Cartoons, Primer

The “Love Triangle” Arc of Daria or The Ballad of Daria, Jane and Tom

Daria had some amazing character development for its time. The show featured superbly colorful characters and the storylines were simple and easily to follow along with.
If you’re already caught up with Daria (from either watching it for the first time or a life long fan), you may notice at the end of season three moving into season four some things were a little… different. The episodes didn’t seem like what we’d come to expect from the first three seasons. The storylines started to fall flat and the essence and message of the show wasn’t there anymore. It started to feel as if the creators were trying to hard to stay in the realm of high school, and the continuing character development for our favorites started to become disappointing. By the beginning of season four, Daria failed to do a lot of these things because they introduced a trap that lasted the next two seasons and two movies. This trap was the dreaded and utterly ridiculous Love Triangle arc of Daria, Jane and Tom.

HEAVY SPOILERS, for those who have not reached season three and beyond)

I disliked the Love Triangle arc for many different reasons, but the main reason why I didn’t care for it was because it made absolutely no sense. I don’t think for one second that Daria would be quick to go after a guy her best friend had been dating and immediately be comfortable with doing so afterwards. I don’t buy that Jane after Is It Fall Yet? would easily forgive and start hanging out with Daria and Tom like it was normal. I didn’t buy either one of these girls actually dating Tom Sloane as long as they did. The whole concept of the episodes where Tom was involved seemed super bogus to me. It came from left field, almost shattering the relationship between Jane and Daria. Really? Over this guy?
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Jane’s paranoia reaches its breaking point in “Dye! Dye! My Darling”

In the fourth season of Daria, Jane and Tom are together as a very awkward couple, but understand each other in a way I can’t even explain. Jane starts to become highly paranoid and fragile after her and Tom have been dating for awhile. Tom quickly (and almost purposely) finds a kinship with Daria over books and Daria starts to have a crush on Tom as they grow closer, even though she hated him early on. The tension between Jane and Tom overlaps in a quiet, cringeworthy way with the tension between Daria and Jane. We see the friends not having each others backs as much because Jane forgot rule #1 of dating when you have a close best friend: don’t leave your friends behind. Daria also forgot the #1 rule of their best friend dating someone: don’t fall for your best friend’s mate.

When Jane started to date Tom, it seemed a little bit off putting at first. They hardly showed any affection towards one another until we get to “Dye! Dye! My Darling” where they kiss for what seems like forever. When her relationship begins, she starts to neglect Daria and their friendship. Jane tells her about stories of her adventures with Tom while they are together rather than spending the time with her she needs. Tom starts to become a steady staple in their friendship, which is perfectly fine. When someone has a boyfriend/girlfriend in a friendship, you won’t see your friends as often. Daria starts to become the third wheel in the relationship and as much as Jane notices and says she’s sorry, she has a boyfriend so it doesn’t concern her as much. They have fights here and there and by the end of the day all is well, but is it really?
After they figure out their friendship, Daria’s attraction to Tom seems to come out of nowhere. Her friendship with Jane means the world to her, even telling Tom, before she kissed him, that she’d be “stabbing her friend in the back” if she even considered a relationship with him. Yet… they started dating not even an episode later to the surprise of Jane and the fans alike. It not only doesn’t make much sense, but it leaves the question: was this love triangle really necessary in the character developments of Jane, Tom and Daria?

Glenn Eichler, the creator of Daria, shares in an interview with Kara Wild in 2006 two reasons why he wanted the storyline for Tom, Jane and Daria to happen:

“We had him start life as Jane’s boyfriend for two reasons. First, Daria is not the type of person a high school boy would ask out after first meeting her–she’s too formidable. In order for a boy to be attracted to someone as sarcastic and aloof as Daria, and vice versa, the two of them would have to grow on each other–in other words, he would need to spend a fair amount of time in her company BEFORE they started dating. So if he were going out with Jane, that would put them in close, frequent proximity.

The second reason he began as Jane’s boyfriend was that I thought the situation would allow us to explore and test Daria and Jane’s friendship. That may have backfired, because a percentage of the viewers thought that Jane would never have forgiven Daria in real life. Maybe that’s true. But maybe it’s not. They’re fictional characters. George Harrison forgave Eric Clapton, right?”

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Daria and Trent in “Pierce Me”

For “close proximity” reasons, Daria hates her fellow students, but she isn’t immune to meeting someone outside her student population. There are a couple of examples of this scattered throughout the season. She goes to Mystic Spiral concerts–who’s to say she won’t meet a nice alternative guy there like Trent? Or better yet, Trent himself. When they were at the Homecoming Dance in the episode “Daria’s Dance Party,” she and Jane met some nice guys (they turned out to be Upchucks cousins but still…). When she was on yearbook she made friends with Ted and had a slight crush on him. If you don’t think Daria could meet someone, please think again. Daria seemed like the type of girl who would wait until someone presented themselves to her, this much is true, but, forcing the character into a relationship with her best friend’s boyfriend because of “close proximity” doesn’t make much sense.

