Opening scene is Joey singing off-key and waking up a sleeping Pacey with a cheap packaged cupcake with a candle. And for someone who supposedly just woke up he is particularly verbose in his displeasure. He doesn’t like birthday and uses an alarming amount of hyperbole to describe why. Vague tales of soul-searching, universe-questioning horrors.
He tells tales of woe of birthdays past and Joey promises it’ll be a quiet night with just the two of them. They hug and Joey looks like a lying liar pants.
Jack and Dawson and talking about Dawson’s upcoming date with Gretchen. Jack plants seeds of doubt about Joey and Pacey being fine with it. Why does that matter?
At Pacey’s, Gretchen is asking about the birthday plans and Joey’s like, oh, just a quiet night. Pacey’s going through some mail like an man and runs off with a mystery letter.
Joey uses this opportunity to go back on her word and invite Gretchen to a last-minute surprise party for Pacey at his parents’ house. Yeah, the abusive drunk’s place, the dad who’s not even currently housing his high school aged son. Awesome.
Joey blames it on Pacey’s mom who called and asked her and rather than disappoint a woman she rarely sees (Have we ever seen her?) she decides to disregard Pacey’s wishes. Gretchen thinks it’s a stupid idea. But she agrees, albeit awkwardly, to come and I guess that means no date with Dawson.
Jen and Grams are crafting together, and because I’m getting a little long in the tooth myself, I guess, that looks like a rather nice way to spend the afternoon. Jen reveals she has to do five hours of community service acting as DD to a bunch of drunk teenagers– what? What kind of a thing is that? That makes no sense.
Grams is all happily spaced out and Jen calls her out for thinking about having sex with Brooks. I don’t recall ever broaching the topic of sex with my grandparents. Jen tries to talk to her about safe sex. Jen, kiddo, Grams was a fucking nurse.
Dawson goes to meet Gretchen at work and she tells him their date in cancelled for this surprise party. Also, let’s not tell anyone about that whole date thing. Dawson’s confused about why they can’t just call the party a date. The more he pushes her about it, the more it becomes obvious she’s uncomfortable about dating him at all in the first place. He actually backs off and leaves.
At the community service thing, Jen runs into some guy she knows named Toby. If we’ve seen him before, I don’t remember. He’s gay and apparently knows Jack, and they didn’t hit it off. But I guess because they’re both gay, they need to meet again, thinks Jen.
Joey is leading Pacey blindfolded to his party. He makes a guess as to where they’re going and concocts an elaborate fantasy of champagne, cake, lingerie and sex. And then he realizes he’s at his shitty parents’ house and it’s yet another crummy birthday in the works. Womp womp.
They walk into the house and Mr. Whitter is in a reclining chair watching TV. “Oh, you’re here. Surprise,” he says. Mrs. Whitter comes out (Hey, it’s Jane Lynch! And making her one and only appearance on the show) and and is all, oh darn, we missed it. Then a few people stumble out to say surprise and some children run past and one socks Pacey in the stomach and pops laughs. So far so good.
Whose children are those? Gretchen and Doug don’t have kids.
Doug shows up, mocks his brother for being about to have another shit birthday and everyone stands there looking uncomfortable.
The party commences, it’s completely lame, children are piling up on Dawson. There’s a random young woman snacking on the couch. Are those kids hers? Who is she? Pacey is beside her looking unhappy.
Mr. Whitter gets up from the TV to tell this woman, Kerry her name is, that she’s becoming a cow. Kerry Whitter, by the looks of IMDB. Another sib, I guess? Anyway, then he talks about turning 18 in Vietnam during the war and doing a 30-something prostitute.
More awkwardness happens and then Jack sits down and Mr. Whitter’s like, who the hell are you? Which is a lovely way to speak to party guests in your home.
Mrs. Whitter keeps calling Joey by the wrong name. Whether she’s got a mental problem or is just an asshole is unclear.
Pacey starts asking Joey why she did this. Rather than apologize she’s like, your family wanted to do this out of the goodness of their hearts, what could I do? Shit, Joey. Pacey tries to explain the nature of his alcoholic father’s tendencies and Joey has the nerve to tell him he could make more of an effort. Cuntastic. The writers of this show really went out of their way to make this character a dick.
Ultimately, Pacey isn’t even mad at her, though. He’s just tired and sad and disappointed in his horrible family.
Gretchen approached Dawson and acts like she didn’t tell him she wanted to keep their date a secret. She doesn’t know what she wants. Kids are hanging off him begging to play Monopoly. This birthday party blows.
In the car, Toby is gushing about his boyfriend Greg, and Jen is taking offence he doesn’t like Jack. Why this is a problem, I do not know. Other gay men exist.
