Please note: This transcript has been automatically generated.

Clips (00:05):

Oh, my God, look at her.

Jessica Bennett (00:10):

This is a clip from the very first episode of Dawson’s Creek. I’m sure you remember it. This was the wildly popular television show that ran on the WB in the late 90s.

Clips (00:18):

Show some respect, man. She’s somebody’s mother.


I have been on pretty good authority that mothers have excellent sex lives, all right?

Jessica Bennett (00:29):

The two voices you hear are Pacey and Dawson, two best friends. They’re about to start their sophomore year in high school. They live in a fictional town called Cape Side, Massachusetts, and they’re working in a video store where they rent VHS tapes. The woman they’re ogling in this clip is about to become their high school English teacher. What is more is that 15 year old Pacey is going to lose his virginity to her just a few episodes later.


I’m Jessica Bennett.

Susie Banikarim (01:07):

And I’m Susie Banikarim.

Jessica Bennett (01:08):

This is In Retrospect, where each week we delve into a cultural moment from the past that shaped us.

Susie Banikarim (01:14):

And that we just can’t stop thinking about.

Jessica Bennett (01:16):

Today we’re talking about a teenager’s relationship with his much older teacher on Dawson’s Creek, but we’re also talking about sex in the nineties and how we understood it, as well as the case that was playing out in the background of it all, that of Mary Kay Letourneau. This is Hot For Teacher, part one.

Susie Banikarim (01:34):

So Jess, what made you want to talk about this moment in this week’s episode?

Jessica Bennett (01:38):

I wanted to talk about Dawson’s, because one, all of my high school friends were absolutely obsessed with it. We’d have these viewing parties every week in my friend’s basement. Her mother was really opposed to us watching it, but we persevered. But also, because the relationship we’re going to talk about here, one between student and teacher, is one that… And I know this is a little bit strange, but I totally shipped.

Susie Banikarim (02:04):

Wait, so for the people in the audience who don’t know what shipped means…

Jessica Bennett (02:08):

Yeah, shipping. It’s a fan term for when you’re rooting for a couple. Basically, we thought this relationship and this couple was totally hot.

Susie Banikarim (02:16):

Yeah, I very vaguely remember this storyline. This wasn’t the storyline that really stayed with me. Was this something that you really thought about over the years?

Jessica Bennett (02:25):

No, and it’s actually only been recently that I came back to this. I was thinking back to Dawson’s Creek, maybe it was around the 25th anniversary. I was like, wait, wasn’t there a student/teacher relationship in that? So I went back and I looked and then I started frantically texting my high school girlfriends to be like, “By the way, do you remember that in sophomore year when we were 15, 16 years old, we were watching this show obsessively where one of the main characters is sleeping with his teacher? Is that kind of weird?”

Susie Banikarim (02:55):

Yeah, I mean, the funny thing is, I really didn’t remember until you told me that this was a significant storyline.

Jessica Bennett (03:02):

It’s funny, because my job for a number of years was covering the Me Too movement. And so, so much about the cultural coverage there was looking back at shows, music, all of these things made in the past, that through a modern day lens are actually quite problematic, to use a word that I hate. But somehow I just completely missed Dawson’s in that. I forgot to think about it until recently.

Susie Banikarim (03:26):

Well, because it’s actually weirdly not treated like a very meaningful moment. I mean, he loses his virginity to her, but it’s not something that’s reflected on.

Jessica Bennett (03:34):

Right, and wasn’t that kind of nuts?

Susie Banikarim (03:37):


Jessica Bennett (03:38):

So, I started digging back into it. I started re-watching Dawson’s Creek and really thinking about what that plot line taught us about about what was okay in terms of student/teacher relationships, and kind of how that all plays now in our post-Me Too world.

Susie Banikarim (03:55):

I remember that this is an era where I started to become aware of this concept of attractive older female teachers having relationships with their students. There was the Mary Kay Letourneau and then there was the case that became To Die For, which was that Nicole Kidman movie. It seemed very much of the cultural moment and very rarely presented as predatory in terms of the woman.

Jessica Bennett (04:17):

Absolutely. And we’re going to get to all of that, but I want to just focus a minute on Dawson’s and why we’re talking about that show because it was a really big deal back then.

