There are very few cop shows that are both hilarious and progressive, but Brooklyn Nine-Nine is one of them. In fact, its humour is of such a high calibre that I’d suggest that many people don’t know how progressive it actually is. It features a cast of seven from a range of backgrounds and ages and covers a variety of social topics. While the characters cover various archetypes, they are all distinctly different and given enough time to develop depth. The main characters are actually very good at their jobs – they put in a lot of hard work and are dedicated to solving cases, the comedy comes from their individual quirks and personality clashes.
Most of the action occurs in the police station itself, and solving crimes tends to be a secondary storyline compared to events that are plaguing the personal lives of the main characters, giving it the feel of a workplace comedy. They do go out and solve cases, though, and this coupled with the lack of soliloquising to the camera creates a perfect blend between cop show and workplace comedy.
Much of this show is improvised, due mostly to the high calibre of comedic talent present in the cast – Andy Samberg, Terry Crews, Joe Lo Truglio and Chelsea Peretti all have comedy backgrounds. The quality of writing lies in the foundations of the show and is reinforced with each episode, keeping the story’s chugging along but also adding layers to the characters with each instalment. This combination of improvised humour and scripted plot progression allows for the actors to have more input on the progression of the characters that they know intimately.
Strap in and, as always, SPOILERS AHEAD: I will be referencing seasons one and two. If you’ve not seen them, tread carefully.
We begin with Rosa Diaz, played by Stephanie Beatriz. Beware – abundance of gifs ahead.
Rosa is smart, enigmatic and tough. She’s honest, often brutally so, and doesn’t believe in sugar-coating the truth. She’s also lacking in social skills – her inability to empathise with others, coupled with her short temper and overall scary demeanour, can often lead to misunderstandings with her co-workers. She has the “don’t fuck with me” look down pat, and this accompanied by a few well-chosen phrases will often get her the results she requires from others. This doesn’t necessarily make her a bad person – she’s still a great police detective and she does genuinely care about her friends’ well-being. If we were to put it in gaming terms, Rosa is like doing a Mass Effect play-through as a renegade Commander Shepherd – sure, diplomacy might get you what you need, but so does fear.
One of the great strengths of Nine-Nine is that the writers give the characters learning moments that stick – they don’t generally go back to repeating the same old bad habits, experiences are actually valuable to their development. The season one episode Old School is a brilliant example of character development for a few of the cast, but especially Rosa. In the B story line, Terry and Boyle are trying to prepare Rosa to give testimony in court. They have good reason to worry –
Rosa finally admits that she might need help. Boyle says that all she needs to do is get the jury to like her.
Unfortunately, All of their tips are confusing and Rosa’s time on the stand doesn’t work so well.
It’s not until Terry and Boyle cotton on that Rosa is just nervous that they’re able to give her proper advice – to go to her happy place. When she goes to finish giving testimony, it goes off without a hitch. Then they make the mistake of asking where her happy place is…
So far, the writers have managed to avoid a major pitfall that’s common with this sort of character – making excuses for her lack of ‘feminine softness’. Often, if we see a female character who is tough or assertive writers feel they have to explain why she’s not the soft motherly sort, and usually they get super lazy and put it down to something shady that happened in their past. Rosa is aggressive, but not because of any past trauma (that we know of). They don’t make excuses for her being who she is. In the season one Halloween episode, Rosa mentions having to leave Catholic school before graduating. Terry asks what she did to get kicked out, and spends the entire episode trying to crack it. We learn by the end that Rosa wasn’t expelled, but got into an elite dance school and had to transfer.
Terry is highly amused by this (as are we all) because it shows a soft side to Rosa…until she knocks an escaping perp to the ground and tells Terry that she was kicked out of dance school for “beating the crap out of ballerinas.”
There’s another aspect to Rosa’s character in season one that made me realise just how different this show is to the average sitcom – the way they handled the ‘unrequited infatuation’ shtick. In this case, it involved her fellow detective Charles Boyle having a huge and obvious crush on the completely disinterested Rosa. She tells Charles multiple times that she’s not interested and that he needs to look elsewhere, but he still follows her around like a lost puppy no matter how many times she kicks him. He likes her so much that he takes her side in a debate over who sells the best pie in New York, even though he knows she is very wrong because he is a crazy gourmand geek who takes “foodie” to a whole new level.
This concept is done so often and is so hackneyed that we can usually tell how it’s going to end – either she ‘comes to her senses’ and realises she’s in love with him, gets worn down by his constant haranguing that she agrees to go out with him on a disastrous date, or he moves on and she gets jealous and possessive. Nine-Nine does none of these things. Instead, when Charles meets someone new Rosa is genuinely happy for him. In the episode The Apartment, after spending the entire show planning an elaborate prank together, he actually apologises to Rosa for being such a creep all year. This is the moment where they really become friends, without any pretext or weirdness.
In the episode Tactical Village Charles gives out save-the-date cards for his wedding but neglects to give one to Rosa, who gets angry about being left out. So angry, in fact, that she points a directional ultrasonic weapon at him that causes him serious pain. She also fires a net-gun at him, causing him to spill boiling hot coffee all over himself, and shoots him several times with paint balls. When Terry confronts her about this, the conversation goes about as well as can be expected –
Rosa: Look, I get it if Vivian doesn’t want me to come, but Boyle should have said something. We’re finally getting along.
Terry: Well, talk to him! That’s what friends do.
Rosa: Nope. I’m gonna wait until I’m on my deathbed, get in the last word then die immediately.
Terry: That’s your plan for dealing with this?
Rosa: That’s my plan for dealing with everything. I have seventy-seven arguments I’m going to win that way.
Terry: Seems like a bad plan.
Rosa: Now I have seventy-eight.
Later on, she steels herself, confronts Boyle about the issue and the two are fine. Diaz realises that agonising over it was worse than actually confronting her problems head on. In the very next episode their friendship is cemented when Rosa agrees to go to Charles’ ex-wife’s engagement party. By the end of the second season, Charles even arranges a romantic birthday dinner between Rosa and her new boyfriend Marcus, because he values their friendship. They steer away from this entire issue in season two and tie it up neatly, and not once is the phrase “friend-zone” uttered (although this could be because Rosa isn’t nice about rejecting Charles at all, in fact she even calls him creepy once or twice).
Early on in season two, Rosa is put in charge of a drug task force with the goal to arrest the distributors of an amphetamine with the street name “Giggle Pig” (chosen, I’m sure, just to have Captain Holt say “Giggle Pig” with that amazing voice of his). This is the storyline that took Rosa from the relatively flat, angry character in season one and gave her a lot more depth. The Giggle Pig plot showed us that Rosa is not only good at her job, but is passionate about it.
She’s been given a leadership opportunity and isn’t going to squander it, and we can actually notice her improved diplomacy skills. She goes above and beyond to get the results that the taskforce needs, with hilarious results, including dressing up to go to a silent disco.
There’s a couple of times where she has to kick Jake’s butt, which is awkward because they’re friends and she needs him to take her seriously. In the episode USPIS, she gives Jake and Charles a lead that leads them to working with the United States Postal Service. Unfortunately their contact at USPS, Jack Danger (pronounced Dong-er), is a man with a hugely undeserved superiority complex who out-ranks them because the postal service is a federal agency. Jake keeps complaining to Rosa about Danger, and it’s a mark of their friendship that Rosa is able to get Jake to keep working with him. Unfortunately, Jake still manages to screw everything up.
Rosa: I told you to work with USPS.
Jake: Okay, I know I didn’t do it exactly the way you asked me to –
Rosa: The way I ordered you to. As leader of the taskforce. Do you think that just because we’re friends you can do whatever you want? Danger’s furious, he’s on his way over here now because they’re taking over the case.
Jake: What? He can’t do that.
Rosa: Yeah, he can, they’re a federal agency. From now on any bust that comes from this […] goes to USPS. My taskforce get’s nothing, so thanks “friend.”
Rosa has evolved to the point where she’s able to get people to do what’s required without threatening violence. She’s still direct and bluntly honest – which is key to her character – but she’s managed to make her style work within a leadership role.
In the next episode, The Road Trip, Rosa comes into work with the grand-mother of all colds. She’s become so determined to get a result for the taskforce that she refuses to go home until the criminal they have in holding gives up his supplier. She winds up getting high off cough syrup in one of the funniest scenes that I haven’t been able to find on YouTube. Terry asks Gina to “keep Diaz occupied,” which Gina does by locking her in the break room. Rosa falls asleep shortly after, for a good ten hours.
She wakes to find that Terry has gotten the guy to give up his dealer, and that Gina has put together a care package for her. Of course, this is after she smashes the window on the break-room door in order to escape. Still, she realises that asking for help when she needs it isn’t the end of the world, and that she needs to trust the people who care about her.
When they finally rid the streets of Giggle Pig, Rosa can’t stop smiling, wondering how people do it all the time.
Season two is also the first time we see Rosa with a boyfriend. We haven’t seen any of the other paramours she’s mentioned occasionally in the past because she has a very strict rule about keeping work and personal lives separate, but Marcus is different – he’s Captain Holt’s nephew, and he’s living with the captain until he finds a place of his own.
Holt and Rosa are both very closed-off characters, so this new interaction outside of work is uncomfortable for the both of them. Many of us have experienced the deer-in-the-headlights embarrassment of being caught by a significant other’s family while still in their house the next morning, but Brooklyn takes it to a whole new level by putting the two most uncomfortable characters imaginable in this situation. When Holt and his husband, Kevin are eating breakfast, Marcus comes downstairs with Rosa. The only person who can fully appreciate how amusing the situation is Kevin, who spends the entire interaction trying not to laugh.
Holt: Marcus, have breakfast with us.
Marcus: You’re up early…okay…
(Rosa walks down the stairs)
Holt: …and detective Diaz is here…as well
Rosa: Hey. Hello Kevin.
Kevin: Rosa. Marcus.
