Opening scene, Joey and Dawson are walking home together and Joey’s complaining about finals. Both are acting all normal-like, as though they both don’t know Joey wants in Pacey’s pants.
Dawson reminds her of a pact they made to go to junior prom. I don’t really know what a junior prom is. My school had a formal and a semi-formal. Those were all the special dances to be had at my school. You went to formal if you graduated. You went to semi-formal grade 11 and up. What is this junior prom? Americans and their complicated dance seasons. No high school on TV seems immune from these things.
Joey doesn’t really want to go, but bows to the pressure from Dawson, who promises things like friendship and moving forward.
She says he’s not allowed to buy her a corsage or wear a ruffly tuxedo shirt. This not being 1976, I don’t know how much threat there was of that last one anyway. But they’re interrupted by Gail and Mitch’s out-of-the-blue makeout session spilling into the outdoors.
Back to the Leery house, Joey makes a quick exit and Gail leaves to go to the restaurant. Mitch wants to talk to Dawson about what he just saw and Dawson’s like, meh, your relationship’s been screwing me up for years, so now I’m numb and don’t care. Mitch does make sure to let his son know that so far it’s nothing serious between he and Gail. Thanks, Pops.
At Pacey’s, Andie is there studying and gets the feeling Pacey would rather her go, even if he’s not telling her to. He admits he’s feeling sad, and Andie says he should go to prom. And then not so casually suggests he could go with her. Because when your best friend hates you and the girl you’re in love with has abandoned you, the prom with your ex-girlfriend is the answer! Of course!
Pacey asks if she doesn’t have a date and she says she’s “sifting through offers.” Pfft. No one that annoying could possibly have more than one asshole interested enough to go. Pacey tells her it’d be better to pick one of those other guys instead of him.
Joey’s complaining to Bess about the romantic complications of going to prom with Dawson, and Bess is like, D’uh. Joey tells her sister that she’s been giving shit advice lately, and Bess tells her to first stop giving her shit problems.
At lunch in school, Andie’s whining that Pacey didn’t ask her to prom and that she’ll have to go alone, which is terribly humiliating. Ah, made-up suitors. Was there any doubt? Jack’s like, well, better go alone than with the ex you’re not over.
But Jack’s got bigger problems than his sister’s drama. He’s bringing Ethan to the prom “as a friend” and the theme of the prom is “couples” so you have to alert the prom people to whom you’re bringing, or something. Jack’s not so keen on formally announcing he’s bringing a dude. And since this can still cause a ruckus in plenty of schools today, 15 years ago I’d say that is no small matter.
But Andie, being a self-absorbed twat, is like, yeah? So? Why do you care what people think? Because the difficulties being an out teen is just about caring “what other people think” whereas Pacey not wanting to ask her to prom and going alone is the deepest of humiliations.
Outside, Jen is complaining about the cliche that is prom, which really is the biggest cliche of them all. After her rant is over, Henry calls her on never having been.
And then he’s like, you asking me to go? And she’s like yeah. Jesus, don’t go into sales, Jen. Terrible pitch. He says he’d love to, only proving the power of his libido and not of Jen’s smooth moves.
In the lunch room, Jack’s attempting to buy tickets from a girl on the wrong side of history named Barbara, who informs him the definition of a couple is a boy and a girl and that him bringing a boy will cause a spectacle and ruin everyone’s fun. Because the death of any amazing party is always caused by attractive gay men.
Jack manages to keep his cool while Barbara goes on a pearl-clutching tirade about two men dancing or having their photo taken together. She says she’ll check with the head of the prom committee first before selling him his tickets.
Dawson goes to buy his tickets and Barbara makes him state his own name, even though she knows it. She finds out he’s taking Joey and goes, “Aw, happy couple back together?” Pacey is sitting nearby and he and Dawson exchange a look.
Outside, Andie and Joey are discussing ways to get Barbara in trouble and get Jack to prom, but he doesn’t want to go anymore. He wants to have fun, not be a political stance. Andie’s like, too bad, you’re a political stance. Fight!
But Jack’s not up to it and then the girls say they’re not going, Joey taking an easy out of this prom with Dawson thing. Dawson gets a brief panicked look on his face before saying they’ll throw an “anti-prom”. I think this plot line is on every teen show at some point.
Dawson suggests the anti-prom to his parents, figuring it could be at the restaurant. He says the ticket sales would offset the costs. Not in the real world they wouldn’t, but this is TV world where Pacey can suddenly fix wedding cakes and after-parties for school plays are well-funded by mysterious sources.
They agree to this idea, and then mosey about the kitchen of the restaurant while chefs behind them work very slowly. Mitch wants to talk about their relationship, Gail doesn’t.
At school, both prom tickets are being sold side by side, despite one not being a school-sanctioned event. And Dawson’s prom banner reads– I kid you not– “Subvert the dominant paradigm!” Well now, doesn’t that sound like fun?
Some punky looking kids are buying tickets to the alternative prom and Barbara calls them the dregs of society. Andie and Jack tell her she’s narrow-minded and her outfit sucks. Barbara says at least she’s not going to Hell. Andie, in her first moment of likeability makes an ooooh face and does jazz hands.
