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"The Kids Are Alright," "The Song Remains the Same," "The Importance of Not Being Too Earnest," Instant Karma!," "The Imposters," "Living Dead Girl," "Ego Tripping at the Gates of Hell," "Spiderwebs," "Everything Put Together Falls Apart," "Merry Mayhem," "Day Out of Days," "All the Right Moves," "Rock Bottom," "Clean and Sober," "Castaways," "That Was Then," "Sex and Violence," "Love Bites," "Lovelines," "Catch-22," "Goodbye, Yellow Brick Road," "Joey Potter and the Capeside Redemption," "All Good Things... ...Must Come to an End"
by Bill Chambers It's been three years since "Dawson's Creek" left the airwaves, and a side-effect of revisiting the final, wistful season of the show--in which the characters are constantly tabulating five years' worth of individual progress (or lack thereof)--is the urge to subject its core ensemble to a mental game of "Where Are They Now?". Newly-minted Oscar nominee Michelle Williams (a.k.a. Jen Lindley), whose revisionist contempt for the series manifested itself while she was doing press for Brokeback Mountain, has carved out a niche for herself as the muse of indie filmmakers, while Katie Holmes (Joey Potter) has spent the better part of the last nine months promoting the first blockbuster of her career (Batman Begins) and living out a real-life Rosemary's Baby. As for the dudes, James Van Der Beek (Dawson Leery) and Joshua Jackson (Pacey Witter), they've had a great deal more difficulty hitting their stride--which makes a certain amount of sense, given the program's gradual transformation into a distaff version of itself. Call it "Joey's Creek".
In season six, the male gaze gets subverted to the point where almost anything with a penis is used as a glorified Magic Mirror to reflect, affirm, and magnify the beauty of Holmes's Snow White, incidentally leaving Williams with the time and motivation to perfect her always-a-bridesmaid shtick. Maybe because I have no patience for Katie Holmes these days, I found myself much less patient with Joey this second go-round; the season as a whole is an improvement on its immediate predecessor (the nadir for not just "Dawson's Creek", but teen drama in general), but the writers continue to oversell a character--and an actress--as if they are fulfilling some missionary duty. Worse, their means of deifying Joey are often counterproductive: obviously designed to engender concurrence, her constant stream of needy, rhetorical remarks like "You know what? I am a good catch" and repeated spurning of ostensibly-unsuitable suitors only pigeonhole her as high-maintenance.
Consequently, moments that facilitate schadenfreude--such as when she's late for her English final and the prototypically spiteful Professor Hetson (Roger Howarth) refuses to take pity on her--are the most satisfying, but they're consistently undercut by the show's refusal to second-guess Joey's sense of entitlement. For instance, the morning of said exam Joey elects to test drive her new beau in the sack, then takes a post-coital nap, causing her to be tardy enough to receive a failing grade. Instead of holding herself accountable, she rather incredulously blames the guy, Eddie (Oliver Hudson), barking, "Oh, and I suppose it's my fault for not saying, 'Hey, Eddie, don't let me sleep through my monstrously important exam.'?" Um, yes? When Hetson later materializes at her workplace (a bar named Hell's Kitchen), she narcissistically presumes he's there to rub salt in the wound, and what transpires is by turns gratifying--Hetson defeats her circular logic with cruel reason--and maddening, with a gallant Eddie jumping to Joey's defense and Hetson crossing the line by offering in response an interminable, classist take on their relationship, earning him a punch in the face. His entire monologue, inexplicable in its hostile conviction, is contrived, then, to make Joey into the victim she thinks she is.
"Dawson's Creek" suffers from the same malady that afflicts lesser angst-ridden hour-longs like "Gilmore girls" and "Sex and the City", in that it rarely balances out self-righteousness with anything resembling humility. (Or, at the very least, the show rarely betrays a glimmer of disapproval towards its protagonists' more reprehensible behaviour.) Considering the eternal adolescents these series court, perhaps it's wise not to introduce the ultimate wood-killer of remorse into the vicarious stew, but it's unfortunate that "Dawson's Creek" finally bows to teensploitation tradition by substituting piety for moral complexity. I said of the second season that "a misguided didacticism...can overtake the conscience of [the show] when social lubricants are involved," and that's truer than ever of the program's final year, in which Joey's excitable roommate, Audrey (the unpleasant Busy Philipps), develops an alcohol dependency overnight, trumping up drama while facilitating pat resolutions. Audrey is, I might add, a mean drunk, and one of the few highlights of her downward spiral is the tongue-lashing she gives her alleged friends over Christmas dinner at Dawson's ("Merry Mayhem" (6.10))--a monologue-cum-character assassination that initially seems like it must've been very cathartic for the writers. But then Audrey drives a car through the living room, again pinpointing anything less than total reverence for Joey partisans as the mark of hysteria.