At the party, Joey finds Pacey sitting outside alone. She calls the whole thing, “Not that bad” which is exactly the sort of birthday everyone wants to have. She tells him he’s not allowed to still be mad at her. He sadly says he’s not mad and that makes her smile. Because his obvious sorrow means nothing so long as he’s not going to inconvenience her with anger over her bullshit.
Pacey tries to say what he’s feeling, then suggests a walk, which is interrupted by Mr. Whitter wanting to talk to Joey inside.
He tells her she’s to thank for getting Pacey interested in college. She’s all, oh, it’s wasn’t all me! But then he goes on about how it’ll be a waste of money and he’ll just drop out, then Ma comes in and says he’s a huge disappointment, but she has faith in him. Then they reminisce about how they always let Pacey know he’d never amount to anything. Joey’s dumbfounded, which she wouldn’t be if she’d ever have just listened to her boyfriend talk about his life.
In another room, Gretchen turns on a lamp that shines spinning stars around a room and shares memories and tells some old story that is just precious enough to not sound remotely real. But then, this is TV. And of course the lame story that has no actual plot is used as a metaphor for Dawson and Gretchen’s romantic situation.
Joey tries to pep talk Pacey about how he’ll be fine at college. Pacey’s like and if they’re right and I’m too stupid? Joey seems confused at the despondent reaction her boyfriend is having to being re-exposed to his abusive family, because as per usual she lacks empathy.
He takes her to the basement to talk about it, and they walk in on Gretchen and Dawson making out in the star lamp room. Everyone looks weirded out, except Dawson who sort of laughs. And it’s time for dinner, which should be rife with terrible memories-to-be.
Dinner is Doug’s favourite, chipped beef on toast. Pacey says his favourite is spaghetti and meat balls. His mom insists he’s wrong. Then she gets Joey name wrong for the third time when asking her to go get something in the kitchen. And this is the woman she couldn’t say no to?
In the kitchen, Dawson tries to explain about him and Gretchen. Joey’s acting terse and mad. The fuck? She dumped him and is dating his best friend. Why does anyone give a shit about her feelings in this matter? I don’t get it.
Dawson and Gretchen then hash out their brand new thing, whatever it is, and then Pacey comes in to talk about it after Dawson leaves. Gretchen then wants to talk about it with Pacey, who absolutely doesn’t want to. I understand your estranged best friend dating your sibling to be weird. That much I understand. But still, come on.
Jen and Toby are driving two making out teens somewhere. This is actually a service? A community service? Nothing like this exists. Fuck you, storyline.
Now Pacey is opening up presents. Someone gave him an ashtray and Pacey says, Thank you, I’ve been meaning to take up smoking. Okay, that made me laugh.
Pacey’s dad gave him fireworks. Huh.
Mrs. Whitter says she read a way to bond with your kids is to recall a memory from their childhood. Oh, this should be horrible.
They laugh about the time they left him in an ice cream shop and Pacey was so upset he wet his pants.
Gretchen tries to tell a story how he defended her from a bully, but his dad makes it about the time he got beat up and cried.
And Pacey snaps after one too many stories, tells them all off, makes them look as though they feel ashamed, reveals he’s not going to college and leaves, storming past Jen and Toby who just arrived singing happy birthday. They barely sang the first verse so the show probably didn’t have to pay any royalties on that one.
Joey and Dawson leave to look for Pacey and for some reason the party is still going.
Jack and Toby have a short, tense conversation about being gay.
In the car, Dawson and Joey are talking about Gretchen and Pacey, and Joey seems to finally realize she’s been a shitty girlfriend. Dawson praises Joey’s ability to believe in people. Boys on this show just can’t see her clearly. She’s an asshole every episode. She then wants to give up the search and go back.
Pacey’s dad finds him on the dock. He has a heart to heart with him. Talks about how happy Pacey was to get fireworks when he was 10. Brief moments of kindness do not make up for years of emotional abuse. But then those tiny minutes of kindness keep you coming back for more assholery later.
In the car, Jen and Toby are talking about how Toby likes Jack and Greg doesn’t exist. I really don’t care about this. Maybe because this program for driving drunk teens to parties WOULD NEVER EXIST.
When Pacey’s dad brings him back to the house everyone yells surprise and brings out the cake they’ve already started eating.
Dawson and Gretchen talk about their relationship outside by a bonfire. They concede it likely won’t work out because they’re both leaving. But what the hell, let’s go for it anyway because we’re young and why not. Which is a nice departure from all Joey’s nonsense seasons 2 & 3.
Pacey tells Joey he thinks they’re moving in different directions. Joey’s not having it. And everyone starts setting off Pacey’s fireworks without him, which is a rude thing to do, isn’t it?
This is meant to be a happy ending. But it’s somehow very depressing.
MVA: Pacey. “My wish would be for no further acknowledgment of today’s hollow symbolic meaning as a milestone in the life of Pacey Whitter.”