Dawson's Creek - The Anti-Prom, Promicide

"The main condition for the achievement of love is the overcoming of one's narcissism." 
- Erich Fromm, The Art of Loving.

Welcome to pt. 7 of our look at:

Today we turn to two episodes of:

I fell into Dawson's after the original 90210 went off the air. It had the same timeslot, Wednesdays at 8, so the vacuum left in the 90210's wake had to be filled somehow. Some of the folks with whom I'd watch 90210 took a bit of convincing. It was a fun Wednesday night ritual, though. It was always more about the group-yelling-at-the-TV (and beer) than anything else. But I'm not going to lie: even though I viewed it through the same ironic-detachment-lens that I viewed 90210, I had a weird relationship with Dawson's.  

At the time (2000) I was in my mid-20s, getting out of a 7-year-relationship, and returning to college after crashing out of film school a few years before. Added to that, I was startled and humbled to realize (perhaps a bit later than I should have) "Oh... when people mean the younger generation, they don't mean me anymore." Something about the artificial and over-stylized adolescence of Dawson's resonated with me. (And in a completely different way than the equally artificial adolescence depicted on 90210.) 

I don't think it did this through brilliant writing and characters, mind you. I'm just saying - it was a personally-challenging intersection of changes in my life. I projected all of it on the show, which was then in its fourth season. 


The set-up in case you need it: Dawson (James Van Der Beek) is a film-loving, pop-culture-referencing student at Capeside High, a fictional town in Cape Cod. 

It was filmed in Wilmington, North Carolina, though.

He's in love with Joey (Katie Holmes), the girl from down the creek, and is best friends with class clown/ small-town screw-up Pacey (Joshua Jackson). The series started off with Pacey having an affair with his English teacher, and Dawson lusting after the girl who moved in next door, wise-beyond-her-years-but-emotionally-damaged Jen Lindley (Michelle Williams.)

Dawson and Jen didn't last, but Dawson lost his virginity to her later on. (They made him wait all the way to Season 5.)

Later seasons added more characters: most notably Jack (Kerr Smith) and Andie McPhee (Meredith Monroe), who were gay and crazy/over-achieving, respectively, and Audrey (Busy Philipps), Joey's college roommate. Oh, and of course, there was Grams -


- and plenty of recurring characters, as well.  Let's skip over all that, though, since we're here on Prom business. What's most relevant here is the love triangle between Dawson, Pacey, and Joey.

The prom episodes wrapped up or catalyzed their respective season's story arcs for every character but significantly developed said love triangle in particular.

Let's start with:

Season 3, Episode 22.

"God, is there a more ridiculous and embarrassing ritual than the prom? The way that it totally reinforces traditional gender roles, rewards the cool kids, punishes the geeks...
The pressure that this one single night exerts on the common teenager to make awkward romantic gestures like pinning a corsage on taffeta and having sex with some guy whose name you won't remember then puking in the back of some rented limo."

That's the kind of dialogue you could expect with Dawson's. I'm not saying it's a bad bit of writing or anything, just as a representative example. Also, this was the beginning of when opinions like this ("re-enforce traditional gender roles" etc.) began to be given to every female character in pop media. Many of the cynical conclusions of 90s media have been repackaged as the status quo in the 21st.  

The episode begins with Dawson reminding Joey that they made a pact years ago that they would go to the Junior Prom together if neither of them had dates. Since neither of them do, Dawson arrives to enforce the terms of their compact.

Season 3 context: Pacey and Joey are slowly falling in love, and Dawson is an emotional tailspin about it.
When prom committee Nazi and Christian stereotype Barbara Johns tells Jack a prom means boy plus girl, the gang rallies the school against her homophobic (and short-lived) reign of terror.

This is done over Jack's protests. That happens a lot on the show. Jack always wants to be left alone, or not be defined solely by his homosexuality. He's consistently explicit about it, but the gang (most especially Jen and Andie) are constantly overruling him.

The shape of things to come...

Dawson convinces his parents to let them use their restaurant for their Anti-Prom, and everyone pairs up to attend. Once there Dawson flips out, Pacey slips into self-loathing, Joey half-smirks/cries, Jack and Ethan implode, and Jen and Henry break up. Again.

