Daria: A Character Development Masterclass, Part 4 – Quinn Morgendorffer

Here it is, the one you’ve all been waiting for (I assume…)

Hello and welcome to part four of my exploration of Daria.

This show is a fantastic example of writing of female characters as people with a wide range of personalities and drives, rather than relying on tired old tropes.

For a more in-depth explanation of why I am embarking on this endeavour please read my previous post here.

Before I begin, all quotes herein can be found in the episode transcripts at Outpost Daria.

For this instalment I will be focusing on everybody’s favourite fashion fiend, Quinn Morgendorffer. Fair warning – this post includes liberal use of the word “cute.” Proceed at own risk.
Daria Dance Party

Quinn is Daria’s sister, and on the surface she appears to be the complete antithesis of our titular character. Quinn spends most of the series insisting that Daria is her cousin, au-pair, cabana girl’s cousin, and sundry other identities in order to distance herself from Daria’s reputation as a geek. She also thrives on being the centre of attention, often bursting into a the middle of a scene and talking, expecting everyone else to automatically pay attention. Perky, popular and not particularly interested in school outside of its supply of cute boys, Quinn possesses an innate confidence of which many grown women would be envious. If we look under the surface we realise that while Quinn is confident in her looks and social skills, she is constantly trying to cover up how smart she really is so she can fit in – as opposed to Daria who chooses to embrace her intelligence and the life of an outcast. She’s a character who appears shallow, but has a lot of depth – something very tricky to write properly.

For the most part, season one establishes Quinn’s character and where she fits into the world. We see from episode one, Eisteemsters, that she has no problem fitting in at school; as soon as she gets out of the car she is swarmed by people asking her name, complimenting how cute she is and asking for a date. When Daria announces that she and Quinn are sisters the whole school gasps, and Quinn gets asked “Are you a brain, too?” Not wanting to be tarred with the same geeky brush as her sister, she starts distancing herself as much as possible throughout the show until season five.

Throughout season one, we mostly see her bratty and superficial side, until we get to episode nine, Too Cute.  Brooke, one of the background characters who never really pops up again, gets a nose job. The Fashion Club are standing around and admiring the surgeon’s handy work, all proclaiming that it’s cute, with a number of other enthusiastic adjectives. When Quinn is asked her opinion she actually gives it some thought before saying that she, too, thinks the new nose is cute. Sandi, the despotic head of the Fashion Club, immediately jumps on this pause and simple response, essentially accusing Quinn of thinking she’s more ‘deep’ than the rest of them. This serves to point out Quinn’s insecurities regarding fitting in, but also shows us that Quinn won’t always blindly agree with what everyone else says.

"Don't worry; it'll grow out."
“Don’t worry; it’ll grow out.”

Quinn’s desperation to fit in becomes manifest in her conviction that she, too, needs cosmetic surgery. The next day she’s dismayed to find that the rest of the Fashion Club aren’t at school, as they are all off getting nose jobs without her. She manages to convince the school nurse that she has cramps and needs to go home, with Daria as an escort. They instead go to see Dr Shar, a cosmetic surgeon. When Daria asks why Quinn wanted her company rather than one of her many friends and admirers, Quinn begrudgingly explains that she needs someone who is honest by her side. It’s hard to fault Quinn’s logic – all of her friends are either sycophantic or trying to undermine her confidence, whereas Daria is honest to the point of fault. Dr Shar tells Quinn that her nose is just perfect, but proceeds to show her everything else that she could ‘fix.’ When Daria seems less than enthusiastic about Quinn getting surgery, Dr Shar tries to undermine Daria by showing how she can make her ‘cute’ too, which in this case means making her look exactly like Quinn. Daria later tries to offer Quinn some sound advice.

"Oh look, Daria! You're cute!"
“Oh look, Daria! You’re cute!”

Daria:  Quinn…

Quinn:  I mean, I like being attractive and popular. It’s, like, me, okay? So if Dr. Shar makes everyone else attractive and popular, then I’ll have to be even more attractive just to keep up, and then if they, like, go back her to catch up to me, then I’ll have to go back, and pretty soon it’ll be like one of those vicious things!  Where will it end Daria? Where will it end?

Daria:  You don’t need surgery, Quinn. (sighs) I was hoping it wouldn’t come to this, and I’ll deny I every said it, but there’s nothing wrong with you…physically. You’ve got the kind of looks that make other girls mentally ill. So stop it. You don’t need any plastic surgery. You’re perfect.

Quinn:  Why do I bother talking to you?

Quinn doesn’t end up getting surgery, because Brooke’s nose caves in and we can presume Dr Shar gets hit with a malpractice suit, but this episode does serve as a solid starting point for Quinn’s slow but steady transformation into the person we see at the end of the series.  This episode also shows us who Sandi is as an antagonist; really she’s the only consistently antagonistic character in the series. We can presume that before Quinn came along the Fashion Club was just Sandi’s personal gang of yes-girls, but as soon as it becomes apparent that Quinn is more popular Sandi does her utmost to tear Quinn down. This kind of relationship is something remarkably unique to high school that the writers capture magnificently; by the time school ends these toxic people either mature or are removed from your life.

While Quinn’s main weapon is that she’s generally nicer than Sandi, she is too much Helen’s daughter to just take Sandi’s venom without standing up for herself. She manages to deliver snark back to Sandi in such a way that it takes  a moment for it to sink in, reminding us that underneath all the makeup and hair product Quinn has smarts. Take, for example, this snippet from the season two episode The New Kid:

You're definitely scary, Sandi

Quinn:  Well, I hear she’s a brain. You can’t reason with brains.

Sandi:  I’m still going to talk to her. As president of the Fashion Club, I can be kind of intimidating.

Quinn:  Oh, you’re definitely scary, Sandi. But I think this is a special case, so let me talk to her. It would mean so much if you let me try.

Sandi:  You’re the best.

Quinn:  No, you.

The line, ‘you’re definitely scary, Sandi’ is thrown in there so quickly that nobody in the show registers it, but it’s really quite the burn.

Two episodes later in Gifted, Quinn needs to stay with a friend while the rest of the family are away for the weekend. Of course she chooses Sandi, because there’s a hierarchy, but this leads to the inevitable argument.

Sandi:  (pointing to the TV) Oh, look, Quinn. She’s wearing sandals like yours. Is this a rerun?

Quinn:  I don’t think so. (stands) Can I get you a diet soda?

Sandi:  No, thanks. But help yourself to the grapes. I hear they’re good for breakouts.

Quinn’s feuding with Sandi plays out in a number of amusing ways throughout the show. In Fair Enough she gets the lead in the school play over Sandi. In Pierce Me she convinces Helen to enter the mother-daughter fashion show with her just so they can show up Sandi and her mum, Linda. In the episode Daria Dance Party, Sandi convinces Quinn to volunteer to head the committee to organise the school dance, saying that the Fashion Club would back her up. As you can probably predict, Sandi disagrees with every one of Quinn’s ideas out of pure spite, then convinces the others to bail on the whole project, expecting Quinn to fail miserably at planning the dance all by herself. Sandi then organises a party on the same night with the explicit purpose of kyboshing Quinn’s efforts by splitting the attendees.

Sandi:  Good. So you’ll be at my party next Saturday. I mean, it wouldn’t be the same without you, Quinn.

Guys:  (chanting) Saturday, Saturday, Saturday!

Quinn:  Saturday? But that’s the same night as the dance.

Guys:  (chanting) Dance, dance, dance!

Sandi:  You’re kidding! I forgot all about the dance. Gee, that’s too, too bad. I mean, I can’t un-order all that free pizza.

Guys:  Pizza? Cool!

Quinn:  Well, I can’t un-order, um, the free soda and tacos I was going to order.

Guys:  Tacos? All right!

Sandi:  Outdoor turbo-jet hot tub.

Quinn:  Preferred seating for the popular.

Sandi:  Green Bay on big screen!

Quinn:  D.J. on dance floor!

Sandi:  Miniskirts!

Quinn:  Strapless!

Both:  (to guys) Well?!!

Jeffy:  My head hurts!

Jamie:  Mine, too.

Joey:  Oh, man!

Quinn and Sandi fight 

Quinn winds up winning by recruiting Jane (as discussed previously) who throws a sensational art-inspired dance. Sandi’s party bombs miserably.

Their feuding doesn’t end until Quinn finally realises that she doesn’t need to hide how smart she is. This is tangled up with her relationship with Daria, and it’s not until Quinn embraces her sister that she finally comes to terms with her own intelligence and is able to get Sandi to back off. So, let’s examine Quinn’s relationship with her sister.

enhanced-buzz-23702-1390853338-0 (1)

In the first few seasons, Quinn’s purpose is to provide Daria material for jokes and biting criticism of the popular crowd. She manages to get her own back in the episode Quinn the Brain. When she’s told that she’s going to fail English because she doesn’t put enough effort into her school work, Quinn buckles down so she doesn’t become the oldest freshman in school. Mr O’Niel is so impressed by her improvement that he reads the essay aloud. Daria is initially thrilled (“Quinn’s going to see firsthand what it’s like to be a brain”), but then Quinn is asked to tutor Kevin, who convinces Brittany that he’s going to observe the way a brain acts so they can be cool, too. Yes, Quinn is so popular that she turns being smart into a fad. Daria is seriously irked by all of the perks that Quinn is getting, and then Mr O’Neil suggests that Quinn tutor Daria to give her writing more “zazz”. She also overhears this choice conversation between the Fashion Club:

 Quinn:  Yeah, I might do writing for a career. It’s not like real work or anything.

Sandi:  Really. I mean, how hard it is to type stuff?

Quinn:  And there are lots of opportunities. Like, did you know they pay money for those poems in greeting cards?

Stacy:  Oh no! I’ve been giving away my poems for free!

"Do me a favour, would you? Close my locker."
“Do me a favour, would you? Close my locker.”

Quinn decides to co-ordinate her wardrobe with her writing, even going as far as asking Daria what “existential” means.

Daria:  For your purposes, existential means “pseudo-intellectual poser with accessories from the street fair.”

Quinn:  Listen, I’m still available if you want some help with your writing. Does this black match?

Daria:  Matches my mood.


This outfit change enrages Sandi and the Fashion Club, who boot Quinn out until she “comes to her senses.” Daria, meanwhile, is brooding over Quinn’s encroaching on her identity. Quinn winds up seeking Jane’s advice, which is a smart move given that Jane can give an objective viewpoint.

Quinn:  Can I ask you something?

Jane:  I guess. What?

Quinn:  You don’t think I’m a brain, do you?

Jane:  The thought never crossed my mind.

Quinn:  Mine, either. I mean, I really like the way this getting to Daria, but I’m starting to feel like a phoney.

Jane:  You’re starting to feel like a phoney?

Quinn:  So I wrote a stupid essay! What’s everyone making such a big deal about?

Jane:  Well, you know, condition people to expect nothing and the least little something gets them all excited. Ask Pavlov.

Quinn:  The custodian?

