Skip To Content

    The Most Iconic "Dawson's Creek" Episodes, Ranked From Good To Great

    Episodes with Pacey and Joey > any other episode.

    Promo shot of Dawson's Creek; Jen, Dawson, Joey and Pacey stand together in front of the creek
    Warner Bros / Getty Images

    Dawson's Creek was the definitive contemporary teen show of the late '90s and early '00s. It started so many cultural conversations and influenced teen TV for years to come. It's now on Netflix, and as so many of us head back to Capeside for a nostalgia hit, let's take a look back at the best episodes of Dawson's Creek, and what made them so great...

    20. “All Good Things”/“Must Come To An End” (Season 6, Episodes 23-24)

    Jen lies in a hospital bed, hugging a crying Jack to her chest
    Warner Bros

    Written by: Kevin Williamson/Kevin Williamson & Maggie Freidman

    Directed by: James Whitmore Jr./Greg Prange

    The two-parter series finale skips ahead five years into the future, with the grown-up and dispersed gang reuniting in Capeside for Gail's wedding. It manages to balance nostalgia with giving each character a fitting ending — or at least the sense that they're on the right path.

    There is one huge exception to this, however: Jen Lindley. After seasons of pretty shitty storylines, in which she was perpetually punished by the narrative for not being the good girl like Joey, Jen is killed off for no other reason than to serve the other characters' storylines. She deserves so much better. But, even though the plot is infuriating, there are some beautifully written scenes resulting from it. Michelle Williams is a total heartbreaker in every moment, especially when Jen records a video letter for her daughter. It's powerful (if not entirely necessary) stuff.

    19. "Decisions" (Season 1, Episode 13)

    Jen sits next to a crying Grams in church
    Warner Bros

    Written by: Dana Baratta & Mike White

    Directed by: David Semel

    This whole episode is centred around Joey and Dawson's will-they-won't-they finally coming to a head. In hindsight, the Joey/Dawson pairing was terrible, but at this early stage it was still something fans were rooting for, and this episode really nails their mixed-up feelings.

    But the real highlight is Jen's storyline. Her relationship with Grams turned out to be one of the most interesting in the whole series, and this episode marks a crucial turning point in it. After clashing all season, particularly about religious beliefs, Jen and Grams come together after Jen's grandfather dies, and forge a new connection and understanding in their grief. Mary Beth Peil's portrayal of Grams breaking down in church is an emotional punch in the gut.

    18. "Escape from Witch Island" (Season 3, Episode 7)

    Jen looks at Pacey; Pacey's hand caresses Jen's chin
    Warner Bros

    Written by: Tom Kapinos

    Directed by: James Whitmore Jr.

    With a creator like Kevin Williamson, and a main character like Dawson (aka Kevin Williamson's self-insert), paying homage to movies — and particularly horror movies — was built into the DNA of Dawson's Creek. This Season 3 episode is a tribute to The Blair Witch Project. The gang are stranded on a ~haunted~ island as part of Dawson's quest to make a documentary. The spookiness only enhances the tensions already bubbling below the surface — including the attraction Pacey and Jen have to each other, and of course Joey and Dawson's fraught relationship. It's a silly but enjoyable ride.

    17. “The Long Goodbye” (Season 5, Episode 4)

    Dawson crying in his car
    Warner Bros

    Written by: Tom Kapinos

    Directed by: Robbie McNeill

    Another grief storyline. Dawson's was often at its best exploring loss — perhaps because its entire premise was based around exploring the loss of innocence, and death is the ultimate iteration of that. Here, the grief is about Mitch, Dawson's dad, who dies in the most ridiculous way but who nevertheless gets a respectful and heartfelt send-off.

    Dawson grappling with guilt over Mitch's death is particularly compelling, and one of the best storylines centered around him over the course of the series.