Marcus: Kevin. Uncle Ray.
Holt: Marcus. (looking around for the dog) oh and Cheddar, Cheddar is also here.
Kevin: Uh, would you care to join us?
Marcus: Sure. (to Rosa) Shall we sit?
Rosa: I don’t think sit…
Holt: Good, then, feel no obligation to stay, Rosa. (shakes his head) Detective Diaz. Detective Rosa Diaz is in my breakfast nook.
Kevin: So who would like French toast? I can put a bacon smile on it?
Rosa: My being here is weird. This is a bad idea. We shouldn’t see each other again. (walks out)
Holt: Well, Detective Rosa Diaz has left. Hmm.
The episode ends with Holt calling Rosa to his office. He takes off his badge as a symbolic gesture to speak to her as a friend, not a captain.
Holt: And as your friend, I have this brassiere you left behind in Marcus’ room.
(Holt places the neat paper bag containing Rosa’s bra carefully on the desk in front of her. Rosa looks at it, then quickly snatches up the bag and stuffs it under her jacket)
Holt: Also, I just wanted you to know, um… I think Marcus is great and, uh… And you’re great. And I hope the fact that you and I work together won’t prevent you from dating. If that’s what you want to do.
Rosa: I might. But I don’t want to talk to you about it.
Holt: Perfect. Because I’m not comfortable knowing about it.
Rosa: Great. Then let’s never talk about it.
Holt: Let’s never talk about anything.
So, for the next few episodes we’re treated to Rosa learning how to be in a relationship and open up to someone. In Beach House, Marcus buys her a new phone charger because her old one dies, and she says, “Thanks, what do I owe you?” When Marcus explains that they’re dating so she doesn’t owe him anything, it was just a nice gesture and that a ‘thank you will do,’ she gets mildly aggressive, saying “I said thank you! That was the first thing I said!” But then he smiles at her, and she realises it wasn’t an attack and apologises. Still, this doesn’t stop her from threatening Charles, who calls Marcus her “boo.”
Rosa: Say “boo” again I will shoot you in the stomach.
Charles: Fine. Lover boy it is.
Rosa: What did I just say, Charles? What did I just say?
Charles walks away in a hurry. I’m with Rosa on this one, “boo” is a terrible pet name and it needs to go the way of frosted tips.
Rosa and Marcus’ relationship progresses relatively well, mostly because Rosa gets help from her friends and Marcus has infinite patience. She get’s weird about inviting him to a wedding because she doesn’t want him getting too romantic, she gets help figuring out how to send relationship-y text messages, and slowly learns how to care about somebody (this isn’t to say that Rosa doesn’t enjoy sex- the show treats her mentions of casual encounters as no big deal because contrary to popular belief, repeat after me: women are allowed to enjoy casual sex).
Really though, apart from this basic ‘how to function’ stuff, this relationship serves another (and, in my opinion, better, purpose) – giving Rosa more of a connection to Ray Holt.
Captain Holt is a mentor to every character – he’s giving Amy Santiago the skills to become captain one day, he’s getting Jake to take the job more seriously, he’s helping Boyle to gain confidence from his strengths, he’s putting Gina in positions of responsibility to help her realise her potential, and he’s helping Terry return to the field by compartmentalising work and home. But Rosa has the job down – she is already a fantastic cop without any self-esteem problems, and we know from the Giggle Pig taskforce that she’s a strong leader. Where she falls down is letting people in, dealing with emotions and confiding in her friends.
In the episode AC/DC, Holt’s husband Kevin has asked, yet again, that Rosa and Marcus join them for a dinner party. Both Holt and Rosa aren’t overly thrilled at this idea – this is too much vulnerability for the two of them. In intimate setting means opening up and being emotionally intimate, which is why Holt invites Gina and Amy as ’emotional buffers.’
When Amy and Gina are running late, dinner has to begin without them. The conversation turns to family, and Rosa quickly leaves the table. When Holt follows her, she reveals to him that she might be pregnant. Fair to say that Holt hasn’t really had to deal with this sort of situation before, but considering that he’s one of the most emotionally closed off people on the planet he handles the situation relatively well. After asking a couple of awkward questions he states, very reasonably, that Rosa needs to get a pregnancy test before freaking out too badly. He then helps her make an excuse to leave the party (she’s not pregnant, just fyi. But even thinking that for a millisecond is fucking scary, so I don’t blame her for freaking out).
Holt teaching Rosa how to get in touch with her feelings would be a serious case of the blind leading the blind, and thankfully the writers don’t take us too far down that road, but it’s telling that the first person Rosa talks to is the Captain, because he’d understand how hard it is for her to talk about it at all and he is a surrogate father figure for the entire squad.
So, there you have it. Within two seasons Detective Rosa Diaz goes from being a moderately flat character to having a decent amount of nuance. As I haven’t watched the third season yet I can’t speak for how she progresses in the rest of the show, but I sincerely hope these trends continue.
Thanks for sticking with me this far! Next week I’m going to talk about another character from Brooklyn Nine Nine, but I haven’t decided who yet. Until then, take this piece of advice for next time you hit a slump –
I’ll admit it, I’m a sucker for a movie with a killer soundtrack. The right music goes a long way toward enticing me to watch again. It wasn’t until my subsequent viewings of Whip It that I realised exactly how interesting the character dynamics and comparisons are, and it wasn’t until my partner mentioned in passing that it might be a good blog topic did everything properly click. So I watched it again. If you haven’t seen it already I suggest doing so before you read any further. Alternatively, you can read on and get pissed at me for spoilers because unfortunately I’ll have to talk about the ending. You have been warned.
From the outside, Whip It is a fairly typical coming of age story. Bliss Cavendar (Ellen Page) is a misfit indi-rock teen girl who lives in a small Texan town. When she finally finds the place where she belongs she has to learn how to balance her new hobby without alienating friends and family. Throw in a romantic subplot with a cute boy and a yelling match with her parents, end on a feel-good fuzzy finish and you have the bare bones of a story we’ve seen a thousand times. But you know what other stories we’ve seen over and over? “Man reluctantly saves the world and gets the girl who’s always mad at him.” “Orphaned child learns they’re special and also the saviour of their people.” “Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back again.” The trick is to take these common storylines, use them as the foundation of your story and build from there. Take some of the predictable plot elements and turn them on their head, give your audience something new to focus on and, above all, give your characters proper development. That’s exactly what the Whip It author and screenwriter Shauna Cross did. Bliss’ character development comes, primarily, through her connection with other characters.
Whip It focuses on five key relationships – Bliss and her parents, Bliss and her best friend, Bliss and her boyfriend, and Bliss and the ladies on her roller derby team. Wait, did I not mention roller derby yet? Well, it features as this films’ “something new and exciting”.
The film opens by establishing the relationship between Bliss and her mother, Brooke. We begin at a local beauty pageant where Brooke is eagerly awaiting her daughter’s appearance on stage. Bliss walks on in a white dress with her hair dyed blue.
When her mother is yelling at her afterward, Bliss timidly says she dyed it as a dare, and allows herself to be dragged to the local hair salon to have it fixed. This dynamic of Bliss going to lengths to rebel against her mother while being too afraid to actually state what she wants – in this case to not be involved in pageants any more – becomes a pattern.
Later on, Brooke takes Bliss and her younger sister shopping in Austin. They go to what looks like a trendy, independent vintage clothes store, where Bliss convinces her mother to buy her a pair of combat boots. To her credit, Brooke doesn’t seem overly reluctant (as she is trying to bond connect with her child by doing something Bliss would enjoy) until she spies some “pretty vases” in the display counter. When the sales clerk laughs at her, she realises they’re spun-glass bongs and refuses to buy the shoes out of embarrassment and not wanting to be a customer at a “head shop.” Bliss attempts to timidly talk her mother around before giving up and paying for the shoes herself, another way of acting out rather than saying what she really wants. When you look at it like that, it’s not a surprise that she’d act out by secretly going to a roller derby exhibition match in Austin with her best friend, Pash.
Going to watch this first bout is pretty simple – Bliss and Pash just tell their parents they’re going to an away game for their high school football team. Bliss’ Father, Earl, loves football and offers to go with them – he seems really excited by the opportunity to bond with his daughter, but winds up being shut down. Later in the film, Earl and Bliss have a sweet scene while watching football together where he tells her that, when it comes to her mother, she needs to pick her battles. He says this while they’re sitting in his van watching TV, because Brooke doesn’t approve of football and he needs to watch it in secret. These are two people who just want to keep the peace, but who also want to do the things that make them happy.
After the exhibition game, the derby girls are outside the venue spruiking fundraising merchandise. Bliss talks to Maggie Mayhem (Kirsten Wigg), who casually encourages her to try out for the team. That Maggie assumes she’s over twenty-one (the legal age to participate without her parents’ permission) and talks to her like an equal seems to be Bliss’ tipping point; the outing goes from medium-scale rebellion to an opportunity to hang out with a bunch of women she admires while secretly rebelling against her mother. Pash telling her she doesn’t have the balls to try out only seals the deal.
So, Bliss digs out her old skates with Barbie on them and practices, then catches the regional Bingo bus to Austin for the tryouts. Long story short she makes it on to one of the teams, the Hurl Scouts, but manages to piss off the captain of a rival team in the process. To be fair, Iron Maven seems easy to tick-off anyway, Bliss didn’t do anything intentionally. Her acceptance into the Hurl Scouts makes Bliss finally feel like she belongs – here are several women who she looks up to as role models, but who unlike her mother have plenty in common with her. They’re tough, stand up for what they believe in and don’t take themselves too seriously. Bliss adopts the derby name “Babe Ruthless.” It’s not until later that she realises where she learned this ruthlessness.
After one of Bliss’ games is shut down by the fire marshal, Pash gets arrested for being underage and holding an open container of beer. She was arrested while waiting for Bliss to talk to her new boyfriend, Oliver, and Bliss forgot about her completely while she and Oliver went off for a romantic evening. It’s implied that Bliss and Oliver slept together here, and the next morning she gives him her favourite shirt – a vintage T-shirt shirt for the Christian heavy metal band Stryper.He gives her his jacket. Oliver then leaves to go on tour with his band.
