutter Dawson and Joey do wind up together. Williamson, who authored the heavily ironic Scream and the saturnine Scream 2, thus reaches a new pinnacle of self-reflexivity within the parameters of his trademark disillusionment: His alter ego goes home empty-handed, but his alter ego's alter ego winds up happily ever after. Sanctity has thus gone from exceeding Williamson's grasp (as it did Sidney's in the Scream movies) to being nothing less than a grail object, a double-fiction buried deep in the bowels of his art.
Williamson wrote the finale without any of the series' narrative developments that proceeded his departure in mind, having been neither actively involved in production nor a regular viewer of "Dawson's Creek" in four years. This is mostly a blessing, as it results in the absence of such misbegotten characters added late in the show's run as Audrey (whom Busy Philipps and the writers had transformed into the shrillest entity ever to penetrate Dawson's inner circle), Eddie (Kate Hudson's equally irksome brother Oliver as Joey's unworthy slacker suitor), David (Greg Rikaart, playing Jack's (Kerr Smith) frog-like boyfriend), and genuinely countless others, in addition to sparing us the resolution of dangling plot threads we couldn't be bothered with in the first place, like Grams's (Mary Beth Peil) bout with cancer. On the other hand, there is the distinct sensation, one that suggests contempt for fans, that Dawson, Joey, et al have undergone a mass hypnosis to zap a good three years of their lives, despite the best efforts of co-writer Maggie Friedman to insert nods to the post-Williamson period.
The series-ender also strains credulity, which may sound like a "duh" criticism to those familiar enough with "Dawson's Creek" to remember the time insolvent Joey was robbed at gunpoint, sat by the mugger's side after he was hit by a car, then anonymously gave the money that was stolen from her to the mugger's widow. (God, the show could be terrible.) Nevertheless, for as wonderfully mordant as the openly gay Williamson can be, his treatment of lifestyle issues is almost too progressive, manifesting itself in a starry-eyed quality that undermines the candour of the material: If there's a small town in America where the sheriff is free to publicly engage in same-sex nuzzling, hearty apologies, but the moment when Pacey's brother Doug (Dylan Neal) engages in a PDA with Jack strikes me as wishful thinking. (And for as kicky as it is to see Doug out of the closet and in Jack's arms, that brand of exhibitionism is just not in Doug's nature besides.) Jack and Doug's inheritance of Jen's baby daughter, meanwhile, is patly handled, as though everyone involved is afraid of calling attention to the television ground they're breaking.
Jen's demise is predictably peaceful, but that's an aesthetic consideration as much as a bow to Weepie Tradition: "Dawson's Creek" always had an antiseptic surface--this is the show that depicted a father-son argument so fierce that Dad stormed out and...bought an ice cream cone! (Said purchase actually led to the funniest fatal car accident in TV history.) Overall, Jen's death arc works because it forces you to confront your attachment to the series: you get misty not because its ever-flimsy emotional solicitations--pop-song montages, teary goodbyes, isolating camerawork--are suddenly effective, but because it's the last you'll see of them. Pre-emptive nostalgia proves a powerful antidote to many of this conclusion's ills.
Columbia TriStar presents "Dawson's Creek: The Series Finale" on DVD in its original fullscreen aspect ratio. The image is soft-edged but abundantly clear and colourful, a definite improvement on the studio's first-season mastering effort. Although the Dolby Surround soundtrack doesn't exactly blow the roof off, it provides a cozy venue for the song selections. Williamson and executive producer Paul Stupin gab through the entire 108-minute program on another audio stream, and damn if I didn't end up doing their whole session in one sitting. The pair is thorough in singling out--and defending the reinstatement of--the new scenes (which include a subplot showcasing the reappearance of Jack's sister and Pacey's former girlfriend Andie (Meredith Monroe) that wound up on the cutting-room floor despite months of negotiating for Monroe's return); neither do they shy away from self-criticism, with Williamson going so far as to say he would've written a better script had he not had Wes Craven's upcoming Cursed to divide his attention. Stupin's sentimentality can get a little cloying, but it's a small price to pay for a fun and information-rich yakker.
The disc also features the heretofore-unseen epilogue for the pilot presentation submitted to the suits at the WB and, from this pilot as well, three mesmerizingly askew outtakes, two of which find Dawson interacting with the unnamed actor initially cast as his father. (Within their optional commentary for these snippets, Stupin and Williamson say the role of Mr. Leery later went to John Wesley Shipp because they wanted "a stud.") Trailers for Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle, Lone Star State of Mind, and Me Without You round out the platter. Originally published: October 12, 2003.
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