I pretty much laid my feelings on this season to rest in my reviews of "Dawson's Creek: The Complete First Season" and "Dawson's Creek: The Series Finale". It features an assortment of expendable supporting characters (not previously mentioned: Jen's sanctimonious love interest, C.J. (Jensen Ackles, whose name and TIGER BEAT-ready countenance suggest he was grown in a petri dish at a Hollywood agency); British expat Emma (Megan Gray, whose accent is about as convincing as Dick Van Dyke's in Mary Poppins); and Bianca Kajlich as a B-movie starlet built like a linebacker), takes our intelligence for granted where nearly every development involving Dawson's tour-of-duty as an assistant to hotshot director Todd (Hal Ozsan) is concerned, and is more interested in poignant symmetry--Dawson restoring the Spielberg shrine he tore down in season three, Jen exiting Capeside as she entered it (via yellow taxi), and so on and so forth--than in continuity: after gay Jack (Kerr Smith) proposes to Emma so she can get her green card, for example, she is neither seen nor referred to again. This had me convinced that I'd missed an episode when the sixth season originally ran, but no, the DVD release confirms that Emma was simply dropped like a hot potato. (Ditto her burgeoning romance with Pacey.) Oh, and Busy Philipps sings, something that sounds uncannily like a cat wrestling a duck.
Still, it's not the complete loss of season five. A hackneyed yet engaging Boiler Room subplot reunites the dynamic duo of Dana Ashbrook (as Pacey's oily boss, Rich Rinaldi) and Ray Wise (appearing all-too-briefly as Rich and Pacey's white whale, billionaire Roger Stepavich), bringing the total number of cast members poached from "Twin Peaks" to five. (Brenda Strong appeared in a fifth-season episode as Audrey's mother.) I suspect this tangent derives as much of its entertainment value from Ashbrook's irreverent turn as it does from the fact that it unmasks an almost pathological disdain for capitalism: Pacey is judged harshly for appreciating his new vantage point above the poverty line long before any of his employer's shady dealings come to light. I love that Joey (of course Joey) needles Pacey about his source of income, then stands idly by as he pays for all the stuff she opened during their overnight stay at a department store--which is not to dismiss the best episode of the season, "Castaways" (6.15), wherein Joey and former beau Pacey flirt up a storm in a K-Mart after hours. If that storyline sounds familiar, by the by, that's because it owes a considerable debt to the John Hughes-scripted Career Opportunities, making it an appropriate rhyme with the first season's Breakfast Club-inspired "Detention" (1.7)--if simultaneously underscoring how rarely "Dawson's Creek" rose to Hughes's level of sophistication.
Sony presents "Dawson's Creek: The Complete Sixth Season" on DVD in a four-disc set packaged with a keepcase-sized scrapbook of production stills. Attributable to their relative recency, one imagines, this batch of episodes looks better than all the rest, although the series finale is definitely chalkier here than it is on its own dedicated platter issued in the fall of 2003. The Dolby Surround audio is, as usual, serviceable. Note that Jann Arden's "Run Like Mad" replaces Paula Cole's "I Don't Wanna Wait" on every episode save the bifurcated "All Good Things... ...Must Come to an End" (6.23), a direct port of the "Dawson's Creek: The Series Finale" disc down to the Paul Stupin/Kevin Williamson commentary track. (Shame, as the broadcast version differs significantly from this extended cut and including it would've helped collectors avert a double-dip.) No Doubt fans will be happy to learn that the concert footage of the band in "Spiderwebs" (6.8) is presented intact, however, as are Philipps's caterwauling covers of "California Dreaming" and "One Way or Another." Previews hawking "Dawson's Creek", "Ladies' Night", "I Dream of Jeannie", and "Bewitched" (the TV series) round out the set. Contuining the theme of nostalgia, much of the packaging and menu artwork dates back to season two. Originally published: April 26, 2006.
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