It's natural for a show to immediately throw a spanner in the works when a couple starts dating, since it's not all that fun to a see a perfectly happy, contented couple on a soap opera. I went into season four assuming that Dawson will be the cause of Joey and Pacey's trauma, but Failing Down ensured that angst isn't created via traditional means. Instead of having Dawson's love for Joey intrude on their blossoming relationship, it's more about what Dawson represents as a young man -- he's everything Pacey isn't, and while for anybody rational that would be considered a good thing, it's left Pacey an insecure wreck.
After failing a bunch of classes last year, Pacey is facing the possibility that he won't graduate at all, and it's a revelation that instantly creates a wall between him and Joey. In the process, Joey acknowledges her own prejudices and Pacey grows concerned that they're not meant to be, Joey being so smart and ambitious with her future, and Pacey seemingly destined to be stuck in Capeside forever. Failing Down once again ends with the two of them coming back together and recognizing their flaws, but the heart of the story works successfully. It at least bucks a trend of sorts.
However, there are definitely rumblings of romance between Joey and newbie Drue. Of course, Joey isn't explicitly interested in him, but they have that 'God, you're sooo obnoxious, no wait, I kind of want to bone you" thing down from the get-go, and I'm not at all eager to see Joey actually fall for the guy. It's nice to see Joey anchoring her own story, though, getting a job at a snooty country club and seeing the sleaze and corruption that seems to cross the various classes.
I didn't talk about Gretchen Witter last episode, but she's already coming into her own. Where the story is going is telegraphed with absolutely zero subtlety, and I'm not sure Dawson's long-standing crush on her is at all believable, but Sasha Alexander is a neat presence on the show. She's mature, handles guys well, and already convinces as a foil for Pacey. I also like that Dawson is continuing to find new facets to his personality, something he started last season. Gretchen also represents a new future for him, not something regressive like a teenage fling with Joey Potter, and that's welcome.
We also finally see the end for the Henry story. It stinks of Michael Pitt being all 'serious, brooding actor' and refusing to come back, but it's a major blessing to the show. I never understood Henry, I never thought he added anything to the series, and it was a story that saddled Michelle Williams with a bunch of irrational characterization for most of last season.
This isn't as strong as last week, but the show is handling its new storylines with considerable restraint right now, refusing to settle with tired, formulaic plot devices and instead opening things up a little. Compared to this point in time last season, it's a damn masterpiece. B+
Guest stars Sasha Alexander (Gretchen Witter); Mark Matkevich (Drue Valentine); Carolyn Hennesy (Mrs. Valentine)
Writer Tom Kapinos Director Sandy Smolan