    16. “The Scare” (Season 1, Episode 11)

    Dawson and Joey sitting in a dark room at a table, lit from below
    Warner Bros

    Written by: Mike White

    Directed by: Rodman Flender

    This is another special ~spooky~ episode of Dawson's Creek, riffing off Kevin Willamson's own Scream. Jen gets creepy anonymous phone calls, and the gang gathers at Dawson's, together with a strange hitchhiker. The story doesn't really move forward here in any tangible way, but it's a lot of fun, which was needed amongst all the angst.

    15. "Sex, She Wrote" (Season 2, Episode 11)

    Close-up of Abby Morgan standing in a classroom
    Warner Bros

    Written by: Mike White & Greg Berlanti

    Directed by: Nick Marck

    Abby Morgan, like Jen, deserved so much better. She's in fine form in this episode, doing what she does best: stirring up drama and meddling in the lives of the creek's most incestuous friendship group. The episode is framed as a mystery — not a murder mystery, this isn't Riverdale (despite the involvement of Greg Berlanti). It's a SEX mystery, because the first couple of seasons of Dawson's Creek is so, so horny.

    It all kicks off when Abby finds an unsigned letter that mentions a couple having had sex the day before. She gets her Horny Miss Marple on and tries to figure out which Capeside couple did the deed. It makes for a very tense episode in the best possible way, and Monica Keena looks like she's having the best damn time as Abby.

    14. “Ch..Ch..Changes” (Season 2, Episode 21)

    Close-up of Pacey's hands cradling Andie's tearful face
    Warner Bros

    Written by: Dana Baratta

    Directed by: Lou Antonio

    While Pacey and Joey's relationship often gets the spotlight, Pacey and Andie's was also a wonderful storyline, and a crucial element in Pacey actually becoming the romantic hero of the show. Pacey and Andie walked so Pacey and Joey could fly, basically. There are a lot of great moments between Pacey and Andie, but this one — featuring the pair saying goodbye as she leaves town in order to heal her mental health — is devastating and beautiful. Andie's character and mental health weren't always handled with care in later seasons, but here they very much were, as she has agency and control over her journey. Pacey, meanwhile, is the understanding and emotionally intelligent boyfriend of our dreams. He says all the right things and shows her a fierce and unwavering love.

    The episode also gives Jack some good material to work with, especially as he tries to navigate his father's reaction to him coming out, as well as his sister leaving town. Jack and Jen also move in together, the real start of their spectacular journey together, which is later cemented as the ultimate platonic soul mate dynamic of the entire series (I'm not sorry, Joey and Dawson).

    13. “Uncharted Waters” (Season 2, Episode 12)

    Pacey cries with his head bent down
    Warner Bros

    Written by: Dana Baratta & Mike White

    Directed by: Scott Paulin

    The boys and girls split off in this episode; the girls — including Abby Morgan, up to her usual tricks — gather with Gail for a story about "teen trends" she's working on, while the boys head out for a father/son boat trip. This set-up is great for exploring Joey and Jen's difficult connection, and also the troubled relationship Pacey has with his father. It wasn't a storyline Dawson's Creek visited very often, but it was always significant and added so much to Pacey's character when they did.

    The most memorable moment of the episode is when Pacey reveals his hurt to his passed-out father. Joshua Jackson was so great at Pacey's quippy, quirky side, but he was also brilliant at the emotional stuff, as this scene shows.

    12. “To Be Or Not To Be”/“That Is The Question” (Season 2, Episodes 14-15)

    Jack stands and reads from a piece of paper in class
    Warner Bros

    Written by: Greg Berlanti/Kevin Williamson

    Directed by: Sandy Smolan/Greg Prange

    This massive two-parter is where Jack comes out — or rather, is forced to come out after a cruel teacher makes him to read out an intimate and vulnerable poem he wrote in class. It's absolutely brutal to watch at times, but it's also compelling and, for its time, groundbreaking.

