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The Dawson’s Creek Recaps: “Pilot”

Marquette’s gonna have a guy named Dawson, and we’ve got the free time.

Dawson’s Creek Season Two Title Screen Screencapped From The Season Two Credits

I don’t know if you guys have heard this or not, but when the 2020-21 college basketball season starts, Marquette men’s basketball will have a high profile freshman named Dawson Garcia. You can click the link there and realize he’s kind of a big deal. You know what else was a big deal back in the day? The WB hit show Dawson’s Creek.

Much like we did for The O.C. for Sandy Cohen a few years ago, we’re going to jump in and start recapping Dawson’s Creek episodes. Why? Well, to be honest, I don’t know much about the show other than the basics, so if I’m going to run an internet blog and enjoy making pop culture references along the way, then I’d better learn a few for Dawson’s Creek/Dawson Garcia. Besides, we’ve got nothing but free time between now and whenever college sports actually do start up again thanks to the coronavirus, so what better way to occupy ourselves?

RELATED: If you’re looking for something to occupy yourself and end up binging The O.C., please check out our recaps of Season 1, Season 2, and the first five episodes of Season 3.

Alright, hit it, Paula Cole!

Season 1, Episode 1: “Pilot”

Written By: Kevin Williamson
Directed By: Steve Miner
Original Airdate: January 20, 1998

We open on .... well, I guess it’s the sun setting on a body of water, as we cut to a two story white house in the dark right afterwards. The camera zooms in on a light in the upper left hand window, and we cut inside to see a boy and a girl laying on a bed watching the end of E.T. It’s apparently Saturday night, and as the pair poke some fun at the hairstyling of the local news anchor, the girl hops up to leave as the movie ends. The boy, the titular Dawson Leery (played by James Van Der Beek), is shocked to find out that the girl, Joey Potter (played by Katie Holmes, daughter of former Marquette basketball player Marty Holmes), is opting to leave because of emerging 15 year old person things. They’ve been having Saturday night sleepovers since they were seven, and why should anything change now? I’d argue literally having this conversation about hormones and breasts and genitalia (actual words said on the show) should change things, but Dawson eventually wins. Joey hops back in bed, and positions herself on the very edge of it facing away from Dawson while he occupies almost all of the rest of it in a hilariously awful example of manspreading. Our guy Dawson is totally confused as to why Joey suddenly brought this topic up, and if I know one thing about this show, it’s that this is a perfect tone setter for the entire enterprise.

We go to the title sequence which is, at least by way of Hulu where I’m watching this, NOT I Don’t Want To Wait by Paula Cole. It’s Run Like Mad by Jenn Arden, and from doing a bit of internet sleuthing, it’s here because the producers didn’t acquire the rights to I Don’t Want To Wait “in perpetuity” nor did they do so for international markets. Can’t really blame them, as DVD sales weren’t really a thing in 1998, and LOL video streaming on the internet? Get out of town.

We get some establishing shots of a harbor and then some single person sailboats going by, then a girl is sunning herself on a dock..... AND GETS YANKED OFF THE DOCK BY THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON! And then Dawson yells cut.

Dawson loves movies and is making one of his own for some unnamed film festival. That’s Joey sunning herself, and it’s Dawson’s best friend Pacey Witter (played by Joshua Jackson) in the creature suit. As Dawson chides Pacey for blowing his mark on his entrance (I mean, the guy is underwater in the suit, maybe cut him some slack?) because they’re already behind schedule in filming, the boys get distracted by a blonde teenage girl exiting a taxi nearby. She gets a slow motion entrance set to Hey Pretty Girl by The BoDeans, so I really do mean distracted. It’s Jen Lindley (played by Michelle Williams), who has come to town to give her grandmother a hand following her grandfather’s surgery because “his aorta collapsed.” Jen has met Dawson before or is at least familiar with her (“you’re the granddaughter from New York”) but Joey and Pacey are not aware of who she is. Jen is going to be around long enough that she’s going to be going to high school here (and it’s never really explained where here is, other than it’s not New York), and we discover that all four are going to be sophomores in high school when the school year starts up.

Jen goes off to her grandparents house, Joey.... just disappears wherever??, and Dawson and Pacey head inside. I should note that the geography wasn’t completely clear when I was watching it at the time, but by the end of the episode, I discerned that the dock they were on is out back of Dawson’s house and also Jen’s grandparents live next door. We made it through a whole scene of the show without talking about sex, so Pacey ruins the streak by wondering aloud if Jen is a virgin and starts hassling Dawson about whether or not he wants to engage in activities with her. This conversation (really more of a diatribe by Pacey reminiscent of the “shut up, Ted” sequence in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure) continues from outside the house to inside the house where Dawson’s mom and dad (played by Mary-Margaret Humes and John Wesley Shipp aka Barry Allen aka Henry Allen aka Jay Garrick) are halfway into having sex on the living room coffee table.

