Oh, Jack McPhee. What happened, son? One minute he’s fighting team Dawson for a piece of team Joey, playing for team Hetero-Bro and posing desperately naked for a one time only Joey Potter sketching session like one of Leonardo Dicaprio’s french whores in Titanic and the next he’s outing himself through teen poetry, sobbing on the stairs and dumping a girl that three episodes ago he would have skinned Dawson alive for.
I fucking love the Jack McPhee coming out storyline. Sure, it made about as much sense in the show as Dawson’s belief that Spielberg is the only true cinematic auteur worth blowing a celluloid load over (dear god, kid. Stop watching Jaws), but it also gave us the first pre-watershed gay kiss on American TV (fist bump! High fives! Party streamers!) and also actually made something out of a character who was…well…I don’t even know what he was pre-gay. He was about as interesting as the sketch Joey did of him. Coarse, uncontrolled lines. No filler. Black and white. Presumably somebody took a good hard look at him, threw their cocktail in the air and gestured ‘let’s add a motherfucking rainbow…!’.
Allegedly, show creator Kevin Williamson (a gay man himself, who hopefully has never had to fake heteronormativity by stripping off for a wimpy, teen girl with zero art skills to ‘draw’ a portrait of) wanted to include a storyline that reflected his own struggle with homosexuality growing up and BOOM! Jack McPhee was summoned. Considering that Dawson is, by all accounts, a fictionalised version of Williamson ‘as a young artist’ (*shudder*) it seems like one hell of a wasted opportunity that the writing team never thought to make Dawson gay. Seriously, you guys. What a different show we could be talking about now. Just think of the possibilities!
Regardless, Jack McPhee is here, he’s queer and he sure as fuck doesn’t want to talk about it. And it comes so far out of left field that it’s practically in a new time zone by the time it hits.
It’s a two part episode (as all the best episodes should be) which begins with an overly detailed miniaturised toy town version of Capeside in Dawson’s horrific bedroom (where wet dreams go to die), made by one Jack McPhee for Dawson’s (ha) film. Dawson’s being a dick and seeing how his camera moves around it whilst presumably all the miniature, fictional inhabitants of the toy town are screaming ‘please, kill us’. And that’s it. Pacey briefly mentions some writing shit him and Jack both need to do for their English class and goes off to do it (but not before looking noticeably concerned about leaving Dawson and Jack unchaperoned in the bedroom together. As if the whole time he knew something that we didn’t. Please, give Jack a little credit. He’d never jump aboard that sinking ship).
CUE PAULA COLE SONG STARTING CREDITS I DON’T WANNA WAAAAII-
And then, inexplicably, sometime between toy town and Dawson’s showboating cinematic eye, poor old Jack decides it’s a good idea to pour his entire heart, soul and suffering into this English assignment and hell, just come out in a really gnarly, creative way. For extra credit. Nice one, Dawson. Way to inspire a kid.
Lucky for Jack, piece of ass Pacey Witter happens to be in his English class and the chubby cheeked little scamp goofs around in class and pisses off the teacher – who’s like a combination of Bungle the Bear matched with the ghoulish sadism of Josef Mengele – which then inexplicably results in Jack being bullied into reading his poem out loud.
To this day, I’m still completely in the dark about how ‘out’ Jacks poem his. He talks about shutting his eyes and seeing a man, and then some stuff about struggling, or…I don’t know, it’s all pretty vanilla. Personally, if I would have heard that poem in class I would have just made the assumption that it was about Limp Bizkit or Wrestling or some shit. Neither my gaydar, nor my spider sense, would have tingled once.
But anyway, Jack starts crying whilst he reads the poem, but instead of doing what any self-respecting, humiliated teenager would do and haul ass straight out the door, he just stands there and carries on, finishes the whole thing and then leaves. Pacey winds up spitting in the teachers face. Because that’s how you get shit done, people.
And then comes the shit storm. It seems endless, and that Josef Mengele son of a bitch is unrelenting. Even though he must have walked past Jack’s locker spray painted with ‘Fag’ at some point on his way back from his afternoon shit, he still thinks it’ll be a supreme lark for Jack to read the poem out for a second time in the next class because the dipshit didn’t finish it during his last attempt. What a grade-A prick.
