Remember that episode of ‘Dawson’s Creek’ where Joey bantered with a mugger then sat by his side in the hospital? We need to talk about it.
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Fourteen years ago on a cold night in February, Joey Potter found herself held up by a handsomely disheveled nameless drug dealer. She walked alone in snowy Boston en route to meet her cute English professor after office hours, fresh off the high of giving her ex-boyfriend and current roommate her blessing to be together. A shadowy figure appeared before Joey, setting the stage for a very special episode of Dawson’s Creek.
Season 5’s “Downtown Crossing” differed from your average, normal episode of Dawson’s Creek. Skipping the iconic theme song and excluding the incestuous inter-friend-group love polygons, the pivotal episode focused solely on Katie Holmes’ Joey. And if I say so myself, it was a welcome interruption from the show’s constant game of romantic duck-duck-goose.
For one episode, the show strips us from the hyper-philosophical musings of a dysfunctional group of friends and exes with an SAT-level vocabulary. Instead, we’re dropped into Joey’s brush with a gun-wielding lunatic who tackles her and empties her savings account. It’s unquestionably the craziest, strangest, and perhaps most emotional episode of a show known for being crazily emotional. And it demands to be discussed all these years later.
Unlike Chandler Bing, who was once happily trapped in an ATM vestibule with a supermodel, a mugger shakes Joey down for her cash, credit cards, and cellphone. The young-ish grifter renders her defenseless, holding her at gunpoint but still somehow retaining a shred of self-awareness. He plays the “I’m not the worst mugger who could mug you” card, setting up a tense yet casual dynamic between the mugger and the mugged.
What’s remarkable about Joey as a character, beyond her everygirl charm and relatable anxieties, is her ability to banter with just about anyone. Banter can define a large percentage of the dialogue in Dawson’s Creek, especially with one Joey Potter. From ex-lovers to muggers, Joey can find common ground and quip back and forth with everyone whom she interacts. So, it’s not unlike her keep a cool head with the man pointing a gun in her face.Dawson’s Creek via Giphy
Whether a survival tactic or a token of her kindness, Joey chooses to keep the conversation relatively light while getting to know him. He tells her that he’s on the outs with his wife and needs to win her back. “Nature of the crime?” she asks him, genuinely attempting to help the guy out and save herself. As the night wears on and he takes everything he can from Joey (including her coat), she finds that the mugger shares a striking similarity to her father.
Now, Joey’s father hadn’t been a major plot point in Season 5. If anything, Dawson’s father, who abruptly died in a car accident, had shaped the penultimate season’s narrative. Joey dealt with her father’s drug dealing, lies, and consequent neglect in the past, not in her Worthington University present. In a sense, confronting her put-to-bed issues with her father with a random mugger came out of absolutely nowhere. One second she’s sorting out a crush on a teacher, then the next she’s having a profound evening in a Boston hospital. How did she get here?
Honestly, any issues we think we’ve put to bed haven’t been put to bed. Try as she might, Joey’s still that same little girl who idolizes her father, not realizing that he was dealing drugs at her birthday party. She’ll always live in that small space that questions the true intentions of the people around her. And she will never not feel guilty about telling a lie. But that’s what she does when she meets her mugger’s young daughter at the hospital.
In a divine act of karmic retribution, a car mows Joey’s mugger over and leaves him for dead in a four-way intersection. She wants to call him an ambulance, but he won’t allow it because, you know, cops. He pulls the unloaded trigger on her, giving Joey the fright of her life. The realization that he held unarmed power over her all night probably rose her blood pressure more than her life flashing before her eyes. Finally, the shock and fear works its worst and Joey faints in the arms of a paramedic.
At the hospital, Joey meets Grace, the mugger’s wife. She kicked him out (for obvious reasons) and harbors zero remorse for her husband when Joey tells her what transpired before the car hit him. In place of his family, Joey sits by her mugger’s bedside as they offer their final words to each other about heroes and villains and the precarious division between the two.
He had pocketed 500 dollars meant for his daughter’s daycare. Hence, he stole Joey’s savings, got hit by a car, and ultimately died. Joey relays the news to Grace, who’s overwhelmed with guilt for not giving her daughter a chance to say goodbye. Sammie looks up at Joey and asks if her father did something bad. Joey spins the story, telling the young girl her father saved her life. She hides her 500 dollars in the girl’s backpack.Dawson’s Creek via Giphy
The mugging has no immediate impact on Joey’s story. She doesn’t spend the next episode wallowing under a blanket eating chicken noodle soup and ice cream. Her friends don’t tiptoe around her so as to not disturb her shaken emotional and mental states. Rather, Joey thankfully recovers off camera. But on-camera, she walks away from the heavy encounter with an elevated understanding of the control she has over her destiny.
Joey’s the classic tortured soul searching for inspiration, meaning, and passion in everything she does. As a viewer and champion of Joey Potter the artist, this is her story to explore. Apart from her Thought Catalog-ready stories about Dawson and Pacey, her mugging handed her another chapter in the book I hope she writes about fathers and daughters. That night, Joey could have had an affair with her professor and her story would have been much, much different.
However, I expect that this episode was divisive among the Dawson’s Creek diehards. “Very special episodes” flirting with the maudlin don’t historically score high marks. Some work, some don’t. Personally, “Downtown Crossing” worked for me. It’s the kind of episode you’re not expecting to watch until you’re unblinkingly compelled for 42 minutes. Sometimes shows convey the loudest messages in their quietest moments.
Did Joey need to get mugged? Should a bigger deal have been made of it after the fact? What was its purpose if not for a February sweeps ratings grab? I think these questions and the countless others the episode inspires are what puts the special in “very special episode.”
Say what you will about Dawson’s Creek and its classic teen drama equals, naysayers. But the series deserves credit for bravely breaking the storytelling mold for episodes like “Downtown Crossing.” In the grand scheme of things, a capsule episode or two hardly affects the season’s arc. Still, creative breathers like this kept the series from going stale and viewers on their toes. I was certainly on my toes and the edge of my seat as Joey’s life was unexpectedly altered forever.
All six seasons of Dawson’s Creek are available to stream on Hulu Plus.