Susie Banikarim (04:26):

I remember, yeah.

Jessica Bennett (04:27):

And not just with me and my high school friends. It was created by this guy, Kevin Williamson. He’s the one who actually grew up near a real life, Dawson’s Creek. It was a place where the high school kids would go to make out in his town somewhere in the southern… It was North Carolina/South Carolina.

Susie Banikarim (04:42):

When people describe a lookout point? I didn’t know those were real things.

Jessica Bennett (04:45):

We totally had that.

Susie Banikarim (04:46):

You had that?. No, we didn’t have that. I went to boarding school, so we went made out in the cemetery. It was really cool.

Jessica Bennett (04:50):

I love that. Dark.

Susie Banikarim (04:51):

Yeah, dark. We were dark.

Jessica Bennett (04:53):

Kevin Williamson had made Scream. He had made, I Know What You Did Last Summer.

Susie Banikarim (04:56):

Both great movies, honestly.

Jessica Bennett (04:58):

Yeah. Kevin Williamson was basically this early two thousands teen TV whisperer. Among the shows that he sells that helped define this era is Dawson’s Creek, this coming of age drama about a group of pretty waspy high school friends. It’s named for Dawson, who’s the main character. Then the other characters are of course his best friend, Pacey, his maybe love interest Joey, and then the mysterious Jen who’s moved from the big city, aka New York. And Dawson’s is huge. It quickly becomes the number one show on the WB.


When it premieres in January 1998, this is when I was a sophomore in high school, 6.8 million people, including half of all teenagers who were watching TV that night, tune in to watch Dawson and his pals navigate hormones and friendships in this show. I actually still remember it aired at 9:00 PM right after Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I’m not sure that I personally own the soundtrack, but I know every line to every song on that soundtrack.

Susie Banikarim (05:59):

I remember the theme song. The theme song is very iconic. But I don’t remember anything else from the soundtrack.

Jessica Bennett (06:05):

You don’t remember Six Pence None The Richer, that band? And then the theme song was, I Don’t Want To Wait by Paula Cole.

Susie Banikarim (06:15):

Yes, that I remember.

Jessica Bennett (06:18):

And fun fact, producers originally wanted to have Alanis Morissette, the Song Hand in My Pocket, which I actually truly love, as a theme song, but apparently they couldn’t get the rights to it. So Dawson’s, if I haven’t expressed this, is huge. Kids are forming watch parties at their high schools, local newspapers are calling it a cult hit. Importantly, it actually allows the WB to reach this very popular but overlooked at that time and highly coveted audience, which was teen girls.

Susie Banikarim (06:47):

I feel like this is also coming after the popularity of Beverly Hills 90210, so people are trying to recreate that magic of a teen hit show.

Jessica Bennett (06:54):

Yes. Yes, absolutely. In re-watching it, it’s actually hilarious how heavy-handed it is. Literally everything is framed around sex.

Susie Banikarim (07:03):

I re-watched the first six episodes in preparing for this, and I really was shocked by how much sexual innuendo is in it. I don’t remember that at all from watching it the first time.

Jessica Bennett (07:14):

There was so much innuendo in part because they had to get it past the network,. So they would do things like talking about having long fingers. Like you’re supposed to know what that means. And food was described as orgasmic.

Susie Banikarim (07:27):

There’s that weird scene with Katie Holmes who plays, Joey, Dawson’s best friend and kind of a love interest for both characters. She says it in this sort of creepy way, she’s like, “It’s orgasmic.” I’m like, what is happening on this show?

Jessica Bennett (07:41):

Then later they’re talking about masturbation and they’re calling it Walking the Dog.

Clips (07:45):

How often do you walk your dog, huh? What time of day? How many times a week?

Jessica Bennett (07:48):

Ultimately, it’s then revealed that Dawson actually walks the dog to Katie Couric’s Morning News show.

Susie Banikarim (07:54):

Yeah, which is particularly weird because his mom is a news anchor.

Jessica Bennett (07:58):

And our producers used to work for Katie Couric.

Susie Banikarim (07:59):

And I used to work for Katie Couric.

Jessica Bennett (08:02):

Sorry, Katie.

Susie Banikarim (08:03):

Yeah, I’m sure that’s one of the more disturbing anecdotes.