This was not a particularly fun episode to revisit. Let's start with the whole love triangle. The biggest problem with it is that after spending a few minutes in their company, you pretty much want to strangle Joey and Dawson. You can't have a triangle with only one point. Maybe you can, but I'm pretty sure mathematically that's called something else. This is much easier to see for me in 2015 without the afore-described vortex of changes and lingering-death-of-adolesence.

"I thought maybe, you know if I could make it perfect, then -
"That I would pick you? Say it, Dawson. You thought if you orchestrated this whole evening that I'd be convinced into picking you over Pacey, right?"

Well... yes, that's exactly what he (Dawson) thought. Pacey thinks the same thing at Senior Prom despite seeing it fail so spectacularly here - teenagers, amirite? - but we'll get there. Anyway, everyone in the triangle is miserable, though Dawson pretends to be chipper at episode's end. (And Joey pretends to forgive him. Everyone's deluding themselves.)

Pacey actually took Andie (his ex) to the Prom and hurts her feelings when he spends the night moping around after Joey. Who can blame him with that eye make-up?

WTF, Andie.

Andie suggests to Pacey that this torch he's carrying for Joey is going to burn the town down unless he does something about it. He talks about taking his boat, the True Love, down to Key West that summer. "How's that for Hemingway-esque, huh?" (Well... not very, Pacey. When Hemingway was your age, he was dragging Italian soldiers off the battlefield under punishing trench mortar fire. But far be it for me to correct an academically-struggling high school junior on the finer points of Hemingway's biography.

Speaking of this plan of Pacey's...

The True Love has a lot of backstory/ mythology for the show, as ridiculous as this sentence may sound, and at season's end Joey will throw caution to the wind and they will indeed sail away on it to the Caribbean. This time around, I couldn't get past how wildly improbable the entire idea is/was. On so, so many levels. I won't dwell on it, though.

Later, the True Love is destroyed in a hurricane, and he ( along with Jen, in Season 4's "The Two Gentlemen of Capeside) is rescued by Dawson and Joey in a stolen boat. Make of that what you will.
As for Jack and Ethan...

Things don't go so well. Jack becomes frustrated with Ethan's know-it-all gayness and lashes out when going to get refreshments ("Coke? Pepsi? What's better for my self-actualization?") and Ethan leaves town when Jack refuses to kiss him. Jack gets better storylines elsewhere, but he and Ethan were pretty much dead-on-arrival. Kerr Smith went on to do a lot more than I ever realized until looking him up just now.

It's a terrible movie, but I've always kind of liked The Forsaken.

Season 3's most agonizing romance, though, and it's tough to beat Dawson/Pacey/Joey at this game, is Jen and Henry (Michael Pitt).

These two were the worst.
Well, not quite. (Mitch and Gail, Dawson's parents.)

Henry worships Jen, but Jen is always flipping out and putting him in double bind after double bind. Accurate depiction of teenage romance? Perhaps. But not the most enjoyable thing to see week-after-week. Case in point here: after making a huge deal out of making sure Henry knows they won't be having sex after the prom, she tells him "any chance we had of post-prom sex is now officially over" after he tells her he's heading off to football camp for two months that summer. What? But you said - 

"That's just what you say to alleviate pressure and make it spontaneous when you do it."

Maybe so. But still: bullshit. She storms off, and that, for the most part, is a wrap on Jen and Henry.

Henry ends up having better luck in France. (Image from The Dreamers.)

Prom tropes: Storming off after fighting at the big dance, break-ups, taking a stand on a social issue, sex, unrequited love, painfully-self-aware teens looking and talking all fancy and stuff.

As for:

Season 4, Episode 20.

"As much as you think you're beyond the drama of high school and the prom you're a part of it. You're smack in the middle of it."

Kudos on that title. I can't recall seeing or hearing it anywhere before Dawson's, though I've seen it since. (An aside: Joss Whedon and Kevin Williamson and the various writers who worked on their shows changed the way television characters talk more than commonly acknowledged.)

Ah, Season 4 of Dawson's. Such a classic. (Mr. Brooks! Drue Valentine! Gretchen! Senior year, bro! The ski trip! Principal Peskin's sailboat! All the you're-totally-gay-Dougie jokes!) Season 1 might be the most well-written (seriously) but everyone involved from crew to cast was still getting it together. Season 2 blows. Season 3 is awesome, sure. Half of Season 5 is great, then everything falls off a cliff. Season 6 continues the freefall. Don't get me started on the series finale. 


