Dawson and Joey chat on his bed


Title: Dawson’s Creek S1.E01 “Pilot” + S1.E02 “Dance”
Released: 1998
Series:  Dawson's Creek

Drinks Taken: 55


Follow the whole rewatch here!

Welcome to the very first installment of the Dawson’s Creek rewatch project! For the next 64 Wednesdays or so, Britt and I will be taking turns reuniting with those talky teens from Capeside, Massachusetts, and we hope that you’ll join us each week as we dissect Dawson’s fear of sex, Joey’s inexplicable anger, what makes Cool Jen Lindley so damn cool, the vast injustice of the world toward Underestimated Dreamboat Pacey Witter, and the fact that, for a gay man, sweet Jack McPhee really needs a new shoe wardrobe.

Up front, I want to say that I love Dawson’s Creek with my whole heart, and while I will have plenty of stern words for Dawson, Joey and company (mostly just Dawson and Joey), those words come from a place of deep affection and understanding that, though Dawson’s Creek may not represent the way real teenagers talk, it nails the way real teenagers feel. These kids – judgmental, self-important, insecure – are flawed in the most believable ways. They’re basically better-looking and more articulate versions of myself in high school. The series, created by Kevin Williamson, established the careers of some of my favorite writers in television (Rob Thomas, Greg Berlanti, Anna Fricke, Liz Tigelaar and more), and it offers some very progressive ideas amid all of the corny melodrama. 

So let’s kick it off with a drink to our main man Steven Spielberg, because all of the mysteries of the universe, all of life’s questions, can be found in a Spielberg movie:

Jen smiles, sitting in bed with a bottle of champagne

The Dawson’s Creek Drinking Game

Drink Once every time: 

Joey purses her mouth or chews on her lip

Joey tucks her hair behind her ear

Joey climbs into or out of Dawson’s window

Sex makes Dawson and/or Joey extremely uncomfortable

Jen brings up her atheism

Grams says “Jennifaaah”

Someone says the words “black boyfriend” in reference to Bodie

Drink Twice every time:

Dawson mentions Spielberg

You have literally no idea why Joey is mad

Pacey gives someone a really good hug

Cool Jen Lindley is totally crapped on by the universe

On to the rewatch!

Dawson, Joey and Pacey on the dock

1.01 “Pilot”

Meet the kids of Capeside High! We’ve got Dawson Leery, earnest Spielberg fanatic, and his lifelong best friend, tomboy Josephine “Joey” Potter, who has a chip on her shoulder the size of Massachusetts and will rush to inform you that her mom died of cancer while being cheated on by Joey’s dad. Also (she will quickly add), said adulterous father is now in prison for conspiracy to traffic marijuana in excess of 10,000 pounds, and therefore Joey lives with her unwed, pregnant sister Bessie and Bessie’s black boyfriend (drink!) Bodie. Thanks to all of this, Joey and her family are the subjects of much small-town gossip, which Joey handles with lots of scowls and misanthropy, an approach that I greatly respect.

Dawson’s life seems more Rockwellian: his mom Gail is the local news anchor, and his dad Mitch is cheerfully unemployed, but with big ideas. Mitch and Gail are always hard-core macking on each other, to Dawson’s virginal chagrin. Dawson and Joey live across the creek from one another, and Joey spends most days canoeing to Dawson’s dock and climbing the ladder into his bedroom so they can wax analytical over the latest video store release before they fall innocently asleep in bed together.

Joey, who’s a lot smarter than Dawson, fears their “emerging hormones” will besmirch this childlike dynamic; Dawson just sticks his “long fingers” (Joey’s observation, not mine – girlfriend ponders the size of Dawson’s penis more than once in this ep) in his ears and goes “la la la!” 

Dawson and Joey mostly hang out with terminal underachiever Pacey Witter, whose dad is the town sheriff and whose brother is the town deputy. Both deputy and sheriff hate Pacey for no good reason, because he is an adorable smartass with a heart of PLATINUM.

Pacey, Joey and Dawson are in the midst of filming a scene for Dawson’s “horror pastiche” sea monster student film when a taxi pulls up, and Cool Jen Lindley appears, looking as cool as a coconut snowcone on a hot summer’s day. SHE RULES. 

