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Daria - Episode-by-Episode Analysis

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Jake of Hearts

Jake is one of the more thinly sketched characters in Daria. “Jake of Hearts” attempts to flesh him out in more detail, but the episode is undone by inconsistent or overly broad characterization.

Part of the problem is Jake himself. By this point in the series’ run, he’s a caricature of a well-meaning but inadequate suburban patriarch. If anything, this episode makes him even more cartoonish (in fairness, he is a cartoon).

Jake’s not a bad man—quite the opposite. But it’s difficult to really accept him as anything other than a punchline. He rants and raves, he punches the bed, and scares easily. This might’ve worked if he’d been shown as a more stable person. However, his post-heart attack behavior is scarcely different from his normal behavior. As a result, his breakthrough with how he perceives his life doesn’t carry much weight.

This problem affects other characters as well. Since its beginning, the series has dropped subtle (and not-so-subtle) hints that Quinn is much smarter and more dedicated than she lets on. At first, “Jake of Hearts” seems to carry that forward with the way she starts studying medicine. But she goes from a medical textbook to “Operation”? Come on, she knows better than that!

Daria herself stays too cool. We know she’s a steady hand on the wheel. The problem is that, by continuing this, it makes the heart attack episode feel insignificant. I’m not saying that Daria should breakdown emotionally in public—that’s not something she’d ever do. But she should show a bit more vulnerability in quiet scenes with Jane or her father.

The DJs themselves are barely worth mentioning, though they are believably obnoxious. The subplot with Ruth shows that Jake’s childhood was legitimately traumatic and it’s not just him making a big deal about nothing. Like everything else in this episode though, it doesn’t add up to much. Jake still presents as a goofball doing goofy things.

If “Jake of Hearts” had committed to the underlying seriousness of its storyline a bit more, the episode could have been great, or at least good. There’s value in exploring characters when they’re caught off-guard by potential tragedy. “Lane Miserables” did a wonderful job of balancing humor with the underlying darkness of Jane’s home situation. Unfortunately, everything here is business-as-normal and what should be a momentous event is rendered routine.

Notes:

  • In fairness to the episode, the fact that Jake’s heart attack is mild (and that Ruth doesn’t suffer from any heart problems at all) may indicate that the writers intended it be a “much ado about nothing” situation.
  • I’m a little surprised at how much leeway the DJs had at Lawndale High. Some of their behavior (having Quinn publicly judge the fashion senses of other students) seems like it might be risky, and the ‘90s were a litigious time.
  • Spatula Man recovers from his fall remarkably quickly.
  • I do like Daria’s spin on the “glass half empty” statement at the end of the episode. Maybe things aren’t great, but you can try to enjoy what’s there.