Friday, March 1, 2013

Dawson's Creek: All Good Things... (6.23)

I can't help but groan a little whenever a TV show jumps into the future, since it so often feels unearned and somewhat unnecessary -- more an attempt to hook new viewers or promote a derivative 'game-changer' that has little effect long-term. But it actually sort of works for this show's series finale. As a show, Dawson's Creek has been almost unbearably suffocating at times, characters so consumed with emotional longing and repeatedly reminiscing about shared histories and romantic false-starts that it all got a little nuts a long time ago. But what All Good Things... does so well is create a necessary bridge in time for the show's ensemble, allowing them all to have grown up and moved on in the five years since we last saw them. As a result, the emotions that would ordinarily feel angsty and irritating feel slightly less frantic -- feelings smoothed out over time instead of being fresh and impulsive. There's a maturity here that carries the episode, and it's one of the more successful uses of a now-standard TV gimmick.

With all of that in mind, it's interesting that Joey doesn't appear entirely distracted by all the "who should I choose?" hoodoo, despite so much of the episode seeing her bounce back and forth between Dawson and Joey. Now a successful editor in New York, Joey is in a long-term relationship with Jeremy Sisto's dismissive novelist, and Joey's journey here involves trying to work out if she actually wants to be with him anymore, especially when she finds an engagement ring in his belongings. Ooh, as a side-note, I should add that I'm reviewing the finale as seen on the DVDs, the one with additional scenes and extra Andie McPhee, not the cut-and-pasted thing we got all those years ago on the WB. It unsurprisingly feels a lot smoother than what I remember, but anyway.

One of my bigger complaints about the show's later seasons was the way our cast seemed so preoccupied by the past, and how every action somehow equaled grave ramifications back in Capeside, or at least the people they once hung out with. It throws you off, something grounded in TV fiction rather than anything truly real. But teenage angst nicely doesn't hang over this episode like a weathered old ghost. Joey, Dawson and Pacey are able to just talk and relax with each other, at least to an extent. And that felt nice.

Kevin Williamson, returning from his flatlining mid-career exodus, has a lot of fun with the future. Dawson now has his own hit WB show called The Creek, based on his adolescence and featuring a bunch of overly-articulate teenagers talking about their feelings. References are made to intrusive network notes and actors freaking out when they're told their characters are gay, and there's a feeling here of Williamson exorcising all of his frustrations with his time on the show. But it remains pretty fun and knowing, particularly Joey's boyfriend talking about how lame and badly written her favorite semi-biographical TV show is. Schwing!.

The first hour of this finale starts to travel down a pleasant, if slightly underwhelming, track from there -- Pacey sleeping with his married boss (an underused Virginia Madsen), Gale getting hitched to some nameless extra, and exposition revealing that Audrey is singing on the road with John Mayer. Which is probably a worse fate than the one about to befall Jen, but whatever.

It's Jen's fatal illness that lends the finale some pop, even if it is completely contrived and aggressively baiting as a 'final hour' twist. She faints at Gale's reception, Grams eventually revealing that she has a mystery heart ailment that is essentially killing her. Everybody is weepy, and Jen insists on making her last days happy and as normal as possible. While the story itself comes out of nowhere, it is undeniably tragic seeing Jen wind up this way. She's a single mom at this point in the future, clearly wounded by the baby-daddy who has seemingly abandoned her, and pretty self-destructive when it comes to her own history -- telling Jack that she's screwed up everything in her life already, and doesn't want to screw up her death, too.

In some ways, it feels like Kevin Williamson revising the character to fit his own vision, regardless that it doesn't make sense anymore. Having left in season two at a time when Jen was still open to bouts of drunken messiness, it's an emotional temperament that jars with the growth she's experienced over the years. It's also sad to see such a 'survivor' of a character wind up plagued by her demons to such an extent that she no longer seems capable of acknowledging how strong and funny and kind she was for so long. Eh. I guess it gives Michelle Williams something to do, and she does it all really well, but I'm not sure it entirely works.

It's a similar feeling with Jack's surprise relationship with Doug. It's fine in principal, but Doug's insecurity and insistence on staying in the closet again saddles Jack with more sexual baggage, and it's not helped by Jack being all dismissive and snippy about it. Seriously, Jack -- some people get all comfortable with themselves at 15, others 35. There's no need to get all aggressive. Additionally, I was never hugely comfortable with all the gay jokes Pacey made towards his brother, and it feels like something of a cop-out to have him actually turn out to be gay. Like it almost excuses Pacey being an asshole because what he was saying was true. Ugh.

So... yeah. True to form, the first half of the finale is messy and sometimes unintentionally horrible, but most of the characters are so on-point and true to who they are that you can excuse it. Plus, it's the final two hours, so naturally your long-term fondness for the show carries you more than anything. B

Guest stars
Virginia Madsen (Maddy Allen); Nina Repeta (Bessie Potter); Mary-Margaret Humes (Gale Leery); Dylan Neal (Doug Witter); Kyle Searles (Colby); Sam Doumit (Sam); Jeremy Sisto (Christopher)
Writers Kevin Williamson, Maggie Friedman Director James Whitmore, Jr.

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