Jen’s just moved to Capeside from New York, supposedly to help her grandmother tend to her grandfather, whose aorta collapsed and is now in a coma. (Dawson’s perky response to this sad news: “So you’ll be going to school here then?” Eyes on the prize, that Dawson Leery.) Jen was something of a wild child in New York, and it seems likely that her parents really sent her to Capeside to have Jen’s strict (and AMAZING) Grams sort her out. Grams is a tough old bird, and if anyone can sort out Cool Jen Lindley, it’s Grams. Oh, but extremely Christian Grams has a surprise coming: Cool Jen Lindley is an atheist! Obviously. She’s cool. 

Dawson’s immediately all cartoon wolf eyes over Jen, and a sullen Joey can’t help but notice. She loves the boy across the creek, but he’ll only ever think of her as little Joey Potter! Jen seems to like Dawson back in spite of his hair, XL sweatshirt and leather necklace, and she wants to make friends with Joey, but Joey’s super not having that. Joey’s a real a-hole to Jen, to be honest. But don’t worry: Jen doesn’t let it bother her. All of this progresses very poorly at an ill-conceived group date in which Joey goes completely bananas after making the wooooorst kind of small talk:

After yelling about literally nothing (drink!), Joey admits to Dawson that she’s weirded out by his burgeoning relationship with Jen, and she doesn’t know what that means for their friendship. Dawson is sweet and clueless in response, and I guess they make up because he admits to a curious Joey that he wanks it to Katie Couric in the morning. This is how sexually repressed teenagers bond. 

Meanwhile, Pacey’s got his own cartoon wolf eyes going on a sexy middle-aged lady who struts into the video store where he and Dawson work: 

This is Tamara, who is OPENLY FLIRTING with the fifteen-year-old boy behind the cash register. She rents The Graduate, for chrissakes. Turns out, naturally, that Tamara Ms. Jacobs is Pacey’s new English teacher! That doesn’t stop him from hitting on her in front of an entire classroom of students, or her from receiving his attention with pleasure. She sorta hints she’ll be at the movies that night (Waiting for Guffman!), so Pacey bushwhacks her on what appears to be a date with someone named Benji. It’s all very awkward and ends with Pacey getting punched for talking over the movie (fair), but later he runs into Tamara on the dock and gives her an INCREDIBLE and INCREDIBLY RIDICULOUS and INCREDIBLY RUDE speech that totally works only because it’s Joshua Jackson saying it:

The truth is you’re a well-put-together, knockout of a woman who’s feeling a little insecure about hitting forty. So when a young, virile boy, such as myself, flirts with you, you enjoy it. You entice it. You fantasize about what it would be like to be with that young boy on the verge of manhood. ‘Cause it helps you stay feeling attractive. Makes the aging process a little more bearable. Well, let me tell you something. You blew it lady, because I’m the best sex you’ll never have.

And, again, only because Pacey Witter has Joshua Jackson’s face, Tamara grabs Pacey and makes out with him for calling her insecure and forty. It’s all so embarrassing (and, you know, illegal). Let’s watch:

A few other notes from the pilot: I love Bessie and Joey’s oft-contentious but always loving relationship.

Also: I give Dawson a lot of shit (and I will continue to do so, sorry Dawson), but I think it’s really cool that he’s such an ambitious and devoted movie nerd. He really takes film seriously, and in addition to his sea monster project, his other obsession right now is talking his way into the film class reserved for upperclassmen even though he’s only a sophomore. He wants it so bad!!

Also also: the Capeside High mean girl is Nellie Oleson, but don’t worry about her too much because she disappears almost immediately, to be replaced by a MUCH better mean girl. She asks Jen if she likes to party, and Jen replies that she’s trying this new thing where she likes to have a good time “substance-free.” We’ll see how long that lasts!

Also also ALSO: As Dawson and Joey are watching Gail and her giant hair (let’s pause for that)…

Dawson's mom has huge hair on TV

… host the nightly news, Dawson jokes that he thinks Gail’s boning her co-anchor, because of her “soft Bs”: “bbback to you, Bbbob.” Except she totally is bbboning Bbbob! In the last minutes of the episode, Joey sees Gail and Bob kissing by the creek. (In early episodes of Dawson’s Creek, all pertinent info is gained through Joey’s spying or eavesdropping.) Looks like Dawson Leery’s perfect life isn’t so perfect, after all.

How many times did I have to drink? 

38! Dawson mentions Spielberg a lot in the pilot. Even more than Jen mentions her atheism.

Best reminder it’s 1998

The use of Chumbawamba’s “Tubthumping” over a key scene.

