In our latest TDF Top 10, Craig Mandy takes a trip back to Capeside, Massachusetts to consider the top 10 greatest episodes of Dawson’s Creek
In a new series of features for The Digital Fix, our team of writers are selecting the 10 greatest episodes / two-parters from a whole host of TV shows. This time, we’re taking a trip back to Capeside, Massachusetts to look at the 10 best episodes of teen drama Dawson’s Creek…
On the 2nd May 1998, Dawson’s Creek premiered on Channel 4 in the UK (having premiered on January 29th, 1998 in the US) and the quick-witted and even quicker talkers of fictional Capeside, Mass was released onto the world. The deep thinking film nut Dawson Leery, the manic energy of Pacey Witter, the bad girl energy of Jen Lindley and the all-seeing, pouty face of Joey Potter coalesced into a melting pot of teen angst, film references, and enough clam chowder to make you go off seafood for life.
It is a show with fast-talking teenagers, who loved, lost, loved again and seemingly were never far from each other whether physically or mentally. A show that formed and molded my teenage and a show I regularly go back to like I’m sitting on the dock at Dawson’s house under a blanket looking out to the horizon.
With no further ado, let’s dive into the cold but beautiful waters of the Creek and find out the top 10 episodes of my favourite show of all time, Dawson’s Creek
10: The Scare (1.11)
After firmly cementing each main character, their surroundings, motives, and families we get to a more or less stand-alone episode. Dawson, being the avid filmmaker of the group, decides to play practical jokes on the group all while hearing updated reports of a serial killer creeping closer and closer to Capeside from the radio (remember them, kids!?).
The inclusion into the group of Jen’s date and Ursula, a slightly creepy and unhinged woman, set the whole episode on edge. Are the noises emanating from the house part of Dawson’s scare tactics or really the serial killer they keep getting told about? The overall episode is a film style episode on a TV budget. The scares, the Dutch angles, the tension all stir up an episode that deserves a place in this top 10.
9: The All-Nighter (2.07)
We’ve all been there, right? It’s hours away from a world-changing test that in your teenage years means the world to you. Get a D and you might as well just not bother going to school anymore and that dream job will never be yours. In reality, it doesn’t mean much – it isn’t the end of the world but good god it makes for great TV.
Through events, you know EVENTS, the team ends up hanging out at the house of jock guest star Jason Behr and they have to cram in enough information for the next day’s English test. In amongst spouting Keats’s poetry ‘”Truth, beauty/Beauty, truth”, oh how my hearts aches, we find out how a ‘purity quiz’ works years before MySpace made quizzes cool, and Jen reverts back to her promiscuous self when Chris makes a move on her. All capped off with Dawson pouring his jealous dead black heart to Chris’s young sister about his failed relationship with Joey. The swimming pool slow-motion jump towards the end of the episode caps off a great, tightly written episode. Haven’t you always wanted to jump into a pool fully clothed?
8: Be Careful What You Wish For (2.16)
Oh. to be 16 again! How things were easier back then; the lack of responsibilities, no bills, laundry clean, good times. One thing you can’t do at 16 – whether it’s the US or the UK – is drink the firewater, good ol’ alcohol itself. That doesn’t stop the likes of Dawson and Andie letting loose with chaperone Pacey visiting a local blues bar and getting quite frankly, blind drunk. With a none the wiser Pacey looking on, they sing an off the cuff blues song from the stage with some strange lyrics like the golden “My Name is Dawson Leery, I’m feeling kind of weary!”.
The character of Dawson, for the most part, is incredible uptight throughout the whole show’s run and it’s great to see the character let loose and blow off some steam, even James Van Der Beek looks like he is having fun.
7: Rest In Peace (2.19)
So, from the highs of being 16 and drunk to the realities of life itself and something everyone cannot get away from; the looming shadow of death. We all face it, whether through family members, loved ones, friends and even ourselves one day. This particular episode centers around the aftermath of the previous episode’s shocking revelation that Abby did indeed die after falling from the pier after a drunken prank goes wrong with Jen.
This particular episode has it all; trying the ‘whitewash’ someone’s life after their death to make them look better than they were, the battle between faith vs free will and how death can rattle each and every one of our characters. Jen with the whitewashing and religion, Andie with memories of her brother and Joey bringing up memories of her mother. Each and every character’s thoughts and feelings are valid, no one is wrong here, just simply working through the realities of knowing that a loved one whether friend or family is no longer with us.
