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Daria - Episode-by-Episode Analysis

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Legends of the Mall/Groped by an Angel

The two episodes covered here give the audience a bit of a breather before things get heavy in “Fire!”. “Legends of the Mall” is a gimmick episode, but a pretty funny one. “Groped by an Angel” deals with serious subject matter but handles it with a light touch (though it’s mediocre as a comedy).

Like a lot of the gimmick episodes, “Legends of the Mall” doesn’t reveal much about the characters. Mostly it’s just an excuse to reimagine the main cast through the lens of previous decades. I’m not sure how long we’ve been envisioning a decade as a distinct cultural moment though I know it goes back to at least the 1920, when there was a nostalgic revival of the 1890s (the Gay Nineties, as they were called).

As a kid, I remember my middle school having dress-up days for the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s (this was in 1996, so the ‘80s were still a little too recent). This sort of nostalgia creates an idealized version of the decade in question that often ends up anachronistic in the way it slaps together disparate elements of popular culture. It also ignores that culture doesn’t shift in neat ten-year increments; for instance, the early ‘60s more closely resembled the ‘50s than anything else.

Which isn’t to say that decade nostalgia is a bad thing, and the writers have some fun with it here. The Rattling Girl of Lawndale re-imagines the Fashion Club in ‘60s haute couture, and the Legend of Metalmouth skewers both ‘80s teen comedies and the slasher films that were in vogue at the same time. The Girl in the House of Bad Grades satirizes ‘50s paranoia (and gets to throw in a little bit of the ‘70s at the very end).

What’s interesting here is that all of the stories feature supernatural vengeance of some kind. ‘60s Sandi’s rattling haunts the high school’s popular kids. Metalmouth tries to get back at ‘80s Kevin. ‘50s Daria ensures that no one who lives in the house after her escapes Lawndale. Given the time in which this episode takes place (shortly before the infamous Kiss), it almost feels like a warning. However, Daria escapes any real comeuppance for her act so this is probably coincidence.

“Groped by an Angel” goes after a sort of gooey feel-good spirituality that was mainstream in the ‘90s, most exemplified by the endlessly reiterated Chicken Soup for the Soul books referenced in the episode.

Yet this one differs from some of the satirical episodes in the past in that Daria actually pulls back. Even though she regards Quinn’s concept of guardian angels as nonsensical, she understands that it’s something does give Quinn comfort and that, so long as Quinn doesn’t over-rely on this belief, it can be helpful.

It’s by this point that Daria understands how insecure Quinn really is. It’s difficult for Daria to empathize with such insecurity since she is pretty comfortable with herself in most respects, but she actually makes the effort. It’s a touching scene.

I’m an agnostic, but I’m familiar enough with Christianity and its founding texts to know that there’s not much in there about guardian angels who’ll swoop to the believer’s rescue. This might be a nice thing to believe but it lacks any real theological basis. Just look at Job. Christianity does itself a disservice when churches promise that belief will bring good times and happiness. True faith is rigorous and demanding, not for the faint-hearted. If you are not willing to suffer for your cause, you do not truly believe in it.

Granted, what Quinn believes in seems to be some fuzzy all-inclusive faith rather than any specific religion, but my point remains.

The reason I include that rant is that I’m still a little iffy about Quinn’s beliefs by the end of the episode. Though she acknowledges that a hypothetical guardian angel will only save her from big problems, what happens when there’s a big problem and that angel doesn’t appear to help? It’d be a repeat of her episode with the ruined jeans.

Still, I think Daria ultimately made the right call at the end. Criticizing Quinn’s beliefs would have only alienated her and I can easily see it as something she’d grow out of. “Groped by an Angel” isn’t that funny of an episode but I think it’s important as another one that shows real growth on Daria’s part.

Unfortunately, she hasn’t grown enough to avoid what’s coming in the next few episodes.

Notes:

  • “Legends of the Mall” shows that Lawndale does have a lot of wilderness interspersed with the suburbs, as earlier indicated in “The Lawndale File”.
  • Mr. O’Neill assumes he’s invited to Brittany’s party. This guy…
  • Another interesting element is that Jane seems quite disheartened by her analysis of Daria’s attitude toward guardian angels, and one gets the feeling that Jane’s describing her own outlook rather than Daria’s.
  • Considering how wealthy the Taylors are supposed to be, it’s odd that Mr. Taylor would need to borrow from his son’s college account. Maybe he’s living beyond his means?
  • Jake’s quite childish in the both of these episodes. “Psycho Therapy” may have helped the Morgendorffers gain better self-realization, but the parents are still stuck in their ruts.