    11. “Detention” (Season 1, Episode 7)

    Jen, Dawson and Joey sit on couches in the school library
    Warner Bros

    Written by: Mike White

    Directed by: Allan Arkush

    Scary movies weren't the only kind Dawson's Creek paid homage to. This one is all about The Breakfast Club, complete with a meta name-drop that sets up Pacey/Joshua Jackson to comment on Emilio Estevez in "those duck movies". Dawson's loved a subtle — and not-so-subtle — wink and a nod.

    The episode itself did what The Breakfast Club did — chucked its characters (including Abby Morgan! Back at it again!) in a room for a day and let all their hormones and emotions create fun and adventure. People argue, make confessions, play games, and makeout. It's basically a microcosm of Dawson's Creek as a whole, and it's perfect.

    10. “Pilot” (Season 1, Episode 1)

    Jen shakes hands with Joey as Dawson and Pacey look on; they stand in front of the creek
    Warner Bros

    Written by: Kevin Williamson

    Directed by: Steve Miner

    This isn't the perfect pilot episode, but it's a very strong one. Ms. Jacobs' abusive dynamic with Pacey is a notable, extremely off-putting Season 1 plot that starts here, but the rest of the episode hits all the right notes. In this introduction, we know exactly what we're in for; Joey putting up snarky defenses, Jen trying to ease her loneliness, Dawson being a self-centered jerk, Pacey being a witty but vulnerable teen, all of them speaking with ridiculous vocabulary, and of course endless hazy shots of the creek in the background. Plus, the yearning. Oh, the yearning. This episode felt strangely nostalgic even in the '90s; that sense has only become more potent in the intervening years.

    9. “Beauty Contest” (Season 1, Episode 12)

    Joey wears formal attire and stands on stage in front of a microphone
    Warner Bros

    Written by: Dana Baratta

    Directed by: Arvin Brown

    Joey enters a beauty pageant in a bid to win the prize money, Jen helps her in a bid to win her friendship, and Pacey enters too in a bid to prove a point. It's all completely delightful.

    "Beauty Pageant" marks a turning point in Dawson and Joey's relationship, because for some reason Joey massacring "On My Own" makes Dawson hornier than he is for Katie Couric. But it's Pacey's Braveheart monologue that's the true star of the episode. That blue paint was something else.

    8. “Cinderella Story” (Season 3 ,Episode 17)

    Close up of Pacey kissing Joey
    Warner Bros

    Written by: Jeffrey Stepakoff

    Directed by: Janice Cooke-Leonard

    We are now entering a very Pacey and Joey-heavy run of episodes, and it's because, quite frankly, their love story was the best arc in the entire series. The chemistry between Katie Holmes and Joshua Jackson was incredible, and they did some of their best work opposite each other.

    This is the episode where Pacey and Joey's attraction finally becomes explicit, and Pacey kisses Joey after picking her up from her failed weekend with AJ. I screamed the first time watching it, and every time in the many times I've watched it since.

    7. “Double Date” (Season 1, Episode 10)

    Pacey looks away from Joey over his shoulder while Joey looks at him in frustration
    Warner Bros

    Written by: Jon Harmon Feldman

    Directed by: David Semel

    This episode has Dawson being the worst and trying to sabotage Jen's new relationship with Cliff (Scott Foley, hello!). But it also has Joey and Pacey! Forced to be lab partners! Forced to do out-of-hours work together! Forced to strip and share a space wearing only blankets! Forced to banter and bond for hours on end!!

    Their chemistry is so intense Pacey immediately decides, actually, he wants to make out with Joey, but of course Dawson cockblocks him. It foreshadows what's to come, before the writers probably even knew it was coming. And it's the best.

    6. “A Winter’s Tale” (Season 4, Episode 14)

    Joey talks to an emotional Pacey
    Warner Bros

    Written by: Zack Estrin & Chris Levinson

    Directed by: Greg Prange

    AKA the one where Joey and Pacey Do It. Season 4 is a rocky road for our fave couple, but this episode is definitely a high point. It explores the pressure each character feels to have sex in a thoughtful way, and it ultimately leads to a very tender and emotional, er, climax (sorry).