Jane:  (puts hand to head) Whoa. Never mind. Return to your world, and I’ll return to mine.

Daria finally reaches her breaking point and serves Quinn back some of her own medicine by taking on Quinn’s identity as “perky popular kid”. This has the desired effect.


"You win, okay?"
“You win, okay?”

The feuding in this episode is a great way to establish 1) Quinn and Daria’s relationship before going in and evolving the dynamic, and 2) Quinn’s internal struggle between the desire to hide who she is to fit in and the desire to be seen as moderately intelligent. The former wins this battle, but not the overall war.  This episode is the beginning of the two sisters empathising with each other and lays some more groundwork for Quinn’s substantial changes.

The empathising goes both ways – a few episodes later is Monster, the episode where Daria and Jane film Quinn for a school project.  Jane and Daria are determined to expose Quinn as a vapid and shallow phoney, but Quinn does everything she can to stymie them and come across as the perfect teen. Daria and Jane almost give up, until…

(camcorder view of Quinn and Tiffany at cosmetics counter)

Quinn:  Oh, my God, they’ve been… they’ve been zooming! You better not zoom that thing. Stop zooming, I mean it. If you can see any of my pores on camera, I swear, I’ll kill you. Stop the tape! I do not have pores! My pores are cute! My pores are tiny! You’re fired!

(Quinn pushes her hand into the camera lens; taping stops in a burst of static)

Daria:  Anything you say can and will be used against you. (to Jane) We’ve got our Quinn.

Jane:  That’s a wrap.

Daria:  But a wrap skirt is a definite don’t. (puts hand to face) Oh, my God. Did I really just say that?


"You're Fired!"
“You’re Fired!”

While Daria and Jane are editing the footage, Helen happens by and witnesses the ‘pores’ scene. She lets Daria know that she disapproves of portraying Quinn in such a ridiculous way, and despite Daria’s assurances to Jane that the scene will remain, her conscience gets the better of her when Quinn says the following:

Quinn:  I can’t wait to see it. I just hope I don’t sound stupid or anything. (short laugh) Not that I would.

Daria:  Perish the thought.

Quinn:  I just, I know that sometimes certain types of people, jealous people, might think, who does she think she is? Because I sometimes think that. But I can’t let myself go on too long thinking that.

Daria:  Or anything else.

Quinn:  I mean, sometimes I’m walking down the hall with Sandi, Stacy, and Tiffany, and suddenly I’m outside of myself, watching, and it’s, like, “Who are these girls? Can’t they talk about anything besides guys, and clothes, and cars?” But then, what would we talk about? You have to be good at something. You’re good at your reading and writing and stuff, and you’re good at your little paintings.

Jane:  They are miniscule, aren’t they?

Quinn:  I figure, being attractive and popular, that’s what I’m good at. Maybe it’s not that important, but, you know, it’s what I can do.

(Quinn laughs a short laugh, then exits; without meaning to, she’s managed to guilt-trip Daria and Jane like Helen never could)

Daria:  Aw, hell.

Jane:  Yeah.


The ‘pores’ scene is left out. The video that results is much like Quinn herself – sweet and popular on the outside with the approval of most of the audience, but for those looking a bit deeper it was a disturbing insight into the mindset of a self-involved  nitwit. Most of the class cheered, but Jodie later says to Daria, “Your sister makes me so…sad.”

daria quinn Ill

More examples of compassion follow in dribs and drabs, including in the episode Ill, when Daria comes down with a mysterious rash. Quinn happens upon Daria in the girls’ bathroom while Daria is freaking out over her mysterious ailment and offers to help. When Daria asks why, Quinn states that according to Fashion Club bi-laws skin care crises transcend personality conflicts. This seems oddly altruistic and shows remarkable foresight for the Fashion Club, and you could probably deduce that Quinn’s making this bi-law up.

We’ve already discussed Daria trying to convince Quinn that she doesn’t need plastic surgery, and while Quinn doesn’t appear to take this advice on board right away it does lay the foundation for the two of them to start going to one another for advice. Quinn later goes to Daria for advice about how to deal with death in The Misery Chick.  Daria, in turn, seeks Quinn’s advice on a number of occasions. In a previous post, I mentioned the discussion they have about Daria getting contacts in Through a Lens Darkly. In Lane Miserables Quinn actually tries to consol her sister and give Daria dating advice. Daria witnesses Trent leaving on a date with a more age-appropriate woman, and is rendered thoroughly miserable (kudos to the music department, by the way; use of the Foo Fighters’ “Everlong”  in this scene was the final kick in the feelings we needed to empathise with the situation).

Daria Trent

Jane:  Don’t worry. You’re twice the woman she is.

Quinn:  No, that would be a size 12. Listen, Daria, I always say that just because a guy has a girlfriend, it doesn’t mean he’s off-limits. Unless you’re the girlfriend. By “you” I mean me, of course. Remember that.

Daria:  Mmm, got any more pearl drops of wisdom?

Quinn:  Daria, all you need is a little confidence. Just close your eyes and imagine what you want.

This helps Daria come to the realisation that she and Trent would never work out anyway, as much as fans ship the pairing. That Quinn would offer advice rather than teasing her sister for having a crush shows some remarkable changes in their friendship.

 Daria and Trent

The season three episode, Speedtrapped, is a fantastic turning point for Daria and Quinn, when the two realise they actually complement each other.  Jane and Mystic Spyral wind up in jail one state over because they don’t have the money to pay a vehicle fine. Daria, who has just got her license, has to drive all the way over there and bail out the band. Quinn decides to ride shotgun on the adventure, not really giving Daria a choice in the matter. When it becomes obvious that Daria is still nervous about driving on the highway, Quinn takes the wheel, saying “It’s all about confidence. You’re too timid, Daria!” She then stops to pick up a country-singing hitchhiker, and when they make a pit-stop so Daria can un-clench her hands Quinn and the hitchhiker spend all the bail money on clothes.

Quinn then comes up with a plan to get the money back, which involves going to a nearby cowboy bar.


(Quinn, dressed as a cowgirl, climbs on top of bar)

Daria:  Uh, Quinn?

Quinn:  Attention, guys. We’re just two little city gals from Lawndale.

Cowboy #1:  Lawndale’s a suburb.

Quinn:  Right. And we know we shouldn’t be here, but some friends of ours got pulled over by the sheriff recently. We brought the bail money to get them out, and now some mean old cowboy’s stolen it. Now, I’m not saying all cowboys are mean or old or thieves, but it does make me think twice about ever considering a cowboy for a boyfriend.

(cowboys murmur)

Cowboy #1:  Well, heck, little lady, I’ve been pulled over myself. It’s humiliating, and bad for the soul. Here’s ten bucks. (puts money into jar)

Cowboy #2:  Doggone it, we’re not all bad, little miss. Take 20. (puts money into jar)

Cowboy #3:  Now hold on. How do you know we’re not the ones being flimflammed here? You fast-talking suburban gals think you can just march in and con some cowboys? Is that your game?

Quinn:  (nervously) Um, no, not at all!

Cowboy #3:  You think we’re a bunch of dumb hicks. What do you know about us?

Daria:  I don’t call ’em cowboys till I see ’em ride.

Cowboy #3:  What?

Daria:  ‘Cause a Stetson hat and them fancy boots don’t tell me what’s inside.

Cowboy #3:  Hey, that’s Conway Twitty. You like Conway Twitty music?

Daria:  You bet your lonesome prairie campfire I do, partner.

Cowboy #3:  All right! Now these are cowgirls. Fellas, step on up here and empty your pockets.

(everyone starts putting money into jar)

Quinn:  We’ll be through the criminal justice system and home in time for Buffy. Good thinking, Daria!

Quinn’s plan was a good one, but it required both her charm and Daria’s knowledge to make it work. At the end of the episode they concede that they do work well together, on occasion.

Toward the end of season four, in the episode Groped By an Angel, Quinn watches a TV special about guardian angels. Through a series of fortunate occurrences, Quinn becomes convinced that she, too, has a guardian angel. Daria becomes exasperated by what she sees as Quinn being irrational, but at the end of the episode when Quinn predictably becomes disillusioned and disappointed when her angel doesn’t keep her from embarrassing herself, Daria can’t seem to kick her while she’s down.

Quinn:  If there are no guardian angels, what do you believe in?

Daria:  I guess I believe in treating people the way you’d want to be treated.

Quinn:  But, there’s nothing watching over us? Nothing keeping track?

Daria:  Well, there’s the IRS and those guys with the black helicopters. Quinn, until I see some pretty convincing evidence to the contrary, I think we’re on our own.

Quinn:  But, but, that’s so sad.

Daria:  Um, then again, I don’t have any proof that there isn’t something out there.

Quinn:  But what about the bullhorn?

Daria:  Maybe the angel didn’t think saving an overpriced, undeserved knickknack was the most efficient use of his time.

Quinn:  Yeah! Maybe angels only get involved with really big stuff. He was probably playing his string thing when the bullhorn broke and didn’t even hear it. That makes sense, right?

Daria:  I think what makes sense is to believe whatever makes you feel best.

Quinn:  You know what? I’m gonna stop relying on my angel so much for little things and let him do his important stuff and just know that if I need him for anything really critical, like a complexion crisis or an unanticipated weight gain, he’ll be there. Thanks, Daria.

As Helen points out later, it was very sweet of Daria to put aside her own strong feelings on the subject in order to make Quinn feel better. Aside from giving us warm and fuzzies, we learn that Daria really does care about her sibling’s happiness, despite her posturing to the contrary.

Which brings us to Is It Fall Yet. Quinn’s story in this movie-length episode is the pivotal moment that fosters a noticeable change in her character. In the beginning, we see Quinn and the Fashion Club on their last day of school before the summer break, being handed the results of their PSTAT exams. Mr O’Neil explains that their results should give them a good indication on whether they’re doing well enough to get into college, or will seriously need to buckle down in the next two years. Quinn gets a similarly low mark to the rest of her friends, but she appears to be the only one of the group upset by it. Here she realises that she can’t just keep coasting and that maybe hiding her intelligence from her friends by not paying attention in class is actually a bad idea. This leads to her hiring a tutor.

 David and Quinn

The tutor, David, has an uphill battle. Not only has Quinn learned basically nothing in the last year, she also spends most of their tutoring session on the phone. When he threatens to leave and she begs him to stay, David delivers the verbal slap that Quinn really should have gotten long before now.

David:  Hey, the only reason you’re popular is your looks, and those won’t last forever. You have nothing interesting to say and no intellectual curiosity whatsoever. Do the world a favor and don’t go to college. Give up your spot to somebody who wants to learn.

Quinn: (gasps) But… you just said I was bright!

David:  So what? It doesn’t matter, if you’re hell-bent on achieving complete brain atrophy before you’re old enough to vote.

Quinn:  I’m not!

David:  Do you even know what atrophy means?

Quinn:  David, my friends and I all got practically the same scores on our P-STATs.

David:  So?

