Dawson's film aspirations have fallen away in the last year, and he struggles to explain why. But it's all part of maturing. His work in season two was hackneyed and shallow, and deciding to abandon it entirely is a natural reaction to dismal failure, especially when you're sixteen and your romantic life generally takes precedence. But Kiss Kiss Bang Bang puts him back on the straight and narrow, his college applications forcing him to ask himself why exactly he's drawn to filmmaking. It's an essential part of understanding what drives you, and this episode does a great job of exploring that.
It also continues to use Mr. Brooks effectively. It's contrived as all hell that his backstory mirrors Dawson's to a tee (his girlfriend and his best friend fell in love on the set of one of his movies, which... ugh), but Harve Presnell is ridiculously great at beginning to express the heart within the character. He's still crazy grouchy, he's no longer calling Dawson an "idiot" and instead prefers to call him "a nuisance", but there are finally some levels there, and I like seeing this budding friendship, even if the whole thing is pretty generic in terms of corn.
It's also a strong decision to allow Dawson his own life away from Joey and Pacey. The last three seasons have seen Dawson entirely wrapped up in this incestuous bubble of romance, bouncing between love triangles like a bumper car, but not only does he have his thing with Mr. Brooks, but he also has Gretchen. Gretchen has easily slipped into the Joey role in his life, but it's not bound by annoying childhood angst this time around. There's a sweet chemistry between the two of them, and that last, lingering kiss beneath the mistletoe sparkles with unexpected heat. It's just nice to see Dawson being written like this, instead of the raving asshole he's usually portrayed as.
Joey's subplot at the country club, in which she's desperate to impress a college alumni rep, goes down its expected avenues of self-doubt and class warfare, but I liked the depiction of Joey as this nervous wreck and Pacey, as her date, all cocksure and easy with the humor. But he's somebody who has always been able to slide into varying personas at the drop of a hat, it's what makes him so confident and winning as a character. The two of them fought again, and then they made up again, but in general it was all pretty pleasant as a side-story.
This is also a big holiday episode, so naturally I had an affinity for the Christmas music playing in the background and the small-town parties and gatherings in the middle of December. The show had a warm atmosphere this week that brought to mind Wonder Boys, one of Katie Holmes' finest hours as a movie star. Nothing particularly blows your mind in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, but it's a fun place to stay for an hour, nonetheless. B+
Guest stars Sasha Alexander (Gretchen Witter); Mark Matkevich (Drue Valentine); Harve Presnell (Arthur Brooks); Carolyn Hennesy (Mrs. Valentine); Peter Jurasik (Walter Kubelik)
Writer Tom Kapinos Director Perry Lang