Thursday, July 19, 2012

Dawson's Creek: First Encounters of the Close Kind (3.10)

When I was a teen, I remember finding it interesting that certain people I knew had these varying emotions about growing up and moving on from high school. There were people who were desperate to escape their parents and find their own way in life, while others were terrified at the thought of suddenly having responsibilities and being a real adult. For me, I totally resonated with Joey here. College for many automatically equals a form of escape and release, but we only realize the full social potential of college once we actually spend some time there. Joey articulates those feelings so well in that final scene, in which she talks about her perception of college the day before the tour, versus her appreciation of its potential once she had actually glimpsed Harvard.

It's also a major difference between Joey and Dawson. Joey remarks that Dawson's bedroom suddenly seems so much smaller than it is, since she's become aware of a life outside of the Capeside bubble, where she gets to converse with peers who share her interests, and where long-standing emotions aren't a factor anymore. Dawson, on the other hand, tells Joey that his bedroom represents something safe and secure. It goes without saying that Joey is by far the more mature party here, and eager to throw herself at the world. Dawson, alternatively, remains terrified.

There's a lot of goofiness here. Every single subplot features moments of ridiculous, and it sucks that Pacey and Jen don't appear at all, especially after the strong material they had last week. But First Encounters of the Close Kind has a really neat tone, pulling four members of the DC ensemble out of Capeside and placing them in new surroundings in which they interact with people who aren't intimately aware of their personal baggage. Maybe it's because I'm one of the few fans who actually liked the later college years, but I found this episode sort of resuscitated a lot of the cast dynamics.

Dawson's story with Keeeendra, I mean, Nikki worked well, particularly because of Bianca Lawson's natural charm. Both characters bounced off each other spectacularly, probably due to the fact that they're very similar. They both have lofty aspirations, they're both susceptible to moments of hagitude, etc. I also liked that the show continues to tear Dawson's work down. Because his filmmaking is generally uninteresting and generic, and it would be entirely illogical if we were supposed to believe this 16 year-old boy is some wunderkind genius already.

Joey's subplot got a little lame in places, but it's always welcome seeing her interact with people that aren't Dawson. Up until that 'jealous frowning' closer, she and Dawson had some nice material to work through, too, not buried under heaps of angst. Jack didn't get a whole lot to do this week and his "Eek! Gay!" panic wasn't depicted half as well as the particularly moving stuff he did last episode, but I like that they're even going there with the story, since it's far more grounded and believable than somebody in his situation being so out and proud. Especially since he's only just come to terms with his sexuality, lives in a small town, has an overbearing and homophobic father and is frequently gay-bashed by his classmates.

Andie, unsurprisingly, had the weakest storyline here. Her desperation to confront the Dean and try and schmooze her way into Harvard was the strongest example of this week's occasionally contrived script, especially since she resorted to cheating on her LSATS just a couple of weeks ago. Furthering the stupidity, she's taught life lessons by a mystical and wise old black woman who clearly has so little time on her hands that she's happy to abandon work and help out a teenage girl with zero self-awareness who, may I add, is clearly batshit. And scene.

There are parts of this episode that don't work at all, but the general idea of college becoming this welcoming and awe-inspiring place instead of something that you merely escape to was depicted especially well, and I adored Joey's characterization this week. Part of me almost wishes they were seniors this season so college could be a less far-away prospect, but it remains an entertaining prequel to what the show would eventually become. A-

Guest stars Marla Gibbs (Fran Boyd); Robin Dunne (A.J. Moller); Bianca Lawson (Nikki Green); Adam Kaufman (Ethan Brody)
Writer Leslie Ray Director Greg Prange