Quinn:  So they were bad. And I know I can do better. It’s not like I care or anything, it’s just that I know I can.

David:  It’s not like you care? It’s not like you want to do better? Then why the hell am I here?

(Quinn pauses for a moment to let that sink in. Finally, she comes to a decision as she places the phone in the middle of the table.)

Quinn:  All right. I care. I want to do better.

Once Quinn stops getting distracted and puts her priorities in order, she discovers she actually enjoys learning. She also discovers that, unlike the boys she dates based on their looks, she actually enjoys David’s company. For the first time Quinn starts trying to get a guy’s attention, rather than the other way around. Once she makes it known to David that she likes him, he politely declines, saying that they really have nothing in common. This is Quinn’s first real taste of rejection, and it stings so badly that she talks to Daria about it.

 Is it Fall Yet

(Daria is on her bed, reading, when Quinn walks into the bedroom)

Daria:  No, those sandals don’t make your toes look fat.

Quinn:  So David was right. I am superficial.

Daria:  At least you know your strengths. (she glances up and sees the devastated look on Quinn’s face) He really called you that?

Quinn:  He said he only dates girls with “depth.”

Daria:  How did it even come up? (Quinn’s look gets deeper) Oh, boy. You asked him out?

(Quinn turns away and starts crying)

Daria:  Quinn, you’re, um, not as superficial as you act. I’m sure you just feel obliged to stress the moronic aspects of your personality so you’ll fit in better with the fashion drones, like a mask you wear ’cause you think they wouldn’t like the real you.

Quinn:  You mean sort of the way you keep people away by being really unfriendly and stuff?

Daria:  Hey, we’re talking about you here. (pause) You really liked that guy, huh? (Quinn nods) Well, he certainly wasn’t what we intellectuals call a “totally buff hottie”, so if you saw past his looks, you can’t be completely shallow.

Quinn:  Thanks, Daria. Damn it, I even told him I liked him! I never do that!

Daria:  Quinn… sometimes you reach out to someone and all you get back is a slap in the face. (sees Helen appear in the doorway)

Quinn:  Then why even bother?

(Daria waves Helen back)

Daria:  I guess because, um, you got to give people a chance. Otherwise, there’s no point to the whole being-human routine.

Quinn:  Why? David didn’t give me a chance!

Daria:  Sure he did. Wasn’t he going to quit before you begged him not to?

Quinn:  Yeah. So?

Daria:  So you learned a whole bunch of stuff and found out you don’t have to be a dummy if you don’t want to… because he gave you a chance.

This conversation gives Quinn the confidence to be herself when she gets back to school. When Mr DeMartino asks if someone can provide an explanation of the doctrine of Manifest Destiny (mirroring Daria’s first encounter with him in the very first episode), we can see that Quinn is finally ready to embrace her brains.

Quinn:  “Manifest Destiny” was a phrase politicians used to say that God wanted the U.S. to keep expanding west all the way to the Pacific ocean. Because why bother owning the country if Hollywood wasn’t included?

Mr. DeMartino:  Ahh, Quinn, that’s very good! Thank you for making my day rewarding.

(class starts to murmur amongst themselves)

Sandi:  Gee, Quinn… I hope that little foray of yours into Geekland just now is the result of heat exhaustion, and not an unpleasant side effect of all that tutoring. I mean, you’re not turning into a brain, are you?

Quinn:  Sandi, just because someone can answer a simple question doesn’t mean they’re a pedagogue.

(Sandi wants to respond, but can’t: she doesn’t know what Quinn said. Quinn smiles)


By and large, Quinn’s plot in Is it Fall Yet shows a complete step forward for all of Quinn’s evolutionary qualities – she’s learning to look beneath the surface, that being smart doesn’t make you a dork, and that Daria is actually a pretty great person to have on your side. It’s also the beginning of her final takedown of Sandi. This change is completed in season five and the final movie.

fat like me

Part of this change in character is Quinn’s empathy – rather than just feeling for others, she actually starts going out of her way to help them. In Sappy Anniversary she tries to surreptitiously remind Tom that his and Daria’s six-month anniversary is coming up, because she cares about how Daria is treated. In Fat Like Me she helps Sandi to lose weight, despite the fact that Sandi’s weight gain got her kicked out of the Fashion Club (Quinn also got tricked into quitting, so it’s not complete altruism here).  It’s the sixth episode of season five, however, where we see Quinn finally defeat Sandi.

In the episode Lucky Strike, all of the teachers have had enough. They go on strike, causing Ms Li to hire substitute teachers. One of these substitute teachers is a creepy, Woody Allen-esque English teacher who acts out parts of the novel he’s writing as an excuse to stroke Tiffany’s hair and be generally creepy. Quinn complains about this at dinner and Helen immediately calls the school to have him fired. Ms Li Drafts Daria into the job. Daria has to teach Quinn’s English class while they study Romeo and Juliet. Sandi tells Quinn that if Daria makes the test too hard she’ll spill Quinn’s “deep, dark secret” – that Daria and Quinn are sisters. That evening, while Daria is planning the test with Tom’s help, Quinn begs her to go easy on the class.

Quinn:  Daria, you know the test tomorrow? It’s going to be easy, right? Because if you make it really hard, some popular people won’t like it and might take it out on another completely innocent popular person, and besides, it’s good to help the popular, because if you don’t, it might make you even more unpopular, although I don’t know if such a thing is possible.

Daria:  Ooh, wouldn’t want to risk that.

Quinn:  So you’ll do it?

Daria:  Right after I change into my fur bikini. (Tom smiles at this)

Quinn:  Daria!

Daria:  You know, I didn’t ask for this stupid teaching job. I don’t need the work and I don’t need the stigma. I’ve tried to make the class interesting and focus on the play, not the grades. And if, after all that, the only thing your vapid friends can think about is how to finesse taking the test, then they deserve to fail it.

Quinn:  Daria, do you want everyone to hate you?

Daria:  Hey, why should you go out of your way to protect the stupid? You’re not one of them!

Quinn:  I… I… you don’t understand anything! (storms out of the room)

Tom:  Hmm, maybe you should make it easy. Give the poor kids a break.

Daria:  I lied about the fur bikini.

Tom:  (fake anger) Damn!

Daria essentially just reminded Quinn that she’s smarter than her friends, ramming home all Quinn had learned over the summer. This is re-enforced when Quinn discusses Romeo and Juliet with Jake, and realises that she actually knows it pretty well.  Daria sets an essay test with the question “What is Romeo and Juliet about?” The rest of the class despairs (“200 words!?”), but Quinn starts writing away with a smile on her face. When they get their results back, Quinn gets a B+ while the rest of the Fashion Club get D-s. Sandi starts berating Quinn, saying she only got a good mark because she and Daria are relatives. It’s obvious that Sandi is building up to the big reveal, but Quinn heads her off by sticking up for Daria.

 Quinn:  I’m not taking anyone’s side, Sandi. I’m just saying that sometimes people get put in awkward positions. Like a girl who has to wear huge braces in fifth grade, and years later her brothers find pictures of her with them and give those pictures to a friend, who hasn’t shown them to anyone out of the goodness of her heart… yet.

Sandi: Oh.

Quinn:  Besides, why shouldn’t I act sisterly towards her? After all… (she looks right at Daria) …she’s my sister.

Sandi:  (gasps) Did you hear that? Oh, my gosh! Quinn just admitted that weird girl is her sister!

Stacy:  Well, um, of course she is, Sandi. We knew that.

Tiffany:  We were just being polite about it.

we were just being polite about it

And just like that, Quinn has removed Sandi’s only real weapon – she’s no longer embarrassed of Daria or her own intelligence. After this episode, nothing Sandi does really bothers Quinn, to the point where in the movie Is it College Yet Quinn takes a sabbatical from the Fashion Club and then decides to extend it, essentially quitting altogether. She’s outgrown them. Her relationship with Daria is then rounded out nicely in One J at a Time  and Aunt Nauseum.

In One J at a Time Quinn shows dismay that although she tries, she can’t hold down a steady relationship like Daria and Tom’s. She’s upset at not being as mature as her sister, but Helen points out that the important thing is that Quinn does whatever makes her happy; neither way is better and neither is a marker for maturity. Quinn goes back to casual dating, safe in the knowledge that a woman can do whatever makes her happy when it comes to dating.

In Aunt Nauseum, Daria and Quinn are witness to their Mother’s ongoing feud with her sisters. Helen agrees to handle her niece’s divorce, and her sister Rita comes to stay and help with the proceedings in her daughter’s stead. Daria and Quinn can’t stand their constant arguing, and Jake bails completely (to be fair, he’s out of his depth). Daria calls in their other sister, Amy, to mediate, but Amy almost immediately sinks to their level and starts squabbling too.

Aunt Nauseum

All of this fighting affects Quinn in an interesting way – first she suggests that she and Daria stay home for the weekend to act as peace-keepers and offers to make Daria a carrot juice. Daria is too miffed at the suggestion that she has nothing better to do to notice that Quinn is trying to be nice. Quinn then tries to break up a petty squabble of the Fashion Club, but overdoes it a tad.

 Quinn:  Guys! Guys! Stop the madness. Is a dress really worth destroying the sacred bond between Fashion Club member and Fashion Club member? Stop your fighting before it’s too late!

Sandi:  Quinn, are you all right?

Daria and Quinn finally manage to make their mother and aunts realise how ridiculous they’re being. Daria starts imitating them, and Quinn jumps in immediately.

Daria:  Gee, Rita, are you ever gonna’ get a job? Why should I, Helen, when you won’t pay attention to mother? And you, Amy, who asked you?

Quinn:  Yeah! You had a dance floor at your wedding!

Daria:  You’re a show-off and a know-it-all.

Quinn:  You just hide in your room like a kermit!

Daria:  Mom likes you better!

Quinn:  That’s because I call her better!

Their teamwork stops the sisters from fighting, but Quinn is still unsettled. She asks Daria to watch Gone With the Wind with her, because she thinks (erroneously) Daria would enjoy it (Daria and Jake had been discussing the civil war at the start of the episode). At the end of the film, we get to see this brilliant exchange.

Quinn:  That movie was so sad.

Daria:  I know it made me feel like crying. Um, Quinn? There’s something bothering you, other than the saga of our fair nation being torn apart, isn’t there?

Quinn:  (pensive, glancing at Daria but not facing her) No.

Daria:  I only ask because I finally realized all that stuff going on here this week was making me act strangely toward Tom. So maybe you were having a similar, unanticipated reaction? Such as, oh, wanting to spend time with me?


Quinn:  (faces Daria) Daria? You don’t think we’ll end up having the same fight over and over again, for the rest of our lives, the way mom and Aunt Rita do, do you?

Daria:  No. We’ll use weapons.

Quinn:  Don’t say that!

Daria:  I’ll make you a deal. The only weapon I’ll use against you will be my winning personality, and the only weapon you’ll use against me will be your merciless silent treatment.

Quinn:  Silent treatment? I never- ha. Deal.

"Can I make you a carrot juice?"
“Can I make you a carrot juice?”