At Jen’s house, Grams is fitting Henry with appears to be her dead husband’s old suit. When she hears her tea kettle, she leaves the room and Jen wants to talk to Henry about prom sex. Henry’s eye light up. Ooh, sex! But Jen wants to choose not to do it. Henry’s like, yeah, fine, cool. Even though a few episodes ago he was Horny Henry.
But then he’s like, uh, we are going to do it eventually, though, right? And Jen doesn’t answer him, but gives him a kiss. That kinda sounds like a no there, buddy.
Pacey stops by Andie’s place and finds out she’s going to alternative prom alone. And with some debonair resignation, he asks her to go with him and she accepts.
Prom night comes, Dawson picks up Joey and presents with her his mom’s diamond earrings on loan in lieu of a corsage. Maybe I’m a curmudgeon but all I can think of is if they were cleaned first. Joey’s less germ-conscious than I am, or more confidant of Leery hygiene practices, and puts on the earrings.
Bess takes their picture and I’m briefly nostalgic for the time you had to wait to see what a picture would look like till after it was developed and then ask your friends for one of their doubles.
But then I realized this supposed snap shot makes no sense because they’re not looking into the lens.
At the alternative prom, Gail notes the crowd is “interesting” and Mitch asks her to lock the cash register. Ah, small town people.
Jack and Ethan are sitting at a table and Jack is sulking about something and doing a poor job of showing his date a good time. Everyone shows up, and Andie looks like Tilda Swinton. Dawson and Joey immediately get up to go dance, and Joey and Pacey make sad eyes at each other across the room.
Jen and Henry dance and have a stilted awkward conversation about sex.
Jack and Ethan talk and Jack learns Ethan never went to prom with a boyfriend or did anything like this when he was younger. Jack is pissed because he feels tricked into making a stand when he didn’t feel ready.
Henry reveals to Jen he’s going to an 8-week football camp in Cleveland for the summer. Dude, how much would that cost? God, I feel so old because that’s the first thing I thought. Jen’s mad and is like, forget about us having sex tonight! And Henry’s like, I thought we weren’t having any? Jen’s like, that’s just what you say! Of course there was a chance; this is our prom! Henry’s like, oh, nuts.
Joey picks a fight with Dawson about him parading her around in front of Pacey and giving him looks. Dawson’s mad Pacey is there in the first place, but he simmers things down so as not to upset Joey, however, she wants out of there and leaves the dance floor.
She runs into Jack, who’s feeling crummy about how he treated Ethan. Joey’s bummed she’s in the middle and no one’s friends right now.
Mitch and Gail are dancing and talking about their relationship and Mitch gets terse and wants Gail to say what she wants out it. Then he leaves her on the dance floor.
What the fuck is wrong with these people? Dropping these verbal bombs and abandoning their dates, sometimes mid-dance? Real people don’t pull that shit. No one leaves that juicy of a conversation hanging in the air like that, especially not teenagers and emotionally stunted adults.
Joey finds Pacey and asks him to dance. Oh, this will go well. Andie’s already spotted them and looks sad.
Pacey trashes Gail’s diamond earrings and praises the bracelet Joey has on instead, which was her mother’s. Ooh, such obvious subtext.
Now Dawson sees them in this intimate dance embrace, and there’s sad Andie again. Jesus, that makeup is shit. Let’s look at it again.
Joey looks up and sees Dawson, who can’t take the imagery anymore and runs out. Joey chases after him.
And while she’s saying it shouldn’t matter who she dances with if they’re there as friends, Dawson’s like, hell no, this isn’t about friendship, obviously I wanted more! And then it’s laid out, she’s going to have to pick. He kisses her and… walks away.
Okay, seriously? No one would do that.
It’s like the writers don’t know how to realistically conclude a fucking conversation.
At Jen’s house, Jen breaks up with Henry. Well, there was a relationship that never had a chance anyway,
Jack catches up with Ethan at the train station, still in tuxes. Did Ethan just leave after that argument? Jack wants to know what the status of their association with each other is. Ethan asks Jack to kiss him if he’s ready. He says, “No cameras, no television network to cut to commercial.” Was that a dig at censors or the network? Well, regardless, the show didn’t go for a gay kiss and Ethan walks away while Jack looks sad.
Pacey is apologizing to Andie for taking her to prom without really wanting to take her. Andie’s not mad just bummed out. Pacey reveals his plan for the summer is to sail his boat to Key West. He’s, like, 16. I think if I had told my family I’d be doing something like that for the summer when I was that age, they’d have laughed in my face.
Andie implores Pacey not to leave without telling Joey first. Andie’s done a turnaround this episode. Too bad she looks like ass.
Joey returns the earrings to Dawson and says she can’t choose. Dawson’s like, okay, I’ll wait. Well, that was easy. They watch Gail run into the house. And Gail and Mitch patch things up and they’re back together.
MVA: Jen’s rant about prom: “Is there a more ridiculous and embarrassing ritual than the prom? The way that it totally reenforces traditional gender roles, rewards the cool kids, punishes the geeks. I mean, the pressure that this one single night exerts on the common teenager to make hollow awkward romantic gestures like pinning a cheap corsage on taffeta, having drunken sex with some guy whose name you won’t even remember and then puking in the back of some cheesy-ass rented limo. I mean, it’s all just so overwhelming.”