Jessica Bennett (08:19):

To contextualize when this show was coming and why it made such a splash, let’s just tick through a few of the things that were going on at the time in 1990s culture. I want you to really smell the Axe Body spray that emanated in the culture during this time.

Susie Banikarim (08:38):

Was it just Axe body spray? Because I also have a significant memory of Drakkar Noir. Is that what it was called, Drakkar Noir?

Jessica Bennett (08:43):

And Polo Sport.

Susie Banikarim (08:44):

Oh, and Polo Sport.

Jessica Bennett (08:45):

I loved Polo Sport.

Susie Banikarim (08:46):

I feel like men or boys just drowned themselves in that stuff back then.

Jessica Bennett (08:50):

I’m a sophomore when the show comes out in 1998.

Susie Banikarim (08:52):

A sophomore in high school.

Jessica Bennett (08:53):

A sophomore in high school. It debuts in January of that year, which is the same month that Bill Clinton denies having sexual relations with “that woman”.

Susie Banikarim (09:03):

Monica Lewinsky.

Jessica Bennett (09:04):

Monica Lewinsky, which of course was not true. He had had sexual relations. This is also the era of Wild Things. Do you remember that movie?

Susie Banikarim (09:11):

Yes. Yeah.

Jessica Bennett (09:12):

It’s this erotic thriller with the threesome that basically everybody of our generation remembers.

Susie Banikarim (09:17):

Yeah, I mean, the only thing I know and remember about that movie is that Neve Campbell and Denise Richards kiss in it.

Jessica Bennett (09:22):


Susie Banikarim (09:23):

So there’s this very hot lesbian kiss.

Jessica Bennett (09:25):

Yes. And the other thing that’s happening is this whole question around feminism. Time Magazine has just published this cover story asking Is feminism dead? Along with a poll showing that the majority of American women don’t identify as feminists.

Clips (09:40):

Every three or four years, there’s been another round of declarations of, well, the death of feminism, the one in Time Magazine a few weeks ago, is feminism dead. All of which are highly ironic in a moment when internationally the women’s movement keeps growing.

Jessica Bennett (09:56):

Susie, that’s a news clip from a feminist convention from around that time where this was all very much top of mind.

Susie Banikarim (10:01):

That’s interesting. I kind of remember this, which is this idea that there was this backlash against using the word, I don’t need to say I’m a feminist. It’s sort of a version of I don’t see color. It’s like, no thanks, just acknowledge that you think women should have equal rights.

Jessica Bennett (10:15):

Yes. Then when you think about sexual consent, I mean, that was not a word that we even knew what it meant back then. And so certainly, we weren’t thinking about it in the context of Dawson’s Creek.

Susie Banikarim (10:26):

I think I did have some understanding of the concept of consent, but not in the way we think about it now. Not sort of a thing that happened in the moment between two people, but just like a thing that happened if you were being raped, if you said no or not. Right?

Jessica Bennett (10:42):

For what it’s worth, this was before there were widespread consent laws as well. Then there’s Mary Kay Letourneau. She was a 34 year old married mother of four who began a relationship with her 12 year old student. She had taught him in the second grade.

Susie Banikarim (10:58):

So creepy.

Clips (10:59):

The relationship that began when the boy was just 12 years old resulted in two pregnancies, and for Letourneau, a seven year sentence for child rape.

Susie Banikarim (11:08):

I do really remember this because this was one of the first really national cases of a teacher, like an attractive, fairly young teacher having an affair.

Jessica Bennett (11:16):

Female teacher.

Susie Banikarim (11:17):

Female teacher having an affair with an underage student. I think what I remember so distinctly is there was this real discussion around whether or not it even qualified as a sexual assault because a guy-

Jessica Bennett (11:27):

She was so hot?

Susie Banikarim (11:28):

… should just be so grateful. How lucky was he? His father was probably high-fiving him because he was able to pull this hot teacher. I just remember the time being so confused by that framing.

Jessica Bennett (11:42):

That’s so interesting.

Susie Banikarim (11:43):

Because he was such a little boy. I mean, he was 12 years old.

Jessica Bennett (11:46):

It actually parallels to Dawson’s Creek. Dawson’s Creek airs in January of 1998. Mary Kay Letourneau is pregnant with her child/lover’s baby number two.