Which brings me to Mr. Eicher’s other point: testing their friendship. To enhance the storyline, there didn’t need to be the immediate friendship backstabbing story. There are so many other different ways that their friendship could have been tested, rather than with a boy. Daria and Jane’s friendship had been tested before (with boys included), but they always bounced back. It was harder for them to bounce back from this. Your best friend kissing your boyfriend is a really bad thing to do. It’s the kind of thing that can destroy a happy and healthy friendship for life, even if you say that you’re over it. Jane carried a lot of resentment after the kiss, culminating in the episode “Fizz Ed” where she doesn’t care about anything anymore–but oddly, she bounces back in the next episode. But Tom didn’t seem to have any remorse about the situation at all or care about their friendship in the least. After he breaks up with Jane, he immediately calls Daria and they get together. That’s the makings of a scumbag.
Daria and Jane’s friendship meant a lot to people. It was a friendship that would obviously have its ups and downs (like any friendship), but managed to stay solid and strong. It was probably the special kind of high school friendship you had or wanted to have as a teen. Daria had that relationship with Jane; she even says it to Tom more than once. When Jane entered her work, it didn’t feel like she was alone anymore. She finally found someone who she connected with and it was a big deal to her. Tom being in the picture only crushed that dream that Daria had for a lifelong friendship with Jane. Of course, Daria was a little jealous because her friend was being taken away, but now that we see there was more to it than that, it’s upsetting that this could have possibly ended a friendship.

“We tried to make him sympathetic, but again, perhaps the ‘betrayal’ of Jane was too much for the majority of viewers. You know, sometimes a person as impulsive as Jane gets into a relationship that’s not right, and it ends. That doesn’t make Tom a monster. You have to consider that Tom and Jane would have broken up even if Daria hadn’t been in the picture–they just weren’t right for each other. And Jane wants to date a lot of guys at art college!”

This quote from Eichler makes me cringe for many reasons. Of course we know too that Jane has gotten into some relationships that weren’t right for her. Yet when it came to Tom, she lost her sense of loyalty to Daria trying to keep this guy. As much as I agree that Tom and Jane wouldn’t be together if Daria wasn’t there, that doesn’t excuse Tom and Daria’s actions. Daria deserved to have a relationship with someone as engaging as Tom, but without the song and dance between with them for the rest of the seasons.
Daria_and_TomTom becomes a monster for the reason I stated before. He has a severe lack of remorse for the situation and understanding that a genuine friendship hangs in the jeopardy over him. He states in a later episode, “We should have just broken up and I never should have dragged Daria into this.” Yeah! You think?! Even with him saying that, his actions after the entire talk with Jane still gets him what he wants. He broke up with Jane then immediately goes to Jane’s best friend to start something fresh and new with her instead of letting time pass. By the time we get to the fifth season, Jane is left sitting across the pizza table in Daria’s place, but now she sits as the third wheel to Daria and Tom. 

During the fifth season, everything became a little rougher, but rounded itself out in the end. Daria was openly showing her dislike for the relationship with Tom. Thankfully, she had enough common sense to be aware of the signs and not focus so much on just having a boyfriend. She didn’t know much about Tom, everything about his family was starting to rub her the wrong way, we were introduced to the cringe worthy sex episode and it seemed like the both of them were destined to end up in the same place that Tom and Jane ended up before. They broke up by the end of the season, leaving Daria and Jane to fully get their friendship back on track. However great that was, the show was still over. But having Jane and Daria back, even for a brief second, while Trent sang they’ll always be “Freakin’ Friends” really put the mind at ease.

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Cheers to Daria and Jane!

Daria’s love triangle arc was a lesson to me as a person who wants to write for a living: how to treat your characters properly in relationships. Sure, your characters are going to have some seriously bad relationships. They’ll even break up friendships because of them, but when you completely go out of your norm without ANY hint of changes coming for the characters, it becomes a problem. Daria and Jane’s friendship, thankfully, lasted past this drama, but knowing that it could have fallen apart in the first place is a sad reality. Sure, they may just be cartoon characters, but the relationships that we form with them, watch them go through troubles, affect us in some ways as well. Daria and Jane deserved so much more than Tom. We deserved better than Tom. I’d like to think in the future Jane settled down with some nice partner that peaked her interest for a very long time and Daria finally found someone who she can feel matches her intellectually and makes her feel comfortable and supports her. One can only dream.

  1. Claire Napier

    October 8, 2015 at 8:39 am

    Thi sis probably the worst thing I’ll ever say–

    “I totally thought this way when I was younger. But now I think everything that happened was actually super, super good”

    I mean I still think Tom is an incredible bore and a bad boyfriend, buuut I think his beige discord was good for the girls & good for the show.

  2. Kate Tanski

    October 19, 2015 at 8:16 pm

    I loved this arc, but I watched the show live, and I super-identified with Daria. Seasons three and four were when I was setting my VCR to record Daria so I could watch the kiss over and over again. Plus I was in high school and, like Daria, was the best friend of a girl who started dating a guy who was totally not her usual type, but oddly seemed to work anyway? Unlike Daria with Tom, I had no interest in my best friend’s boyfriend–but my best friend and I ended up hanging out with him and his best friend, and I ended up sort of dating his best friend due to “close proximity.” I see your point, but this arc so closely paralleled my real life when it was actually airing too much for me to ever be able to be critical of it. Oh, the 90s.

  3. Erica Brodie

    April 7, 2016 at 11:49 pm

    I liked Trent with Daria, even though they were befriends that’s how it starts usually, Trent seem to be the type guy Daria would fall for while Tom seem more so Daria’s sister Quinn’s type of guy to date. Daria may not had a boyfriend before but she deserves someone better a lot better than Tom. Trent in away has always been there for Daria. To me I think Trent was jealous over Tom and Daria’s relationship, when they were spending a lot of time together. I liked Trent with Daria much better than her and Tom.

  4. Chiharu Chi

    June 16, 2016 at 10:35 am

    Didn’t like Tom at all. I thought his approaches on Daria, while still being in a relationship with Jane creepy and unloyal and I didn’t particularly like the plot to this arc at all. I, honestly and was hoping for Trent to get together with Daria and return her feelings, even if it was /just/ a crush. Trent would’ve been a lot suitable because he understood her, he was there for her and he was able to brush off those weird, awkward moments that she had while they were hanging out. He also found her pretty funny at times.

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