Pash’s arrest, meanwhile unravels the lie. Her parents call Bliss’ at three in the morning, and they are waiting for Bliss when she gets home. Her father is mad about the deception, but her mother is more concerned that Bliss is falling into the wrong crowd, saying “what do you think that the world thinks of those girls with all their tattoos? Do you think they have an easy time finding a job, or getting a loan application, or going to a decent college?” Bliss’ reasonable response of “I think it depends on the girl” is drowned out by Brooke continuing with “Or finding a husband?!” Finally, Bliss is able to say what she really thinks of pageants and of her mother’s idea of 1950’s womanhood. The argument ends with her being banned from derby. Her father even confiscates her skates, at which point Bliss yells at him to “go back to (his) turtle shell so (he doesn’t) have to confront anything.”
Bliss then goes to talk to Pash, who is so mad that she lashes out. She blames Bliss for her leaving her alone to get arrested, clearly violating the sisters before misters rule. With nowhere else to turn, Bliss goes to live with Maggie Mayhem for a while. It’s here that we learn that Maggie is a mum herself. Meanwhile, Oliver isn’t answering Bliss’ calls while he’s on tour and Pash still refuses to talk to her. She’s also forced to reveal to the team that she’s only seventeen.
The next day she has a heart to heart with Maggie, who says, “I know what it’s like to want to do your own thing, I do, but maybe there’s a way you can do it without making your parents feel like crap?”…”I’ve just been thinking, and I think maybe you’re being a little selfish with your mom.” When Bliss disagrees, Maggie says that she’s lucky to have a mum who cares at all, “and just because she’s wrong about derby doesn’t mean she’s wrong about every single thing…just because you found a new family doesn’t mean you throw the old one away.” This advice, coming from someone who Bliss thinks is cool but who also happens to be a mother herself, makes Bliss start to think about the people who she looks up to. Maybe her mum and Maggie aren’t that different after all?
That same day, Bliss logs on to the website for Oliver’s band. There, on the front page, is a photo of him with another girl who is wearing Bliss’ Stryper shirt. Devastated, she goes home.
This leads to a poignant scene with her mum. Bliss is sitting in front of the fridge, tears in her eyes. Brooke knows right away what the problem is – “whoever he is, he doesn’t deserve you.”
Bliss reveals to Brooke that she “gave him everything,” and after a moment Brooke stands up and leaves the room, apparently angry, but returns a moment later smoking a cigarette. “It’s a lot to process.”
“She was wearing my Stryper T-shirt. How could he do that?” Bliss asks.
“It’s the only cool thing you own.”
“That you know about,” Brook laughs.
This opens up their conversation to some of the things that really matter. Bliss realises that there was far more to her mum than she realised; that she got her ruthless streak from the strong woman in front of her who only wanted the best for her children, who had already lived a life full of mistakes and love and laughter, and who maybe had some good advice to give when they laid down their arms. Maggie is a mother and Holly used to go to metal concerts; Bliss’ separate worlds are suddenly merging.
This scene also a display of how important a child’s relationship with a parent is – no matter how old we get, if you have a solid and trusting relationship with a parent you will always turn to them when things get tough. I still call on my mum for help (hi, mum!), and she turned to her own mother for advice until the day she died. We fought like cat and dog from time to time, but if you’re lucky enough to be on good terms with your family they can be an invaluable source of emotional support.
The scene ends with Brooke explaining that she doesn’t want Bliss to do the next pageant unless she wants to, not because it would make Brooke happy. Bliss lies and says she wants to do it. She also apologises to her dad, who accepts it without a moment’s hesitation. Bliss then apologises to Pash and tells her about everything that happpened with Oliver. Together, they burn Oliver’s jacket.
Unfortunately, she still can’t go back to derby. The final bout is on the same day as the pageant, and she has to tell a disappointed Maggie that she can’t do it. Teammate Smashley Simpson (Drew Barrymore, who also directed) offers to kick her mum’s ass, but it’s no good. But then Earl looks up the derby league’s website and sees his daughter’s photo on all of the advertising, and a video of Bliss performing one of the team’s favourite moves – the whip – and he is blown away. He goes to the team himself and convinces them to talk to Bliss in person. Meanwhile he talks to Brooke, saying he thinks Bliss should go back to derby.
When Bliss chooses to leave the pageant her mum isn’t happy about it, but she goes to the championship to watch anyway. Brooke doesn’t like what she sees – Bliss gets hit hard. After the bout Bliss explains that she wants to continue derby and move to Austin, and her mum says that it’ll be hard to accept. The movie ends with Brooke reading the speech that Bliss wrote for the pageant, saying that the person she admires most is her mother.
“The person I admire most is my mother because she’s a fighter who never gives up on what she believes in and she never gives up on me. Obviously I would be delighted to win the Blue Bonnet pageant but knowing my mother is proud of me means more than any crown.”
Will Brooke finally accept Bliss’ choice to stick with derby? Probably, but she probably won’t like it. But what matters most to her is that her daughter is happy. A predictable ending? Yes. But it’s balanced out by the resolution of the two other main storylines. Bliss dumps her boyfriend when next she sees him, mentioning that “my mom wants her Stryper shirt back!” It’s very possible that his story is true – that the girl in the photo was a random chick who put the shirt on and nothing else happened – but Bliss reminds him that he never called, even though he admitted to getting her messages. Pro tip dudes: if your girlfriend calls you and says she’s going through some crap, CALL HER BACK.
Also… the Hurl Scouts don’t win the championship. They come close, but they still don’t win (hey, I warned you at the top about spoilers!). This isn’t a Mighty Ducks plucky-underdogs-take-the-win sort of flick, it’s about more than that.
Bliss’ friendship with her team mates gives her camaraderie and older role models for who she wants to become – they’re her antidote to growing up in a town where she didn’t fit. Her friendship with Pash is born from being in the same situation, going through similar struggles at the same age. Her relationship with Oliver is that of a reasonably typical first love – they tend to get screwed up somehow. Bliss and her dad share a sense of humour and a similar outlook, but he sees more of her mother in her than she realises. Brooke and Bliss are too similar to be friends, and while she disapproves of her daughter’s choices there is still so much love between them; both think they know best but don’t want to hurt the other.
Without the exploration of these relationships this film wouldn’t work. It would just be another movie about sport, albeit with super awesome ladies on skates. Character development is crucial to making a story interesting, and if you can make your characters grow and learn from each other at the same time then you may actually have a decent idea on your hands.
Whip It is on Netflix. If you’ve gotten this far still without having seen it, I still think you should, even if it’s just to hear Drew Barrymore scream “FOOD FIGHT!” in the middle. Oh, and for the killer soundtrack.
In the eighties we had Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink. The nineties had American Pie, Clueless and Ten Things I Hate About You. In the last decade we had Mean Girls, Juno and, in 2010 but I’m still counting it, Easy A.
Easy A is one of those films I keep coming back to, and personally I find that it’s hugely underrated. The dialogue is a masterclass in witty repartee all on its own, and the script has a few moments which pay homage to classic eighties teen flicks. It keeps getting compared to Mean Girls, and while both are about teen girls and high school drama they tackle very different issues. While Mean Girls is about social cliques and the toxic way teens treat one another, Easy A is more about teens being judged for their sexuality, particularly girls.
The film is narrated by the protagonist, Olive Penderghast, played by Emma Stone and her incredible comic timing. The story begins with her best friend, Rhiannon, asking if Olive can go camping with her for the weekend. Not wanting to be trapped with Rhi’s pothead hippy parents for two whole days she makes up a story about having a date with an older guy. She actually spends the weekend like this.
When she and Rhiannon reunite on Monday, Olive’s story gets away from her and Rhiannon winds up asking, flat out, if Olive had sex with her imaginary date. Olive protests and says she didn’t, but Rhiannon won’t let it drop so finally she says she did, out of pure frustration. Her voice over then says,
“I don’t know why I did it. I guess maybe it was the first time I had felt superior to Rhi. I just kept piling on lie after lie, it was like setting up Jenga.”
Unfortunately, their conversation is overheard by the leader of the school’s gang of obnoxious self-righteous Christians, Maryanne Bryant. Just like that, the lie of Olive’s lost virginity spread around the school with incredible speed.
“Remember when I said that Google Earth couldn’t find me if I was dressed up as a ten-story building? Well, the next day it could find me if I was dressed up as a crack on the sidewalk. That’s the beauty of being a girl in high-school; people hear you had sex once and bam, you’re a bimbo. I didn’t really mean for the lie to put me on the map but, I gotta admit, I kinda liked being on the map.”
This leads to an argument with a girl in her English class (one of the obnoxious Jesus freaks) who suggests that Olive sew a red letter A for adulteress on her wardrobe, referencing The Scarlet Letter.
Nina: Perhaps you should embroider a red A on your wardrobe, you abominable tramp.
Olive: Perhaps you should get a wardrobe, you abominable twat.
(Gasps from their classmates)
Olive is then sent to the principal’s office (which is an amazing scene with Malcolm McDowel, by the way. “This is public school! If I can keep the girls off the pole and the boys off the pipe I get a bonus”) and he gives her detention after school the next day. As she’s leaving the principal’s office she meets up with Rhiannon.
Rhiannon: Please tell me the rumours are true!
Olive: Yes, yes I am a big, fat slut.
Rhiannon: No, no not that one. The one where you got suspended for calling Nina Howell a dick and punched her in the left tit!
Olive: I worry about the way information circulates at this school.
The next day she serves her detention with Brandon, a boy who got beaten up for being gay and was given detention for calling their homophobic principal a fascist. While they serve detention by cleaning the school they talk about the rumours and Olive’s new “whore couture” outfits.
