In a lot of ways Crime and Punishment is something of a book-end to the To Be or Not to Be... two-parter in season two, with Pacey supporting one of his friends after they're victimized, but going about it in a polarizing, aggressive way that only leads to personal upset. In both cases, you can totally understand Pacey's outrage, and you entirely support him when he rallies the troops and makes the incident a personal issue, but you also cringe at how reckless he becomes. It's heroic and noble, but it's Pacey uncomfortably putting other people above his own well-being, both episodes ending with him punished and feeling lousy.
With Joey suddenly painting again and having an elaborate mural project dropped in out of nowhere, there's definitely a vibe that this episode is stuck in a vacuum of sorts. I can understand why the show would want to explore heavier issues (both race and elitism are brought up as a result of the attack on the artwork), but it would have been more effective if there were a stronger build-up to this. Matt Caulfield, introduced only last week, exists purely as a one-note villain right now, a character like Jason Behr's Chris probably more engaging as an antagonist. Yes, he was busy being an alien and everything, but the show could have given this new character additional weight somehow.
Regardless, there's still a lot to like here. The building of Pacey and Joey as a couple continues to be adorable, particularly Joey's first almost-acceptance of her feelings for him. It's a story that neatly calls back to Dawson's request at the start of the season that Pacey look out for her, and you totally feel her disappointment once she realizes that she was hoping their budding friendship was the result of something more romantic. It's just sweet seeing them circle each other like this. Additionally, I like that Dawson isn't resentful or bitter right now. I'm sure we'll inevitably hit that moment when he becomes Mr. Jealousy again, but right now everything's good.
In a similar call-back, we finally got some kind of follow-through on Andie stealing the test results at the start of the year, but that particular story was lost in the early-season car wreck shuffle that I was sort of hoping they were just going to ignore it. She's still a problematic character when she drives her own stories, especially when she hits Tracy Flick mode. As much as I like Meredith Monroe, she's no Reese, and she can't pull off that biting teenage-girl pep very well.
Crime and Punishment isn't anything truly affecting, but there are at least some interesting moments here and there, particularly in the Dawson/Joey/Pacey triangle, which doesn't feel as annoying and generic as it could have done. No Jen, either. Which, considering the crappy story arc she's stuck in right now, was probably a blessing. B-
Guest stars Dylan Neal (Doug Witter); Obi Ndefo (Bodie Wells); Michael Hagerty (Matt Caulfield); Obba Babatunde (Principal Howard Green)
Writers Gina Fattore, Alex Gansa Director Joe Napolitano