Fat Like Me
In fiction, a deuteragonist is a secondary main character. Like the protagonist, they have their own arc, one that doesn’t receive as much attention but may actually be just as important. Examples might include Dr. Watson in Sherlock Holmes, or Prince Zuko in Avatar: The Last Airbender.
And, I’d argue, Quinn Morgendorffer.
Her changes have been even more dynamic than Daria’s. The series initially presented Quinn as a shallow and annoying foil while subtly showing her to be far smarter and deeper than she pretended to be. Her growth has become more apparent by Season 5, thanks to episodes like “Monster” and Is It Fall Yet? (though I don’t think IIFY? necessarily handled it all that well).
“Fat Like Me” presents something of a missed opportunity. It’s a funnier episode than I remembered it being but it doesn’t have the strength that a Quinn-centered episode deserves. Because make no mistake: Quinn is the star of “Fat Like Me”, with Daria in the sidelines.
Watching it, I did find myself wondering about the dynamics of the Fashion Club. It seems pretty clear that the Fashion Club is not at all popular aside from Quinn. Sandi’s the Queen Bee, but only of her own little world. Her opinions have little to no impact on the student body as a whole.
Quinn is smarter and more likable than Sandi. Stacy is chafing under Sandi’s reign (Tiffany doesn’t seem to care either way). So why do they all go along with Sandi? It could just be another example of the characters coasting, not willing to endure the discomfort of upsetting the status quo.
This episode has the same problem. There are two courses of action that Quinn could have taken. We see her choose to help Sandi reduce her newfound weight, which shows a level of forgiveness and selflessness. On the other hand, it might have been better to have Quinn take over the Fashion Club given that no one was happy with Sandi’s leadership.
One thing I want to make clear is that I don’t think that the writers necessarily made the wrong choice. While women characters in fiction have too often been shamed for displaying ambition, it doesn’t follow that a woman character is weak for being good-natured or choosing reconciliation. Strength takes many forms.
The problem is the execution. Quinn obviously knows that Sandi’s trying to manipulate her, but goes along with it out of… friendship? It’s difficult to know how genuine Sandi is being here. She’s one of the least sympathetic characters in the series and she’s never been provided much depth (beyond a brief flashback in "Daria Dance Party"). Sure, we know that Linda bears some responsibility for Sandi’s situation, but there aren’t many details.
By the end, is Sandi actually grateful for Quinn’s help? When Sandi backs down on some of her less reasonable commands, this seems to come more from the other FC members being willing to speak out than from any real change on Sandi’s part. And her new weight allowance can easily be read as more self-serving than anything else.
Ambiguity can be powerful in fiction, but it usually only works if there’s a lot of evidence for multiple interpretations. Here, there isn’t much. Stuff just happens. You could say that Quinn doesn’t think she’s ready to assume that much responsibility, but that doesn’t seem to be her reasoning. Sandi guilts her into helping.
“Fat Like Me” isn’t a terrible episode but Quinn should have been the focus of a much better one.
- Given how strict the FC diet is, I’m not at all certain that it was healthy for Sandi to go all the way back to her previous weight, though I wouldn’t expect Quinn to realize this.
- The subplot with Daria and Jane is pretty boring.
- Stacy demonstrates some hidden talents here. She shows initiative in planning for the Fashion Club and understands how to pitch a sale (with the way she uses bikini pictures as a way to get a male perspective on fashion—it doesn’t work, but she put some thought into it).
- Quinn once more references ancient history. I am convinced she is a history buff.