Clips (11:59):

It is a story that continues to captivate and perplex many Americans. Incredibly, Mary Kay brought the boy to her home to have sex. The same home she shared with her husband and four children. During that time, they wrote love letters to each other. We obtained one of those letters. And in it she says, “I do know that you’ll love me forever.”

Jessica Bennett (12:18):

I think that’s why this became such a media frenzy too. It was so salacious in so many ways, but the idea that she’s pregnant with his baby as well.

Susie Banikarim (12:27):

Yeah, I think there was just a lot of chapters to that story, even if it would’ve been a media frenzy to start, it just went on and on and on.

Jessica Bennett (12:33):

I should also note, this is all happening right outside of Seattle, my hometown.

Susie Banikarim (12:37):

Oh, wow. So it’s in the ether.

Jessica Bennett (12:38):

It’s in the ether. It’s happening in the background at the same time we’re watching Dawson’s Creek, and basically hooking all of these teens like me. Let me just paint you a little picture. Nineties Seattle, I’m very much more of My So-Called Life girl.

Susie Banikarim (12:53):

I did love My So-Called Life.

Jessica Bennett (12:56):

I mean, very much the superior show, but that’s not what we’re talking about today. I was sort of like whatever on Dawson’s, it was like these lily-white kids in fictional Cape Side, Massachusetts with their little boats. They ride their little boats to each other’s-

Susie Banikarim (13:10):

It was definitely a little cheesy. It had a cheesy vibe, but I love cheesy things.

Jessica Bennett (13:13):


Susie Banikarim (13:14):

So that wasn’t really a problem.

Jessica Bennett (13:15):

Well, and all of my friends were obsessed with it. So if I wanted to hang out, I had to watch this show. We used to go to my friend Rosie’s house. It was on Tuesdays at 9:00 PM She had this big basement. We had a lot of parties there. Lots of experiments went on-

Susie Banikarim (13:29):

Feels like very typical American suburbia. Was there wood paneling?

Jessica Bennett (13:33):

There actually was, but I mean, it wasn’t suburban. It was in the city, but there was wood paneling.

Susie Banikarim (13:37):

I love that.

Jessica Bennett (13:38):

I think. I think. At one point, the New York Times actually came to her house to report on the fact that there were these viewing parties going on. It must’ve been a local correspondent. Why was the New York Times at our [inaudible 00:13:51]-

Susie Banikarim (13:51):

That so interesting though.

Jessica Bennett (13:51):

… Seattle viewing party?

Susie Banikarim (13:53):

Did it feel like a really big deal? I feel like if the New York Times had showed up at my house at that age, I would’ve thought it was the biggest deal ever.

Jessica Bennett (13:59):

I don’t even remember it happening, to be honest. But let’s call up my friend Rosie and see what she remembers.

Rosie Bancroft (14:09):

In my recollection, that is The Seattle Times.

Jessica Bennett (14:12):

Mine too, honestly.

Rosie Bancroft (14:14):

Because how could it be the New York Times? And when we looked it up and realized it was the New York Times, I was like, they can’t have come to my parents’ basement with a stained pink carpet and actually been there.

Jessica Bennett (14:27):

This is my longtime pal, Rosie Bancroft. We went to middle and high school together in Seattle, and she’s now a clinical social worker at a public middle school, not unlike ours.


Okay, so let’s start with Rosie. What do you remember about Dawson’s Creek?

Rosie Bancroft (14:45):

I remember loving Pacey and hating Dawson. I remember it being so verbose. I mean, that is the first thing I think of every time is teenagers don’t talk like this, and we all know teenagers don’t talk like this. I think maybe we thought that it was painting us in a really good light or something at the time that we knew all these big words and were analyzing all these things. In retrospect, that is not how the world was seeing us.

Jessica Bennett (15:15):

So we all watched this together, right?

Rosie Bancroft (15:18):

Oh, yeah. Somehow I got the idea that I could invite people over to watch this, and for some reason my mom agreed, even though we were mostly an OTV household. I’m picturing 10 kids, maybe came, seven girls probably.

Jessica Bennett (15:35):

Describe where we were.