    Dawson, meanwhile, has to make a literal life and death decision about Mr. Brooks, in one of the more humanizing storylines he was given.

    5. “Castaways” (Season 6, Episode 15)

    Pacey and Joey embrace while lying down and looking into each other's eyes
    Warner Bros

    Written by: Gina Fattore

    Directed by: Greg Prange

    Yes, it's Pacey and Joey again! In an episode dedicated entirely to them, as they're stranded in a shopping mall overnight. We were absolutely starved of Pacey and Joey content throughout Seasons 5 and 6 — and those seasons are worse off for it — so this episode is a long-overdue feast. It's a chance for Joey and Pacey to address their complicated feelings for each other, the subtext that colors their every interaction, and just how much they really care about each other. And it's all framed by one of the best romantic tropes in fiction. It's Dawson's Creek heaven.

    4. “The Longest Day” (Season 3, Episode 20)

    Close up of Jen looking at Dawson
    Warner Bros

    Written by: Gina Fattore

    Directed by: Perry Lang

    Dawson's Creek occasionally got creative with structure, and this was an instance where it was very effective. It all takes place in one day, with the story told multiple times from different characters' perspectives. The framing turns the reveal of Pacey and Joey's interest in each other to Dawson and Andie into a mystery, and when the puzzle pieces all click into place it's a Big Moment.

    Elsewhere, Jen deals with the terrible Henry, one in a long list of boys who didn't deserve her. Her hair looks fantastic though.

    3. “Stolen Kisses” (Season 3, Episode 19)

    Joey and Dawson talk to each other while sitting on hay in a barn
    Warner Bros

    Written by: Tom Kapinos

    Directed by: Greg Prange

    Julie Bowen guest stars as Dawson's aunt who is literally never mentioned again. The gang spends Spring Break at her house, including Will, a character who is introduced for two episodes in order to kick off the spin-off Young Americans (which unfortunately flopped).

    The focus of the episode is, of course, Joey and Pacey's feelings for each other, which they're both trying to resist (Joey moreso than Pacey). It gets hard when they're forced to share a bed (!!!) and they have some very heated conversations and some even more heated kisses. The tension — both sexual, and otherwise — is wonderful.

    2. “The Anti-Prom” (Season 3, Episode 22)

    Pacey and Joey dance together in formalwear
    Warner Bros

    Written by: Maggie Friedman

    Directed by: Greg Prange

    Three words: "I remember everything."

    The most iconic line in Dawson's Creek history, delivered with swoon-worthy softness by Joshua Jackson. In an episode in which Dawson and Andie are trying to win Joey and Pacey back, but Joey and Pacey just want each other, the "forbidden" dance between the pair is delicious. Pacey's heartfelt story about the bracelet Joey is wearing — her mother's bracelet — encapsulates everything that makes him so dreamy. He articulates that he sees Joey, he knows her better than anyone — even Dawson — and there's nothing more romantic than that.

    The "anti prom" itself takes place because Jack couldn't attend the school's prom with another guy. The episode explores Jack's own internalized homophobia, and it's a strong set-up for the growth he displays in the following episode.

    1. “True Love” (Season 3, Episode 23)

    Close-up on Dawson crying
    Warner Bros

    Written by: Gina Fattore & Tom Kapinos

    Story by: Greg Berlanti & Jeffrey Stepakoff

    Directed by: James Whitmore, Jr.

    Ah, the episode that birthed The Meme. It tops the list for making Dawson do that cry face alone. But do you remember the reason he's crying? That's right, Joey ditches him to literally sail off into the sunset with Pacey! Finally! It's all AMAZING.

    The theme of love permeates the other characters' arcs in this episode, too. Gail and Mitch get remarried (aw), and Jen and Jack both go on romantic grand dashes to pursue their love interests — which leads to Jack and Ethan delivering network television's first ~passionate~ gay kiss. Historic!

    TV and Movies

    Get all the best moments in pop culture & entertainment delivered to your inbox.

    Newsletter signup form