This final exchange completes Quinn’s and Daria’s relationship dynamic, showing that they have come to love and appreciate each other despite their differences. These personal changes that we see in Quinn provides the tools she needs to tackle the problems she faces in Is it College Yet?, which include getting a part-time job, calming Daria’s fears about College after her breakup with Tom, and telling a new friend that they might be an alcoholic.

Quinn’s character really is superbly written; we think all that’s there is what we see on the surface, but really there is so much more going on. It is very hard to write a character who appears so shallow but who has so much depth – it takes some serious character study and reflection to pull off.

Wow! They just keep getting longer! Thanks for sticking with me. Next week we’ll take a look at the transformations of the “B” ladies – Jodie, Brittany and the Fashion Club (mainly Stacey). Until then, remember that “Fashion is fun and everything but we should really do something about the rainforests and stuff”.


Daria: A Character Development Masterclass, Part 3 – Helen Morgendorffer

Helen Morgendorffer

Hello and welcome to part three of my exploration of the female characters in Daria.

This show is a fantastic example of writing of female characters as people with a wide range of personalities and drives, rather than relying on tired old tropes.

For a more in-depth explanation of why I am embarking on this endeavour please read the first post in this series.

Before I begin, all quotes herein can be found in the episode transcripts atOutpost Daria.

This post is about Daria’s  mother, Helen Morgendorffer (US readers please note, the author of this post is an Australian. I’ll be using Australian English and saying ‘Mum’ instead of ‘Mom’).

Daria and Helen

Helen is a character emblematic of the ‘go go 90’s’; she’s a prime example of the middle-aged mum who is trying to balance work and family and consequently being judged on every move she makes. She can’t cook, she’s under a lot of stress, and the person who pushes her the hardest is herself. Parental figures in pop culture tend to be either wise mentors or antagonistic, nagging caregivers. Helen manages to be both and more because the writers took the time to develop her character, rather than setting her up at the start as a work-ahollic who doesn’t understand her child and just leaving her there. Unlike Daria, Quinn and Jane, there are very few episodes that involve Helen in the forefront of the primary storyline, but she is given plenty of ‘learning moments’ in episodes throughout the series.

As regular readers and devoted Daria fans will know by now, episode one involves Daria showing up to her new school and being diagnosed with low self-esteem by the school counsellor. When Helen finds out the result over dinner her reaction leaves a lot to be desired –

“We tell you over and over again that you’re wonderful and you just don’t get it. What’s wrong with you?”

Helen spends the first two seasons or so attempting to get Daria to make friends and socialise more. She uses bribery, coercion and guilt to try and achieve this, but seems to give up by season three. We need to remember that Daria doesn’t talk to her parents much, at least at the beginning, so Helen has very little information to go from and her attempts to get Daria to hang out with the few other kids she knows about (mostly the quarterback, Kevin) fall woefully short as a result.

Helen and her husband, Jake, are both worried that they don’t know their daughters as well as they should. Helen tries to rectify this with Quinn in the episode Pierce Me  by appearing in a Mother and Daughter fashion show with her, but their senses of style don’t really match. That and they both stack it on the runway.

helen quinn runway daria

Helen and Quinn do have a lot in common, however – both are hugely competitive and have very busy schedules, and Helen often tries to convince Quinn that she should be putting her focus and ambition into her studies. These similarities are juxtaposed in the musical episode Daria! (yes, there was a musical episode. It was the 90’s, remember?). A huge storm is about to hit Lawndale and all residents are urged to go home before it lands. Helen can’t seem to tear herself away from work, and Quinn just can’t stop herself from searching for the perfect ‘storm-ready’ outfit. The two sing a duet called “Don’t they know I can’t leave yet?” showcasing their obsessive and competitive natures (Author’s note: I wasn’t able to find the song by itself online, but the whole episode is worth watching for the pure absurdity).

Helen, Quinn, Daria Musical
“Don’t they know I can’t leave yet?”

Not only is Helen competitive, but she also has a fierce protective instinct and sense of justice – well, she is a lawyer. This comes to the fore particularly when her daughters are under attack. In my previous post about Jane, I mentioned the episode Arts n Crass in which Jane and Daria create a controversial poster for an art contest. The school administration alters the poster without their permission, so Daria and Jane deface the poster and wind up in trouble. Below is what happens when Ms Li calls Helen about the situation.

Ms. Li:  Mrs. Morgendorffer, I’m afraid I have some rather bad news. Your daughter, Daria, appears to have been involved in an act of vandalism.

Helen:  What?!

Ms. Li:  Mrs. Morgendorffer, your daughter collaborated with Jane Lane in the creation of a poster for our art contest.

Helen:  Yes, I’m aware of that.

Ms. Li:  We found part of the poster unacceptable, so it was altered prior to its entry. Unfortunately, someone defaced the poster while it was on display, and since your daughter and Ms. Lane objected to changing it, I must assume that they were the vandals. I’m afraid I’m going to have to take drastic action.

(as Ms. Li talks, Helen’s expression slowly begins shifting from “concerned mom” to ” lawyer”)

Helen:  Wait a moment. You’re saying the girls were against changing the poster, but entered it into the contest anyway?

Ms. Li:  It was entered for them.

Helen:  I was under the impression that participation in this contest was voluntary.

Ms. Li:  It was, but your daughter refused to volunteer, so in her case, I made it mandatory.

Helen:  All right, Ms. Li, let me make sure I have this straight. You took my daughter’s poster from her, altered its content, exhibited it against her will, and are now threatening discipline because you claim she defaced her own property, which you admit to stealing?

Ms. Li:  (flustered) That’s not what I said at all!

Helen:  Ms. Li, are you familiar with the phrase “violation of civil liberties”?

Ms. Li:  I…

Helen:  And the phrase “big fat lawsuit”?

Helen, Daria, Ms Li, Big Fat Lawsuit

Helen  also sticks up for Daria against other parents. In The New Kid Daria makes friends with a boy named Ted and gives him some chewing gum. When his parents find out, they march straight over to the Morgendorffer household and demand that Daria stays away from him. Helen’s reply of “Look here, Hippy…” is both angry and derisive.

In the season three episode It Happened one Nut, it becomes apparent that Jane has learned which of Helen’s buttons to push in order to get a required result. When Helen forces Daria to take a job at the mall’s nut stand, Daria is utterly miserable about being made to interact with the public and also work with Kevin.

Daria, Jane, Nutty World

Jane calls Helen and uses the magic phrase, “She’s the senior employee at the nut stand, and the most qualified, but for some reason her male co-worker is the one they’ve got behind the counter.”

Presto – instant outrage and a freed Daria.

By the time we get to season three, Helen seems to be a bit better at connecting with Daria. In Through a Lens Darkly Helen floats the idea of Daria getting contact lenses. I covered this episode from Daria’s perspective in a previous post, and Helen’s story is a more subtle one here. While Daria is struggling with the choice, Helen realises that she may not have been respecting Daria’s ideas about who she is versus who Helen wants her to be.

Helen:  I just want you to know that I was thinking about our conversation the other day, and I don’t want you to believe for a second that I think you need contact lenses. You’re beautiful inside and out, no matter what, and I understand and respect your objection to contacts, and there’ll be no more discussions about it. Okay?

Daria:  (sighs) All right, you talked me into it.

Helen:  I did?

Daria:  Mom, that reverse psychology of yours is killer.

Helen looks perplexed here, but the truth is that Daria has come to her own decision already. This moment between them adds to a foundation of trust that is fully realised by the end of the show’s run.

It’s obvious very early on that Helen struggles with balancing work and family life. Even when she’s spending time with her family at home she is often interrupted mid-conversation by an urgent phone call.  In the season one episode The Teachings of Don Jake, the family go on a camping trip to try and “reconnect” with one another. Helen insists on no technology, including no phones. When the rest of the family go crazy from eating psychotropic berries, Daria doesn’t know what to do…

Helen Camping Berries Daria
“Girls, have you seen your father’s spirit animal? He was just telling it about his childhood when it scampered off!”

… until she hears the familiar sound of a ringing phone coming from her mother’s backpack and she’s able to call 911. They’re evacuated by helicopter.

Daria camping berries helicopter
“…has anyone seen my pants?”

Something similar occurs in a later episode, The Daria Hunter. Helen and Jake sign up as volunteers for a school field trip to a paintball ground in order to become more involved with their daughters’ education, but Helen winds up talking on the phone to her boss while shooting at the opposing team. She then shelters from the rain in a tent with Ms Li, and the two get into an argument about which of them has the worse influence on Daria’s attitude.

Helen:  Absolutely. Although it would be nice if the students got a little more encouragement. Maybe a bright kid like Daria would have a better attitude.

(Ms. Li laughs)

Helen:  Did I say something funny?

Ms. Li:  With all due respect, I can’t think of a prison that could create an attitude like your daughter’s, much less a school. No, I always assumed that came from interaction with her parents, or lack of it.Daria Helen Ms Li

Helen:  (angry) Oh, so you draw a distinction between prison and school. Because from what I’ve heard, you run the one pretty much like the other.


In a later episode, Ill, Daria comes down with a mysterious stress-related rash. Helen gets a call from the school but, due to an important meeting, needs to rely on Jake to take Daria to the hospital. When she finally gets to the hospital and learns that Daria still hasn’t seen a doctor, she goes into full “lawyer mode” to make sure Daria gets proper treatment.  This is how Helen typically responds to stress – she takes control of the situation and gets tough until things are resolved. Later, Helen explains that she’s proud of the way Daria handled the situation. Daria realises just how worried her parents were and that she’s lucky to have them in her corner. She mumbles “thanks for being there for me,” and Helen couldn’t be happier.

I have discussed the episode Write Where It Hurts in previous posts, but this is an episode that is a huge learning experience for both Helen and Daria. Helen attempts to help Daria through some pretty heavy writers block but is continuingly distracted by work-related phone calls. Her frustration with work transitions to being frustrated with Daria, and the whole situation blows up in her face.

Helen:  Is something wrong?

Daria:  Wrong? Uh, no. I’m thinking about an assignment I got in school.

Helen:  Anything I can help with?

Daria:  No. (sighs) I’m supposed to write a story using people I know as fictional characters.

Helen:  Really? That sounds fascinating.

Daria:  Not so far. Everything I write comes out bad. I have no story.

Helen:  Oh, I’m sure… (phone rings) Hang on a second, Daria. (answers phone) Hellooo. No, that’s not a counteroffer, it’s an insult. I will talk to you tomorrow during office hours. Good-bye! (hangs up) Okay, now, what are the other students writing?

Daria:  They’re not. This is an extra assignment just for me.

Helen:  Ooh!

Daria:  A punishment for being smart.

Helen:  Now, come on, Daria, I’m sure you’ll do a great job if you just put your mind to it.

Daria:  You are very, very wrong.