Rosie Bancroft (15:36):

We were down in our basement. You go down this cement stairwell and maybe my mom came in, maybe my brother came in occasionally and rolled his eyes at us in a jealous way. We were kind of all huddled around this couch and kids sitting on the floor and you had to watch it right when it was airing. I remember us having commentary and then people being like, “We’re going to miss some crucial plot point.”

Jessica Bennett (16:04):

And so that New York Times article about these watch parties, it actually quoted your mom. She basically says, with a major eye roll, “I wouldn’t choose it, but they feel strongly about the show. And so I’m letting them watch it.”

Rosie Bancroft (16:18):

I think she just was… It was like alcohol to her. It’s better to do it here than to do it somewhere else. That is what they included in the article was this generational divide about it and how we all were eating up this insanely unrealistic dribble.

Jessica Bennett (16:38):

When I was thinking back on this show and texted our high school friend group text chain and was like, “By the way, do you remember how in Dawson’s Creek, Pacey actually sleeps with his teacher?”

Rosie Bancroft (16:50):

Yeah. My first reaction when you texted that was, really? Then I thought, oh, I guess I have some vague recollection of that. And so I thought it might’ve been one episode, but it was not impactful or something. It did not register or we thought it was cool, or maybe that’s why I liked Pacey. Ew. Then when I went back and looked it up, I was like, this is A, several episodes long, and B, she is 36 years old. Not that that is worse than 22, but it was a big reach in terms of the storytelling, I feel like.

Jessica Bennett (17:30):

So Susie, I want to just pause Rosie for a second because I think you need a little context about our high school.

Susie Banikarim (17:34):


Jessica Bennett (17:35):

We went to a pretty unique school in central Seattle called Garfield. It has a really interesting history. It was an amazing place to go, had an incredible jazz program, all of these things, but also a lot of underfunded public schools was also kind of a hot mess.

Susie Banikarim (17:51):

I’m just picturing Fame. The Fame high school.

Jessica Bennett (17:54):

Yes, I love Fame. For us, that first year that Dawson’s Creek aired, at our school, there were multiple student/teacher relationships that had come to light.

Rosie Bancroft (18:03):

When I look back at that and I think about that storyline and then what is it, six months, nine months later, all of these things start happening at our high school? First thing we find out about is the principal is sleeping with a cheerleader. That was a male principal so we could recognize it a little bit better. Then this other teacher had this long investigation about sexual abuse of all these young boys that had been going on for a really long time.


We recognized that it was a little bit questionable, but it took us a long time to decide that it reached the bar of talking to another adult about it or to think that it was worth saying anything about because he was a very popular, well-liked teacher. I don’t know that that was directly related to Dawson’s Creek, but the number of things that we were navigating as 15 year olds and we had no role models.

Susie Banikarim (19:13):

Well, what’s interesting about this is I feel like everybody has a high school story in this era at least. I went to boarding school, as I’ve said, and we had three incidents I can think of off the top of my head. We had one teacher who was fired for having sex with a student. I remember one day he just disappeared. And then we found out that that’s what had happened. There was another story that I don’t think ever came out publicly that this very cool girl was having an affair with one of the hot younger teachers.


I think one thing that’s a little complicated at boarding school is you’re isolated in the middle of nowhere. You’re 16, 17. A lot of the teachers have just come from college. So they’re like 22, 23. It’s still not good, but it’s a little closer in age than the sort of things we’re describing here. But there was also a very long affair that was eventually very public between a female teacher and a female student in my year. I think that was also very weirdly handled. There was a lot of homophobia in the ether, but the teacher was married to a male teacher also on staff.

Jessica Bennett (20:15):

Oh, wow.

Susie Banikarim (20:15):

So it was very scandalous, but none of these things were scandalous to the point of being career-ending for any of the people involved or even becoming national stories. We just expected that there were teacher/student relationships and that was just a thing. I think when it started to get national attention is when it was female teachers and young male students.

Jessica Bennett (20:37):

I think that’s so true. The writer and creator of the show, Kevin Williamson, later said in interviews that this plot was of course based on something that happened in his own school. I think the other thing that’s interesting is that we’re aware of these things as they’re happening, but it wasn’t really until I started looking back that I really connected all these dots.

