In my humble opinion, MTV’s Daria (1997-2002) is one of the best high school shows ever created, animated or not. I could write for hours over why I feel this way, from it’s incredibly clever writing, to accurately portraying high school stereotypes that still exist to this day, but for now I want to focus on one of my favorite episodes, the season 4 finale “Dye! Dye! My Darling” and why it’s a masterpiece.
I wasn’t around when the show aired, so I don’t know whether this is an unpopular opinion or not, but this episode to me demonstrated perfectly how you execute the dreaded “love triangle” trope that plagues romance stories. I don’t viscerally hate love triangles myself, but I can see why people are so sick of them. A guy or girl is torn between two romantic interests, and they agonize over who to choose, often resulting in unnecessary drama and stupidity by otherwise likable characters.
The episode is centered around three characters: Daria, Jane, and Tom, whom Jane has been dating all season. There have been hints in previous episodes that Daria might have a crush in Tom, such as in “I Loathe A Parade” and most notably the ending of “Fire!”, to which Jane has picked up on and develops a sense of paranoia. All of this beautifully sets up the events in the episode and frames the character’s actions, especially Jane, as reasonable given the circumstances.
It starts with Jane getting Daria to dye her hair after being inspired by a painting she made, referring to “the lady or the tiger”, an image she wants Daria to recreate. Daria reluctantly agrees, leading to the first of many times in the episode where things come to a head.
The first argument between Daria and Jane puts Jane’s jealousy and paranoia on full display. She makes comments insinuating Daria intentionally spending time alone with Tom and accuses her of wanting to steal Tom away from Jane. It only escalates when Jane reveals her hair, which does not resemble a tiger at all, and yells at Daria to leave her house.
It takes a whole day for Jane to cool down and talk to Daria again, and the two resolve their issues for the time being, with Jane recognizing that her paranoid feelings were extreme and unwarranted. It seems like everything has gone back to normal now. That is, until Daria speaks to Tom.
This is the point where the episode’s tone shifts heavily to the dramatic side. For a show mostly known for it’s comedy and witty humor, Daria has some great dramatic moments that don’t often get talked about. The scene with Tom and Daria highlights just how much she values Jane as her friend. She blames Tom for getting involved and messing things up between the two of them, and in a moment of beautiful romantic tension, they kiss. And kiss again.
I think what I enjoy so much about this part of the episode is that everything is immediate. Daria immediately feels horrible for kissing Jane’s boyfriend and then she immediately tells her the next time they meet at school, causing Jane to run away. A small detail that I love is the way Daria talks to Jane. She simply says, “I kissed your boyfriend” so blunt and direct, and when Jane runs away, she simply says “I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” Anyone who’s watched the show knows that Daria has this one note, monotone voice that oozes sarcasm with every word. But you can really feel that she’s genuinely heartbroken in this moment, even with as little emotion there is in how she says it.
Jane confronts Tom at his house, fuming with anger. They talk in his backyard, reflecting on their relationship and what went wrong. Tom admits that dating Jane and all the feelings he had for her were real, and not just a way to get closer to Daria. The way they break up is so honestly done. Jane’s confused emotions of wanting Tom to be happy dating Daria while also being mad at her gives much more complexity than a love triangle in any other story, where the focus is mainly on characters being angsty. (cough Legend of Korra Book 1 cough.)
Another subtle emotional moment comes when Daria visits her mother’s office, whom she couldn’t reach previously due to her working on a massive court case. Upon seeing her daughter, she drops everything to hear about her problems. This is one of the rare scenes in the entire series where Daria turns to her family for emotional support. We also get to see that her mom, a workaholic that never has enough time for her family, still sees them as her number one priority and is willing to make sacrifices in her career for their betterment. She waves off Daria’s comment about the case being important, knowing that what her daughter needs most is her love and attention.
We then get a scene with Daria and Jane, trying to pick up the pieces and see where they stand after their falling out. One thing I really don’t like in teen stories is how quickly conflicts get resolved. Something bad happens between two people, they fight about it for two minutes, and then they make up and the status quo is restored. Jane leaves Daria’s house without knowing when their friendship will ever go back to normal, and the conflict that in most other sitcoms would’ve been resolved by now still continues not 100% fixed. The real moment they make up is in the TV movie following the season, “Is It Fall Yet?”, which is also filled with emotionally brilliant moments. The last scene is mainly a cliffhanger to set up that Daria and Tom will start dating, which is explored more in “Is It Fall yet?”
Overall, this is one of my favorite episodes of television. I mostly wanted to cover this because Daria is a show I don’t see many people talk about, let alone it’s deeper, more serious episodes. Check the show out if you want a teen show that’s smart, funny, and painfully accurate to almost anybody’s high school experience. There’s plenty more from this show that I want to talk about, so expect to see some more in-depth analyses in the future. If you’ve managed to read all of this, tell me if my writing style works, or how I can improve. I’m always open to criticism.