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Daria - Episode-by-Episode Analysis

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Quinn the Brain

"Quinn the Brain" brings something new: a real threat to Daria's persona.

Daria has always been fairly comfortable with her loner status. Staying out of the social world suits her introversion and lets her focus on what she cares about.

I don't think that Daria is jealous of Quinn, exactly. Rather, she resents the fact that society celebrates Quinn's superficiality and good looks. Daria values honesty and thoughtfulness. She's accepted that these things won't make her popular and maybe even takes some pleasure in that. Lets her stay above the hoi polloi.

But when Quinn starts to adapt some of the traits that Daria values, it's a direct blow to Daria's sense of self.

I think it's worth looking at the samples of Quinn's work in this episode. First, her essay, "Academic Imprisonment." While over-the-top and suffering from a few errors, it works as a descriptive essay. She gets across her idea (that she doesn't like school) and relates it vividly. So while the essay's silly, I don't think it's necessarily bad for someone her age.

Later, she recites her poem about the French fry which is honestly kind of clever. It's the sort of thing you can imagine being passed around on Facebook these days. Quick, relatable, and easy to remember. Quinn has a future in marketing.

Now compare this to Daria. We don't see any of her writing in this episode, but from her personality we know that she digs deep. If she puts forth an argument she'll analyze it from all angles and present it logically. She cares more about getting her idea across than the feelings of her audience or readership. If you're offended, or bored… well, too bad.

Thus, I'd argue that it's not so much that Quinn's writing is bad. Rather, it's that her writing is emotive, which makes it better-suited for most people. She's the one who writes the clever but shallow aphorisms that the Mr. O'Neills of the future will use as platitudes. Meanwhile, Daria's the one who thinks deep, and whose opinions will only be known to a handful of academics and oddballs.

I think Daria realizes this. She definitely knows that Quinn isn't stupid. But to see Quinn achieve success at writing with an approach opposite to Daria's is an intolerable insult. And it is a painful one because society tends to reward that which is catchy and superficial. Some might argue that this has only accelerated in the age of social media.

This is reflected in the scene where Jake tries to reward Quinn. He gives her $20 for getting a one-time good grade while ignoring Daria's consistent high marks. In the workplace, superficial charm can be more likely to secure a raise or promotion than actual ability.

With this in mind, it's no surprise that Daria is so stressed out.

To Daria, this whole episode is a warning that Quinn's success will carry over into the adult world. That in the future, Daria will still be on the margins, respected but not really liked, and with few people who even pretend to care about her.

That she'll write and no one will read.

Notes:

  • The issue as to whether or not Daria is as beautiful as Quinn has been discussed ad infinitum, so I won't explore it at any great length. Suffice to say, I think that Daria is probably intended as reasonably attractive, but wouldn't be able to compete with Quinn. That said, a superficial imitation can go far…
  • Interesting that Stacy so quickly follows the fashion advice that Quinn intended for Sandi.
  • Back in "Arts n' Crass", I talked about how schools have an uneasy relationship with student self-expression. Quinn's essay is actually pretty critical of school, but is also light and superficial enough to avoid triggering censorship. It's more about her than about the school or student body as a whole.
  • So was Jake calling a 900 number?
  • Also, I don't think Mr. O'Neill would have been allowed to submit Quinn's essay to the Lawndale Lowdown without her permission. This won't be the first example of him overstepping his boundaries in order to "help" someone.
  • The Three J's seem pretty eager for Quinn to turn back to her old self. This surprises me a little—it's not like they'd find fashion any more interesting than Quinn's attempts at intellectualizing. But maybe it's less intimidating.