Helen:  Sure you will. All you… (phone rings) Yes?! Tomorrow! During office hours. (hangs up) All you have to do is get off your tuchus and do it! When Quinn has a challenge…

Daria:  Quinn? All her challenges involve coordinating her shoes with the colour of her date’s eyes.

Helen:  Daria, what I mean is…

Daria:  How can you talk to me about Quinn? She’ll never have this kind of problem. It involves thinking. You make me tell you what’s wrong, in between calls, and then you bring up Quinn? Don’t you know me at all? (leaves)

Helen:  Good one, Morgendorffer. (phone rings) Damn! (throws phone at tree)

She tries to fix things later, but then Jake sets a stew on fire and she has to go and take care of it. At long last, after Daria has had a few more attempts at storytelling, Helen apologises for their fight. Daria asks if  comparing one sibling to the other would get Helen an automatic F in parenting 101, and Helen says that the problem is that there is no parenting 101. She then suggests that Daria writes what she’d honestly like to see (as quoted in a previous post). This exchange between the two shows that Helen is also still learning how to be a parent, something that everyone with kids struggles with in one form or other.


Daria and Helen continue to have similar heart-to-heart talks through seasons three and four, giving each other help and advice. It even gets to a point where Helen learns that rather than directly asking Daria what’s wrong, she should let her daughter come to her. In the episode Partners Complaint she’s finally learned to play it perfectly –

(knock on Daria’s bedroom door)

Daria:  Yeah? (Helen enters) No, I don’t want to talk about it.

Helen:  Talk about what?

Daria:  Whatever it is you came in to have a heart to heart about.

Helen:  I came in to ask you to rinse off your dishes before you put them in the dishwasher. Your father found a cheese fry melted onto his “World’s Greatest Dad” cup and he thought it was some kind of rodent. Now he’s sworn off coffee.

Daria:  Then I should be hearing from the Nobel committee any day now.

Helen:  All right, then, I’ll leave you to your reading. (starts to leave)

Daria:  Don’t I seem inordinately unhappy to you?

Helen:  I don’t want to pry. (sees look on Daria’s face) Well… I did overhear your argument with Jodie…

Partners complaint

By this point Helen has also gotten to know Jane and appreciate her as Daria’s best friend, suggesting that Daria have a chat to Jane, too. She’s stopped trying to get Daria to socialise with the popular kids and is instead focusing on actually listening to her daughters. It’s also the moment that lets Daria feel she can go to Helen when shit really hits the fan at the end of season four.

The eighth episode of season four, Psycho Therapy is a huge turning point for Helen. She’s up for partner at the law firm and is told that she and her family need to attend a retreat so she can be assessed for the position. It’s billed as a “spa for the soul,” but really the retreat is a hotel full of counsellors and psychoanalysts. After Helen spends her personal counselling session and her couples session with Jake worried that she was giving the wrong answers, the entire family are invited to work on their issues together. They are asked to “wear each other’s faces,” pretend to be one another to develop empathy for each other. This goes about as well as you’d expect.

Dr. Bacon:  Maybe the grown-ups can lead the way here. Helen and Jake, go on. Switcharoo.

Jake:  Um, gee, I don’t know if I can do this. Well, I’ll give it a try. (he extends his fingers to simulate a telephone and speaks like Helen) Oh, hi Eric! No, just walked in. I thought I’d make dinner for…what? You have a hangnail? I’ll be right over!

psycho therapy jake

(Helen nervously laughs and takes a drink of wine)

Dr. Bacon:  Uh-uh. Jake.

Helen – I mean…Dammit! I lost another client, dammit! I can’t understand why! Dammit! Nobody likes poor old Jake. Should I think about the reason? Oh, must be my father’s fault. Where’s the newspaper, dammit! (fakes dropping off to sleep and snoring)

psycho therapy helen

Jake:  Look at the time! Gee, dear. You’ll have to tell me about your deepest fears and worries when I get back. I’ve got a big meeting, so I better run!

Helen:  No matter, I’m not saying anything relevant anyway. I’m lost in a fog, when I’m not flying into a rage!

Jake:  Oh, Jakey. Let me bring home the pizza. I have to be the one doing everything so everyone will thank me and tell me what a big superwoman I am. I’m very, very important and very, very stressed and I don’t have time to actually do anything for anyone else, but I can pretend I care, can’t I?

(Helen’s face turns red in shocked embarrassment and Jake sighs deeply)

Helen (quiet):  Everybody hates me.

Quinn:  Are you being Daria now?

Dr. Bacon:  Stay with it everyone, this is good stuff.

(Helen pushes chair back and stands)

Helen:  I’ve given everything I’ve got, but it’s just not enough. Well, I’ve got nothing left to give.

(Helen exits)

Daria follows Helen out to the car, where Helen has decided to spend the rest of their stay so she won’t be hurting anybody. Seeing her mother this way, Daria repays some of Helen’s kindness throughout the years by explaining that she’s actually a pretty great mum.


Helen:  Look what I’ve done to my family! Your father feels completely neglected and resentful. I’ve shut you out so many times, you don’t even try to talk to me, and Quinn…well, I can’t even think about what happened there, not right now. Oh my God, Daria! You didn’t hear that!

Daria:  Look, Mom. Dad has to feel neglected; it’s how he stays the center of attention. And the reason I don’t talk to you is that I know you’ll hang on my every word, and frankly, who needs that kind of responsibility? And as for Quinn, well, I can’t even think about what happened there.

(Helen laughs and stops herself)

Helen:  Oh, my.

Daria:  So you get carried away with the job. Big deal. You’re just as committed to the family.

Helen:  I try to be.

Daria:  You’re very grounded, it’s why you’re half-crazy.

Helen:  You really don’t hate me for working so hard?

Daria:  I came to this stupid place and pretended to be well-adjusted, didn’t I?

Helen:  Hmm.

Daria:  Well, anyway. I came to this stupid place.

daria helen psychotherapy

This conversation serves to cement Helen’s bond with her child as an adult. That Daria is giving her advice and reassurance, rather than the other way around, shows a real maturity and friendship that wasn’t there in earlier seasons. They’ve both seen each other’s vulnerable sides and are stronger for it.

At the end of this episode her boss, Eric, reads Helen’s psychological report: “Helen Morgendorffer suffers from overarching competitive aggression, unhealthy self-involvement, a gross insensitivity to others needs, and an overriding conviction that she is always right.”

This assessment is correct on the surface, except after this episode Helen is no longer willing to put her family last.

In the finale of season four, Dye Dye My Darling, Helen is working long hours rushed off her feet and stressing that she has “no time to waste!” But when Daria comes to visit Helen at the office, looking like the embodiment of misery itself, she doesn’t hesitate to put her work-life on hold and help her daughter. She dispenses some pretty rock-solid advice, too.


Daria:  (sighs) You know… I had everything more or less under control. I’m not saying it was great, but I could deal with school, I could deal with home, and now nothing’s under control.

Helen:  It never is, sweetie. We just tell ourselves otherwise so we can function.

Daria:  Who came up with that stupid arrangement?

Helen:  It’s called life.

Daria:  Life sucks.

Helen:  Yes. Sometimes. (pause) Often.

Daria:  That’s reassuring.

Helen:  But it still beats the alternative. Honey, things will work out. I don’t know how, but they will.

Daria:  You don’t know how? What kind of parental wisdom is that?

Helen:  Honest.

Daria:  Don’t you have to be getting back to that huge case of yours?

Helen:  Oh, don’t worry about that. It’s completely under control.

Daria went to Helen because their relationship has solidified and she needs real adult advice. She couldn’t talk to Jane for obvious reasons, but because Helen has put in the hard yards and developed their relationship, learning to put work on hold to make time for her family, Daria finally feels comfortable with opening up to her. Daria shows her appreciation by giving her mum a very rare smile – a miracle given the situation.

There is one topic, however, that no teenager feels one hundred percent comfortable discussing with parents. When Daria starts dating Tom, Helen’s anxiety shifts to worrying that Daria is having sex. It makes for some great comedic moments, but despite the topic  hanging over them Daria still goes to Helen for relationship advice in Sappy Anniversary.

 Daria:  Well, um… I was wondering if I could ask you something…

Helen:  Yes!

Daria:  Uh, well… Tom and I have been going out for about six months, and…

Helen:  Oh. Um… Daria, sometimes we may think we’re ready for something and it won’t change anything but we’re really not and it changes everything and in the rush to grow up we sometimes forget how precious are the fleeting years before adulthood’s cares…

Daria:  It’s not about sex.

Helen:  Thank God! I mean, “Oh, I see.” But when you’re ready, please feel free to come to me. Not that there’s any hurry, nor should that statement be interpreted as some kind of encouragement.

Daria:  Right. Anyway, it’s about our anniversary. It’s not that I’m expecting anything…

Helen:  And you shouldn’t.

Daria:  I shouldn’t?

Helen:  No. Because you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. Trust me.

Helen tells Daria a story of one of her wedding anniversaries where Jake made her a candle.

Daria:  So, you were disappointed, huh?

Helen:  Well, I would have been if I’d been expecting a diamond bracelet. But I knew that a lot of time and love went into that silly lump of wax. See, Daria, it doesn’t matter what he buys you or where he takes you. The only thing that matters is how you feel about each other.

Daria:  But what if he forgets your anniversary altogether?

Helen: Show no mercy.

Helen Show No Mercy

A few episodes later in The Story of D­, Helen keeps freaking out when she suspects that Tom is up in Daria’s room. In several scenes reminiscent of my own experiences, she bursts into Daria’s bedroom unannounced, suggesting she and Tom come downstairs or that Helen bring them some snacks. At the end of the episode she  bursts in just in time to see Tom give Daria a chaste smooch.

The Story of D, Teltale smooch

This is all leading up to My Night at Daria’s, when Tom and Daria fall asleep while studying in Daria’s room and wake at four AM.

“Oh god. We have to get you the hell out of here.”

Tom tries to sneak out, only to be caught by Jake who is too sleepy and/or drunk to register any issue. When Jake goes back to bed and mentions to Helen that he should have offered Tom a snack, Helen jumps to the obvious conclusion about what happens between two teens with raging hormones. “My hormones don’t rage…”


Daria is able to convince her mother that nothing happened, but this doesn’t stop Quinn telling the fashion club, and therefore the rest of the school, that Tom was in Daria’s room all night.

 Helen:  Not that I would ever try to talk you out of it — which is not to say I’m trying to talk you into it – it’s just that I’d like to have the chance to discuss things with you first. I only wish I could have gone to my mother before I made such an awful mistake. What is it about stunt drivers that makes otherwise level-headed teenage girls just whip off their…

Daria:  (quickly interrupts) Okay, okay. Um, I’ve got to study. Big test. Biiig test…

At the end of the episode Daria actually volunteers information to Helen, saying that she and Tom haven’t had sex and aren’t going to anytime soon.

 Helen:  Well, I can’t say I’m not somewhat relieved. I just want you to know that whatever decisions you make in life, I’m on your side and…

(Daria lifts the newspaper high to hide from Helen)

Daria:  So instead, we’ve decided to sublimate our urges by traveling cross-country with a motorcycle gang.

