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Daria - Episode-by-Episode Analysis

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Art Burn/One J at a Time

As I re-watch Season 5, I’m noticing that it’s actually a pretty funny season so far. Yes, Tom drags things down, but a lot of the dialogue and situations are on-point. Episodes in the early seasons could feel a little aimless at times, a problem that the writers seem to have fixed by Season 5.

The episodes I’m writing about today are, in my opinion, some of the funniest in the entire series. Both of them also portray Daria herself in a rather unflattering light.

“Art Burn” returns to some of my favorite subjects: Jane and art. Jane’s approach to her creativity is actually better realized than Daria’s is. Going all the way back to “Arts n’ Crass” and “Monster”, we know that Jane’s motivated mostly by a desire to express herself. If she’s assigned to create a specific work, the talent might be there (she displays an admirable professionalism) but the passion won’t be.

Her experience with Gary’s Gallery is another example of this. Jane’s got the talent to be an excellent copyist, and it is indeed a good way to make money. But it runs so counter to her idea of what art is supposed to be that she quickly burns out. And then, as if in desperate search of some release, her creativity instead turns itself to paranoid fantasies about art counterfeiting rings.

Jane’s monetary situation is tight so getting a job like this is a lot more important for her than it would be for Daria. Quitting isn’t something she can do lightly, and this informs the nature of her suspicion. Daria is (unsurprisingly) critical of Jane’s new job, but I don’t think she actually understands why it’s a problem for Jane. She simply sees it as an issue of crass commercialism replacing original vision, which isn’t exactly wrong, but also misses the real problem. Daria’s commentary is actually pretty funny but it comes from a bad place. Jane’s working hard, and all Daria can do is judge her for not being sufficiently creative.

I’m surprised Jane puts up with it. Unlike Jane, Daria does not have to worry about money, which only makes her complaints more obnoxious (and this again is why it bothers me when the writers emphasize the class difference between Tom and her—yes, there’s a major gap but Daria never seems cognizant of the similar gap between her and Jane).

At any rate, coming away from this episode, I’m not sure how well Daria really understands her best friend. But at that age, who really does?

“Three Js at a Time” is another funny episode. In some ways it’s almost the mirror image of “Quinn the Brain”. In that episode, Daria felt anxious about Quinn appearing to take on the role of the “smart girl”, while in this one, Quinn is aghast that Daria seems to have more meaningful romantic success.

Daria’s pretty mean to Quinn but such behavior isn’t that unusual in the context of their relationship. I love the way Quinn’s inexperience leads her to take Daria at face value, as well as the suffering the Three Js bring upon themselves for her sake. Jeffy’s expression at the “matching cemetery plots” line is priceless.

Daria does stick up for Jake in a pretty admirable way. This episode does a better job than previous ones of showing how much she really cares for her father by having her fully aware of his weaknesses and eccentricities but loving him in spite of that. And I can understand her anxiety about Tom; he does seem like he might needle Jake about these things.

The episode ends on a curiously abrupt note. Daria gets scolded for misinforming Quinn but doesn’t seem to regret it. Quinn’s brief monologue shows introspection but doesn’t seem totally consistent with the themes of the episode. I didn’t get the impression that it was trying to say men and women couldn’t understand each other; rather, the message is more that no one can understand anyone all that well.

After all, Daria incorrectly thought Tom would be critical of her father. Quinn mistook Daria’s mockery as genuine advice. Quinn herself doesn’t really know what she wants from a relationship (which is understandable given her age). While the monologue does trip up by gendering the situation, I do think that it underscores Quinn realizing that there are still a lot of things she doesn’t know.

Notes:

  • How exactly does one look existential or nihilistic?
  • I’m surprised that Trent even knows about resale value.
  • '90s Alert: Sister Wendy reference!
  • Cheeseball though he may be, Steve Taylor does seem to have a pretty good layman’s knowledge of art
  • I didn’t really comment on the B-plot of the Fashion Club and the caricaturist, though it does show Stacy might be growing in spite of her sometimes-toxic surroundings
  • What’s Jake’s actual employment situation by this point? Is he without any kind of job? Boredom might explain some of his behavior in Season 5.
  • Sandi tries to reduce competition for boys by encouraging Quinn to go steady with someone but there’s no indication that anyone’s interested in her (or the other Fashion Club members)