Susie Banikarim (20:56):

Oh, definitely.

Jessica Bennett (20:57):

This is happening in my own high school. It’s happening in this huge national story right outside of Seattle. It’s happening on this TV show, and yet we’re not seeing these things as interconnected.


So Susie, I want to get us back to the moment, the clip that we played at the top, the one with the bad saxophone, sexy music in the background.

Susie Banikarim (21:26):

You don’t want to wait for our lives to be over before we discuss this?

Clips (21:28):

Oh my God, look at her.

Jessica Bennett (21:34):

The show launched in 1998. This was the premier episode. This show followed a group of teenagers in fictional Cape Side, Massachusetts, a seaside town that is kind of like Martha’s Vineyard.

Susie Banikarim (21:45):

Very New England feeling, I remember.

Jessica Bennett (21:47):

Let me just give you a word about the characters. There’s Dawson, who the show is named after. He is a wannabe filmmaker. He is obsessed, obsessed with Steven Spielberg, and he is played by James Van Der Beek. Then there’s his best friend Joey played by Katie Holmes. She was kind of a tomboy. They were just best friends, no sex, whatever.

Susie Banikarim (22:07):

But she’s stunning, but okay.

Jessica Bennett (22:08):

And then suddenly she’s beautiful and there’s all this tension. Then there’s Jen played by Michelle Williams, who’s the new girl from New York City, and she’s sort of mysterious and is she not a virgin?

Susie Banikarim (22:20):

And also very pretty.

Jessica Bennett (22:22):

Yes. I mean, they’re all very attractive. Then there’s Pacey, who’s Dawson’s best friend and basically an extremely confident 15 year old played by Joshua Jackson, who’s about to have an affair with his teacher, Ms. Jacobs, aka Tamara.

Clips (22:39):

You new in town? Because I haven’t seen you in here before.


Yes, I am. My name’s Tamara. What’s yours?


Pacey, nice to meet you.


Well, there you go.

Susie Banikarim (22:50):

It’s just the breathiness that gets me every time.

Jessica Bennett (22:52):

I know. Okay, so that clip, let me just describe. Dawson and Pacey are working at the local video store and in walks this woman. It’s kind of hazy in the background. You, of course, have that saxophone playing.

Susie Banikarim (23:06):

Yeah, that sexy saxophone music.

Jessica Bennett (23:08):

She’s wearing a white sundress and she flips her hair and then says she wants to rent a video. And she’s “in the mood for romance”.

Susie Banikarim (23:17):

It seems like she should be in the mood for a cold shower. She’s very obviously flirting with these children, which is-

Jessica Bennett (23:23):

I mean, yes, that’s what it seems like. Yes.

Susie Banikarim (23:26):

I mean, but what is happening here?

Jessica Bennett (23:28):

Well, okay, and so what happens next is that Pacey is like, “Okay, how about a new release?” And she replies that, “No, she’s old school. She’s vintage all the way.” Another one of those little turns of phrase. Then she asks where she can find, wait for it, The Graduate.

Susie Banikarim (23:47):

Yeah, The Graduate, which great film, but also a lot of innuendo in just that choice.

Jessica Bennett (23:52):

Exactly. Oh, and by the way, Pacey is this scene is 15, in case anyone forgot, which means Tamara, the new English teacher to school is more than twice his age.

Susie Banikarim (24:03):

She’s like 35 or something.

Jessica Bennett (24:05):

We’ll later learn that. But still, this is definitely presented as a meet cute. Before that expression existed, it’s one of the primary openers to this series.

Susie Banikarim (24:14):

So what happens next?

Jessica Bennett (24:16):

Basically, a couple of days after they’re at the video store, they go to school and guess what? Tamara, Ms. Jacobs is Pacey’s English teacher. She says to him, “Call me Ms. Jacobs during school hours.”

Susie Banikarim (24:31):

You’re going to spend a lot of time in not school.

Jessica Bennett (24:33):

Exactly, exactly. So Pacey is totally smitten. He begins flirting with her, pursuing her, and pretty aggressively.

Susie Banikarim (24:42):

There’s a sort of pretense of resistance, like a very mild resistance from her.

Jessica Bennett (24:45):

Yes, there’s lot of-

Susie Banikarim (24:46):

But it feels inevitable.