Joey Potter and Pacey Witter’s long-simmering tension 

I can’t pretend I don’t have a dog in this fight, and Joey and Pacey already have that hate-flirting thing down pat. He grabs her ass while “helping” her onto the dock during a scene, and though I do not advocate the unsolicited grabbing of asses, you’ll soon learn that I forgive Pacey Witter for a lot of things that I’d never allow in any other guy.

Best pop culture reference 

Take your pick! Williamson is not afraid to name-drop some movies: aside from The GraduateWaiting for Guffman and every Spielberg title released before 1998, we’ve got Forrest GumpCreature from the Black Lagoon and The Summer of ’42.

Most meta moment 

Aaaaand we’ve got a poster from I Know What You Did Last Summer hanging in the film classroom, which is interesting because Dawson’s Creek creator Kevin Williamson wrote the script for I Know What You Did Last Summer, and hilarious because I Know What You Did Last Summer would never, ever be taught in film class. Scream, yes. I Know What You Did Last Summer, no.

Is this place idyllic or what? 

Seriously. Let’s all move to Capeside, please.

Joey and Dawson sit on the bridge over the creek

Sex, sex, sex! 

When Mitch tries to give Dawson the condom talk, Dawson has a meltdown. “What is up with the sex?! That’s all anybody thinks of anymore. Sex, sex, sex! I mean, what is the big deal? If sex is so important, then how come Spielberg has never had a sex scene in one of his movies, hmm? He keeps it in its proper place in film, as should we in life.” Oh, Dawson

Oh, Mitch 

Mitch’s current plans for employment involve a to-scale model of an aquatic-themed restaurant, including servers in scuba gear. Mitch, you’re a babe, but I’d probably cheat on your dumb ass, too.

Mitch holds a scuba doll up over his restaurant model

Most recognizable song 

Righteous anthem “I’ll Stand By You” by the Pretenders. (Or, again, “Tubthumping” by Chumbawamba.)

The truest thing anybody said this week 

Jen: And why movies? What’s the attraction there? Dawson: “I reject reality.”

Oh brother, do you ever. Next episode!

Joey and Dawson dance in the high school gym

1.02 “Dance”

There’s a lot of talk about kissing in this episode, though the only people who do any actual kissing are the ones who shouldn’t: Gail and Bob, Pacey and Tamara, Pacey and Jen (yes!). Joey’s bugging Dawson to lay one on Jen, doing that friend-zone defense thing where we try to accelerate our most dreaded nightmare because we think the anticipation is worse than seeing the boy we love kissing that hot new girl from New York. (It isn’t.) Dawson, meanwhile, is trying to push Joey into kissing Pacey for the movie, and she’s all “I cannot think of ANYTHING WORSE.”

Girl, you will be changing your tune on that score. So Dawson does a last-minute, crazy drastic rewrite, killing Joey’s character off in the first act so the “beautiful but bright cousin from New York arrives just in time to find your mutilated body.” Poor Joey! But she’s mostly just relieved to not have to kiss Pacey, because she’s almost as sexless as Dawson. Jen’s a natural on camera, obviously, and then when it comes time for Pacey and Jen’s characters to kiss, Pacey goes to TOWN, to both Jen’s and my own delight. A flustered Dawson writes out the kiss entirely, because he’s intimidated by Pacey’s inherent sexual prowess. 

Sweet Dawson is intimidated by everyone‘s inherent sexual prowess, actually, and when Cliff the jock asks Jen to the dance, Dawson straight panics. Cliff is the ultimate Dawson foil: he’s hot and ripped, confident, and he’s not even dumb enough that Dawson can dismiss him as a troglodyte. Cliff’s in Dawson’s film class (yeah, Dawson weaseled his way in) and is submitting a sports film called “Helmets of Glory” to the junior division of the Boston Film Festival, which just so happens to put him in competition with Dawson’s sea monster movie. Team Sea Monster! Though “Helmets of Glory” is an inspired title. 

So Jen goes to the dance and Dawson foolishly follows her there – in spite of Joey’s best and wisest advice – to confront Jen and try to strong-arm her away from Cliff LIKE A MANIAC. Jen does not respond well to this, naturally, and neither does Cliff, but somehow Dawson survives the evening without getting punched in the face or kicked in the balls. He even manages to find Jen on the dock, where all of Dawson’s Creek‘s best romantic scenes take place, and they dance under the moonlight. He still doesn’t kiss her yet, the wimp. 

