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Daria - Episode-by-Episode Analysis

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Dye! Dye! My Darling

I still find “Dye! Dye! My Darling” a pretty tough episode to watch.

Some of this comes from how invested I’ve become in Daria’s friendship with Jane. The two have an easy chemistry that informs every episode but is rarely the focus. Daria needs the friendship. Jane acts as an emotional bedrock for Daria, and also an instigator who can get her to occasionally try new things.

There’s a certain exclusivity to Daria and Jane’s friendship. Not everyone can relate to the barbed observations and ironic witticisms that make up the bulk of their conversation. Not many television series have a central relationship of this specific type. Being able to relate puts you in a selective group. It feels like something special because it is.

And this is why the tension in this episode has nothing to do with who will get Tom. No one really cares about that (or about Tom). The tension rests in wondering just how badly Daria and Jane will hurt each other. We’ve seen how easily both of them shrug off the opinions of the student body, but for all their professed indifference, each cares about what the other thinks.

It’s painful to see Jane put through the wringer. She knows that her accusations will sound paranoid. And in a certain sense, they are. Daria’s always been pretty passive and she’s never cared that much about romance. Logically, it’s difficult to believe that Daria would do anything like try to steal Tom.

Except she sees how well Tom gets along with Daria. They have a natural chemistry that was absent in his relationship with Jane, even during better days. As Jane watches them get closer together she can only compare it with how adrift she now feels.

I’ve often commented on how isolated Daria really is, but this episode points out that Jane may have it even worse in some respects. While she’s better able to befriend others, most of her other interactions tend toward the superficial (and I’d argue that her relationship with Tom is no exception). Daria’s more visible isolation has, in this season, forced her to realize that she may have to reach out a bit more. Jane’s problem is subtler and she may not recognize it. She can get friends easily—it’s just that they probably won’t go much beyond casual acquaintances.

So now, Daria, Jane’s one real connection to the outside world, looks ready to stab her in the back. The signs are all there and Jane can’t ignore them even if such a betrayal seems uncharacteristic of Daria.

Making matters worse is the fact that I don’t think Daria understands how much she likes Tom. Events in “I Loathe A Parade” and “Fire!” gave her an idea but these realizations didn’t stick. In “Dye! Dye! My Darling”, Daria is still in full denial mode. Her intelligence makes it easy to rationalize her conclusions. Maybe she’s told herself that she’s just come to see Tom as a friend, or that the attraction is there but is too fleeting to matter. Sure, Tom’s cute and kind of funny, but so what?

When Jane relays her concerns to Daria, I think that Daria’s reassurances are genuine. She leaves the Lane house believing that this has mostly been resolved. Daria knows herself. She’s not someone who betrays friends, who engages in drama like all the other high school kids do. She’s above that.

Until she runs into Tom, and everything falls apart.

Whatever this episode’s faults, I love Daria’s reaction. She doesn’t thrill to the thought of sneaking behind Jane’s back, or delight in the experience of finally kissing a guy. Instead, she’s outraged at her own behavior.

But for all her intelligence, she can’t fight her own emotions. She can’t just make it go away with a smart remark. For someone who prizes self-control as much as Daria does it’s a horrifying moment.

Naturally, she flees. Her first thought is about Jane. Daria knows she’s screwed up big-time, and that there won’t be any easy way to patch things up. It says so much about Daria’s values that she chooses to tell Jane about her indiscretion. As much as Daria wants Tom, her personality simply won’t allow her to engage with him in any context beyond the heat of the moment.

It’s actually not inconceivable that a different Daria would have simply talked to Tom, agreed never to tell Jane about the Kiss, and simply sat it out. Her anger at herself (and at Tom) might have been strong enough to suppress the attraction. In this scenario, Tom and Jane would have certainly broken up in a week or two and things would be back to normal.

Except Daria just cannot do that. I’ve said before that Daria’s not always as honest as she claims. Consider how she helped the Middleton students cheat. But I do think she values honesty with those she cares about. She may also seek some kind of absolution in her confession.

The results are predictable. Jane had spent the last few episodes hoping that Daria’s reassurances would dispel her anxiety. For a little while, they did. The confession undoes that. Almost everyone Jane values is ripped from her: Daria, Tom, her sense of worth. All she has left is Trent, and that likely means a retreat to whatever kind of life she had in Lawndale before Daria arrived. I doubt it was a pleasant one.

Both Daria and Jane are still too self-possessed to attack each other. Their discussion near the end shows each trying to figure out where they stand with the other. And neither of them is sure. These are uncharted waters. Both of them want everything to go back to the way they were, but both know that won’t happen.

I actually consider “Dye! Dye! My Darling” to be a pretty strong episode for the most part. Even the most controlled people can be overwhelmed by strong feelings, so I see Daria’s behavior as believable (though it’s her subsequent reaction—being honest with Jane—that really sells it).

Where Daria really gets out of character is at the end. She would’ve hung up on Tom the moment he called. We’ve already seen that Daria ultimately values Jane more than Tom, and that she doesn’t really think Jane is okay with the two of them dating. While Daria’s not always the best at reading people, I don’t for a moment believe she’s so dense as to think Jane would really give her approval to the relationship.

But the writers had decreed that we needed more drama, and thus begins one of the most poorly implemented relationships in TV history.

Notes:

  • I didn’t go into the whole hair dye subplot. It’s poorly thought out on Jane’s part but I don’t think it’s out of character. She often avoids direct confrontation.
  • Jane makes a lot of literary references during this episode, while Daria is unusually patient with Jane.
  • Yes Jane, Tom is a real idiot.
  • In the car, when Daria talks about how important Jane is to her, she seems to emphasize how comfortable her life in Lawndale had become. This goes with my theory that Daria’s largely content to coast along in life.
  • “You're going to have just a super time dating Daria. She loves to have fun.” Jane’s prediction is apt.
  • Helen also gets some good moments when she comforts Daria.