Jessica Bennett (24:47):

“We can’t, it’s wrong.” This is over the course of a few episodes, but him saying “Sometimes it’s right to do the wrong thing.”

Susie Banikarim (24:54):


Jessica Bennett (24:54):

That kind of dialogue. They quickly share their first kiss, which we actually see on the show. I want to play you this clip because I feel like it captures so much. Basically the setup here is that Pacey has decided to crash a date that Tamara has gone on with another teacher at the school, one her age, and this ends in him kind of sheepishly walking home after being rejected, along the water as you do in Cape Side, where lo and behold, he then somehow runs into Tamara. And so she says, “I’m so sorry.” He tells her really pretty dramatically, “You should be, because you’re a liar. How can you say you were just renting a movie?”

Susie Banikarim (25:36):

Which she didn’t know he existed. What else was she doing?

Jessica Bennett (25:40):

So Tamara says, “Because it’s the truth.” Then Pacey… Okay, this is what you have to listen to.

Clips (25:45):

The truth is, you are a well put together, knock out of a woman who’s feeling a little insecure about hitting 40. So when a young virile boy, such as myself, flirts with you, you enjoy it. You entice it. You fantasize about what it would be like to be with that young boy on the verge of manhood. Because it helps you stay feeling attractive. Makes the aging process a little more bearable. Well, let me tell you something, you blew it, lady, because I’m the best sex you’ll never have.

Jessica Bennett (26:14):

Okay, and so then the next line is key. Tamara says back to him, “You’re wrong about one thing. Pacey. You’re not a boy.”

Susie Banikarim (26:22):

Okay, that’s great because he is like a man?

Jessica Bennett (26:24):

And then she leans in and kisses him. And so this is their first kiss.

Susie Banikarim (26:30):

Can we just go back for a moment? The fact that he says “I’m the best sex you’ll never have.”

Jessica Bennett (26:35):

Right, because he’s 15.

Susie Banikarim (26:36):

Because he’s a 15 year old boy who’s never had sex.

Jessica Bennett (26:39):

It’s amazing. It’s amazing.

Susie Banikarim (26:41):

I’m 100% certain it’s not the best sex she’ll never or ever have.

Jessica Bennett (26:44):

I mean, awards for writing here. Honestly.

Susie Banikarim (26:47):

I would rather die than have sex with a 15 year old boy.

Jessica Bennett (26:51):

Well, good. I mean, good. It’s on the record.

Susie Banikarim (26:53):

Great. So then what happens?

Jessica Bennett (26:55):

Okay, so a few days later… I mean actually, I don’t know how long it is, but within a course of one episode, he will lose his virginity too.

Susie Banikarim (27:03):


Jessica Bennett (27:04):

We don’t actually see them have sex. That probably would’ve been too raunchy for the network, but it’s very clear that they do. In the last minute of episode three, we see them lying down somewhere outdoors. They’re naked under a blanket.

Susie Banikarim (27:16):

Oh, they had sex outside.

Jessica Bennett (27:17):

They’re cuddling. I should note that throughout different points in the show, they do go to lengths to point out that this is illegal.

Susie Banikarim (27:24):

Oh, like the characters pointed it out?

Jessica Bennett (27:26):

Yes. At one point Tamara even says, “Quick reminder, this is a felony.” She probably doesn’t say it in that-

Susie Banikarim (27:32):

As a way to dissuade him?

Jessica Bennett (27:33):

… voice, but it’s sort of a hint to the viewer that at least the filmmakers know that this is not something that is okay necessarily.

Susie Banikarim (27:41):

But you’re still kind of rooting for it.

Jessica Bennett (27:43):

Well, that’s the thing. None of that really stuck with me. I didn’t remember that they said any of those things. The fact that this was taboo made it kind of hot. I was rooting for them.

Susie Banikarim (27:53):

I think everybody was.

Jessica Bennett (27:54):

Honestly, it wasn’t just us. I look back at all these fan message boards from the time, and people were saying things like, “I found their relationship to be a model of true love. If I could have a relationship like theirs, I would die happy.”

Susie Banikarim (28:08):


Jessica Bennett (28:09):

Someone compared them to Romeo and Juliet. So there’s this real sense that this is a forbidden romance, a forbidden love affair, not a relationship between a boy and an adult.

