Mart of Darkness
“Mart of Darkness” gives us a good old-fashioned scattershot episode. This time the venue is a big-box store called Payday (which, judging by the interior layout, is probably more specifically a satire of CostCo). While big-box stores go back to the ‘60s, the ‘80s and ‘90s saw them greatly extend their reach throughout suburbia.
The image of long lines of shoppers with enormous boxes in their carts is an easy one to satirize (though I have some criticism for how the episode handles this—I’ll go into that more later).
The episode finds the cast heading to Payday on a variety of errands. Jane is there to purchase some gummy bears. She’d had some before, intending to use them for an art project, only for Tom to unwittingly eat them.
Jane’s reaction is another sign of tension in their relationship. In fairness to her, Tom should have asked before eating those gummy bears (as a general rule, I don’t eat anything on display without asking first, unless it’s at a dinner). Still, she reacts more harshly than she should have. I'm also surprised that Tom could eat such an apparently large amount so quickly.
There are a couple of ways to read this. The most believable, I’d argue, is simply that Jane and Tom are starting to drift apart. High school relationships don’t usually last very long and friction can start appearing in unlikely places as the people involved search for ways to vent their dissatisfaction with the relationship. It’s worth noting that Jane’s normally pretty easygoing. Then again, she does take her art quite seriously.
The other interpretation is that she’s nervous because she’s already picked up on Tom’s growing attraction to Daria (and his decreasing interest in her).
Tom himself comes off as rather unpleasant in this episode. His criticism of Payday reeks of his own wealth and privilege. The large quantities of cheap goods at such stores can be helpful to big families on a tight budget. I’m actually not sure that we were supposed to see this as Tom being elitist; the writers may share his opinion. Regardless, that’s how it came off to me.
He also shows no real gratitude to Trent and Jesse for driving him there. Then again, I can see how it’d be very frustrating to deal with Trent.
While the Season 4 tension underlies this episode, it’s mostly relegated to the background. Payday gives the characters a chance to show off their best (or more often their worst). Andrea, who gets more lines here than in any other episode, is the most interesting. Plenty has already been discussed about her exchange with Daria and Jane and what that says about them. I still maintain that this came about because of Andrea’s own sensitivity in being an actual outcast, and in being one of the few students clear-headed enough to actually know when Daria and Jane are making fun of someone.
Mr. DeMartino also gets a lot of exposure. One thing I find interesting is that Mr. DeMartino is the only teacher who complains about his salary outside of “Lucky Strike”. Certainly, teacher salaries tend to be pretty low but no one else seems to be hovering on the edge of penury the way he is. My theory is that he’s penny-wise but pound-foolish, and thus quickly burns through whatever he earns.
The episode ends in chaos, with Mr. DeMartino’s escape resulting in a power outage. No one really gets the thing they wanted, fitting in with Season 4’s more pessimistic outlook.
- Jane shows admirable ambition in trying to get her work to a larger audience. It shows she takes her art seriously.
- Doug Thompson comes off as an older, meaner version of Kevin.
- Jane’s quite obliging to Mrs. Johannsen. I wonder if she feels guilty for her earlier callousness in “Café Disaffecto”.
- Why is Principal Li worried about Kevin’s grades? We know she’s not above pulling strings to keep him on the team or allowing him to get byes on tests.
- Sandi’s aggression toward Quinn continues to get worse.