Olive: He’s not real.
Olive: The guy I slept with. I made him up.
Branden: You started the rumour?
Olive: Indirectly, I guess, sort of. Or actually no, not really I didn’t.
Branden: Well, you’re perpetuating it. That’s really messed up.
Olive: Excuse me?
Branden: Well, you’re not even a real slut, you just want people to think you are. It’s pathetic.
Olive: Uh, no offense but uh, you could probably learn something from me Brando.
Branden: Are you saying that I should act straight so people will like me? That’s ground-breaking. You should teach a course at the learning annex, it could be called “The Painfully Obvious with Olive Pendergasm The Big School Slut.”
Olive: I was just suggesting that maybe these kids we call “peers” are on to something.
This leads to Olive and Brandon hatching a plan to make Brandon appear straight, which involves them staging an incredibly fake sexual encounter at a popular girl’s house party. Behold.
Of course, their peers listening at the door probably wouldn’t know the difference. Seriously, if there is anybody reading who is still in school, know this – a vast majority of your schoolmates are lying about their sex lives. Some aren’t, but most of the ones who brag about having sex haven’t. Also, the younger you are and the larger the number of sex partners, the more likely they’re lying.
Anyway, as Brandon leaves the room he is engulfed in a swarm of other dudes who want to praise him, cheer for him and ask him how it was. He’s lauded as a hero and goes from being ostracised for his real sexuality to being called awesome for his fake one. Olive, on the other hand, is stared at and silently judged. She then gets a phone call from Rhiannon, who tells her she needs to stop because everyone’s calling her a slut. This erupts into a huge fight, because Rhiannon is jealous of Olive’s popularity and because Olive is too stubborn to tell Rhiannon the truth while she’s being yelled at, and Rhiannon probably wouldn’t believe her at this point anyway. Olive then decides to buy an even trampier wardrobe and to sew red As on every piece. “People thought I was a dirty skank? Fine. I’d be the dirtiest skank they’d ever seen.”
Meanwhile, Brandon has told a friend of his the truth about him and Olive. This friend, Evan, asks Olive if he can pay her to tell everyone that he got to second base with her. After initially being offended Olive agrees, but she points out to Evan that if he’d just been a gentleman and asked her out she probably would have said yes.
The rumour that she’s soliciting sex for money spread even faster than the last two, but for the nerds who know the truth she was a lifeline. They paid her in gift cards for the privilege of telling people they hooked up with her and her confirmation of the story.
I’m not going to tell you how the movie ends, but I will mention one poignant quote toward the end – that “Notoriety never seems to benefit the noted, only the note-ees.” Olive realises that if she had known that at the start she might not have escalated the whole mess and everything would have died down reasonably quickly. Then again, the only reason she let people spread rumours about her is because she felt bad for the down-trodden.
The film continues on with the constant demonising of Olive while the guys spreading rumours don’t even cop side-eye. In fact, Evan actually starts getting asked out by girls. The way that society has commoditised feminine virginity while using sex as a marker for masculinity is deftly handled in this film, especially when you realise that Brandon’s bullying for being gay stems from the notion that to “be a man” is to shag women, while to have sex with a man is shameful. To be dominant (man) is good, to be submissive (woman) is bad. Fuck that.
When a sex tape is released nobody talks about the guy in the tape, it’s always that the woman is a tramp (even when she’s not aware she’s being filmed and it’s distributed against her wishes). When hackers leaked celebrity nude photos last year the only people threatened were women, because to be anything other than virginal is worthy of ridicule. I’m not saying that we should start demonising men for enjoying sex too, I’m saying that legally consenting people who have sex should be treated as normal people. Sleep around all you want, just be safe and don’t hurt anyone in the process. Damn!
At one point the Christian students even picket the school, but all of their signs are about Olive being a tramp rather than all of the boys shagging around. It should also be pointed out that this mindset hurts men too – if you haven’t had sex you’re deemed a loser or gay, and guys get away with sleeping around because ‘boys will be boys,’ which is another way of saying men can’t handle themselves and their basic animal instincts and can’t be held accountable for their actions. Which is bullshit. They can control themselves, they just never get told they should. So, you’re either a sex maniac or a loser, there’s no middle ground.
One last thing I will say about this film – the main reason I keep coming back to it is Olive’s parents and their family dynamic. Seriously, if hell freezes over and I wind up having children, these are the parents I would try and emulate. (Sorry, Mum).
Easy A features some incredible dialogue and is one of the few teen movies that is clever, well-acted and funny. I sincerely hope that in the next ten years it’s considered to be one of those classic teen movies that people reference and re-watch. If you haven’t seen it, it’s on Netflix. It’s a pocket full of sunshine.
Welcome, readers and writers! This is the sixth and final installment of my exploration of Daria – who’s excited?
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.
In my previous post, I spoke of how the supporting cast in Daria got a significant amount of character development when we compare with other TV shows. That’s not to say that every character in Daria progresses – most of the teachers, as well as Tiffany, Sandi, Kevin, Tom and Mac stay relatively stagnant. However, there is still a significant number of support characters that manage to evolve despite their relatively brief screen-time. As such, this final Daria related character masterclass will focus on bubbly Brittany and timid Stacy, two support characters who actually do change throughout the seasons despite initial appearances to the contrary.
Stacy Rowe is one of the original members of the Fashion Club. She’s pretty and popular, but suffers from incredibly low self-esteem. It may seem strange when we realise that she wasn’t in the self-esteem class with Daria and Jane in episode one, until you remember that the general assumption is that pretty and popular kids are ‘normal’ and don’t have any real problems (this is drawn to our attention in Ars N Crass). Stacy is so desperate to get approval from others that she lets them run over her rather than stand up for herself.
We can imagine pretty easily what life in the Fashion Club would have been like before Quinn came along – Stacy too frightened to stand up to Sandi’s bullying and Tiffany too vapid and self-absorbed to actually notice any of it. Quinn is relatively nice by comparison, and Stacy tends to side with her during disagreements (until she’s again bullied into submission by Sandi). She’s also susceptible to panic attacks and bouts of anxiety, and is easily upset. For example, in the season one episode Road Worrier she freaks out when she thinks she’s wearing the wrong clothes:
Tiffany: Ugh, stretch pants. Everywhere, stretch pants.
Stacy: Hey,theseare stretch pants!I’m wearing stretch pants!
(Stacy panics and starts to hyperventilate; Sandi rushes over, grabs her arms, and shakes)
Sandi: They’re leggings! They’re leggings! It’s alright.
(Stacy lets out a high-pitched squeak of relief)
In the season two episode Fair Enough, Stacy is reduced to tears when a boy who she recently went on a date with didn’t call her afterward and then ignored her when they bumped into each other in person. Not wanting people to see her with her makeup running, she gets on the Ferris Wheel with Daria and Jane and proceeds to ruin their day. Fed up, Daria decides to lay it all out for her.
Daria: Look, don’t flush your entire world down the drain just because some jerk didn’t ask you out on a second date. It probably had nothing to do with you anyway.
Jane: Unless you did something really stupid, like bore him with your petty problems and convoluted logic.
Stacy: Why would I do that?
Stacy doesn’t change too much after these events. In Gifted, Quinn stays with Stacy while the rest of the family are out of town. Stacy scares Quinn away by dressing in almost exactly the same outfit and suggesting that they colour their hair the same shade, thinking that the best way to keep friends is to not say, do or think anything that might be different and therefore controversial.
Stacey is also upset by the idea of rejection or exclusion, suffering from a serious fear of missing out. Whenever her friends forget to mention something to her or she’s not invited to a party she becomes terrified that she did something wrong to be left on the outer. In the movie length Is it Fall Yet?, all of the Fashion Club decide to hire the same tutor to try and bring up their grade point average. Quinn does this because she knows she can do better, Sandi does it because she doesn’t want to be second best to Quinn, and Stacy and Tiffany do it because they don’t want to be left out. When the tutor, David, gets fed up with Sandi trying to bully him into letting her go shopping, and with Tiffany being more interested in her reflection, he ditches them. He then makes the mistake of mentioning this to Stacy.
David: During the Reconstruction, Southerners complained that the newly installed government officials were nothing more than carpetbaggers.
Stacy: They were making fun of their butts? Wait, that would be saddlebaggers…
(David gets a look on his face: “You can’treallybethatstupid, can you?”)
Stacy: (upset)Oh, no… that’s the look my mother always gets when I say something stupid. I’m such an idiot. I’ll never get anywhere in life!
David: At least you’re trying. Unlike Sandi and Tiffany, whom I had to drop. Now, the carpet…
Stacy: Wait — you dropped them?
David: Yup. The carpetbaggers…
Stacy: Why didn’t they tell me? I’m being shut out. I can’t believe this is happening to me. Iknewthis was going to happen to me. Oh, why did I wear that butterfly clip?
(Stacy runs off, crying, leaving David alone to wonder what the hell happened.)
The catalyst moment for Stacey’s change doesn’t happen until the third episode of season five, Fat Like Me. When Sandi breaks her leg, her weeks spent in recovery means she puts on weight. This weight gain means she needs to resign from the Fashion Club, due to the guidelines she herself put in place. She tricks Quinn into quitting too, out of “solidarity”, and suddenly Stacy is president. She does everything she can to recruit new members, short of lowering their very high standards. She has a stroke of genius at one point, convincing Joey, Jeffey and Jamie to come over and look at pictures of babes in bikinis. This falls apart when the boys are asked their opinion on fabric. Throughout all of this, Tiffany does basically nothing. She doesn’t contribute at all, and Stacy finally snaps.
(Tiffany enters the bathroom)
Tiffany: Stacy, what time is the Fashion Club meeting today?
Stacy: There is no meeting.
