To say that Dawson’s Creek episode ‘To Green, with love’ is the bravest hour of television I have ever seen written anywhere ever is an understatement of epic proportions.
More affecting, more intelligent, more startling, more thought-provoking, and better-written episodes exist in many forms. However, the combination of subject matter and the forum in which it is presented makes this episode one to remember--one which ought to be written in history books, really.
If, that is, history books concerned themselves with the lives of any save white men with wealth.
This episode portrays Joey Potter, a girl born into the worst situation anyone in a relatively affluent small town could be in, becoming a heroine--and a leader. Joey inspires everyone around her to step up and begin to see their lives in a more politicized context, to really take stock of and tentatively take the first steps towards appreciating and using the control they all assert over their own and one another’s lives. Her example and his own deep-down good heart lead white guy Dawson, with his blond good looks and his rich, loving parents, to content with holding his Mother’s camera while his Mom documents the events at the center of the episode on camera. Pacey, the notoriously selfish badboy fuck-up gives voice to and thus comes to terms with his burgeoning feelings for Joey, and permitting them sufficient rein at last to catapult him into becoming a better man. Jen, notoriously self-involved, voices her long-coming observation that Pacey is in love with Joey. In doing so, she makes use of her friendship with Pacey to soothe his hurt pride over the venerable Joey’s involvement with a college-age man and bringing into question his assumption that Joey would reject him out of hand. Principal Green himself, not portrayed as a ‘man with a mission’ other than collective empowerment, comes to see that he can be and do both. He seems on the road to recognizing his blackness and obvious desire to work for racial equality does not have to be a stumbling block in his role as principal of Capeside High or any other school. Indeed, every character on the show seems to switch from viewing their more unique aspects as flaws to instead viewing them as assets.
The episode does not merely take on racial inequality, but sexism, as well. Joey Potter becomes the leader of the miniature--because very abruptly formed--student revolt against the Superintendent’s decision to fire Principal Green if he does not rescind his decision to kick out the white an very wealthy Matt Caulfield. Aptly named, Caulfield has been responsible for numerous pranks and acts of violence at the school; his streak of vandalism culminated in the destruction of Joey Potter’s painting. Being a hardworking, law-abiding, relatively chaste girl from a broken family, she was as obvious a target as these girls tend to be in real-life high schools. However, her friends rallied around her, refusing to allow her to become a victim and silence herself simply to avoid the attention of boys like Caulfield who might try to hurt her for ‘stepping out of line’ by acting as though her voice actually counts. She is a poor girl who is too tall to be attractive to the kind of guys who get off on dominating women. She is supposed to do their homework and sit in the back and be quiet. Instead, she all but leads a student revolution. In two days, she organizes a huge rally in support of her [black] principal, transcends the station she was born into, and brings a lasting racial awareness to the lives of everyone she touches along the way. Not too shabby.
This episode works because leadership comes from the person most beloved of all those touched by Principal Green’s possible departure. Joey Potter is not the person one would expect if they went looking for a hero. She lives with her sister, her sister’s live-in boyfriend and their child. Her mother died, and her father was a drug dealer before he was sent to prison. The second he got out, he started dealing and went right back in again. She is surrounded by people in seemingly much better positions to lead this particular struggle. Andy participates in student government and is the lead student offering recommendations to the school disciplinary board. Dawson is white, well-off, and accustomed to a comfortable lifestyle in which his passions and idealism are encouraged by his parents. Andy has the clout and Dawson the time and spare energy to lead a fight like this one. In fact, if looking for someone to lead a fight like this one, most folks would reactively look to Dawson first, drawn in by his handsome face and charm and air of mystery. However, one would be wrong to do so. It is Joey, with her intimate knowledge of the difficulties of being perceived as an outsider in a community such as this and her unabashed anger and the pride in it she has fought so hard for who is perfect for this role.
Part of the reason why this episode is so excellent is because the leadership does not come from the expected source. Joey’s estranged best friend, Dawson Leery, is the knight anyone paying attention would expect to come riding to her rescue. He is blond, from a good family, and overall exactly the kind of man one would expect to be attracted to the girl he would be trying to save from her roots and her upbringing; she would make him feel ‘like a man’ in exchange for herself becoming kept and dependent on him, exchanging the free exercise of her talents for the relative comfort of being taken care of and provided for. However, he decides not to immediately try to fix everything for her this time, and as a result, she blooms beautifully. She is seemingly not afraid that others will accuse her of acting based on personal prejudices, since it was her painting that Matt Caulfield ruined; unlike so many of us, she has managed to see past the individual aspects of this instance and into the political ramifications. She does not see herself as a lone victim; rather, she recognizes that it could just as easily have been someone else in her place. For once, she does not look to him to check his opinion of her perspective and her plans before acting; thus assured by her self-confidence that she can handle things, he is free to focus on helping out the other most important woman in his life--his Mom. Because Dawson is willing to admit to the limits to what he can do, Joey is able to recognize that her own have been much too confining as of late. She discovers that she does not have to ’sit back and take it’ in order to be lauded by those around her, as the student population rallies to her aid; she discovers she does not have to be meek and silenced to be loved, as the adoring Pacey embraces this new side of her as passionately as she has. This is a great example of a woman acting without a man’s approval on behalf of her own opinion, because she knows she is right rather than because she wants to impress. In spite of his obvious skepticism--rare in a boy typically so idealistic--she succeeds.