Sunday, December 16, 2012

Dawson's Creek: Downtown Crossing (5.15)

You're immediately told that this is a "very special episode of Dawson's Creek" when those gloomy, revised opening credits appear on-screen. Instead of the elaborately sunny shots of the cast pulling their best model poses straight of a Calvin Klein shoot, we have the cast's names superimposed over a foreboding sky, the wailing Paula Cole theme song slowed down, vocals removed, until the whole thing is barely recognizable. It's actually not the most auspicious of openings, a grandiose way of telling the audience that this will somehow be deeper, darker and more important than anything that's come before it. Because, generally, Downtown Crossing isn't that. But it's still a strong narrative detour, Joey getting held up at gunpoint in the middle of the night and winding up bonding with her mugger once he's hit by a car. It's all kinds of silly, but pretty affecting nonetheless.

Of course, the reason Joey sees something in her mugger is because of her frequently-mentioned daddy issues. We're at the point on this show where Joey reminiscing about her dead mother and her incarcerated father is about as surprising and innovative as your average Michael Bay movie, but the way she articulates through her feelings and finds a deep kinship with this guy is absorbing -- Joey recognizing how sleazy and violent her mugger is, but also being able to see the father and the husband underneath it all.

It's further perpetuated by the arrival of Mercedes McNab's harassed wife, full of disappointments over how her life has turned out, and how she's desperate to maintain a strong family presence for her young daughter, despite her father being constantly in trouble with the law. McNab is a real pleasure to watch here, the first time I've seen her play anything but a dumb blonde caricature, and she's ridiculously believable. These scenes are generally strong, especially when Joey realizes who she is and how she's connected to her now-ailing mugger, and yet feels compelled to connect and support them.

This should also be a real breakthrough for Joey herself, at least in terms of dealing with her past and the old wounds she's potentially still experiencing. Because in that last scene between her and her mugger, the mugger bleeding to death in a hospital bed, she tells him that despite all the horrible betrayals her dad has put her through, she still considers some of their time together the greatest moments of her life, a memory of him as a man and as a father, rather than as a criminal. It's beautifully written, and helps cover up some of the earlier, more contrived elements of the story -- Joey's actions before her mugger gets hit by a car being a little out-of-character.

As an experimental episode, this doesn't quite rank up there with hours like The Longest Day in season three, but remains an absorbing, dialogue-driven triumph. Great acting by the three protagonists of the story (it's some of Katie Holmes' best work), and a naturally moving climax. One of the strongest episodes in a long while. A

Guest stars
Samuel Ball (The Mugger); Mercedes McNab (Grace)
Writer Tom Kapinos Director David Petrarca

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