Susie Banikarim (28:19):

Like a 35 year old woman.

Jessica Bennett (28:21):

Yep. And that’s the thing too, it’s an adult woman and it’s an adult seduction. Now, one of the jokes we had growing up was that all of the actors on this show were basically in their twenties. They were old.

Susie Banikarim (28:32):

Nobody looked… I mean, I think in general in that era, all the teenage characters were played by adults.

Jessica Bennett (28:37):

By 20-somethings. They’re talking like 20-somethings, not like 15 year olds, which fine, but this whole thing is painted as very adult. It’s sexy. Pacey is the clear aggressor. “This is the best sex-“

Susie Banikarim (28:50):

He’s seducing her.

Jessica Bennett (28:51):

“… you’ll never have.” How does he know? He’s a child. He repeats again and again throughout the show how he’s an adult capable of making his own decisions. At one point he says, “I may just be 15, but I’m well beyond the age of accountability.”

Susie Banikarim (29:07):

What is he accountable for? It’s like-

Jessica Bennett (29:09):

Right. It’s like a misunderstanding of accountability. But also, no, you’re literally 15.

Susie Banikarim (29:13):


Jessica Bennett (29:14):

Okay, so to close this arc, so by episode three they have sex, and then by episode six they actually get found out. It’s discovered that they’re having this affair, and so that Tamara doesn’t get in trouble, he, Pacey, claims that he made up the whole thing.

Susie Banikarim (29:29):

Yeah, that’s sort of like a heroic moment for him.

Jessica Bennett (29:32):

And she basically has to leave town at that point, so she is moving to Rochester, New York for whatever reason.

Susie Banikarim (29:38):

That’s a beautiful place to end up.

Jessica Bennett (29:39):

And last words they say to each other are him, “I hope you enjoy Rochester.” Her, “I hope you enjoy high school.”

Susie Banikarim (29:47):

Yeah, it’s a lot. I mean also how specific? Why Rochester? Why didn’t you move back to New York? Bizarre.

Jessica Bennett (29:54):

I know. I know. Maybe she got another teaching job there. They’re a haven for-

Susie Banikarim (30:01):

Seems where she’ll find another high school boy to molest. I mean, what do we actually call this? I mean, I think the thing that’s hard about this is if it was a male teacher and a female student, we would just say it was a sexual assault.

Jessica Bennett (30:13):

Call it assault.

Susie Banikarim (30:14):


Jessica Bennett (30:14):

I mean, that is interesting and we both sort keep being, uh.


Let’s pause here. We’re going to continue to dissect this awkward language around Pacey and Tamara in part two. There’s so much more to talk about. We’re going to dive into Mary Kay Letourneau more, that parallel. We’re going to talk about Hollywood’s obsession with the older woman seductress. And so much more.

Susie Banikarim (30:39):

I can’t wait. That’s in part two, which is already in your feed.


This is In Retrospect. Thanks for listening. Is there a cultural moment you can’t stop thinking about and want us to explore in a future episode? Email us at [email protected] or find us on Instagram @inretropod.

Jessica Bennett (31:00):

If you love this podcast, please rate and review us on Apple or Spotify or wherever you listen. If you hate it, you can post nasty comments on our Instagram which we may or may not delete.

Susie Banikarim (31:10):

You can also find us on Instagram @jessicabennett and @susiebnyc. Also check out Jessica’s books, Feminist Fight Club and This is 18.

Jessica Bennett (31:19):

In Retrospect is a production of iHeart podcast and The Meteor. Lauren Hansen is our supervising producer. Derrick Clements is our engineer and sound designer. Sharon Attia is our researcher and associate producer.

Susie Banikarim (31:31):

Our executive producer from The Meteor is Cindy Leive. Our executive producers from iHeart are Anna Stumpf and Katrina Norvell. Our artwork is from Pentagram. Additional editing help from Mary Dooe and Mike Coscarelli. Sound correction and mastering by Amanda Rose Smith. We are your hosts, Susie Banikarim.

Jessica Bennett (31:49):

And Jessica Bennett. We’re also executive producers. For even more, check out inretropod.com. See you next week.