I’m sensing a theme on this show.

Joey rows up to a dock at a house that is nowhere near as nice as Dawson’s, so I presume that she rowed off from the dock at Dawson’s house? I guess? A guy named Bodie (played by George Gaffney) has some cooking he wants Joey to try, and she calls it “orgasmic.” A woman (played by Nina Repeta) who is pregnant comes out of the house and tells Joey to not swipe her clothes just because she can’t fit into them whilst pregnant. Bodie also offers the woman who is unnamed here the food out of the pot that he’s holding, and she also calls it “orgasmic.”

Again, a theme is building here.

Off to the local non-chain video store where Dawson and Pacey work, as that’s where the Leerys thought Dawson was going to be when they decided to start getting it on in the living room. A blonde teen questions where Forrest Gump should be located on the shelves, and Pacey mutters about her intelligence. She hears him because Pacey is bad at this, and we learn that this is Nellie (played by Nicole Nieth) and her father owns the video story. Nellie then eviscerates Pacey, advising him that she doesn’t care what he thinks of her because he is a nobody. It is a SPEECH of the highest order.

Oh, good, a customer, which will give Pacey something to do other than pick up the pieces of his self-esteem from the floor. It’s a woman, and she gets a full femme fatale entrance like the video store is a 1940s era private detective’s office, including slow jazz saxophone music. This is Tamara, and she’s new in town. She picks up on Pacey ogling her and asks how she gets started renting videos around here and since she’s vintage all the way, she requests The Graduate. Pacey is nowhere near as mentally put together as Dustin Hoffman is, so Dawson rescues him from his stammerfest by providing her the tape. The most unbelievable part of the show then transpires, as Tamara is told she pays for the rental when she returns the cassette. That’s a wild way to run a business.

As I Lay Down by Sophie B. Hawkins plays as Dawson sees Jen sitting by the creek. He’s clearly coming from work, as he has a handful of monster movies “for research” for his film festival entry. This leads to Dawson asking if Jen wants to see his studio, which is actually his bedroom. We now get the grand tour that we didn’t get in the cold open, and discover that Dawson has wallpapered the place with Steven Spielberg movie posters. A word of advice to the 15 year old: If you’re going to invite girls to your bedroom, you’re going to want to abandon your poster organizational system and get the Schindler’s List poster off your closet door. As you can guess, Dawson loves himself some Spielberg, believing that the answers to anything and everything in life can be found in a Spielberg movie. I don’t want to know what message Dawson is getting from Indiana Jones shooting the dude with the scimitar. ANYWAY, Joey has wandered back to Dawson’s house and is climbing the rope ladder to his window when she hears Jen inside and hesitates. Jen hears her grandmother calling (this is where I figured out the geography of where they were filming earlier) and leaves through the door like a normal person. Then Joey wanders in through the window, and the local news is on TV. Oh, hey, remember the anchor with the hair that they made fun of earlier in the show? Yeah, that’s Dawson’s mom. Dawson then spends minutes on end overparsing her pronunciation of words to muse aloud to Joey whether or not his mother is sleeping with her male co-anchor.

Again, a theme. But hey, remember when Dawson was confused by Joey thinking they shouldn’t have sleepovers any more because they’re 15 years old and sex stuff will start getting in the way? Yeah.

Presumably the next morning, Jen comes into her grandfather’s bedroom to say good morning, but he’s asleep. She gently pulls back his pajamas to peek at the scar on his chest which looks not even slightly fresh. I get that this is network TV or whatever, but his scar looks months old at this point. ANYWAY Grams (played by Mary Beth Peil) comes in to tell her that breakfast is ready and she doesn’t want to be late for her first day. I presume this means school? A discussion of Jen’s usual breakfast habits ensues, which leads to a discussion of Dawson, which leads to Grams warning Jen that Dawson is trouble. Grams is particularly religiously conservative, so the constant Dawson/Joey sleepovers for the last decade combined with the Leerys never going to church are troublesome. Jen’s not here for this, as she’s an athiest.

