You just knew that the time would eventually come when Dawson's existence would somehow intersect with Joey and Pacey's relationship. There would be tension, harsh words, some kind of break-up, and everything will go back to that boring middleground. But this is also a series that's expressing a surprising amount of growth this season. For the first time in its four years on the air, Dawson's Creek is exploring maturity, and depicting those familiar themes (jealousy, heartbreak, romance) but through the prism of senior year. These kids are growing up, and refusing to settle on their old routines.
It's a decision made explicitly clear in the aftermath of Dawson and Gretchen's kiss. Ordinarily, it would be a huge deal that would have an insane ripple effect through all of Capeside. Because this show is ordinarily ridiculous. But here every character actually acts like an adult. Joey is the most affected by it, as it's another emotional wound in the middle of a host of responsibilities dumped on her this week. But in one brutally honest conversation with Pacey, Joey acknowledges that her angst doesn't so much come from jealousy over Gretchen, but of her own inability to grow up in regards to Dawson himself. She articulates it so well, explaining that she feels like she's fifteen again every time they're together, and realizes that it's so stupid to have those feelings about somebody she hasn't been attracted to for so long. It's ridiculously adult as a revelation, Joey able to see herself and her flaws with a newfound perspective, just as Dawson has been doing lately.
Dawson also makes huge strides here. Gretchen initially tells him that their kiss wasn't a big deal and that it shouldn't be built upon, and it's something that Dawson at first is fine with. But after a pep talk from Joey, in which she tells him how lucky Gretchen would be to be with him, he confronts the issue and tells her that he sort of, kind of... digs her. So much of this episode is about facing those fears and becoming your own person, being confident enough to be open. Thematically, it's one of the strongest episodes in a while.
There's also a rewarding subplot with Jen dragging Jack to a gay-straight alliance group, where Jack's non-political, "is it really that big a deal?" gay guy instantly clashes with Tobey, another gay guy who's all about the politics and the protest and the revolution. It's an obvious plot device, but something that allowed both characters to face up to their respective flaws. Jack's ambivalence is still rooted in a sort of shame about his sexuality, while Tobey feels uncomfortable around another gay male who exists in such a traditionally heterosexual world, with the football and the social ignorance. There's obviously an attraction there, but the writers are anchoring it in an interesting place for now.
Self Reliance is another successful hour, one that really pushes a sense of adulthood and perspective. After a run of seasons in which characters constantly folded back on old patterns and soapy contrivance, there's something achingly real about the ensemble right now. A
Guest stars Sasha Alexander (Gretchen Witter); David Monahan (Tobey Barret); Harve Presnell (Arthur Brooks)
Writer Gina Fattore Director David Petrarca