In 1998 Dawson’s Creek made its debut on the WB and helped change the landscape of teen television. The drama ran for six seasons, following a group of friends in a fictional New England town through the ups and downs of their teenage years.
Dawson, Joey, Pacey, and Jen had some of the most outlandish experiences that any teen could on television at the time. They were also, somehow, completely relatable. The WB had a hit on its hands as viewers wondered if Dawson and Joey would ever get together, if Pacey would figure out what he wanted in life, and if Jen would find a happy ending.
We’ve whittled the 128 hours of the series down to the ten best episodes. These episodes exemplify just what was so great about Dawson’s Creek. Some provided breaks from the usual episode formats while others provided homages to other properties. They all gave fans an inside look into the emotional roller coaster of the young adult experience.
10 Weekend In The Country S3E12
In season three, Joey’s big sister Bessie decided to realize her dream of owning a bed and breakfast. With the knowledge that a prominent critic was on the way to review it, Joey’s friends kicked themselves into high gear to help out.
“Weekend In The Country” is the kind of episode that you get in a teen drama when everyone needs a break from the angst. There’s a bit of comedy, there’s relationship building, and there are brief moments of insight into characters that add to the rest of the season. It’s one of the few episodes that tones down the melodrama and allows everyone to just have fun.
9 Beauty Contest S1E12
Since Dawson's Creek premiered in the '90s, it makes sense that some of the storylines were stereotypical of that era, including featuring a beauty contest in the episode called "Beauty Contest."
Joey, the last person anyone would expect to compete, gets a little beauty pageant coaching from new frenemy Jen. While that’s the first step in the two genuinely getting to know one another, the episode also has Pacey decide to compete, doing his own version of Braveheart.
There are a lot of gems from this trope-filled episode, like Katie Holmes warbling her way through “On My Own” or Pacey realizing that no one was going to award the prize to a guy. One of the best moments came from Joey though as she realizes Dawson is suddenly seeing her as a girl simply because she’s wearing makeup and a dress. She refuses to give in to his attention, despite desperately wanting it in the previous eleven episodes.
8 The Unusual Suspects S4E08
A senior prank is something so epic that even some estranged friends will ally once again to pull it off. At least, that’s what Dawson’s Creek leaves you thinking in this homage to the crime classic The Usual Suspects.
When the principal’s sailboat and his dog are found in the Capeside High swimming pool, Dawson’s father immediately suspects his own son. After all, Dawson and Pacey had planned an epic prank years earlier. Unfortunately, the two, and Jack McPhee, aren’t on the best of terms. As each of them is questioned throughout the episode, giving airtight alibis, fans got to see how brilliant the trio could be as they framed another classmate in revenge.
7 The Long Goodbye S5E04
Though plenty of Dawson’s friends experienced their own brushes with tragedy over the years, Dawson led a pretty charmed life. It took five seasons before Dawson experienced a significant loss.
John Wesley Shipp asked to be written out of the show as he felt the parents would be aged out of the series. The writers used the request as an opportunity to have Dawson lose his father in a car accident. Dawson, unsurprisingly, didn’t take the loss well. “The Long Goodbye” explored Dawson’s guilt about his relationship with his father and gave the character a fitting emotional send-off.
6 Detention S1E07
In an episode that didn’t hold back in its nods to The Breakfast Club, “Detention” stuck the main characters with an antagonist in an enclosed space. The main foursome and Capeside’s resident bad girl Abby all ended up with detention on a Saturday.
Rather than sit back and stay quiet in the library, Abby stirred up trouble in the group with a game of “Truth Or Dare.” The game led to Joey’s feelings being a little more out in the open, and an increased layer of tension among the friend group in the episodes to follow. It was a deliciously dramatic hour.
5 ...That Is The Question S2E15
After Joey and Dawson attempted to date and it didn’t work out, she started dating the new boy in school. While Jack would also become a life long friend, their romantic relationship came to a halt in this season two episode.
The second half of a two-parter, this episode saw Jack take a long look at who he was as a result of a poem he wrote for his English class in the previous episode. It facilitated one of the most memorable coming out stories in teen television.
In addition to Jack’s storyline, the audience also got to see how much Pacey had grown since the first season. Pacey was the only person to stand up to the teacher who put Jack on the spot. He also found a legal way to make the teacher pay for the way he treated Jack.
4 Castaways S6E15
Almost a bottle episode, the bulk of this hour of Dawson’s Creek took place in a surprising location: the now-defunct department store K-Mart.
Joey and Pacey ended up in a completely implausible situation. After a dinner party, a brief pit stop left them trapped overnight in a K-Mart. The two, who weren’t spending a ton of time together by this point in the series, used the experience to reconnect. They spent a fun hour looking back at the past, wondering about the future, and Joey got to shave off Pacey’s goatee, which was almost universally hated by fans. It reminded fans of the chemistry between the core four before returning to the regular college years stories.
3 The Scare S1E11
Before Dawson’s Creek creator Kevin Williamson became known for teen television, he also had his hand in teen horror franchises. Williamson wrote Scream, I Know What You Did Last Summer, The Faculty, and Teaching Mrs. Tingle.
The season one episode “The Scare” pulled from Williamson’s horror sensibilities to create a pretty frightening hour of television for Capeside. Dawson, Jen, Joey, and Pacey found themselves stalked by a stranger while someone was killing women in nearby towns. Jen believed, the result of an ill-conceived prank, that she was next. Other scary episodes would be attempted in later seasons, but the first one was certainly the best.
2 The Longest Day S3E20
Season three of Dawson’s Creek was the season that saw a new dynamic develop. Not only did Joey and Pacey become friends, but they developed feelings for one another beyond that as well. By “The Longest Day,” the two were no longer struggling with admitting how they felt. More accurately, just one episode earlier, Joey decided she and Pacey should give a relationship a try.
Their honeymoon period essentially didn’t exist as this episode saw their relationship revealed to both Dawson and Andie with near disastrous results. Told in three points of view, the writers broke the usual format with this one, and it gave an emotional and satisfying hour.
1 All Good Things ...Must Come To An End S6E23 And 24
This selection is a bit of a cheat because it’s technically two episodes. The finale of Dawson’s Creek aired as a two-hour block. With the two hours as halves of one whole story, the series finale should be viewed as one selection, which is why they both land the top spot of the series.
Throughout the entire run of the show, there may have been some missteps, but the finale tied up story ends, saw characters realize their dreams, and gave (almost) everyone a satisfying step into adulthood. The finale not only saw Dawson finally get his story to the screen, but it saw Jack find his family, Jen understand love, and Pacey and Joey find their way back to one another. A satisfying conclusion for fans is hard to come by, but Dawson’s Creek managed it.