By the time of “Fire!”, Daria can no longer ignore how much things have changed. Tom’s gone from rival, to acquaintance, to object of desire. And Daria has no idea what to do.
She’s always kept her feelings at a distance. Her sarcasm and flintiness created a safe wall around her, one from which she rarely ventured. Though Daria cares deeply about Jane, there’s still a certain emotional distance between the two (one which Jane happily reciprocates, most of the time). This has served Daria well.
Until suddenly, it doesn’t.
The scene at the beginning of the episode illustrates this larger theme pretty well. Jake’s thoughtlessly going through the steps of getting a glass of warm milk (he’s apparently still on his milk kick), making some poor decisions along the way. Everything’s fine, until it isn’t, and he starts a fire in the kitchen.
Jane and Tom are in a similar position. The cause of their argument (Fellini films versus B-movies) is trivial. The reason it gets worse isn’t because they can’t agree; rather, it’s because they’ve just gotten tired of each other. The relationship is over, and neither of them is willing to admit it. Which makes sense given that neither has the experience to know when a relationship has run its course.
The sad thing is, I’m not really sure that any of the characters here had a real chance at averting catastrophe. They simply don’t know enough about themselves to take proper action. Much like characters in a Greek tragedy, all they can do is march toward the inevitable finale.
Of all of them, Jane is easily the most sympathetic and maybe the most self-aware. She actually takes the step of opening up to Daria about her fears. It’s a shocking moment. Jane, who’s always be so self-possessed, admits that she’s afraid of losing Tom to Daria. It takes guts to confront a friend about something like this—in so doing, Jane is risking the friendship the wants to save. Her saying that she and Tom were meant for each other is a moment of naivety, but it’s a heartfelt one. She genuinely believes it.
I absolutely love how Jane still tries to minimize her own emotional reaction. There’s a forced jokey quality to her tone, as if she’s trying to convince Daria and herself that it’s no big deal, even though it is. Jane would rather just go back to the way things were, when she didn’t care so much. Wendy Hoope nails the voice acting here and it’s a shame that Jane so rarely gets dialogue like this.
For her part, Daria takes it in stride, though her reassurances will look heartless in retrospect.
Tom, on the other hand, is much less sympathetic. Of the three, he has the least to lose and the audience has the least investment in him. It’s infuriating to see how cavalierly he treats Jane, keeping her waiting for hours so that he can chat with Daria.
That said, their conversation actually does a good job of explaining why Daria falls for him. “I Loathe A Parade” touched on this as well, but it’s more explicit here. The fact is, if you have obscure or odd interests, it can be incredibly hard to find someone who shares them.
I look back on my high school self. My interests tended toward the geeky and academic (well before such things became popular—and history, my main passion, still bores most Americans). I didn’t dare hope I’d ever find a girlfriend who shared these interests—I figured the best I could get was someone who tolerated them. Getting older, I learned that emotional compatibility is more important to a relationship than common interests, but I didn't realize this during those years.
So if I imagine myself in Daria’s shoes I can understand why she fell for Tom.
We already know that Daria tends to wall herself off from the rest of the world. This is true even when she’s with Jane. To some extent, their friendship is predicated on a shared disdain for everything else. Tom, on the other hand, gives her a chance to be unguarded about her interests, to have someone who can meaningfully respond to them. Viewed through this lens, it’s a powerful moment. If you’ve resigned yourself to being lonely it’s almost painful to get a sign that you might not have to be.
Daria’s never found herself in such a situation. By the end of the episode, she knows that things are liable to blow up in her face. But she can’t break out of it. On some level, she probably hopes that it’ll just blow over and she can go back to her comfortable isolation. Except, at her age, she might genuinely believe this is her only chance to ever find someone.
And that can make people desperate.
- Helen and Jake seem to make up pretty quick. It’s abrupt, but sometimes a change in venue is all you really need.
- I love how Jane fingers the power drill when she says: “be my guest”.
- Quinn knows a lot about ‘60s television, though I suppose she might just be referring to the ‘90s film adaptations of The Avengers and The Mod Squad. Neither of those were especially popular though, which makes me think she’s talking about the originals.
- There’s a really weird map of South America in Penny’s room. Judging by the borders, I can only assume that Bolivia and Peru won the War of the Pacific in the Daria-verse.
- I didn’t really go into Trent in this write-up, but his seeming failure to warn Jane is both foolish and inconsiderate. Maybe he was just hoping it’d blow over, which would fit with his lazy nature.