Cut to the outside of Capeside High School complete with Chumbawamba playing, and yes, it’s the first day of school for the year. Nellie is the first person to greet Jen, and it turns out that she is literally Nellie Olson, yes, just like on Little House On The Prairie. This turns into a conversation about partying and the definitions of partying, and we learn that Jen is substance free. Unsurprisingly, Nellie judges Jen for that, and Dawson wanders up and Jen needs a cigarette after that conversation. Don’t worry, kids, she quit smoking. I want to point out here that she is 15. Jen has biology first, and Dawson leads the way. Apparently Dawson doesn’t have bio, though, as Jen sits down next to Joey who is very much unenthused about the development. What about Pacey’s first hour? Well, I’m not clear about the class that he’s taking other than it’s not biology, but — SURPRISE — his teacher is Tamara from the video store. She’s Ms. Jacobs (played by Leann Hunley) at school, though.

Dawson doesn’t go to a class, but he goes to a classroom where a teacher is watching the climactic moment of Psycho. This is Mr. Gold, and he teaches film lab in 5th hour. Dawson signed up for the class, but he didn’t get in. See, the class is very popular, and thus sophomores are not allowed to be in the class. Dawson makes a big speech about how being a filmmaker is his life’s dream and goal and Mr. Gold doesn’t care at all in the slightest. I’m siding with Mr. Gold on this one, because shouldn’t the “upperclassmen only” aspect of the class have come up about six months ago when Dawson was signing up for classes?

Jen and Joey walk and talk and we get a whole bunch of exposition for the show. Joey and Dawson are not a thing, Joey isn’t troubled, Grams is cracked, Joey’s dad is in prison for trafficking 10,000 pounds of marijuana, Joey’s sister is pregnant by way of her black boyfriend (mystery solved on that one from earlier!) and mom is dead thanks to cancer. Joey wraps up the fun by warning Jen 1) Dawson likes her and 2) not to hurt Dawson’s feelings.

At lunch, Dawson gives Jen the lay of the land in high school. Based on half of the things that Dawson’s saying, I presume this is more of a “see a person and invent a story about about them based on their appearance” bit than actual introductions. I mean, I really don’t think a current teacher 1) carries a gun to school or 2) actually shot two students and a custodian, y’know? Joey thought they were supposed to be talking about Dawson’s script for his movie (y’know, the one that’s behind schedule? I bet not having a finalized script is the problem, bucko.) and Dawson hands it to her and says, and I swear I’m not making this up, “Look at Act 3, I’m having a climax issue.”


Speaking of the sex theme, Pacey goes to talk to Ms. Jacobs and all of his stammering from the video store and from earlier in the day is now gone. Congrats to him for pulling his act together........ to start hitting on his teacher. Ugh. He tries to interest her in movies about older women romancing/seducing younger men, but she’s going to The Rialto for whatever’s playing there tonight, so Pacey strikes out.

OR DOES HE? He finds Dawson and launches a plan to, in his words, stalk Ms. Jacobs at the theater. Cool. Good use of your time, bud. Pacey uses the idea of inviting Jen as bait to get Dawson to tag along. Dawson successfully pulls that one off...... and then furiously bikes after Joey to invite her along so it “won’t be weird” that it’s just Pacey, Dawson, and Jen. Hey, buddy, it’s already weird that you’re going to chase after Ms. Jacobs. Joey isn’t fixing that. Anyway, Joey’s not interested in tagging along on Dawson’s date (duh) but this relationship isn’t changing! They can talk about anything! Blah blah blah Joey agrees to go for whatever reason.

Jen advises Grams of her plans for the night, which leads to jokes about very risque activities afterwards. Grams is nonplussed by the jokes, but she isn’t going to stand in the way of Jen being a normal high schooler..... as long as she goes to church with Grams on Sundays. Jen mentions her rebellious nature, Grams brings up “what happened in New York,” and Jen ultimately agrees to go to church with Grams if Grams said she word “penis” first. GET IT, THEY’RE TALKING ABOUT SEX IN A SCENE THAT DIDN’T HAVE ANYTHING TO DO WITH IT BEFORE NOW.


Dawson’s on his way out the door to the movies as his dad makes a model of an aquatic themed restaurant. It’s unclear if Mr. Leery is unemployed or if this is actually his job or what. Anyway, he takes a break to watch his wife’s newscast because it’s great foreplay. No, seriously, he said that. Mr. Leery then wins Good Parent points by advising Dawson to “play safe.” Dawson correctly picks up on the condom allusion, saying it’s too early, but Mr. Leery astutely points out that it’s never too early. Dawson has a meltdown about everyone else thinking about sex all the time.

Joey heads out, but her sister grabs her (oh no!) to make sure she wears lipstick for her not-a-date date. It’s honestly a nice moment between sisters after they were spitting insults at each other earlier in the show.

