Mike White's writing debut instantly becomes the episode that all other Dawson's Creek hours will aspire to be as strong as. It lifts straight from the Saturday-detention classic The Breakfast Club, and uses a striking new character as the catalyst for major romantic developments. At its heart are the convoluted themes that have been sizzling under the surface for most of the season so far, our protagonists bursting with feelings of jealousy, bitterness and sexual attraction. Detention is the show's first series classic, and one of the most entertaining episodes of the teen television genre.
Abby Morgan is a far greater version of the horrible Nellie character that appeared at the start of the season, somebody who's confidently bitchy and antagonistic but also incredibly perceptive. She's fully aware of and proudly vocal about the lingering looks that are shared between Joey and Dawson, and spots the romantic triangles and rivalries within minutes of sharing the screen with our regulars. I had a huge crush on Monica Keena when this first aired, and she just permeates the screen with a confidence and a dangerous quality. I also love that her cackling evilness is completely undermined when the real reason for her spot in detention is revealed. So much for the ecstasy-fueled orgies in the boy's locker-room! She's such a lame faker, and that's why I love the girl.
Detention is high-concept in nature but is in fact the most heart-warming episode so far, concentrating on the latent insecurities we all exhibit during adolescence. With that in mind, so much of the character work here can be identified with. There's Joey's isolation as a result of her crush, as well as her petulant jealousy of Jen's confidence and sexuality. Jen finally opens up about what she sees in Dawson, and how she respects him on a truly emotional level. Then there are Dawson's issues with sex, both the bitterness over Pacey's experience, as well as his own sexual frustration with Jen, all derived from his own fears.
Detention is just a wonderful depiction of familiar feelings, all of them being forced out into the open when everybody is confined and a fearless new character is dropped in to proceedings to mess with everyone's heads. What could have easily been an obvious tribute hour quickly develops into something far deeper, with dialogue that sparkles even more than usual. A+
Guest stars Monica Keena (Abby Morgan)
Writer Mike White Director Allan Arkush