“The Kiss” and “Crossroads” (season 2, episodes 1 and 2; originally aired 10/07/1998 and 10/14/1998)
Despite the inauspicious opening image of Dawson Leery’s puckered lips, season two of Dawson’s Creek finds its own distinct flavor of glorious, sweaty, adolescent melodrama. But since you bring it up, Joey and Dawson make out a lot in these first two episodes. Even Mitch and Gail are impressed, and they’re considering an open marriage. When Jen asks about her ex and his new squeeze, Dawson tells her, “You know us. We’re just ‘Dawson and Joey.’ We’ll always be ‘Dawson and Joey,’ whatever that means.” Which has the political virtues of finesse, meaninglessness, and total falsity, but then he’s talking to his still tender ex. The truth is Dawson and Joey are negotiating a new stage in their relationship with admirable immaturity. In “The Kiss” and “Crossroads” alone, they have to figure out how to deal with each other now, and how to treat Jen, and how to get comfortable being physically intimate, and how to manage privacy, and how not to let every little obstacle be fatal. They’re awkward and horny and good and selfish and dramatic. They’re the season in a nutshell.
It’s almost like every season of Dawson’s Creek has its own showrunner—or, to remain historically accurate, executive producer—but without getting ahead of ourselves, it’s already clear just how much messier season two is, and I don’t just mean the clunky editing of “The Kiss.” Season one was written and shot before any of it aired, and it still stands as this deliberately paced pressure-cooker that gradually explores the tension in its central relationships. Season two has a similar general approach, but stretched over 22 episodes, it can get a little looser, not to mention a little more magazine-friendly what with all those new haircuts (and outfits and make-up jobs). To further stir things up, the season begins by introducing two new regulars, Meredith Monroe as chatterbox Andie McPhee and Kerr Smith as her brother Jack, who’s so shy he’s not even in “The Kiss” but eventually gets a job at The Icehouse. So far, I love everything about the Rhode Island McPhees. In the middle of a whirlwind fight between Dawson and Joey where the camera is frantically racing to keep up with them, Jack quietly interrupts to ask about his interview, and after some delightful non sequiturs, he’s off to work and Joey and Dawson resume their bickering.
Joey’s upset because Dawson read her journal, and Dawson—hilariously thinking he has a leg to stand on—is upset because Joey wrote that he was a no-talent hack. To which Dawson tragically intones, “I don’t think I know you at all.” And I love every minute of it. It’s just so right: Of course Dawson thinks his offense is equal to hers, and of course this stray comment in his sophomore year is monumentally life-changing, never mind that the writer gave up a trip to Paris for him. In both episodes, Dawson and Joey make up in scenes that fuel their self-mythologizing (which is really fueling the mythology, for lack of a better term, of the show), first on a significant, substitute-Paris swing-set where they embark on kisses number two and three and next in a slo-mo, rainy turn-and-look that feels like something I hallucinated (wasn’t Pacey just having a dock party a second ago?). Season two is less literal about Dawson treating the world like a movie, but these moments make it clear that he still loves to deliver big gestures in the on-going saga of Dawson And His Friends, hopefully ones he can return to in the future.
Andie, meanwhile, brings some much-needed sunshine into poor Pacey’s life, and not a moment too soon because Pacey is having a bad few days. He’s failing biology, he failed his driver’s test, and his friends forgot his birthday, and this is all on top of the general constant of his town-loser status among the masses. Between Pacey and Jen, who have cast themselves as pitiful outcasts, the stage is set for a season that’s willing to go to some darker places than in season one, where the heaviest moments—Mitch and Gail in the hurricane, Jen and Grams in church, Joey and her father in jail—are just that, moments, isolated droplets in a sea of seductive tension and self-conscious fun. But Jen’s still reeling from her grandpa dying and ending a romance with a guy she finds intoxicating—no comment—and her despair doesn’t really let up throughout “The Kiss” or“Crossroads.” Dawson and Joey are that couple, too busy with each other to remember their friends, but where Pacey gets Andie McPhee, a charmingly game new friend, Jen gets Abby Morgan. Jen is more dynamic than ever in these episodes, more independent and less unsure, and finally Michelle Williams gets to show what she can do. Even Abby feels different this year, just as sinister but more experienced, more genuinely willing to lead Dawson’s Creek into the black. So far she just gets drunk with Jen and bonds over the teen-glamour of Jen’s exploits (“The things and places I have talked myself into and out of would blow your mind”), but if Jen’s final look into the mirror feels like the opposite of Joey’s post-pageant mirror gaze, there’s a reason for that.