Helen:  All right. You just remember to call home on Sunday nights.

Daria:  (lowers paper) Hey!

Helen:  Ha!

That they are able to exchange this kind of banter is a fantastic testament to how far their relationship has come. There’s no way this exchange would have been plausible without all of the foundation work laid previously.

The final episode of season five, Boxing Daria, was a strong finish to the show (discounting the subsequent movie Is it College Yet?). In this instalment we get some insight into Daria’s childhood. The Morgendorffers get a new refrigerator and the delivery box is left in the yard. It triggers a memory from when Daria was about five or six, when she used to play in a refrigerator box that she had turned into a sort of cubby-house in her room.  She remembers hearing her parents arguing about her, and her hiding in the box to block it out.

Boxing Daria

When Daria brings the argument up over a decade later, Helen has no idea what she’s talking about and Daria accuses her of lying. When Quinn confirms that Daria is right about the fight, Daria crawls into the new refrigerator box and won’t leave. Helen is genuinely perplexed and asks Jake for help. Quinn clues them in on what’s bothering her sister, and they agree to talk with Daria about what happened. They are able to explain, with the benefit of hindsight, that the two of them had been under a lot of stress at work and kept getting called into Daria’s school due to her anti-social tendencies.

boxing daria

This episode reminds us that Helen used to try and force Daria to socialise, and we’re given an explanation as to how it began in the first place. She knows now to just leave Daria be, that she’s perfectly fine.

Then Daria talks it all through with Jane, the person she trusts most. She talks to Jane about Helen, and (previously) to Helen about Jane. They’re her two best friends.

There are still more topics I could cover with regard to Helen. I could show examples of how her relationship with her sisters mirrors that of Daria and Quinn while also explaining Helen’s competitiveness (I Don’t and Aunt Nauseum).
Daria Aunt Nauseum

I could talk about her and Jake’s marriage, and how they were hippies when they were young but have less in common now they’ve gone ‘white collar’ and can only connect to each other physically (That was Then This is Dumb, Antisocial Climbers, Of Human Bonding).

“…if we focus our positive energy we can make the Pentagon rise of the ground!… RISE, DAMMIT!”

I could even discuss how Helen is a proud feminist with body image issues who feels the pressure to cook and clean for her family while also maintaining a high-pressure job (Jake of Hearts).

But all of that is just background detail. It’s thoroughly interesting background detail which adds extra layers to Helen’s character, but it doesn’t actually push her forward.

Helen and Daria’s relationship is highly complex and quite possibly one of the best-realised examples of parent/child relationship development in modern times. Helen goes from being distant, distracted and subsequently shut out of her child’s life, to developing a close bond with Daria. This is the result of experience, trial and error and maturation of both mother and daughter, and is written with such subtle finesse that you don’t really notice the change unless you’re looking for it. Simply put, it’s an example of exemplary writing.

Next week’s entry will focus on Daria’s sister, Quinn, and her transition from airhead to confident young woman. Until then… you should probably call your mother.

helen phone

Daria: A Character Development Masterclass, Part 2 – Jane Lane

Jane Lane

Hello and welcome to part two of my exploration of Daria.

This show is a fantastic example of writing female characters as people with a wide range of personalities and drives, rather than relying on tired old tropes. For a more in-depth explanation of why I am embarking on this endeavour please read my previous post here.

Before I begin, all quotes herein can be found in the episode transcripts at Outpost Daria.

This week we will focus on the character transformation of Jane Lane.


Daria:  And I kept thinking about you, up here doing your paintings, making your jokes, being Jane Lane.

Jane:  Being Jane Lane’s what I do best.

Daria:  Precisely. You know exactly who you are, and nobody’s ever going to con you into thinking you don’t. I wish I’d had you around just as a role model.

Jane:  You know, you’re absolutely right about me.

Daria:  Gee, shall I attempt further heights of ego inflation?

Jane:  Please do.

Is It Fall Yet?

Daria’s best friend from episode one onward, Jane is probably the character I relate to most. It is very easy as writers to create the same female characters over and over, but the creators of Daria have made sure that while Jane is a kindred spirit, she still has a very distinct personality to her best friend.  One of Jane’s main drivers is the urge to form her own identity and try new things.

images (2)

Jane is a highly talented visual artist, and when she and Daria are hanging out together she’s normally painting, sculpting or drawing. Jane and Daria share a similar world-view and disdain for their classmates, but where Daria will try and avoid people and attention Jane will socialise out of morbid curiosity. She has a more outgoing personality than her friend, and she seems to have more self-confidence when it comes to interaction. Jane has a very strong sense of self which she rarely compromises, and she identifies as being an artist above all else. In the second episode of season one, The Invitation, she decides to accompany Daria to a party because she “bet(s she) can get some great sketches there.”

This episode is also an early example of her and Daria’s difference in libido; Jane has the confidence to talk to guys (and make out with them in the laundry at house parties), whereas Daria seems disinterested. This disinterest can be explained by her disdain for the talent on display – she’s more interested in Trent.

Jane’s independence is explained somewhat when we meet her family in Season 3’s Lane Miserables.  Until now, we are led to believe that Jane and her brother Trent live in the family home by themselves most of time, with the rest of the family off globetrotting and perusing their own art forms or raising their own families. In this episode, Jane and Trent’s Mum, Dad, sister and brother return home, and then the eldest sister comes by with her two children. The house is suddenly full again, and Jane and Trent can’t stand the lack of privacy.

The Lane Family

The two retreat to Daria’s house for a night, but are unused to having to follow rules such as sticking to a curfew. Helen and Jake take the opportunity to ask Jane for some insight into Daria’s life because she’s “so hard to talk to.” To her credit, Jane is reluctant to disclose anything that might be seen as betrayal by her best friend and she puts down the ground rules of “maximum three questions, no betrayals, immunity to prosecution.” This whole episode really re-enforces Jane’s independent nature and her loyalty as a friend.

See Jane Run

An earlier episode in Season 2, See Jane Run, is the first real test of Jane and Daria’s solid friendship. We already know from season one that Jane enjoys running, and to Daria’s surprise she decides to join the track team. She spends a lot of time training and hanging out with the team, and Daria starts to feel sidelined, to the point where she purposefully embarrasses Jane in front of a guy she ‘appreciates’ in order to get a reaction.  We get the impression that Daria misses having someone around to exchange witty one-liners with, and that Jane doing something so ‘jock-ish’ has thrown Daria’s own sense of self into doubt. Their friendship reaches its potential breaking point when Jane accepts an academic exemption for in order to be able to stay on the team (in layman’s terms, she got a bye on a maths test).

See Jane Run 2

It’s not until the guy she ‘appreciates’ calls Daria a loser that Jane realised that being on the team was corrupting her integrity. The gym coach tries to blackmail Jane into staying on the team, but Jane threatens to call the three local news stations and tell each one that the other two are running the story. By the end of the episode, Jane and Daria have both apologised for the way they treated each other, but we have gained insight into the ways their personalities differ. So many writers (and people in general) assume that groups of women and close female friends share a hive-mind and agree about absolutely everything – Daria and Jane are a fantastic example of writing that refuses to play into this mindset.

Jane and Daria’s friendship is tested again in the final episode of Season 3, Jane’s Addition. This is the episode where she first meets Tom Slone, and her wit and forward personality means the two hit it off right away. She goes off with Tom to get a burger, leaving Daria at a grunge club with Trent.

Jane's addition

Later, when Tom runs into them at the Pizza shop, Daria is rude to the point of being outright hostile to someone who she sees as an interloper. Jane seems completely perplexed as to Daria’s attitude toward Tom, but Tom can tell what’s going on. He finds Daria and explains that she’s all Jane really talks about, and that she’d have to be pretty stupid to think anybody would shake their friendship.

If only he knew.

By the end of this episode Daria concedes to being nicer to Tom for the sake of Jane’s happiness, and Jane seems to be optimistic about the situation.

We go through most of season four with Daria and Jane often accompanied  by now-regular cast member Tom. While they’re still best friends, Jane definitely has less time for Daria in Partner’s Complaint and there is a definite strain on their friendship caused mostly by Daria’s resentment of Tom. Their friendship is once again solidified in Antisocial Climbers, when the two girls get lost in a blizzard during a hiking field trip.

The antisocial climbers

Jane:  I think this could really be it!

Daria:  What are you talking about? Just keep walking. We’ll find our way.

Jane:  I don’t know, Daria. This is bad.

Daria:  Listen, I’m sorry I gave you all that crap about your boyfriend.

Jane:  Well, I’m sorry I embarrassed you all those times in front of my brother.


Daria: I feel like we should say more.

Jane: I know. That was kind of pathetic.

Daria: Um… I’m sorry my parents didn’t stop at one child.

Jane: I’m sorry they added those ugly blue M&M’s. (pause) Better?

Daria: I’ve made my peace.

Their friendship is restored after this, but at around I Loathe a Parade we notice cracks forming in Jane’s relationship with Tom. In episode eight, Psycho Therapy, Tom gets angry at Jane for installing a webcam without telling him. In the next episode, Mart Of Darkness, she gets mad at Tom for eating her art supplies. To be fair, her art supplies were gummy bears.

Mart of Darkness
“Nothing says you’re sorry like a herb grow roadkill”

Daria:  So Tom ate your gummy bears, even though he knew you needed them for the statue. That was pretty inconsiderate.

Jane:  Well, now that I think about it, I may not have actually told him they were for my statue, but he should’ve known!

Daria:  Definitely, since they were probably right there, next to your paints, unless he eats paint, too.

Jane:  Um, the gummy bears were in a bowl on the kitchen counter. But, they were in plain view of my statue! (she stops walking) I don’t have a leg to stand on, do I?

Daria:  I’d rather not answer that, Stumpy.

In that episode we learned that Jane has a tendency to create petty arguments rather than addressing real issues in her relationship with Tom. These issues are explored a few episodes later in Fire!, when Daria’s dad, Jake, sets the house on fire. Rather than share a hotel room with Quinn, Daria retreats to Janes house. Here we see Jane and Tom’s differences on display as they discuss going to the movies – Jane wants the visual effect of exploding eyeballs while Tom’s more into Fellini. Daria and Tom have been getting along a lot better lately (ever since I Loathe a Parade) and Jane is torn with the idea of Daria staying, but she can’t let down a friend in need. So when she walks in on Tom and Daria having a long conversation about The Prince’s influence on Lenin, Trotsky and Ms Li, this has the dual effect of playing on her insecurities in her relationship as well as her insecurities of her own intelligence compared to Daria’s. She finally says to Daria, “You’d never do anything to hurt me?” and is assured that it’s all good unless she grows long red hair and keeps a lip gloss database (i.e., turns into Quinn).

It all comes to a head in the very next episode, Dye! Dye! My Darling. Jane gets Daria’s help with dying her hair with blonde stripes. Daria keeps saying that she’s the worst person for the job, but Jane insists. The results are as one expects, and Jane accuses Daria of screwing it up on purpose to take Tom away from her.