Anyway, "Promicide." Lots of stuff in flux at this point in s4. Pacey wants to make Joey's Senior Prom absolutely perfect but keeps screwing up. Joey wants to have sex, but Pacey keeps making excuses. 

The tension builds...
When he sees Dawson and Joey dancing and happy at the prom, he loses his shit completely.
And in front of everybody!

Dawson has a rough time of things, as well. He's been dating Pacey's older sister Gretchen, who's back in town after taking a leave of absence from college. It takes going to the prom for her to realize she's way too old to be involved with these fools. 

The episode ends memorably with everyone in an awkward silence in the limo. The three points of the love triangle are all isolated and defeated. The limo driver asks "You kids want to go to that afterparty?" No one answers or even looks at one another. Fade to black. 

Okay, so as mentioned - "Promicide" brings several sub-plots together. (As does the actual season finale, "Coda," aired a few weeks later). Let's start with Drue Valentine, s4's villain.

aka "local rich jerk."

He and Jen knew each other in New York, and when he's first introduced he's the guy always trying to slip ecstasy to people at parties. By the end of the season - though still the bad guy - he's rehabilitated somewhat. 

Jen, on the other hand, is in a bit of a tailspin since visiting her estranged father in NYC and realizing he was sleeping with her friend. Or something.
But she starts to pull out of it after this episode. And doesn't get busted drinking any of the 15 airplane vodka bottles she smuggled in with her.
Which is a little surprising since she got caught drinking on the ski trip. You figured she'd be on a watch list.

The only one of the gang who actually has a good time at prom is Jack.  

He's the one who set Jen and Drue up, as revenge for Jen going behind his back to ask his s4 romantic interest, super-gay-activist Tobey.
At prom they realize for the first time that they have things in common; heretofore, all they did was bicker.

Tobey disappears between s4 and s5. Jack eventually ends up with Pacey's older brother Dougie, who spent most of the series getting called a closet-case by Pacey. (That's the "joke" reveal in the finale.) This is one incestuous group of folks. Speaking of:

Dawson's over his douchiness of last year, and he and Joey reflect on their long friendship.

Gretchen (Sasha Alexander) was a good foil for Dawson. The older, smarter girl to help smooth at least some of his many adolescent wrinkles, and the girl he always crushed on, yadda yadda. 

As mentioned above, going to the prom is all it takes for her to make several realizations all at once.
Such as "OMG - I'm dating Dawson?"

I actually quite like Dawson's arc in Season 4. He slowly ascends from Hell after the radical change to all his dreams with Pacey and Joey getting together and not he and Joey, starts dating Gretchen, makes a documentary about this cranky old dude whose boat he wrecked while rescuing his best-friend-betrayed, then said old dude turns out to be a famous disappearing act of old Hollywood, and much more. It's an enjoyable senior-year-scenario of the mind. Until the prom, I guess. But Dawson does okay.

The main attraction is, of course, Pacey's nuclear meltdown on the Prom Boat.  

It, too, is an overdue release of the frustration and self-loathing that starts eating away at Pacey over the course of their senior year.
Poor Joey. That's two proms, now, ruined by emotional outbursts by her dates.
Thanks a lot, jerks.

"You've spent your life trying to get out of Capeside because you felt like you deserved better. Well, I am Capeside. That's why I didn't get out and you did."

Pacey's senior-year arc is no less interesting than Dawson's, although more depressing. He reluctantly comes to terms with his caste, pretty much, while watching his friends realize they can transcend theirs. Who knows what the future holds, he says to Jen at one point, but I know it doesn't hold what everyone expects it to. Ultimately, Pacey ends the season on a high note (another escape down to the Caribbean), but it's the kind of consolation triumph snatched from the jaws of Harsh Truths.

Prom tropes: Everything in "The Anti-Prom," plus:


limos (never trust Pacey with stuff like this),
and getting wasted,

"The Anti-Prom" was

 "Promicide" was also


  1. "Henry ends up having better luck in France." -- Boy, does he.

    I never saw a single episode of "Dawson's Creek," and never had any clear idea of what it was about. This post makes it sound like the sort of thing I might actually enjoy.

    I'd forgotten Kevin Williamson worked on the show. You're probably right on the money when you cite he and Joss Whedon as primary television-redefinition sources.

    1. I wouldn't necessarily recommend "Dawson's," but in the right set of circumstances, it can be a very fun thing to watch. Glad you liked the review!