So what’s Joey up to, other than selflessly trying to convince Dawson not to make a fool of himself in front of Jen at the dance? She’s doing lots more eavesdropping and spying: she walks up on Gail during a schmoopy phone call with Bob and tells her that she knows, and gives her a very ominous and grown-up warning not to destroy her family like Joey’s dad did, all of which Gail blithely ignores. Joey ends the speech with a chilly, “Have fun tonight, Mrs. Leery,” and it’s pretty stone-cold awesome. Joey also spies on Dawson getting a kissing lesson from ol’ Mitch – and Dawson’s practicing on the model he made of Joey’s head for the movie, but he’s thinking of Jen, which is a real double whammy bitch for poor Joey. Stop spying on people! You never see anything that makes you happy! Later, Joey and Dawson share a brief moment on the dance floor, laden with promise, before Jen twirls up and all thoughts of little Joey Potter fly out of Dawson’s thick noggin. 

Meanwhile, Pacey’s still being EXTREMELY inappropriate with Tamara at school, and she’s not really discouraging it as strenuously as she ought to, especially considering the fact that she makes out with him again. Lady, I know Joshua Jackson is irresistible, but you’ve gotta cut it out with this shit!

How many times did I have to drink? 



As Jen helps Joey clean up all the fake blood from her murder scene, she casually tells her that she has nice breasts and a great bod. Joey’s terrible with compliments and wigs out, but we can tell she’s pleased, and she does her awkward Joey Potter version of reciprocating by telling Jen she doesn’t look like a duck. Jen tells Joey, “Joey, I plan to make it really hard for you not to like me,” and GAH, I wish these girls were besties. 

Guess who? 

Cliff Elliott is portrayed by none other than Felicity‘s Scott Foley!

Scott Foley as Cliff in Dawson's Creek

By the by, if you’re not watching Scandal, get on that shit. It’ll make you Team Noel with a quickness. 

Jesus, these kids are judgey 

After Pacey macks on a clearly amused Jen for the movie, Dawson urgently asks her, “Are you okay?” and it makes me laugh so, so hard.

Best reminder it’s 1998 

Speaking of laughing so, so hard, I was attempting to screen-cap Dawson’s first vest of many, and I managed to capture this perfect moment in time and have never stopped laughing since:

Dawson, in a open shirt and vest, holds up two fingers

Well, peace to you, too, Dread Pirate Roberts!

Dawson’s most clueless moment 

When he’s telling Joey what he likes about Jen, he says THE WORST THING: “The girl’s a mystery to me, but I feel like I’ve known her my whole life. I mean, it’s like the way I feel about you. She challenges me the way you do, she could be you. Except…she’s Jen.” AHHHHH POOR JOEY.

Least likely dialogue 

Courtesy of Pacey to Tamara, with utmost earnestness: “Your tongue was in my mouth. You’re not being fair.”

Most likely dialogue 

Dawson to Joey: “It’s like I have no balance anymore. Everything’s either high or low, hot or cold, black or white. It’s like there’s no middle ground anymore. I mean, nothing’s just okay.” Congrats! You’re a teenager.

Most meta moment 

As Dawson tries to convince Joey it’s a good idea for her character to die several minutes into the film, he says it’ll be like Janet Leigh in Psycho, and Pacey chimes in, “Or Drew Barrymore in Scream.” Joey snarks, “Ahh, a rip-off of a rip-off.”

Oh, Mitch 

As Mitch gives Dawson a kissing lesson, he recalls his own first kiss with Gail, and includes the sentence, “The Chapstick was really smooth. It slid onto her lips; the sensation was amazing.” Gross! Later, Gail can’t at first remember this kiss, and poor Mitch is crushed. FORESHADOWING.

That’s it for this week! Britt, I have a question for you, and this applies to all of you in the audience, too. Fuck/Marry/Kill: Dawson, Pacey, Mitch. Or same game but with Joey, Jen and Gail. Here’s mine: fuck Mitch (he’s a babe!), kill Dawson (sorry sweet mister), marry Pacey. I’m not playing with the ladies because I want to marry all three of them. I’d kill Tamara. 

Meet Britt here next Wednesday morning as she covers “Kiss” and “Discovery”!

Meredith Borders is formerly the Texas-based editor of Fangoria and Birth.Movies.Death., now living and writing (and reading) in Germany. She’s been known to pop by Forever Young Adult since its inception, and she loves YA TV most ardently.