After six seasons...
In celebration of Dawson’s Creek‘s 20th anniversary, we’re looking back at the show’s six seasons, which aired from 1998 until 2003. Click through to see how each one stacked up.
Dawson’s was never really known for outlandish plot lines or twists, but when it comes to Mitch Leery’s shocking death, we just wish it hadn’t involved him getting into a car wreck because of an ice cream cone. (The episode that followed, though, did feature some impressive performances.) And while it was fun to see the group enter early adulthood, some of the arcs like Dawson dating Jen (to whom he loses his virginity), Joey nearly sleeping with her professor, and two attempts at pairing Chad Michael Murray’s Charlie with someone, weren’t series highlights.
The senior year season kicks off with Joey and Pacey returning to Capeside after their whirlwind romance at sea. And while the first half finds the group a little disjointed — Dawson and Pacey’s friendship would never truly recover from the wreckage of Pacey and Joey’s romance — the season was bolstered by standout episodes like “A Winter’s Tale” and “Promicide,” the latter of which completely broke our hearts several times over. Plus: Even if you were Team Pacey, it was hard not to get behind the cliffhanger kiss between Dawson and Joey, set to “Daydream Believer.”
So maybe Pacey had a terrible goatee — and Boiler Room Pacey was very divisive — but for a series so beloved, it managed to barely falter in its swan song season. Plus: Dawson and Joey finally had sex! (It had to happen before the show ended, right?) Though nothing else earth-shattering happened early on, by the end, we saw both Pacey and Dawson hit rock bottoms, bringing the group together to make the film that would launch Dawson into his flash-forward career, creating The Creek. The show then accomplished the difficult feat of a near-perfect series finale that left us devastated, elated, nostalgic, and, most importantly, with a sense of closure that although we would always want a little more, we were completely content to never get it.
Season 2 wasn’t exactly a sophomore slump, but the series faced a few growing pains here and there. The second go-round began the moment the first season ended: with Joey and Dawson kissing in front of his bedroom window, but the two BFFs struggled to make things work as a romantic duo, and the relationship came to a grinding halt once Joey kissed Jack (Kerr Smith) in the fifth episode. Still, the season-long, swoon-worthy pairing of Pacey and Andie (Meredith Monroe) introduced us to a very different, decidedly more dreamy Mr. Witter, and Jack’s powerful coming out story — and subsequent battle with his father — made television history. After the gang survives the dissolution of Mitch and Gail’s marriage and the death of Abby (Monica Keena), Joey and Dawson get back together only to fall apart once again after Dawson urges Joey to turn her drug-dealing father into the authorities.
Here’s the truth: We almost ranked season 3 at the very top of this list, but after rewatching it, we realized all the things about this round of 23 episodes that made our hearts sing took place in the second half of the season. The first half, however, was filled with clunker stories, from Eve (ugh) to Dawson’s existential, I’m-gonna-quit-movies crisis. But if we fast-forward to episode 12 and the opening of the Potter B&B, we see Pacey realizing he’s completely smitten with Joey and the trajectory of the entire series begins to shift into what has become one of the most iconic love triangles in television history. The final five episodes of the season are among the show’s finest, culminating in a finale that brought us the infamous James Van Der Beek crying meme and saw Joey and Pacey sailing off into the sunset.
It’s difficult to even compare other seasons to the full-circle magic of Dawson’s Creek’s first outing. In its very first scene, Dawson’s showed us that this was a different kind of teen show, where the kids spoke frankly about sex (using ample SAT words, to boot) and the parents made mistakes. It managed to tip its hat to other teen pop culture touchstones with episodes paying homage to The Breakfast Club and Scream (show creator Kevin Williamson’s then-recent blockbuster hit). And all the while, it introduced us to the completely relatable Joey as she pined for her best friend; Dawson as he was oblivious to his pal, instead dazzled by the beautiful, yet troubled blonde next door in Jen; and Pacey, the jokester radiating with that deep insecurity most all of us felt when we were 15. When Joey sang “On My Own” in the penultimate episode and Dawson saw her as if for the first time, we all wept, and when they finally kissed in a moment that mirrored the show’s very first scene, we cheered.