Before Bella had to choose between a vampire and a werewolf, or Olivia Pope had to decide between Jake and Fitz, one threesome reigned supreme. Basically, Dawson’s Creek featured the best love triangle of all time—I’ve been preparing my entire life for this moment, fight me.
Featured on the cover of Entertainment Weekly, in honor of the show’s 20th anniversary, Dawson Leery, Joey Potter, and Pacey Witter reunite to remind us that true love never dies (conversely, Pacey’s boat, True Love, is most definitely as shipwrecked as Tom Hanks right now).
And, yes, Jen Lindley is on the cover too, and Michelle Williams is, by far, the most successful graduate of Capeside High. But also Jen didn’t make it past the finale so…
It’s always felt disrespectful that Jen Lindley had such a tragic end, but Joey Potter got to choose between two mediocre, but somehow attractive, boring white guys. But by Season 6, the show had basically evolved into Joey’s Creek, so maybe that’s all viewers cared about anyway.
Why anyone wanted to know who insufferable Spielberg fan Dawson wanted to bone is still beyond most people, but not me. I always held a torch for quick-witted, floppy-haired, clearly much older than his years, James Van Der Beek, and I know I’m not alone.
Also, having grown up in the church, I was well acquainted with the “will they or won’t they,” impossibly chaste, talk for hours but never touch, love affair of which Dawson and Joey were the poster children. That was what I pined after. Later, I’d find out that finding a partner that wanted to sleep with you was better; that was much later.
But the love triangle worked—Dawson and Joey, or Joey and Pacey—because viewers were conflicted. Old school fans like me hoped that soul mates were real, and that male best friends were meaningful so Dawson would win. Fans of the “opposites attract” narrative preferred Joey and Pacey’s animal magnetism, especially as it involved Joshua Jackson taking his shirt off.
Sure, the whole series went downhill the second creator Kevin Williamson left to pursue other projects, but at least he returned for the finale (to kill off Jen) and for Entertainment Weekly‘s sit down.
Regardless of whom you wanted Joey to end up with, Dawson’s Creek‘s iconic love triangle inspired a slew of rip-offs—One Tree Hill was even filmed in the same location, for god’s sake. Plus, Lucas Scott’s character arc was so closely modeled on Dawson Leery’s that when Lucas’ book got made into a movie in Season 6, they flew James Van Der Beek in to play the film director. Seriously. Hell, Dawson’s Creek creator Williamson even developed The Vampire Diaries for TV.
If anything stands out about the cover of Entertainment Weekly, it’s how varied each actor’s career has been. Arguably the most successful of the leads, Michelle Williams has been nominated for four Oscars so far. And while Katie Holmes’ six year marriage to Tom Cruise might’ve eclipsed her career for a while, she recently directed her first movie.
Conversely, James Van Der Beek and Joshua Jackson have been relegated to the small screen for the most part (although we can talk Urban Legend any time that you like). Jackson’s current role in The Affair even calls to mind his original love triangle, except this time, he’s second best. Van Der Beek was smart to cash in on that crying Dawson meme, because his TV roles get canned before anyone’s watched them.
Despite where they’ve ended up, the original love triangle is still talked about. Sure, it’s mostly just me screaming into the void, but whether Joey picked Dawson or Pacey is a crucial part of pop culture canon, as iconic as Rachel getting off the plane, or Felicity moving across the country for Ben.
The Dawson’s Creek love triangle is the zeitgeist of the ’90s. It’s a reminder of a simpler time, when the world seemed less fucked up. Back then, you called your best friend on a landline instead of @ing them, and all of your friends went to the same college, because it just worked out that way! (Except for Dawson because he was going to be a big film director, OK?)