Judge Bryan Byun did not cry like a little girlyman during this tearjerking final episode of Dawson's Creek. He had something in his eye.
Our reviews of Dawson's Creek: The Complete First Season (published June 18th, 2003), Dawson's Creek: The Complete Second Season (published January 19th, 2004), Dawson's Creek: The Complete Third Season (published December 1st, 2004), Dawson's Creek: The Complete Fourth Season (published November 24th, 2004), and Dawson's Creek: The Complete Fifth Season (published August 10th, 2005) are also available.
Joey: We've been through so much, Dawson. So many good times and bad. When I
loved you, you loved Jen. And when you loved me, I needed to be on my own. So I
left you for Jack, and then he realized he was gay.
In 2003, after a successful six-year run, teen soap and pop culture titan Dawson's Creek finally folded up shop. Series creator Kevin Williamson (Scream), who had left the series after the second season, was coaxed back to The Creek to pen the two-hour finale, which aired as two back-to-back episodes, "All Good Things…" and "…Must Come to an End." These final episodes garnered The WB some of the highest ratings in its history; clearly, a great many people were eager for the answer to the most pressing soap opera question since "Who shot J.R.?": who would Joey finally end up with? Dawson…or Pacey?
In case you missed the series finale, Columbia TriStar serves it up hot and fresh on a DVD platter with this single-disc release. But even if you have seen it, taped it or TiVo'd it and have been watching it over and over since May, you'll still want to check this out, since it contains a solid 16 minutes or so of material cut from the original broadcast.
Facts of the Case
Leaping forward five years into the future, the series finale of Dawson's Creek finds Dawson and gang at 25, having gone their separate ways. Joey (Katie Holmes, Pieces of April) is an editor at a New York publishing house; Pacey (Joshua Jackson, The Skulls) has become an entrepreneur, as the owner of the restored Icehouse restaurant; Jen (Michelle Williams, Halloween: H20) is a single mother living with Jack (Kerr Smith, Final Destination), who is a teacher at Capeside's high school and involved in a clandestine relationship with…ah, but that would be telling. (Suffice it to say that the identity of Jack's lover is a delicious payoff to one of the more amusing running gags of the series.) As for Dawson (James Van Der Beek, Varsity Blues), our beloved Spielberg-obsessed movie geek, he's living his Hollywood dream at last, as the executive producer of The Creek, a TV drama based on his own life that's The WB's newest hit teen soap (this has to be the apex of the relentless self-reflexivity that was the show's cornerstone).
A wedding brings everyone back to Capeside for a tearful—if slightly awkward—reunion, but the warm glow of nostalgia proves short-lived when tragedy strikes one of the gang. In its aftermath, the grieving friends must complete their transition to adulthood and make some difficult decisions about how they want to live their lives.
Having missed Dawson's Creek in its entirety during the original run, I've only recently—and grudgingly, as I'm very much not a fan of the teen soap genre—begun watching the series on DVD. I sat down to the first episode expecting to groan with disgust through the whole thing, but to my surprise—and lasting shame—I actually got into it. Dawson's Creek may have been a schmaltzy, talky, overly self-conscious take on adolescent romance, but it was sharply written, well-acted schmaltz that never (well, infrequently) insulted the viewer's intelligence and respected its quirky, likable characters.
With Dawson's Creek only in its second season on DVD, I expected to be lost in a sea of unfamiliar characters and storylines upon watching the finale. However, it turns out that Kevin Williamson, who left early on and didn't keep up with the show afterwards, hasn't seen much more of Dawson's Creek than I have. So the finale, which largely ignores the previous, non-Williamson seasons to focus on the original, core group of characters, actually flows fairly smoothly from the end of the second season. I'm not sure how longtime fans of the show felt about having the bulk of four years' worth of plot developments so casually written off, but newer viewers like myself needn't fear too much disorientation, should they break down and decide they can't wait for the rest of the seasons to be released before finding out what happens. About the only major story element that threw me was the Pacey-Joey romance, which I was vaguely aware of but hadn't seen.
There is something inherently funereal about a series finale. It does represent, after all, the death of a series, and, barring some future reunion special, our final glimpse of characters we have grown familiar with over a span of years. Perhaps that's why so many final episodes feature the deaths of major characters, as a way to tap into that reservoir of grief. Dawson's Creek is no exception, centering on the protracted demise of a major character. While it's not the most original move on Williamson's part, it does serve a narrative purpose beyond wringing cheap tears from the viewers; it rips the veil of irony and self-deception from the characters' eyes and forces them to ask, and answer, some tough questions about who they are and what they're to make of the rest of their finite time in this world. In many ways, Dawson and gang have lived in a perpetual state of adolescence into their mid-20s, and this death impels them to complete their passage out of childhood.
