An important thing an audience needs to grant a TV show is trust. Without trust, you're essentially building a story that people at home have zero emotional investment in. When, as a writer, you lay the foundations for a narrative, particularly if it's a controversial one, you need to have the trust of your audience in order to keep your story intact. No matter how game-changing it may be, if the trust is there, then the audience will follow. All of that is something that kept me at something of a distance this week, since Coming Home seems to be going one way yet constantly veering close to all-out anarchy.
It's most evident with Joey and Pacey. I loved their story last season, and Coming Home picks up after their sea-bound summer vacation, the two of them returning to Capeside fully prepared to face the probable awkwardness their comeback will bring. They appear intact as a couple, carefree and satisfied with the decisions they've made. But, upon returning, Joey grows anxious about reuniting with Dawson, claiming that he's been on her mind a lot over the summer. This angers Pacey, who confronts her over it and states that she's been so emotionally distracted by her ex that their voyage wasn't half as joyous as he hoped it would have been.
So, as a viewer, it's natural to be a little perturbed by this. Are the writers engineering drama between them purely to get Joey and Dawson back together? Are they planning on making Dawson and Joey all longing and gooey-eyed, while Pacey steams in the background as the suppressive BF? Ugh, you cry! But then we get that ending, in which Joey orchestrates a fresh start with Dawson, yet comes back to Pacey and tells him that all of her feelings for him are still there and haven't been at all 'tainted'. It's sweet and romantic, and we leave the episode with the two of them reading to each other in their hammocks. God, that sentence was ridiculous.
But it's the show pulling back again and appearing to maintain what has become the status quo. It's satisfying on an emotional level, and ensures the audience's goodwill is left intact. But there's still that perilous quality. The trust between the audience and the writers hasn't at all been broken, but there's that part of you that just knows that the show will eventually conspire to break Joey and Pacey apart, allowing Dawson to swoop in. Gah. It's that crushing inevitability, but you just hope it won't be as bad as you imagine. Or that at least it won't happen for a long while.
Regardless of the worry, it doesn't alter the fact that Coming Home is a wonderful season premiere. It bristles with confidence and instantly introduces a sweet new dynamic among the lead players. Besides Mitch and Gale dry-humping in the living room, everybody has turned a corner in their lives. Dawson has re-decorated his bedroom and is experimenting with photography (a go-to plot device for directionless TV characters), the gang are hanging out like old friends, goober Henry has been shipped off to boarding school, and there's little angst in the Joey/Dawson saga. For the first time in what feels like forever, it's actually fun hanging out with these people. Even Andie, no matter how slight her 'two handsome fake-French guys' story is, gets to be cute and zany again.
What lingers is that sense of forward-thinking. It feels like a show that is headed down a new road, aware of its past mistakes but looking to the future for inspiration and fresh ideas. And it takes trust to believe in that. There's obviously that nagging feeling that the writers will succumb to that stale Dawson's Creek formula soon enough, but it's important to note that the trust is far stronger than it was at the start of season three, where everything flew off the rails. This is sweet, charming and absorbing television, and I'd rather be entertained albeit nervous rather than appalled by how horrifyingly misjudged everything is. And that's definitely something of a compliment. A
Guest stars Sasha Alexander (Gretchen Witter); Dylan Neal (Doug Witter); Garikayi Mutambirwa (Jean); Jason Daniel Roberts (Jean-Jean)
Writer Greg Berlanti Director Greg Prange