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.

tumblr_ntnchl0IPV1tg0clto1_400

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.

300px-QuinnAnalysis

"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.

Monster

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.

Speedtrapped

(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)

 pedagog

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”.

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2 thoughts on “Daria: A Character Development Masterclass, Part 4 – Quinn Morgendorffer

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