For most of the episode we don’t focus on how Jack is dealing with all this. Instead we see Pacey running around like a goddamned Jimmy Stewart trying to protect all that is moral and sane in the World, we see Jen Lindley (and, sit yourself down for this, old lady Grams) defending all things fabulous and queer against her jazz loving, martini drinking, bible humping boyfriend, and we see Joey Potter making it – as fucking usual – all about her.
[As a side note, let’s just enjoy for a moment how interesting it is that Joey Potter bearded for a gay man in the Creek and in real life was married to Tom ‘Go Oprah!’ Cruise for five odd (odd) years. Snort. Joey Potters reaction to the spray painted ‘Fag’ epithet on her boys locker? Some not so casual totally-hetero PDA in front of a big old audience. When reality and fiction, collide, people].
I’ll never understand Joey Potter. Even less will I ever understand Joey and Jack. During the whole ‘Jack is gay’ debacle her first thought isn’t ‘oh boy, I better call him and see what’s happening and check that he’s okay’, it’s ‘I should hang out with Dawson and ask him if I’m a sexual being. Do boys know that I have sex parts? That I can do the sex? Do boys even want the sex? I won’t let them have it, either way, but it’d be nice to know that it’s in demand’.
And then in one of the most putrid scenes in existence a faux-coy Joey Potter twizzles her hair about, pouts her lips and makes Dawson slobber like a Rottweiler with a bag of sherbert in it’s mouth as he trips over himself to essentially tell her ‘YOU’RE INCREDIBLY SEXY JOEY POTTER. I’D BANG YOU IN A MILLISECOND IF ONLY I KNEW HOW’.
Completely sated she smiles with her Potter trademarked half mouth and presumably tells him to go home whilst she cracks on with the hoovering.
And whilst hoovering she’ll no doubt outer-monologue about how maybe she’s why Jack, who definitely isn’t gay but might be gay but might still-want-to-be-my-boyfriend-gay, has picked her to be his trophy girlfriend. Whilst a Sophie B Hawkins plays on repeat in the background. And rain cascades down the windows. And a dog dies.
Get the fuck out, J-Potts.
The emotional finale is gut punching stuff. It honestly tears me apart. We have Jack screaming at his ‘homosexuality does NOT run in the family, son’ dad. His dad telling him to stop screaming. Jack not stopping screaming. Dad telling him not to be gay. Jack not stopping being gay. Dad telling him to stop crying. Jack not stopping crying.
It makes me want to pound merlot like there’s no tomorrow.
There’s a great deal of unpleasantness. Jack’s dad is a bad man. That much is clear. The kind of man who probably has a secret basement somewhere filled with nazi memorabilia and the severed spline of a Korean soldier that he killed once. Not in war, but outside of a New Jersey gay bar where he probably waits every weekend to berate good solid men who just like a bit of a dick.
Jack and his mentally-unstable (I still don’t get what exactly was unstable about her? They never replied to any of my memos about it) sister Andie eventually kick him out in a wail-fest of a scene that ends in everyone sobbing on the stairs. Including me.
Poor old Jack doesn’t get much of a say, overall, in his own coming out story. A big part of me wishes that his coming out would have involved him spitting in the teachers face, not Pacey and raising hell against crappy God-squad homophobics by ramming his tongue down their God-fearing throat (yeah! Judge that God!) and that he would have been the one to say to Joey ‘No. You’re not sexy. Get a personality and then maybe we can reassess shit. Sashay-away, sister’.
At the end of all this harrowing activity, just in case you forgot about the sub plot, a little red faced Pacey Witter comes running up to his pal Jack to let him know that it’s all okay. Gay men of Capeside rejoice! He got the teacher fired. He got shit done. He changed the World. Like he’d just sorted out some banal admin jobs for Jack and was passing his invoice and expenses over. No, no, no, no – no.
Jack McPhee and his homosexual urges deserved better than that. He deserved to be allowed to fight his own battles and not have all the other straight characters shoulder the weight of the whole struggle for him. That’s like those men who turn up to feminist rallies just to pick up women, or the casually racist hipsters who point at their one black friend to verify why they can drop the N-bomb every 15 minutes.
Jack McPhee should have gone on an all-out rampage. He should have been the queer hero that the country was ready for and not had his agency stripped from him so that the breeders could normalise the scenario for those-at-home-still-unsure-about-whether-gays-are-cool.
Seriously. Get out.
Jack McPhee. Sashay, you stay.