6: Escape From Witch Island (3.07)
In the summer of 1999, one film, in particular, shook the very foundations of Hollywood. A film so low budget, it only had one camera, three cast members and one setting, a film called The Blair Witch Project and of course, a character like Dawson Leery had to go and hop on the bandwagon. The episode is incredibly pandering to the ‘found footage’ theme of the time, but it’s such an interesting episode and one in which is an anomaly within the season.
5: The Longest Day (3.20)
In a story reminiscent of the 2000 film Go (which coincidentally stars Katie Holmes) the day of Joey and Pacey’s relationship being public knowledge gets replayed four times, with each time a little morsel of information released until the fuller picture is revealed. With Jen accidentally letting the cat out of the bag and Andie messing up a date with Will, the ripple of the realisation two friends who hated each other mere seasons ago, now have feelings for each other, has repercussions for the rest of the show.
Two narrative plot points stick out in this episode. In your teenage years, wouldn’t it be great to see everybody’s take on a situation and not just seeing something through your own eyes? It would certainly cut down on the misunderstandings and overthinking, at least it would have helped in my situation. Secondly and more importantly, how much of an en egotistical prick our lead character can be, forcing Joey to pick between Pacey and him is the worst request in the history of all requests. Dawson should have stepped aside and, yes undoubtedly been in emotional pain, be the bigger man and let love find its own way.
4: Pilot (1.01)
Where it all began, before all the drama, before the heartache, before all the death it started with Joey and Dawson sitting on a bed watching E.T, the classic Spielberg 1982 film. The pilot has a certain creaky charm with each cast member feeling each other out and slowly connecting with the character they play. It also has a certain charm that is the backbone of the show along with its innocence.
3: The Kiss (2.01)
The cliff hanger at the end of season one saw Dawson and Joey finally kiss after so much teenage yearning and angst across the debut season; but the question remained, what happens next? Well, more of the same with the added responsibility of keeping a relationship together. So many questions so much misrepresented feelings so many questions, but what drama it was, and the kiss on the swings still makes my heart flutter.
2: Two Gentlemen of Capeside (4.03)
Throughout the previous four seasons, Pacey has grown into the more adult figure; aside from The Longest Day episode, he and Dawson have shown that they can live away from each other. The episode centres around a storm that Jen and Pacey get caught while out on Pacey’s boat, after Pacey get’s an A in an assignment. What is central to the idea of this episode is however hard and complicated life gets, your friends (distant or otherwise) have your back when your life is in danger.
Home truths come to the fore in the episode with Andie being degraded when her medical history comes to the forefront at a vile college admissions interview and Jen’s lack of real love coupled with Pacey’s disappointment at the destruction of Dawson’s friendship due to the Joey relationship. The scenes filmed during the daring boat rescue are pretty exciting as well, for a show built around talking more than action.
1: The Long Goodbye (5.04)
So here it is, the number one episode of a show that was the backbone to my teenage years. At the beginning of the series I was a wet behind the ears teenager floundering in my first relationship; by the end I was a man ready to face the world swimming in the world of films and popular culture thanks to this show. But this episode truly shook me to my core and is my favorite of the whole run.
Regardless if your heart is made of stone, saying goodbye to a loved one is the hardest thing a person can ever do, especially when you are a teenager. The sense of loss, the empty space where that person used to reside is now gone and memories only linger. With Mitch now gone and his funeral rapidly approaching, Dawson can’t seem to get a handle on the situation and Joey is frustrated that she is the last thing in his thoughts whereas in the past she is the first person he would run to.
What’s remarkable about this episode and is the absolute center of it is how much Mitch helped each and every one of the characters we know and love. The way the episode shows this is a remarkable piece of emotional filmmaking, the way the emotional beats land, the music, the writing, and the acting, all of it sublimely put together and all by the hand of Robert Duncan McNeill (Tom Paris from Star Trek: Voyager no less).
The scene where Dawson lays back on the bed, Mitch knocks the door frame asking if Dawson is having a good birthday and you realise it’s a flashback floors me every time. The way James Van Der Beek puts on a 12-year-old voice could easily come across silly but good lord, from that moment on, my heart is in my mouth and tears roll.
There were so many episodes I could have put on the list, especially the episodes around Jack in Season two and his coming out storyline, the finale with the passing of Jen (the biggest mistake the show ever made) or Andie’s grapple with her mental health. Those episodes may have been more important, better made even, but I went with my gut and what episodes I remember being personal favourites.
There were many more episodes that almost made the cut. …To Be Or Not To Be for example, Beauty Contest, …Must Come To An End were all up for consideration too. But what are your top 10 episodes of Dawson’ Creek? Let us know in the comments below…
Liked this article? Check out our greatest TV characters feature on Dawson Leery himself.