Well, we had to get to Tom eventually.
Some might call Tom a controversial character, but he’s not. At this point in time, the fandom is pretty much unified in finding him unsatisfactory. Which isn’t to say that he doesn’t have defenders (or that he doesn’t have his moments). But even they generally don’t think that he was well-utilized.
I do think it was necessary to change the status quo.
But why Tom?
One answer is that romance is a mainstay of high school-themed shows, and it’s easy to see why. There’s plenty of dramatic and comedic potential in romance, particularly during a time of life when emotions tend to run high.
That said, not everyone has a big romantic relationship in high school. Daria’s certainly not somebody who’s established as particularly concerned about such things (her crush on Trent rarely requires much more from her than intermittent pining).
What Daria did need to do, as a show, was to challenge the central relationship between Daria and Jane. In high school, you have to make the best of limited options. Sometimes, you’re only friends with a certain person because there’s no one else to be friends with. It’s little wonder that high school friendships can get pretty strained.
There are a lot of ways they could have gone about this. Romance was the most obvious but imagine how much pathos they could’ve wrung out of Daria and Jane trying to keep their friendship alive despite diverging interests. Or maybe one or the other might have blown up due to buried resentment (I could see Jane doing this).
Despite all that, I don’t think romance is a bad choice as a stressor in and of itself. The problem lies more in the execution, but we’ll get to that. For now, I’m going to simply take Tom on an episode by episode basis.
And he’s not bad, so far. It’s actually kind of refreshing to see someone stand up to Daria’s snark and deliver some of their own in response. He’s relaxed and seems pretty considerate. The one really questionable thing he does is when he drives up to Daria and tries to win her over. His efforts feel artificial and it’s just weird to see him going to such lengths when Jane isn’t even around. I’ll admit that I might be letting future episodes color my interpretation here.
Tom isn’t the most compelling character (which I think is his biggest problem), but he works well enough for the purpose of this episode.
Along with this drama is the final dissolution of Daria’s crush on Trent. What I like about this is that it’s not some big emotional moment. High school crushes tend to fade subtly over time. Eyes stray to new people and the brain focuses on other things. You can get so used to a long-standing crush that you might not immediately realize you’re no longer infatuated with that special someone.
Daria giving up on Trent is predicated on his irresponsibility, which is completely in character. Trent’s always been flaky and unreliable and I think that Daria always knew this. She’s disappointed in Trent, but she’s not surprised. The difference is that she’s matured enough to get a better idea of what she expects. A guy who can’t get his act together for something as simple as a minute-long music piece isn’t worth having as a boyfriend.
You could see the seeds of this back in “Lane Miserable”, with her bleak fantasy of married life with Trent. Granted, she goes back to longing for him in a quickly (and totally believable way), but you can see that as the beginnings of the doubt that culminate in this episode.
So as one imagined relationship ends, a real one begins. It’s not surprising that Jane would be the one to get involved with a guy, as she’s always been more interested. And this is the sort of thing that might alarm Daria, who really doesn’t have anyone else she can connect to. Daria seems to reconcile herself to Tom by the end, though the early fourth season episodes show there’s still a rocky road to follow.
And it’ll get rockier.
- I do like how awkward Jane and Tom’s first meeting is. Neither of them really seems to know what they’re doing, which is appropriate because neither of them do.
- Jane’s morning hair is frazzled, but it switches to smooth after the first commercial break.
- Considering how much pizza Daria and Jane eat, their metabolisms should be the envy of the Fashion Club.
- Daria’s projects reminded me of the PowerPoint presentations I sometimes had to put together in high school.