The Unusual Suspects is another off-kilter episode of Dawson's Creek, with Harry Shearer's stern principal interrogating Dawson, Pacey, Jack and Drue over an elaborate prank involving a stolen boat, a kidnapped dog and Capeside High's swimming pool. It's intricately plotted, features a bunch of funny lines, develops the foundation for a Pacey/Dawson reunion, and slowly builds to a twisty climax that anybody with semi-decent knowledge of these kinds of mysteries would have guessed around ten minutes into the episode. I'm not sure the episode warrants its 'series classic' tag or anything, but it's a reasonably amusing standalone piece.
Strangely, the episode lives and dies by the various subplots writer Jonathan Kasdan employs this week. Unlike, say, The Longest Day last season, the A-plot is constantly broken into by three additional stories that are only tangentially connected to the prank mystery, and it only helps in making the episode as a whole feel a little muddled. If they had only ran with the prank story, it could have become something truly classic, but it's a storyline that sometimes gets lost in among the character drama.
Furthering this, the character drama is actually far more interesting than the Usual Suspects riff. It's particularly noticeable with Pacey and Doug's bonding session, Pacey joining in on his brother's daily police patrol around the city. I've always been a little uncomfortable with Pacey's constant ribbing of his older bro, primarily because it always crossed that line between funny banter and being obnoxious. The gay jokes, in particular, always felt crass. The asshole behavior reaches its pinnacle here, with Pacey essentially telling Doug that he's a failure at life and will never amount to anything truly important or respected. It's entirely awful. But Doug's importance to the community is eventually exposed, Pacey recognizing how strong and beloved his brother is and what he brings to Capeside. It's at least something heartfelt and true, and I'm happy that it's finally arrived with these two.
Also successful is Dawson's subplot with Mr. Brooks. It had been clear that this arc had to go somewhere, since it had only prior been depicted as Dawson helping paint the house of some grouchy old man, and there was nothing of any importance there. But with the discovery that Mr. Brooks was a filmmaker back in the 1950's, it suddenly makes it a very personal story for Dawson, and you can imagine where it'll go from here.
The episode also saw the end of the 'Jack coaches Little League' thing, which is satisfactory. It only ever felt like another excuse for Jack to get gay-bashed, and while one of the girls in the team gets all weepy over his dismissal, it's a story that ends with a message that essentially amounts to, "Yeah, there are a lot of assholes out there that hate you for being gay". And we've already gone there a million times already. Like I always say, the show needs to stop beating Jack up over his sexuality. It's just depressing, and Jack's always left walking away all saddened. Can't he have some kind of victory for once?
The Unusual Suspects is ambitious in parts, but lacks that particular sparkle to rank it up there among the show's more interesting episodes. Some strong subplots, though, even if their placement in this episode is strained. B
Guest stars Sasha Alexander (Gretchen Witter); Dylan Neal (Doug Witter); Mark Matkevich (Drue Valentine); Harry Shearer (Principal Peskin); Harve Presnell (Arthur Brooks); Carolyn Hennesy (Mrs. Valentine); Carly Schroeder (Molly Sey); Bridgett Newton (Caroline Sey)
Writer Jonathan Kasdan Director James Whitmore, Jr.