Tiffany: How co…
Stacy: How come?! Because I can’t take it anymore. I’m sick of doing all the work while you just sit there. I tried my best, and even if it wasn’t as good as Sandi’s or Quinn’s, a chain is only as strong as its weakest round thingy, and you refused to lift one freakin’ finger! I’m through running the Fashion Club all by myself while you (imitates Tiffany) stare… in the mirror… and talk… about yourself… (normal voice) and I, I, I quit!
Tiffany: Hmm, maybe I should quit, too.
(Stacy shrieks and runs out, while Tiffany — oblivious as usual — starts plucking her eyebrows)
This exchange is Stacy’s turning point. From here we see, in small increments, Stacy standing up for herself. At the end of this episode, when Sandi is back in charge, we see this moment:
Sandi: No one with a low eyelash count should be admitted. No exceptions.
Quinn: But Sandi… with all the thickening mascaras available you can always make it look like you have more eyelashes than you really do, so is the actual number of lashes really that important?
Sandi: Quinn, are you proposing artifice?
Stacy: I agree with Quinn.
Tiffany: Me, too.
(Sandi looks at Stacy and Tiffany, uneasy)
Sandi: Fine, but any eyelash-deficient applicants must agree to wear mascara at all times.
(Sandi looks uneasily at her fellow club members- the dynamic has shifted)
This change continues throughout season five. In Lucky Strike, Sandi acts as though Quinn admitting that Daria is her sister is a huge scandal. Stacy and Tiffany responding with “well, yeah, we knew that” is another example of Stacy’s coming out of her shell and Sandi’s power diminishing as a result.
In the episode Art Burn, the Fashion Club go to an art fair and have a group picture drawn by a caricature artist. They are less than pleased by the results. Sandi and Quinn immediately begin a vendetta of sorts, at first wanting to sue the artist. Tiffany goes along with this, but if you watch carefully you realise that Stacy doesn’t actually say a word at all during this episode. When Sandi, Quinn and Tiffany each go to Helen in turn and are told they can’t sue the artist for defamation or personal injury (“nor can you have him disbarred, deported, imprisoned or grounded”), they agree to at least destroy the picture. They can’t find it. The last scene of the episode is Stacy walking to her wardrobe and there, sitting on a shelf inside, is the cartoon, which we finally get to see.
Stacy has started her own little rebellion, and is learning to love herself.
Skip ahead a few episodes to Life in the Past Lane. One of the secondary plots to this episode involves Charles “Upchuck” Ruttheimer III performing magic tricks. When the Fashion Club watches him tear up a ten dollar note then magically repair it, Stacy wonders out loud how he did it. Sandi responds with “Oh Stacy, you are so naive.”
Upchuck convinces MsLi to let him put on a magic show in the school auditorium as a fundraiser to buy tracking chips for the school basketballs. The school community are shocked when he reveals his assistant – the lovely Stacy.
Their trick involves Upchuck fastened into a straight jacket, then wrapped in chains and locked into a reinforced trunk, so he is forced to “escape, or asphyxiate”. When he doesn’t emerge for a while, Stacy starts to panic and cry. The teachers step in and attempt to break into the trunk. Meanwhile, the rest of the Fashion Club talk to a sobbing Stacy.
Sandi: Stacy, it’s just tragic how you so completely embarrassed yourself!
Tiffany: Yeah. And freaked out!
Quinn: And your mascara! It’s not even waterproof! Oh, I can’t look!
Sandi: Good thing Upchuck’s buried alive in there so you won’t have to spend the rest of your life seeking revenge for the way he’s humiliated you in front of the whole school.
(Stacy immediately stops crying and drops her hands.)
Stacy: Oh, Sandi. You aresonaive.
The Fashion Club realise Stacy isn’t really crying at all, just in time for the trunk to open, empty. Upchuck appears at the back of the Auditorium, and the crowd applauds.
Upchuck: Let’s hear it for my lovely and very talented assistant Stacy, and her Oscar-worthy acting job!
(Stacy waves to the crowd.)
Upchuck: Your crocodile tears bring out the tiger in me! Rowrr!
(They bow. Cut to the rest of the FC.)
Tiffany: Maybe Stacy can teach me to cry.
Quinn: It would be useful at home, and in a variety of social situations.
Sandi sits there looking livid, but Stacy has finally asserted herself on a grand scale, actually managing to prank her friends (especially Sandi).
Like most of the others, Stacy’s character transformation is completed in the final movie Is it College Yet. When we first see the Fashion Club all together, they are out for dinner at a fancy restaurant to celebrate Stacy’s birthday.
Stacy: Guys, it is so nice of you to take me out on my birthday.
Sandi: Our pleasure, Stacy.We would never leave you alone on your birthday without a date.
Sandi: Just because the rest of us had dates on our birthdays…
Stacy: Oh, yes, Sandi. You mentioned that. Boy, I can’t believe I’m another year older. Time goes by so fast.
(a waitress approaches, bearing a cake with a lit candle on top, and places it in front of Stacy)
Quinn: Make a wish, Stacy!
(Stacy is about to blow the candle)
Sandi: And don’t worry. I’m sure that chocolate won’t cause your sensitive skin to break out.
(Stacy blows the candle out)
Quinn and Tiffany(clapping)– Yay!
Stacy: Thanks, guys.
Sandi: What’d you wish for?
Stacy: Ummm; nothing.
Sandi: Come on, Stacy. Tell us! Don’t be your usual drippy self.
Stacy: Nothing. Anyway, it didn’t come true.
When we next see the Fashion Club, Sandi has come down with laryngitis. Stacy reveals to Quinn that she had wished Sandi would just shut up, so Sandi must be cursed! At a later meeting of the Fashion Club, Stacy tries to give Sandi a potion to remove the “curse”, but accidentally gives it to Tiffany. When Sandi wants to know why Tiffany starts choking, Stacy confesses. When we see them later at Jodi’s end-of-the-year party, Sandi has come up with a list of ways that Stacy can make it up to her, attempting to exploit Stacy’s superstitious nature and knowing full well that she probably wasn’t cursed.
Sandi: Well, I see I’m the only one who still believes in arriving fashionably late.
Stacy: Sandi! You got your voice back!
Quinn: That’s great, Sandi!
Tiffany: Yeah… great…
Sandi: Stacy, you’ll be happy to know I figured how you can almost make it up to me for the physical and emotional anguish you caused.(hands papers to Stacy)
Stacy: You have? Oh, Sandi, thank you!(reads papers)Organize yourWaifmagazine inventory, ironing any and all wrinkled pages… take over babysitting your brothers all summer… clean your lipstick tubes…
Tiffany: Whoa, Stacy… I pity you.
Stacy: Um, Sandi, I’m really, really sorry about what happened and all, but this seems kind of… unfair. I mean, we don’t know if I really made you lose your voice, right?And Tiffany’s the one who drank that horrible anti-curse stuff.
Tiffany: Eww… the memory.
Sandi: Are you saying you don’t care if you jeopardize your status in the Fashion Club?
Stacy: (after a short pause)Sandi, if this is what it’ll take to keep me in the Fashion Club, maybe I’m better off taking a sabbatical like Quinn.
Sandi: Um… fine. But you’re missing out, because Quinn is coming back. Right, Quinn?
Quinn: Um, actually, Sandi, the time off was a nice change of pace. I’m thinking of extending my sabbatical.
Tiffany: Huh. I think I’ll take a sabbatical, too.
(Sandi looks at her three friends, and realizes she’s just become a club of one; she scrambles to save face)
Sandi: Well, that is certainly an amusing coincidence, because tonightIwas going to announce my sabbatical from the Fashion Club. Yes, I find that your precious club no longer serves my needs as a multi-faceted young woman of today. It’s just too confining.
Quinn: Gosh! Does this mean there isn’t any more Fashion Club?
Sandi: I guess it’s time to move on.
Quinn: It’s like the end of an era.
Stacy: I’m gonna miss it.
Tiffany: Me, too.
(the four ex-Fashion Clubbers burst into tears)
Sandi: You want to come over tomorrow and discuss what we’ll do with all our new free time?
Quinn: That’s a great idea, Sandi!
Stacy: I’ll bring some magazines to look at.
Tiffany: I can’t wait to brainstorm.
Sandi: Then it’s a date.
So there you have it. Stacy and Quinn’s character transformations actually bring about the end of the Fashion Club as an organisation. Without this hierarchy in place they can probably begin a new friendship based on respect… maybe. At least, Stacy has made it clear that she won’t be pushed around anymore. Her evolution throughout the series is arguably the most dramatic example of character maturation.
Which brings us to Brittany.
The archetypal high school head cheerleader, Brittany is blonde, bubbly and air-headed… on the surface. Unlike the rest of the cast, Britt doesn’t change much as a person through the series, but more is revealed about her that shows there really is more than meets the eye. She’s rarely seen without her boyfriend Kevin, the quarterback of the football team, and the two are frequently on and off again. They seem like the perfect match at first, but as the series goes on we start to realise that maybe they’re together because it’s expected of them, rather than because of affection for who the other really is.
This emphasis on appearance is obviously something that has been deeply ingrained in Brittany from the get-go. We meet her father and stepmother in season three’s episode The Old and the Beautiful, and the family dynamic is established as soon as Daria rings the doorbell to the Taylor family home.
(Daria rings doorbell)
Daria: Um, hi. I didn’t know Brittany had an older sister.
Ashley-Amber: She does? Cool. Maybe we can get manicures together.
Daria: No, I mean… if you’re not her sister, then you’re…
Ashley-Amber: Her stepmother. (into house) Britty, honey, you didn’t tell me you had a sister!
Then we meet Brittany’s dad, Steve, who’s conversation with Daria goes like this…
Brittany: Dad, this is my classmate, Daria.
Steve: Hey, Daria. Steve Taylor. Always glad to meet one of Britt’s friends. (shakes hands with Daria) You like cosmetics? I’ll get you into a focus group. The pay is a joke but there’s free lip gloss out the ying yang. Good stuff, too. They try it on cats first. You meet my wife? Boy, was she a knockout when she was young.
He then runs out of the room, yelling at his misbehaving son.