Dye, Dye My Darling!
“The tiger turned out to be more of a penguin with eczema.”

Jane admits later that she should never have made Daria do it, and that she’d been trying to ‘bring the whole thing to a head.’ This is a side of Jane we haven’t really seen until this season, but it’s a highly relatable one; the habit of working out problems by being passive aggressive rather than direct is more common than people like to admit. Then, once the dust has settled…. Tom kisses Daria.

The season ends with them being the type of friends that can’t stand the sight of each other.

Is it Fall Yet?

Between seasons four and five is the movie-length special “Is it Fall Yet?”, set during the summer before Daria and Jane’s senior year. Daria and Tom start dating and Jane spends the summer at an artist’s colony. Most of her fellow artists seem to be pretentious and dismissive of Jane due to her age, not to mention sycophantic toward the camp instructor (voiced by Dave Grohl, FYI). Luckily Jane meets Alison, a down-to-earth, tattoed artist who is on the cusp of forging her own career. She’s  the person Jane wants to be in the not-too-distant future, but Jane’s hopes of maybe having found someone who appreciates her work are dashed when Alison tries to sleep with her.

This is pretty much the only time that Daria addresses same-sex relationships, and it doesn’t go that well. Jane turns Alison down, protesting that she’s straight, and is freaked out that somebody would hit on her so aggressively. She also begins to question her own sexuality, admitting to Alison that the incident confused her, but this is wrapped up very quickly when she realises that Alison may have just been telling Jane she gave off ‘gay vibes’ to get into her pants. Alison hooks up with the douchy art instructor, giving Jane some insight into the nepotism that permeates the art world to which she wants to dedicate her life.

Alison:  He’s not so bad once you get to know him.

Jane:  You said he went through more students than tubes of paint. You can’t possibly think he gives a damn about you.

Alison:  Who’s looking for romance? I just want to have a little fun.

Jane:  And if it’s with someone who can introduce you to a few gallery owners, that’s not so bad either, eh? I think I’m beginning to see how the art world works.

Alison:  God, high school. It’s all such a big deal with you guys. You take everything so seriously. (leaves)

Jane:  Like someone telling you give off gay vibes just because they’re trying to get into your pants.

It should also be noted that the scenes with Alison hitting on Jane, as well as the conversation above, were censored and cut when aired on The N, a network aimed at tweens. A few years later The N began showing episodes of Degrassi: The Next Generation that tackled issues similar (if not more adult) than the ones edited out of the Daria episodes, so it’s interesting to see the way some attitudes have changed since 2000. Perhaps if Daria were made today it would have had more episodes with characters coming to grips with their sexuality or gender identity. We can only hope, right?

Daria and Jane make up

Anyway, Is it Fall Yet ended with Jane and Daria finally talking about “The Tom Thing.” Jane reveals that she isn’t so much hurt that Tom left her for Daria, but that Daria would pick a guy over their friendship. This, to me, is a welcome change to the usual love triangle plotline – it focuses on the girls’ friendship rather than portraying stereotypical bitchy backstabbing.

Jane’s strong sense of self and identity often clashes with her urge to try new things. In the season four episode The F Word, Mr O’Neil tries to teach his students that failure isn’t the end of the world by making them attempt something they know they’ll fail at. Jane picks being conventional and is thoroughly depressed when she’s invited to join the cheerleading squad. Her ability to fit in so easily simply by dressing differently shakes her confidence so much that she considers actually joining, but during her tryout she has a change of heart when she imagines Tom and Daria at a football game… Tom and Daria

Jane the Cheerleader
Cheer cheer cheer…

Leading to  quite possibly my favourite exchange ever:

Brittany to Kevin:  Babe, you wouldn’t believe the cheerleader who auditioned yesterday. She got scared and lost all her bouncity-bounce.

Daria:  You had bouncity-bounce?

Jane:  Drop it, or I’ll have to kill you.

These desires clash again when Jane meets Nathan in season five’s Life In the Past Lane. Nathan is a guy who dresses retro, is in to swing music and is nostalgic for a “the beauty and elegance of post-war American design,” explaining that “People had a sense of timeless style and civilised decorum back then.” Jane starts dressing retro too, insisting that it’s just a bit of fun, but when Nathan complains that hanging out with Daria and Tom isn’t his scene, Jane starts to realise that the relationship is very one sided and that Nathan cares more about his image than he does about her.


This is a really important episode for the series, because it points out that even someone with a strong sense of self can be swept up in the heady excitement of a new relationship. Many people, particularly teenage girls, go through at least one relationship where their opinions aren’t valued and their decisions aren’t respected. This one-sided railroading of the other’s needs and wishes is often a warning sign of a potentially abusive relationship – it’s not outward aggression but the subtle erasure of who they are as a person. Jane learns a valuable lesson here, and if the series had continued they might have been able to explore this theme further.

While Jane has more social skills, it’s no secret that Daria is the academic of the two. It’s often mentioned that Jane gets straight C’s in maths and that her “language arts” (ie English) grade isn’t too hot either. This doesn’t faze her too often, but in season five’s Prize Fighters the insecurities that stirred during her relationship with Tom come to the surface again. Daria, Jodie and Chuck are all competing for a college scholarship, and Daria is conflicted about buying into the system. She goes to Jane for a sounding board, but Jane is too busy feeling like an underachiever that she lashes out with sarcasm instead. The episode ends with the conversation below, which is a reflective nod to how much the two characters have changed over the last few years.

Daria:  Why were you so anti-scholarship?

Jane:  No reason. Except maybe…seeing the big brains compete for a prize based on their           academic achievement – well deserved, don’t get me wrong – might possibly have made      little Janey feel a bit…I don’t know.

Daria:  Left out?

Jane:  Look, I’m good at the things I’m good at. Grades isn’t one of them. (sighs) We        never used to think about stuff like this.

Daria:  I know. What’s happened to us?

Jane:  I don’t know. Selling out?

Daria:  Buying in?

Jane:  Joining the system?

Daria:  Being co-opted?

Jane:  Maybe we’re just getting older.

Daria:  Yeah, I felt a twinge of osteoporosis when I woke up this morning.

Speaking as someone who went through most of their schooling with a best friend who was a wiz at academia, learning that their achievements in no way diminish your own is a huge personal turning point. Going from being envious to genuinely proud of your friend’s achievements takes introspection and appreciation of your own strengths.  Jane’s strengths lie in her art.

Jane’s evolution and expression as an artist is key to her character. Rather than just saying, “oh and she paints” in a transparent attempt to give their character some depth, the writers actually succeed in giving her depth by exploring who Jane is as an artist. She doesn’t just enjoy painting and drawing, she is passionate about making art her life and her career. We learn this as early as the fourth episode of season one, College Bored, when Jane imagines what her college experience would be like. It involves spending the money on renting a loft space in New York rather than enrolling.

Jane's art space
“I used the money my parents saved for college”

The episode Arts ‘n’ Crass explores Jane’s artistic integrity; something which she and Daria share. The two of them collaborate on the design for a poster which depicts “Student Life at the Dawn of the New Millennium” (ah, remember the 90s?). The staff fail to stipulate is that the message needs to be positive, and the girls choose to exploit this loophole by depicting one of the more distasteful truths of student life – eating disorders. Their entry shows a picture of a beautiful girl, accompanied by a poem.

 She knows she’s a winner, she couldn’t be thinner

Now she goes in the bathroom and vomits up dinner

 When Jane and Daria refuse to change their poster’s message – and therefore refuse to censor themselves – the poem is changed against their will and entered in the contest against their wishes. They deface the poster in protest. Helen, Daria’s mother, manages to get the girls out of trouble with the administration (I’ll come back to this in the next entry about Helen and Jake). As Jane puts succinctly at the end of the episode, “The only way to save our work was to destroy it.” It would have been easy for the girls to make the changes, enter and probably win the contest, and many in their position would have. How strong is your artistic integrity?

 Arts n Crass

Jane’s lust to let her art loose on a grand scale comes to the fore in season three. In the episode The Old and the Beautiful (discussed in my previous post) Jane signs up to run an arts and crafts class at the local children’s hospital and immediately has grand ideas. When Daria asks if the kids should be working with auto parts, Jane says “There will be no popsicle-stick picture frames in Jane Lane’s arts and crafts class! Tomorrow we’re making voodoo dolls of the hospital staff.” Later, Jane reveals that she and the kids are re-doing all of the wall murals in the hospital, turning all of the happy clowns with balloons into Mongol invaders wielding maces. Her murals are banned by the end of the episode, apparently because they painted an old-west scene that included a scalping, but her yearning for a larger canvas remains.

Two episodes later, in Daria Dance Party, Jane opines that “these itty-bitty canvases just don’t do it for me. How I long for a medium grand enough to do justice for my inner torment!” When she volunteers to help Quinn organise the school dance, Jane is positively gleeful when she says that “A thousand bucks can buy a lot of paint!” She transforms the school gym into a conceptual art piece, splattering the walls with paint in tribute to the untimely death to Jackson Pollock. It’s a huge hit, which is a plus.

Daria Dance Party

In season five Jane learns that painting her original art keeps her sane. In Art Burn she’s hired by a gallery owner to paint re-creations of the old masters. Every time a painting sells she gets a commission, and while she enjoys the praise and monetary success at first she starts to suffer from “copying burnout,” and doesn’t want to paint anymore. This problem of “balancing our artistic statements with our bank statement” is something that every artist struggles with – how to do what we love whilst also putting a roof over our heads (or, in Jane’s case, pay for a new backyard gazebo). She eventually quits and goes back to her own works, and is much happier for it.

jane sunflowers

This leads us to the last ever official Daria story, Is it College Yet?, the second Daria Movie. Set after season five, this feature-length episode is about the tail-end of their senior year and the stresses of college applications. Jane’s ideas about higher education have changed somewhat since the first season – she wants to get into Boston Fine Arts College. She also applies to two state universities, but as BFAC requires a portfolio for submission she throws herself into her work with gusto. Unfortunately, she gets rejected from both state universities (presumably due to lousy academic scores) and her zeal to finish her BFAC submission completely disappears. Trent cheers her up in the most defeatist way possible –

Trent:  No kidding. Who are these people to judge you, anyway?

Jane:  What do you mean?

Trent:  Hey Janey, if they could create art, they wouldn’t be teaching it.

Jane:  You know, you’re actually beginning to make sense. Why waste four years learning a bunch of useless technique and theory I’ll probably just have to unlearn if I ever want to create my own style?

Trent:  Works for me.

Jane:  What’s the point of Lawndale State? Or even BFAC? Galleries won’t care if I have a degree. In fact, I bet most artists don’t go to college.

Trent:  Why would they? Unless they wanted to avoid the draft… or their parents made   them… or they followed some girl there… or they were showing a movie… or…

Jane:  Trent!

Trent:  Huh?

Jane:  I’ve come to a decision. I’m not going to college.

Trent:  Good plan.