The kids meet up on their way to the theater. Jen makes an honest compliment about Joey’s lipstick, and Joey bombs back on her with a cheapshot about her hair color. Imagine taking cheapshots about hair dye. This was a thing in 1998, apparently. Jen is taken aback, and Joey keeps firing with questions about her virginity status. This is spinning wildly out of control, and they haven’t even bought a ticket to the theater to stalk their teacher yet! Inside, Pacey sees Ms. Jacobs enter and sit down, and immediately ditches the group to go over there. The movie starts (which I think was Waiting For Guffman) and Dawson starts thinking about holding Jen’s hand. Joey notices his indecision about proceeding and watches intently. As soon as Dawson makes contact, Joey explodes into questions about whether or not Jen is a “size queen.”

Pacey turns up with some Milk Duds to hit on Ms. Jacobs during the movie. Her date arrives with popcorn in tow, and unsurprisingly, this goes poorly. It turns into a tussle, Pacey knocks the popcorn all over the guy behind Ms. Jacobs who had already shushed them, and that dude cold cocks the holy hell out of Pacey. Can’t say he didn’t deserve it.

In the lobby, Dawson and Joey throw down about, let’s be honest, Joey’s abominable behavior. She accuses Dawson of living in a perfect fairytale, tells him to grow up, and storms out.

After the movie, Dawson and Jen walk home. Dawson leans in for a kiss but Jen deflects out of it. Tonight was dumb and bad, so she doesn’t want to attach that to it. She showers Dawson with compliments, alludes to trouble that she had in New York, and says things are scary now. Grams watches through the screened in porch, so Jen heads inside with a “Let’s just pretend we kissed, okay?”

Pacey sulks at the harbor and AS LUCK WOULD HAVE IT, he bumps into Ms. Jacobs. At least Pacey acknowledges the seemingly impossible odds by saying “what are the chances?” I like when TV recognizes that the thing they’re showing me is absurd. Pacey goes wild on her, accusing her of lying when she said in the theater that she was only renting a movie and Pacey has the wrong idea. How dare she treat him this way, etc. This apparently revs Ms. Jacobs’ engine, because she says, “No, Pacey, you’re not a boy,” and then kisses him, and not just a little bit either. She realizes (eventually) what she’s doing, stops, and leaves.

This will end well, I’m sure.

Dawson straightens up his room a little bit and finds Joey in his closet. Unanswerable Questions: What if Dawson just shoves his stuff off the bed, or puts it on his desk chair and never opens the closet door before he goes to sleep? How long was Joey planning on staying in the closet? The scene opened with Dawson in the room, so we have no idea how long he was in there before opening the door. ANYWAY, Joey admits and apologizes for wigging out, and Dawson apologizes for living with his head in the clouds. He does say he thought the lipstick looked pretty on her, but that’s as far as his thoughts about Joey went. Joey didn’t want to be the one holding Dawson’s hand, but she also didn’t want Jen to be the one holding Dawson’s hand, either. Not a very good reason, but hey, she’s 15, I’ll let it slide. We get a repeat of the no sleepovers conversation from the cold open, but Joey wins this one. She accomplishes this by what I’m pretty sure is turning “walking the dog” into a metaphor for masturbation while pointing out that they can’t talk about everything and anything any more. Dawson is stunned into silence.

I’ll Stand By You by The Pretenders plays as Joey bolts for the dock.


She turns to look at the house, where Dawson is sticking his head out the window.


Smiles abound.

Joey rows home, but not before noticing Dawson’s mom smooching her co-anchor out in the Leerys’ driveway as he drops her off at home. Well, at least Dawson looks like less of a weirdo now.

And now to steal an idea from The Post Atomic Horror, a very in-depth Star Trek podcast.

GOOD THING: I liked that they teased future reveals about Jen’s past in New York. In her original introduction to Dawson, Joey, and Pacey, she made it sound like she was in town out of the goodness of her own heart, but by the end of 45 minutes, it very much was clear that her parents sent out away from New York. Why? We don’t know yet! That’s good long term storytelling there for a pilot episode.

BAD THING: Jen’s mystery backstory is literally the only non-sex related plot in the entire show, and I can’t even guarantee that’s true at this point since her backstory is a mystery. I’m all for teen relationship drama stuff, but focusing squarely on the sex aspect of it is not going to carry well through to minute 90 or minute 135, much less through the 13 episodes of the first season. Making everything outside the four teen stars about sex as well (the Leerys’ marriage, Joey’s sister, Grams’ attitude) isn’t helping. Hopefully there’s something else to focus on soon. I really want to know more about Mr. Leery’s aquatic restaurant.