According to The Daria Database, Steve is in advertising. It also says that Brittany’s biological mother ran away to Hollywood to be an actress/model/restaurant hostess. Given that Daria mistook Ashley-Amber for Brittany’s older sister, we can safely assume that she’s in her mid to late twenties and is most likely a trophy wife (confirmed in The Daria Database).
This explains where Brittany is coming from – a world where looks and money are valued before intellect, so the importance of an education was probably rarely discussed at home. This is a pity, because Brittany often displays flashes of potential brilliance.
Firstly, Brittany is captain of the Lawndale varsity cheerleading squad. Achieving this position means she possesses organisational and leadership skills, as well as solid interpersonal skills. The whole reason Daria goes to the Taylor house In The Old and The Beautiful is because Brittany offered to help her make her voice sound more appealing to the elderly people they were reading to at the nursing home, exclaiming “I can help everyone!” when Daria didn’t disagree.
In the season two episode Ill, she bumps into Daria in the bathroom at the local grunge club. She has dyed her hair black to ‘blend in’, and lets slip that she’s there with someone other than Kevin. But when Daria asks for her help, Brittany goes above and beyond.
Daria: Uh, Brittany, could you do me a favor?
Brittany: Um… yes?
Daria: Find Jane and tell her I had to leave?
Brittany: Sure, but… will you promise not to tell Kevin about Terry or Jerry or whoever?
Daria: In the unlikely event that, through some bizarre set of circumstances, I actually end up conversing with Kevin, I won’t tell him about Terry or Jerry.
Trent: Daria? You in there?
(Daria runs into stall)
Brittany: Don’t worry. (to Trent) Have some consideration for female modesty, please!
Trent: Oh, sure. Sorry.
She later visits Daria in the hospital to see how she is… and because she’s worried Daria wouldtell Kevin about Terry/Jerry.
In a previous post I discussed the episode Through a Lens Darkly, when Brittany manages to talk Daria out of her funk regarding personal vanity, saying ” Daria, I just want you to know I think it’s really brave of you to get those contact lenses and admit that you care about the way you look, even just a little. Because knowing that a brain can be worried about her looks makes me feel, um, I don’t know, not so shallow or something. Like we’re not that different, just human, or whatever.”
This innate ability to connect with almost anybody shows incredible emotional intelligence.
In the season two episode Daria Hunter, the students and teachers go on a paintball field trip. Brittany shows remarkable aptitude for the exercise.
Brittany: Excuse me, Ms. Barch? Since they can’t see us very well because of the terrain, we can split up and they won’t know where we are, then we can attack them from three sides, drive them out to the one side that they think is safe, and then set up an ambush so we can capture them all at once! Probably be a good idea to set up a secret observation post on the high ground so we can watch them without them seeing us.
(everyone on the team stares at Brittany, shocked by her knowledge of combat tactics)
Ms. Barch: That’s very good, Brittany.
Brittany: Okay, team, let’s go! Come on Jane!
Jane: I’m more of the mercenary type. You know, lone wolf working on their own type of thing.
Brittany: Good idea, Jane. If Plan A fails, you can come in on a rescue mission!
This knack for tactics never really comes up again, but it makes us wonder what else she’s capable of.
One of the reasons we don’t see Brittany develop much as a person is because she, unlike many of her classmates, already knows who she is. She values herself enough to be pissed off rather than enamoured by a hero footballer’s propositioning in The Misery Chick, and she always stands up for herself when someone wrongs her. Her strong sense of self often causes problems in her relationship with Kevin, as most of their fights seem to originate from either infidelity or Kevin not respecting Brittany’s opinion. Take, for example, the season four episode Partner’s Complaint.
Brittany: I know what you think, but I know what I think, and I think I think just as well as you think, don’t you think?
Kevin: Babe, if it were up to me, I’d want you to have the brain power of a guy, but it’s science. Men are smarter, because we have more muscle mass in our heads.
Brittany: I’m just as smart as you, maybe smarter.
Kevin: (laughing) Okay, sure you are.
Brittany: Don’t you fratronize me! (walks away in a huff)
Kevin: You think I don’t know what that means? I know what that means! (walks away in a huff)
This fight leads to the two of them working with other people for their economics assignment, but they make up again by the end of the episode.
Two episodes later is A Tree Grows In Lawndale, Kevin gets a new motorcycle and winds up breaking his knee. This means he can’t play football, and if he can’t play football he’s not allowed to date cheerleaders…for some reason. He later uses his broken knee and crutches to become a motivational speaker at elementary schools, teaching the kids about safety.
Kevin: Say, Britt, you know there’s no law that says a motivated speaker can’t have a babe.
Brittany: But there is a law that says cheerleaders can only date football players, remember?
Kevin: Darn! You know, that’s recrimination. I mean, just because I don’t wear a uniform doesn’t mean I’m not the same guy.
Brittany: Yes, it does.MyKevvy is a football leader of men.MyKevvy wouldn’t let the whole team down.MyKevvy wouldn’t let Lawndale become a loser town! (starts to leave)
Kevin: Wait, babe, come back!
Brittany: Forget it, Kevvy. You’re on your own. You’re a… a man on an island.
Kevin: But, I don’t want to be on an island. I get seasick. Besides, I need… the love.
Kevin: I mean, what’s saving lives if there’s no one to make out with?
Daria: I believe Gandhi asked that same question.
Jane: It’s why he had to be eliminated.
(after a moment’s hesitation, Kevin lets his crutches fall away as the other students cheer)
Kevin: Britt, I realize that without you, I’m by myself. Your love has healed me, babe. I’m… I’m cured!
(Brittany runs into Kevin’s arms)
Brittany: Oh, Kevvy. I’ve missed you so much.
Kevin: Like, me, too, babe.
That there is some sort of social “law” that says cheerleaders can only date football players puts Brittany and Kevin’s whole relationship into question. We’ve seen from previous episodes that Brittany has a strong romantic side (such as in Partner’s Complaint: “we shan’t let anything mar our love!”, and The Old and the Beautiful when she reads steamy romance novels to seniors). This strong yearning for romance, coupled with the cheerleader/footballer “law” means that her relationship with Kevin is based on inevitability rather than respect and common ground. This might explain why both of them are so prone to cheating on each other, and it leads us to the obvious conclusion to their relationship at the end of Is it College Yet.
Brittany has managed to achieve the grades and extra-curricular activities needed to get into her choice of college (“They have the best cheerleading squad in the country!”), but Kevin remains cagey about his prospects for most of the film.
Brittany: Kevvie, do you want to go to the place we have to go to get the cap and gown with me?
Kevin: Mmmm, nah! But, you go ahead.
Brittany: Why? Did you already get yours?
Kevin: Um, Brit… remember when you said you’d still be my babe, no matter where I went to school?
Brittany: Umm… I think so.
Kevin: But you will, right?
Brittany: Sure! Where are you going?
Kevin: (points to Lawndale High School) Right here, babe!
Kevin: Right here. Lawndale High. See, um, my grades were so good, they want to see if I can do it again.
Brittany: Ohhh. Wait a minute… your grades aren’t good… Kevvie, you flunked!
Kevin: No, no, no! I just, um, didn’t pass. But, see, if I repeat this year, then my grades will be really good. Mr. O’Neill says I can go away to any college in the country!
Kevin: Or did he say some college way out in the country? Anyway, we’re still, like, boyfriend and girlfriend, right?(takes Brittany’s hand)
Brittany: (puts her other hand behind her back) Ummm, sure.
(they kiss; behind her back, Brittany has crossed her fingers)
Brittany may be an airhead, but she has enough sense to at least suspect that tying herself to Kevin might not be the best course for her future. Or maybe she just sees college as an opportunity to meet and date new and different people. While she began season one as a stereotype, the writers allowed us to see certain layers to Brittany other than just the blonde bimbo.
So, there we have it – the women of Lawndale, as examples of how to to write many, varied and complex female characters that are easy to relate to. The key to remember is that men and women are essentially the same, in that we are all different. But we all feel loss, isolation, joy, pain, love and friendship. Our differences lay in our roles in society and how we react to those assumed roles, either by rebelling against them or by working within the system. It is generally put to us by the media that the male experience is many and varied, while the female experience is ‘niche’ and that all women are essentially the same. Daria is a sensational example of what happens when you really consider your audience.
Now if we could get more shows on TV with greater gender, race and sexuality representations we might really be on to something.
Hello and welcome to part five 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.
One of the fantastic things about this show is that even secondary characters get a modicum of identity progression. As they are only secondary characters, Jodie, Brittany and Stacey don’t get nearly as much depth to their transformations as the other characters I have covered previously, but the fact that they get any at all puts Daria miles ahead of its contemporaries. So, let’s talk about Jodie.
Jodie Landon is that kid who was good at everything and is well-liked by everyone – there’s one in every graduating class and they’re usually school captain or student council president (or whichever equivalent applies to your country). She gets consistently good marks, and is involved in a number of clubs.
Jodie: I’m president of the French Club, vice president of Student Council, editor of yearbook, and I’m also on the tennis team.
Jake: Daria, why aren’t you on the tennis team?
Daria: Because it’s classified as a sport.
We first meet Jodie in episode two, The Invitation, alongside her boyfriend Mack. She and Mack are the only regular African-American characters in the series with speaking roles, although her parents do make an appearance from time to time. I think we can put this down to (conscious or unconscious) racial quotas that Aziz Ansari talked about recently, which can be summed up as thus –
“When they cast these shows, they’re like, ‘We already have our minority guy or our minority girl … there would never be two Indian people in one show. With Asian people, there can be one, but there can’t be two. Black people, there can be two, but there can’t be three because then it becomes a black show. Gay people there can be two, women there can be two, but Asian people, Indian people, there can be one but there can’t be two.”