Jane:  You and I will pursue our muse together, hunker down here in our creative bunker, periodically issuing forth new works that will invariably rock the art and music worlds, respectively.

Trent:  Hmmm. This isn’t going to require of me to get up for breakfast, is it?

Trent probably has a point here, however he’s off the mark in not encouraging Jane to submit to BFAC anyway. Luckily Daria calls Jane on it the next day, pointing out that she shouldn’t make rash decisions about her education based on temporary disappointment. She also says that Jane shouldn’t let rejection make her afraid to try again, a lesson which Daria had learned just a few episodes previously (discussed in our previous post, for those playing the home game). Jane isn’t the only one dealing with rejection at this point – Daria has been denied entry to Bromwell, her first choice of schools. Tom got in mostly due to his family ties, and offers to get his parents to write her a recommendation letter, which she refuses in favour of maintaining her pride and going to Raft, her second choice.

Jane:  I couldn’t paint anything decent with that application hanging over my head, anyway. Believe me, that portfolio would never have gotten me into BFAC. (laughs) Que ironico, the minute the pressure was off, I started doing some really interesting stuff again.

Daria:  So it’s the old “reject them before they reject me.”

Jane:  Yeah, the same thing you’re doing with Bromwell.

Daria:  I was already rejected by Bromwell.

Jane:  So was I. By State U and Lawndale State.

Daria:  But you told me you don’t care what their sucky art departments thought of your work.

Jane:  Really. They’re so sucky they didn’t even ask to see it.

Daria:  What?

Jane:  They didn’t ask to see any of my stuff, so I didn’t send any.

Daria:  Wait. You get rejected by schools that don’t care if you have artistic talent, but    the one that does care, you decide not to go for?

Jane:  For the same reason you’re not gonna let the Sloanes write a letter that might get you into Bromwell, even though you wouldn’t have to lift a finger. Rejection sucks. You said so yourself.

Daria:  I’ll make you a deal. If I prostrate myself before the Sloanes and ask them for that letter, will you finish your portfolio and send it to BFAC?

Jane:  God, Daria! You must really think I have a shot.

Daria:  And all I had to do to convince you was offer myself up for a round of thoroughly gratuitous humiliation.

Jane:  Well, I guess I wouldn’t be much of a friend if I deprived you of that. You drive a hard bargain, Morgendorffer, but you’ve got yourself a deal.

 Daria Jane

The end result is that Daria still doesn’t get into Bromwell, but Jane got into BFAC. Luckily Raft is in Boston, so they can meet up on weekends and complain. Trent also apologises for not encouraging Jane and for calling her a sell-out, admitting that he was really going to miss her.

Jane evolves on so many levels throughout the show without betraying who she is at her core. This is a stellar example of exemplary character writing – she grows into adulthood by learning about life, love, and how to focus her own artistic goals. She and Daria learn from each other, forging a lifelong friendship in the process.

Wow! That was a long one! Congratulations for making it all the way to the end.

That’s it for Jane, but come back next week as we track the character evolution of Daria’s mum, Helen.  Until then, keep creating your art and don’t give up!


Daria: A Character Development Masterclass, Part 1

In last week’s blog entry, I discussed the common film and TV tropes used to depict female characters in replacement of actual character development. The result of these cliché’s is two-dimensional characters and the alienation of much of your potential audience. It is difficult to enjoy most pop culture, especially geek culture, after coming to the realisation that the creators really don’t think of you as an audience at all. But there are some shows and movies that I keep coming back to and watching over and over because they don’t alienate women. I’ve decided to dedicate the next few blog entries to these productions.

Our first example of fantastic representations of women and character development: Daria.

Anybody who has known me for longer than ten minutes is aware of how much I adore this show. Originally a spinoff from Bevis and Butthead, Daria could not have been further from the B&B manifesto. In a rare display of cognition, the MTV executives came to the conclusion that there wasn’t a show in their line up that appealed to teenage girls, and as such they were losing a lot of potential viewers in their demographic. The program debuted in 1997 and was a huge hit, running for 5 seasons and two made-for-TV movies. It gained fans of all ages and genders – indeed, an acquaintance of mine once told me that everyone in her office would down tools when Daria was on during the 90’s.

The show is set in Lawndale, a fictional town in middle America in the same vein as Springfield or Riverdale – a “Joe Everytown”, if you will. It’s mostly populated with the white and middle-class, however there are quite a few episodes which tackle class divide and racial tokenism. The first episode involves Daria and her sister Quinn on their first day at their new high school, presumably having moved from the B&B town of Highland. The girls are asked to take a psychological exam to determine how well they will “fit in” at the school, and after refusing to give non-sarcastic answers to the councillor, Daria is forced to take after school “self-esteem classes”, where she meets Jane. The line “I don’t have low self-esteem,  it’s a mistake… I have low esteem for everyone else” was the first real identifier for her character.

Within the first few episodes we have met not only Daria and her family, but also the extensive supporting cast. By the end of the final movie we get to see just how much every one of these characters has grown and changed over the last few years. The show is more than just the story of two misanthropes surviving high school, it’s a master class in character writing and development. (It’s also a showcase of the best music from the 90s, provided you can get a hold of episodes with the original soundtracks.)


DARIA. The titular character, Daria was the misanthropic misfit that so many people could relate to, at least on some level. Smart and sarcastic, we spend the first few episodes observing the world from her outsider point of view. Daria is a writer, and her knack for observation rather than participation is key to her writing style. This all comes to a head in the final of season two, Write Where It Hurts. Daria’s English teacher, Mr O’Neil, tasks Daria to write a story using people she knows. We see each of Daria’s attempts played out through the episode, but none of them seem to work for her.


It’s not until she has a conversation with her mother that she finally writes something that feels ‘true.’

Helen:  How about describing what you’d like to see, honestly?

Daria:  What do you mean?

Helen:  Daria, the easiest thing in the world for you is being honest about what you          observe.

Daria:  And…

Helen:  What’s hard for you is being honest about your wishes. About the way you think   things should be, not the way they are. You gloss over it with a cynical joke and nobody finds out what you really believe in.

Daria:  Aha! So my evil plan is working.

Helen:  If you really want to be honest, be truthful about what you’d like to           happen. There’s a challenge.

Daria:  When the hell did you learn so much about me?

Helen:  It’s a funny thing, Daria. You give birth to someone, you just get an urge to keep tabs on them.

Daria then finishes her assignment by creating a story about herself and her family in the future, where she is a successful columnist and her sister has grown up considerably. Her mother and father have both retired and have mellowed out. It’s sappy, but it’s one of the first times we get to see what Daria wishes would happen rather than just her colour commentary.


They continue her development right away at the beginning of season three, in Through A Lens Darkly. In this episode, Helen gets Daria to try wearing contact lenses under the pretence that they’ll be better for driving. She agonises over the decision because her glasses are tied into her persona of not really caring what other people think of her.


Daria:  Suppose you were well known for not caring what other people think of you, and then suddenly you did something that showed maybe you do care a little about what other people think of you. Would that invalidate everything you’d done and said up till then and make you a hypocrite?

Quinn:  Daria, you’re giving me a headache!

 Her aunt Amy points out that contacts just give more options, and that they’re no more vain than primping in the mirror. They wouldn’t change her values or her personality, so why not give it a try? Daria tries the contacts and gets a positive reception at school, reinforcing her view that people judge more on appearances than they like to admit  (she even manages to convince the dopey quarterback, Kevin, that glasses actually make you smarter). She takes the contacts out at school because they prove to be too painful to put up with, but as she’s walking home she gets more positive feedback from Trent. tumblr_ky41unQQZW1qamvsno1_r1_500The next day she goes to school without contacts OR glasses. When Jane finds out that Daria came to school blind out of sheer vanity her response probably wasn’t the most sensitive. “This is great! You want to borrow my lipstick?”

Later in the girls bathroom, Daria has locked herself in a stall. Both Jane and Jodie try to convince Daria that she’s a teenage girl and doesn’t have to be a martyr to principle, but with no success. It’s not until cheerleader Brittany comes in and says that “knowing that a brain can be worried about her looks makes me feel, um, I dunno, not so shallow or something. Like we’re not that different, just human or whatever”, that Daria finally comes to terms with her own vanity.

They continue along this line of character development in the very next episode, The Old and The Beautiful, in which Daria volunteers to read to senior citizens. When the old folks hear her voice they all refuse to let her read to them, instead begging for Brittany and Kevin. This would be a bruise to anyone’s ego, but as Daria’s voice is a key part of her persona it’s particularly painful. She tries to get advice on how to improve, but nothing helps until she reads to Mrs Blaine, a deaf lady who insists that Daria has ‘such a pretty voice.’ Daria then goes back to the home and reads her own stories to Mrs Blaine, who appears to thoroughly enjoy the graphic violence. Daria has finally realised that it’s not about what you read or how you read it, but the connection that you make with the people to whom you are volunteering your time.

Daria doesn’t get much development independent of other characters for season 4, but in the first episode of season 5 she is forced to test the strength of her personal principles in Fizz Ed. When the school needs more funding to pay for bullet-proof skylights, Ms Li signs a contract allowing soda companies to advertise in the school and directly market their product to the students. Believing (correctly) that a cola company using a school as an advertising venue is inappropriate, Daria tries to get Jodie to complain. When Jodie refuses, she points out that if Daria isn’t willing to put herself out there and properly protest on this one that she really mustn’t care that much. This forces Daria to conduct some introspection, and finally go and complain to the school district office. She is disappointed when this doesn’t get the result she was hoping for, but luckily the contract is reviewed when Ms Li has a nervous breakdown.


Daria as a writer is explored for a final time in episode five of the fifth season, The Story of D. Daria writes a short story and Tom encourages her to submit it to a magazine. She goes out on a limb, takes a chance and is ultimately rejected by the magazine, but not before most of the school learn that she submitted a story in the first place. Everyone’s well wishing and encouragement just makes the ultimate rejection more painful. She takes her anger and humiliation out on Tom, who is mad at her for giving up after just one try. She later realises that she was being a jerk and that Tom was just trying to be supportive. By the end of the episode, she has resolved to keep writing, because the alternative it giving up, and then what?


This is an episode which I relate to on a very personal level. Writers often talk about the pain of being rejected by publishers and agents, but it’s normally from a perspective of having finally made it through the gauntlet. This episode depicted the listless depression and frustration that is very easy to succumb to if a writer doesn’t have a strong support network around them. You’re not just being rejected for a job or by some hottie in a bar, which is mostly being judged on the surface, they’re rejecting something you have poured your soul into. They’re rejecting the essence of your being. The fact that Daria is able to process this, then pick herself up and keep plugging away after her first “thanks but no thanks” letter is a huge moment for a character who so rarely puts herself out there.

The rest of Daria’s development happens in her relationships with other characters, particularly with her family and Jane. Check back next week for the next instalment when we focus on Jane, Daria’s kindred spirit and everyone’s favourite fictional artist.

Until then, eat some pizza.