It wouldn't be Dawson's Creek without self-consciously ironic, yet somehow simultaneously painfully sincere declarations of passionate emotions. A central theme of the show, one that this finale returns to again and again, is the idea of the soul mate. Early on in the series, it seemed as if the show's idea of a soul mate was a best friend that you could also make out with. As an older and wiser Dawson describes it here, a soul mate is "the one person who knows you better than anyone else…the one person who knew you and accepted you and believed in you when no one else did…and no matter what happens, you'll always love them." In a way, this is the grand summation of Dawson's long trip from starry-eyed adolescence to an adulthood, in which hormonal urges move aside to make room for a bit of self-awareness. If the rocky relationship between Dawson and Joey was an attempt to hash out the question of what the difference is between lovers and soul mates, this speech is the answer. If this scene, and the tear jerking emotional exchange between Dawson and Joey towards the end of the finale, doesn't answer the question of "Who does Joey end up with?" even before the big closing reveal…you weren't paying attention. Apparently, Williamson changed his mind about the outcome at the last minute, but it's hard to believe, given the result, that it wasn't planned that way from the beginning. When Joey makes her final choice, only the most ardent fans of one pairing or the other won't see the truth in her decision.
Columbia TriStar presents Dawson's Creek: The Series Finale on DVD in its original full screen aspect ratio, with a slightly soft but vibrant transfer bursting with rich, warm color. While the image isn't the most detailed, it's certainly clear and bright, especially in outdoor scenes where you can practically feel the sunshine on your forehead. The overall image quality is a step above the two season box sets. The disc offers a Dolby 2.0 Surround track (English only) that presents the audio with clean efficiency, but isn't especially memorable beyond conveying the music-rich soundtrack with good depth and without evident distortion.
The audio commentary, featuring Williamson and executive producer Paul Stupin, is a real treat for fans of the series. The pair discuss aspects of the production, reflect upon the history of the show and their involvement in it, dredge up some entertaining anecdotes concerning the production and cast, and point out the many bits that have been added back into this extended cut. Given the significance of the material that was excised, it's hard to believe that the finale would have had the same dramatic impact in its original broadcast. (I won't give away the surprise for those who don't know, but a major character from the early seasons makes a brief appearance, which was apparently cut from the televised version.) Williamson is quite candid about his creative decisions in writing the finale, and even admits that his script wasn't as good as it could have been, due to his involvement with a Wes Craven film at the time. It's a fact-filled, fun commentary, and even casual fans won't want to pass it up.
The other extras on the disc look far, far back to the birth of the series, giving us the original ending of the Dawson's Creek pilot episode presented to the network, as well as three alternate scenes from the pilot presentation. The most notable difference in these scenes from the final version of the show is the casting of Dawson's father—the role was recast and reshot, apparently because the original actor wasn't quite studly enough. All of this material is presented with optional audio commentary.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Series finales are not made for critics; they're made for the fans, and as such, Dawson's swan song might come across as a bit maudlin—okay, a lot maudlin—to any but the most zealous admirer of the series. Williamson doesn't just tug at the heartstrings here, he yanks—hard. While the aforementioned protracted demise may serve a crucial and fully justified narrative purpose, it doesn't make the proceedings less shameless in their sentimentality. There's one particularly heart-wrenching scene, in which the doomed character makes a poignant final statement, that could only be more tear jerking if the DVD sprayed lemon juice in your eye at that moment. If, after six seasons, you've grown to care deeply about these characters, you won't begrudge Williamson giving them a warm and weepy sendoff. The newer or more hard-hearted viewer may find it all rather manipulative.
If you're a fan of Dawson's Creek and have made it through all six seasons, there's obviously no reason why you'd stop short of this series dénouement. If you followed the series more casually over the years and curious to find out what finally happens to these characters, you'll find Dawson's Creek: The Series Finale a satisfying capper. Everything that made Dawson's Creek such sneakily addictive viewing is here in all its starry-eyed glory.
The court finds Dawson's Creek: The Series Finale not guilty on all charges, just like in Spielberg's Amistad.
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Scales of Justice
• Audio Commentary by Creator Kevin Williamson and Executive Producer Paul Stupin
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