You may not initially think this applies to Daria, given how progressive it was for the time, but when you dig deeper this actually fits. Jodie and Mack are the only two African-American characters with regular screen time and dialogue, and they aren’t main characters. The only Asian character with regular lines is Ms Li – Tiffany in the fashion club doesn’t speak very often at all (they have also never talked to each other on screen). There are no openly queer characters until Is it Fall Yet, and even then it’s only discussed briefly. Yes, there are plenty of women, but the show was created in the first place because MTV wanted a larger female viewership. Think of how the show was advertised and the viewer demographic – the sheer volume of female characters and that the two leads are girls put many males off watching unless they were lucky enough to stumble across it and get hooked or had sisters/friends who made them watch. In general, media with female leads is seen as a show for women. The same can be said for shows with black leads, gay leads and other minorities. Shows with predominately straight, cis, white men are seen as being ‘for everybody.’
To their credit, the Daria writers do try and poke fun at the lack of diversity on their otherwise stellar show. In the season two episode Gifted, they even work it into a characterisation device.
At the very start of the episode we are given a visual representation of who Daria and Jodie are – sitting in study hall, Daria is reading The Telltale Heart and Jodie is reading How to Win Friends and Influence People. During the episode, Jodie and Daria are selected to attend an open day at an exclusive school for high achievers. They meet students who currently attend the school, and at first they get along quite well. Jodie’s natural charm and warm patience and Daria’s dry wit stand them in good stead at first, but then they’re put off by their new friends’ overt elitism. Then Jodie finally runs out of patience and takes a metaphorical leaf from Daria’s book, causing Daria to smile as Jodie serves up some cutting truths.
Lara: Before I came here I was an intellectual outcast. They made fun of me for quoting Ayn Rand.
Jodie: Actually, I think she’s pretty disturbing…
Graham: That’s not the point. The point is that you know who she is, and that at Grove Hills, you can discuss her with people like us, instead of idiots and fools and a quarterback who tells the whole school you shower in a towel. I’d like to see a quarterback write a paper on Mao.
Jodie: I think the Cultural Revolution is…
Graham: You have an awful lot to say for someone who doesn’t even go to this school yet.
Jodie: What’s that supposed to mean?
Graham: It means why don’t we see whether you get in to Grove Hills before we start listening to your opinions.
Jodie: Hey! Just because some jock made you feel like the loser youare,don’t take it out on me.
Graham: I’m not a loser! I have a 165 I.Q.!
Jodie: Who cares? You’re still boring and miserable! Try taking your head out of your butt for once and opening up your myopic little eyes. Or doesn’t your 165 I.Q. make you smart enough to see the way you really are? (leaves)
Graham: I’ll make sure you never set foot in this school again!
Daria: That’s a relief. For a minute there I thought you were going to threaten us. (leaves)
Later, Daria and Jodie both acknowledge that they’d like to be more like each other. Jodie feels so much pressure to be perfect and a positive representation of African-American teens and wishes that she could have space to just be herself. Daria is generally socially awkward and sometimes wishes she found it easier to be around people.
Jodie: At home, I’m Jodie. I can say or do whatever feels right. But at school, I’m the Queen of the Negroes. The perfect African-American teen. The role model for all of the other African-American teens at Lawndale. Oops! Where’d they go? Believe me, I’d like to be more like you.
Daria: Well, I have to admit, there are times when I’d like to be more like you.
Daria: I’m not saying all the time.
Jodie: So, Lawndale or Grove Hills?
Daria: I’m sticking with Lawndale. If I came here, I’d end up poisoning the sloppy joe mix.
Jodie: Yeah, you’re right. I’m pushed to the breaking point being Miss Model Student at Lawndale. A year here might kill me.
At the very end of the episode they are still reading their books and don’t swap them, which is a great visual way of saying that they each respect who the other is as a person. Daria has found someone other than Jane who appreciates her for who she is and won’t try and change her, and while she and Jodie will never be best friends they have developed an understanding, even an admiration for each other.
The strong sense of morality that Jodie shows in this episode (such as being disgusted that Graham and Lara would refuse to talk to someone who scored slightly lower on a test) has already been built up subtly in previous episodes, such as I Don’t. While Daria and Quinn are attending their cousin’s wedding, Lawndale High school is coincidentally hosting a bridal expo to raise funds for extracurricular activities (leading Jane to muse, ” I wonder what kind of extracurricular activities would lead to a wedding?”) Jodie is initially on board because it’s a school fundraiser and she is pragmatic enough to know where the money for student council activities comes from, but eventually she takes a step back and realises the ramifications of such an event. She and Mack have the following conversation while walking through the expo.
Mack: Hey, what’s the matter?
Jodie: This whole thing is starting to get to me. I mean, Daria had a point. Why should high school kids be thinking about marriage? If I see one more sweet, dopey girl stuck with a lame-brain idiot…
(as if on cue…)
Kevin and Brittany: Hi!
Jodie keeps popping up here and there in seasons two and three, normally as a voice of reason or to help advance the plot. In the episode Ill she visits Daria in the hospital, and in Through a Lens Darkly she tries to remind Daria that it’s okay to have a little vanity (it doesn’t work, but she still cares).
We get to learn more about Jodie’s character in the season four episode Partner’s Complaint. Daria is pissed off at Jane for spending so much time with her new boyfriend, so she decides to team up with Jodie on an economics class project (Jane gets stuck with Brittany). It’s an interesting Dynamic, because when Jane and Daria work together on assignments (such as Monster and Jane’s Addition) Daria tends to take the lead, but this time she’s sitting back and letting Jodie do most of the work. Their assignment is to experience economics in real life, such as applying for loans or buying a car – they don’t actually have to do these things, but go through as much of the process as they can and report back. Jodie has dreams of running her own business, so she and Daria decide to try and get a loan for a startup. They go to a bank and are asked a series of questions, to which Jodie provides all of the non smart-arse answers.
Loan Officer: Well, I’ll tell you what. It’s a fascinating idea and very impressive presentation. But two girls still in high school with no business experience? You’re what we call “high-risk applicants.” I really don’t think the bank will give you a loan. Unless, Daria, you want to ask your father to co-sign for it.
Daria: I don’t think I can do that. He’s already had one heart attack.
Loan Officer: Oh, well, then… I’m sorry.
Jodie: What about my father?
Loan Officer: What about him? Does he know anything about business?
Jodie: He helped me put together this proposal that you claimed was so impressive.
Loan Officer: Your father’s not Andrew Landon, is he?
Jodie: That’s him.
Loan Officer: The folding coffee cup guy?
Jodie: Yes, that’s my dad.
Loan Officer: Well, then, Jodie, you’ve got business savvy in your blood. Why don’t I run your plan by my boss and see what he thinks? Maybe we can work something out.
Jodie: Why? You don’t give loans to high-risk applicants, unless maybe you’re hoping you’ll get a little business from their fathers.
Loan Officer: Now, Jodie…
Jodie: My father’s the same high-risk colour that I am, you know. (storms out)
When Daria catches up with Jodie, we see exactly why Jodie is angry (if you hadn’t figured it out already). She has every right to be. But then we notice that she changes tack.
Jodie: The nerve of that idiot! Listening tomybusiness plan and allmyanswers to his questions, then asking ifyour father would co-sign the loan. Why? Because you’re the right colour.
Daria: At least you called him on it.
Jodie: All I want is to be judged on my own merits, you know?
Daria: Maybe they won’t be so stupid at the next bank.
Jodie: Maybe, maybe not.
(at the second bank)
Loan Officer: Hi, girls. I understand you’re looking to start up a brand-new business. Tell me all about it.
Jodie: Yes, we’re very excited about our idea, and we’ve put together a comprehensive business plan with the help of my father, Andrew Landon.
Loan Officer: Oh! The folding coffee cup guy?
(Jodie smiles, Daria frowns)
Later, when Daria makes it obvious that she’s not happy with the way the assignment has been handled, she lays it out to Jodie. Jodie, to her credit, refuses to take it lying down.
Daria: Okey-doke. What I think happened is: you went to one bank and a loan officer dismissed you on the basis of your youth and possibly your race, until he found out who your father was, at which point he started kissing your butt, you called him a hypocrite, and we walked out.
Jodie: That’s right.
Daria: Only to go into a second bank where the first words out of your mouth were your father’s name.
Jodie: What are you getting at, Daria?
Daria: Well, which was more hypocritical: the first guy’s changing his tune when he found out who your father was, or you making sure the second guy knew who your father was before he formed an opinion?
Jodie: Are you calling me a hypocrite?
Daria: No, I’m just saying…
Jodie: Hey, our assignment was to get a loan, not save the world. We were supposed to approach an adult financial situation like adults and that’s exactly what I did. I used the resources at my disposal to get the loan — my dad’s name. And if I happened to depart from your black-and-white world of ethics — no pun intended…
Daria: None taken.
Jodie:- …and wandered into a gray area, then too bad. Maybe the first guy was a racist, maybe not. Maybe I was right. Maybe I overreacted. Hey, you wouldn’t be working with me if you weren’t fighting with Jane. Does that make you a racist?
Daria: Don’t be ridiculous.
Jodie: Don’t tell me what’s ethical and what’s not. I approached it like a smart businessperson and I got the loan.
Daria: Fair enough.
This leaves Daria a lot to think about. Yes, the first loan officer automatically deferring to Daria was a racist move (whether he was aware of it or not doesn’t make a difference). But Jodie’s decision to drop her father’s name at the next bank was a result of learning and pragmatism; she did what needed to be done to get the assignment done, even if she didn’t like it. She has effectively taught Daria that sometimes the need to get what you want outweighs your need to be a martyr to principle. She’ll make a great CEO someday.
Later, when they give their presentation, Daria says that while they prepared detailed answers, “…what actually got us the loan had little to do with all that preparation. It was being flexible enough to tailor our approach to what would make the bank officer feel comfortable about lending us money.”
