Thursday, July 12, 2012

Dawson's Creek: Escape from Witch Island (3.7)

And a bunch of kids head to a mysterious island, shooting an amateur horror movie about its cursed past... While this was another stunt episode, the Blair Witch knock-off was absurd enough to work, and I liked that the writers acknowledged the improbability of it all and offered two easy suspects who were more than likely behind all the hauntings. Additionally, the show references a famous movie while insisting on making the episode itself, more than anything, a character piece. While the other film pastiches this year were very much style over substance, here we have a story that makes sense from a character standpoint, and finally allows members of the ensemble to grow.

After a couple of episodes in which Joey and Pacey were really being pushed center stage, here we have the return of the angsty Dawson/Joey saga. I may be wrong, but it feels like they're still having the same conversation over and over again. I don't know if the writers are just lazy, or if they're making an explicit comment on male/female friendships being doomed without sex getting in the way. Despite pledging to stay friends just a couple of episodes ago, they're back in the hotseat discussing their romantic feelings. And while they've both grown up and matured over the years, they're still saying the same things. They want to be fun and easy with each other again, and not allow romance to cloud things too much. But they don't seem to realize that you can't just sweep their one-time romance under the carpet, considering how much they mean to each other. Ugh. It's pretty headache-inducing.

What works more successfully is the unexpected pairing of Jen and Pacey, who get all meta and ask why they haven't coupled up yet. It's an understandable question, especially considering how incestuous the DC ensemble has gotten outside of the two of them. They also have a ton of chemistry, and while I'm not particularly eager for them to get together, it only makes it more clear that Joshua Jackson is so smooth, he could create romantic sparkage with a house-plant. There's also a shockingly mature banter between them, in which they acknowledge how fun sex can be and how they shouldn't be afraid of hooking up together whenever they feel the urge. It's refreshing to see sex depicted in such a casual way, especially when it's not being promoted as something terrible.

I also like that it's very much a mutual deal. Ordinarily with 'casual sex' stories, there's at least one party doing it for the wrong reasons, but here both Jen and Pacey are confident enough in their sexuality to not push sex as this epic 'thing' that has to be all about emotions or granting you something other than physical pleasure. And this is 1999, people. I'm not sure networks would let that fly nowadays, which is ironic.

The only area in which the episode falls down is whenever Andie is on-screen, the character thrown off in her own subplot completely unrelated to the island hijinks. It's also a story that makes her appear more nuts than usual, since she's going around school demanding her peers follow the rules and listen to her orders. It's bizarre, and you have to ask who exactly Andie is supposed to appeal to anymore?

The witch story is vacuous and fun, but the real juice comes from the character interactions. This feels like the first episode this season in which all four principal cast members are acting like their old selves, and it promises brighter things for the future. If only they could grant the same care and dedication to the rapidly unnecessary Andie McPhee. B+

Guest stars Vanessa Dorman (Belinda McGovern); Wayne Pere (Boat Guy); Obba Babbatunde (Principal Howard Green); Liz Vassey (Wendy Dalrymple)
Writer Tom Kapinos Director James Whitmore, Jr.

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