Everyone else is mostly the same—Grams is secretly awesome, Mitch is conflicted about his marriage and distractingly muscular, Gail’s hair is full of secrets—which lends some stability to a universe where the leads go magazine-cover overnight. Grams even gets to drop some wisdom (she had been praying for Gramps’ release) and once again affirm her love for Jen while hugging alone in an auditorium. Bessie gets to expound on the virtues of the second kiss, which might be the first time Joey and Bessie have been so open and warm with each other, a very welcome sight. But Mitch and Gail are most in sync with the new atmosphere, at least when they’re not making things deliciously awkward for Dawson and Joey by doing everything short of demonstrating condoms on bananas. They end “The Kiss” talking about divorce, and they end “Crossroads” considering an open marriage. There’s a dark cloud hanging over Capeside, but the first two episodes of season two are an exciting change of pace.
- Joey’s concerned because Dawson hasn’t kissed her since their first kiss. “It hasn’t happened since, and it was yesterday.” I love teenagers!
- Bessie’s philosophy of kissing is persuasive—the second kiss is more important because it’s more considered—but I’m not sure she’s thought this through completely.
- Ali Larter is the latest future star to show up in Capeside, here playing a popular, dumb senior named Kristy Livingstone who leads Pacey on because she thinks it’s the right thing to do because she’s under the impression he has a chronic heart stripe.
- The Rialto is closing, but Capeside takes it for one last, self-conscious hurrah: The Last Picture Show. Jen crashes Joey’s first date with Dawson in some karmic revenge for the events of the pilot, and Grams reminisces about when Gramps took her there at his handsomest. One quibble: Why do no fictional movie theaters show trailers?
- These two episodes are most interesting for their narrative suggestions, but one standout shot: Grams towering over the left side of the frame while Jen sits shrunken on the bottom-right in the back of the Rialto. Jen is so vulnerable in that image.
- More mythologizing: In “The Kiss,” Jen tells Dawson, “It seems a little sad, really, that I was the girl whose sole purpose was to allow you to figure out who you were really in love with.” And in “Crossroads,” Pacey says, “I’m sick and tired of being Dawson Leery’s sidekick. I’m gonna go get my own storyline.” And Joey says she’s “half of the Will They Won’t They couple of the century,” which I think is overshooting by at least 90 years, but that’s me.
- Dawson’s exit line after reading Joey’s diary: “I’ve done enough reading for today.” It is fun to rag on Dawson, but it’s worth pointing out that he has plenty of stand-up moments in these episodes too. I actually think it’s cute when he walks up to Joey’s house all smiley for their date.
- As if Pacey weren’t already the best—acknowledging, of course, that he’s in the midst of a passive-aggressive tirade—he gets to yell at Dawson: “Get over yourself, Dawson! Deal!”
- On the marital satisfaction front, Gail has maxed out her Victoria’s Secret credit card. Which seems like it’s compounding an emotional problem with a financial one, but message received.
- How do you like the make-overs? Dawson’s fancy mullet looks awful when the producers try to match it to the season one finale, but after that it feels like both a mild improvement and a not-so-different version of Bessie’s. Jen’s all-out rococo masterpiece at the Rialto is hypnotic. And Pacey’s will get better, but so far it’s all frosted tips and reddish dye-job (as it should be), which isn’t notably better than the Caesar.
- “Back to the old Pacey, the black sheep, the loser, the brunette.”
- Next week: The kids play marriage for a school assignment in “Alternative Lifestyles,” and “Tamara’s Return” speaks for itself. Here’s hoping there’s a baby bump!