The fact is, Jodie knows how to influence people, and Daria has learned that sometimes these things need to be done. Jodie’s ability to influence people is possibly something learned by necessity thanks to dealing with people like the first bank manager for her whole life. She doesn’t have the option of being as relaxed as Daria – to get ahead she always has to be ‘on.’ This constant pressure is an integral part of her character, because she places it on herself as much as her parents do.
This plays out on a smaller scale a few episodes later in I Loathe a Parade. Jodie and Mack have been elected homecoming king and queen and are waving to the crowd from the parade float.
Jodie: Isn’t it great how they keep electing us Homecoming King and Queen every year?
Mack: Yes, it’s such a generous and enlightened gesture. It completely makes up for the town’s utter lack of diversity, inmymind.
Jodie: And we’re playing into it.
Mack: Damn college applications.
Jodie: This is so humiliating.
We never really find out if they were voted king and queen out of the town’s guilt or not, but that’s beside the point. Intent isn’t what matters, impact does. Jodie is once again sick of being the perfect all-American black teen ambassador, and Mack isn’t exactly thrilled either. Later on, they decide to sit down in protest, because what’s the worst that can happen? But then Jodie spies, in the crowd, a young African-American girl waving admiringly up at her. Remembering that she’s a role model as well as an ambassador, Jodie starts waving again, saying “we may be tokens, but we’re damn good looking ones” to lighten the mood. (Interesting note – this line was cut from some subsequent airings intended for younger audiences).
As Is it Fall Yet is a movie-length episode, we get to see more of an interesting storyline for Jodie. Her plot follows on from the episode titled The F Word (aka ‘Fail’), when Mr O’Neil tasks the students with attempting something they know they’ll fail at, to show them that failure isn’t such a bad thing. Jodie decides to ask her parents if she can take the summer off rather than taking on her usual summer workload of interning and volunteering. They deny her request, and she completes the assignment, feeling dejected and exhausted in the process.
The movie picks up where this left off, with Jodie not really looking forward to summer. When asked about her plans she responds with a sigh, “Two internships, volunteer community service, a part-time job and, in my spare time, golf lessons.” The golf lessons are because her parents are trying to get into a country club, so not only is Jodie under pressure to succeed for herself but to also make her parents look good. This parental pressure isn’t really resolved in this film, although Mack does slave away a bit longer in a crappy job driving an ice-cream truck so he can afford to take Jodie out to a fancy French restaurant, giving her a well-deserved break.
The pressure mounts through season five as college applications draw nearer. In the episode Prize Fighters, Daria, Jodie and Upchuck all apply for a scholarship prize awarded by a software company, and all become finalists in the competition. Daria was the one who mentioned the prize to Jodie, and is miffed when Jodie decides to enter too. Both girls want to win, but Jodie is the only one of the two who is actually putting in the effort. Daria finds out that the company offering the prize hasn’t promoted any women or minorities into senior management in years, and tries using this as an excuse to quit the prize altogether. Jodie and Mr Landon convince Daria that if that’s the company’s attitude, then by quitting Jodie and Daria wouldn’t really be effecting change –
Mr Landon: Wizard’s policies have been prehistoric, yeah. But someone, somewhere in the organization, is trying to address that. Or, they wouldn’t have created this prize. Now, do you walk away because the guy at the top is an idiot, or do you join the people trying to change the way he does business?
Daria: How do I know they’re not just trying to make him look good, without changing anything at all?
Andrew: They won’t change anything at all, if kids like you two don’t push your way onto their radar and show them the error of their ways. If you don’t go up to the gate and ring the big bell, they’ve kept you out without having to do a thing.(excited)Ring the big bell, Daria! Ring the big bell!(walks away)
In the end, Daria can’t bring herself to suck up to the scholarship judge. Jodie does, because she knows how the game is played, but she comes across as rehearsed and a bit fake. Neither of them gets the scholarship (and neither does Upchuck). This episode serves to highlight the interesting opposites of Jodie and Daria – Daria doesn’t want to work within the system but knows she’s going to have to in order to get anywhere in life. Jodie knows how to work within the system and does so because she must, but it makes her question her values and integrity. Jodie is pragmatic, Daria is idealistic, yet they wind up in the same place in the end – uncomfortable with how the world works.
This competitiveness combines with parental pressure in the final movie-length episode, Is it College Yet. As you will know from previous posts, this one focuses on the kids’ college applications. Jodie’s father is determined that she get into an elite school named Crestmore (we can assume is the fictional equivalent of Princeton or some such). Jodie would prefer to go to a prestigious historically African-American school named Turner, which was where her father went. She discusses the problem with Mack over lunch.
Mack: Crestmore… the dream of dreams.
Mack: What’s wrong?
Jodie: It’s a top school and everything, but I’d really rather go to Turner.
Mack: Your father’s alma mater? He must love that.
Jodie: He doesn’t know I applied.
Jodie: Because he wouldn’t let me go anyway. He says not even a great African-American college like Turner can beat the Crestmore name on a resume. To say nothing of the bragging rights it’ll give him on the golf course.
Mack: Oh, man. That sucks.
Jodie: You know, my grandmother was in the first Turner graduating class to admit women. I’d be carrying on a tradition. Plus, I’d finally get a break from having to be the perfect Jodie doll at a mostly-white school.
Mack: I hear that.
Jodie: I wish my father did. I can always transfer to Crestmore after a year or two. At least, I’d find what Turner’s like. But his mind’s made up.
Mack: Well, Crestmore hasn’t accepted you yet.
Jodie: Hey, maybe we should both go to State University. Then we wouldn’t have to worry about how to get together on weekends.
So, here we see Jodie’s wish to please her parents and her need to slow down are finally coming to a head. Back in Gifted she said that a year at Grove Hills might kill her – imagine what would happen to her at an ivy-league school. So, she talks to her father. It goes about as well as you’d expect.
Jodie: Well, I’ve been thinking a lot about Crestmore, and a lot about Turner.
Andrew: Turner’s a great school. Not nearly as elite as Crestmore, though.
Jodie: That’s just it. I don’t want to go to an elitist school.
Andrew: Sure you do.
Jodie: I want to go to a school where I fit in, where I can be myself and relax for once and really focus on learning. I want to go to Turner. At least for a year or two.
Andrew: You want to go to college to relax? That doesn’t sound like my Honor Society daughter.
Jodie: Relax socially; stop being the black kid, and just being a kid. I’m tired of being in the extreme minority, and I don’t want to go to a place where people might think I got in just because I’m African-American.
Andrew: Let people think what they want.
Jodie: But Dad, you don’t know what it’s like. You went to a black high school and then to Turner.
Andrew: Because I HAD to. If I had a Crestmore degree in my pocket… Jodie, their graduates are literally running this country. Think of how that degree can help you catapult ahead. I’m not saying your life won’t be harder until you graduate, but it will be a hell of a lot easier after. Four years versus the rest of your life. Where is that Landon spirit?
When Jodie later gets the news that she got into both Turner and Crestmore, she breaks down in tears on Mack’s shoulder. She says that she thinks her father is right, and that Crestmore is the better choice. When Mack points out this blatant lie – she’s crying, for goodness sake – she tells him to leave her alone. So, Mack goes to talk to Jodie’s father. He explains that Jodie is already close to breaking point, and that if she keeps getting pushed she’ll have a nervous breakdown. Jodie’s dad laughs this off, saying that it’s a good thing breakdowns aren’t allowed in their family. When Mack says that Jodie wanted to go to turner so badly that she actually applied without telling him, he relents (with a little cajoling from Jodie’s mother).
So we can see, over the course of five seasons and two movies, that Jodie goes from being a standard “perfect student” type to someone with a lot more depth (considering that she’s still a second-tier character). She’s smart and pragmatic, and she teaches Daria that in order to get where you want to go you sometimes need to make compromises. In turn, she learns from Daria that sometimes you need to put yourself and your principles first. She learns where her limits are and, finally, to stand up to her parent’s high expectations (with a lot of help from Mack). This mostly occurs over secondary and incidental storylines, making it even more of a unique feat of characterisation. The fact is that too many writers neglect the development of their ensemble cast, but the Daria writers made sure that (almost) every one of their cast evolved in some way, big or small, throughout the show’s run (with the possible exception of Kevin, Ms Li, Sandi, Tiffany and Ms Defoe).
Okay, I said that this would be the last Daria post, but I think one more may be in order for Stacy and Brittany. Until then, remember to be kind to yourself.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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 adietsoda?
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!
Both: (to guys) Well?!!
Jeffy: My head hurts!
Jamie: Mine, too.
Joey: Oh, man!
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.
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!
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’restartingto 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.
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?
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, whatwouldwe 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: Theyareminiscule, 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.
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.”
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).
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.
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.
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! Nowtheseare 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 forBuffy.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.
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.
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.
(Daria is on her bed, reading, when Quinn walks into the bedroom)
Daria: No, those sandalsdon’tmake 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.Youaskedhimout?
(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 aboutyouhere.(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! Ineverdo 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 givemea 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’sverygood!Thankyou 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.
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 completelyinnocentpopular person, and besides, it’s good to help the popular, because if you don’t, it might make you evenmoreunpopular, 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)
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 theydeserveto fail it.
Quinn: Daria, do you want everyone to hate you?
Daria: Hey, why shouldyougo out of your way to protect the stupid?You’renot 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.
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.
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.
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 adance flooratyourwedding!
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.
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”.
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’).
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 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).
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.
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 enteredforthem.
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 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.
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…
… 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.
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.
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.
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 yourtuchusand 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… Ididoverhear your argument with Jodie…
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!
(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)
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.
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?
Daria: Well, anyway. I came to this stupid place.
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 nownothing’sunder 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.
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?
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…
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.
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.
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.
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 youintoit – 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!
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.
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.
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).
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).
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.
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.
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 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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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…
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.
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?
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.
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.
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: 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.
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.
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!
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’dliketo see, honestly?
Daria: What do you mean?
Helen: Daria, the easiest thing in the world for you is being honest about what you observe.
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’sa 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. The 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.