Quinn Morgendorffer: An Analysis
Peter Paccione (The Historian)
I confess. Quinn is my favorite "Daria" character. She has been since the beginning. Although I identify with Daria, I have always had a soft spot for her kid sister. Maybe it's because I knew that, under all that shallowness and self-centeredness, Quinn had potential, that she had to be smarter and deeper than most viewers thought. Subsequent developments in the series have apparently proved me right.
Some people seem to think that, throughout the first season, Quinn was at her shallow and stupid worst. I disagree. I believe that her potential was apparent from the very beginning, in "Esteemsters." In the psychological test, Quinn tells the "movie-burger-back seat" story. I find it impressive that she could think up such a story so quickly, on the spur of the moment. It proved that she is capable of thinking quickly on her feet. The next important moment was in "The Invitation", when she used the "first pancake off the stove" metaphor in declining to choose between the three J's. I also found this impressive. In "Too Cute", Quinn inspects Brooke's new nose carefully before proclaiming it "cute", and is accused by Sandi of thinking the other members of the Fashion Club shallow. Later, when the other members have gotten nose jobs, Sandi repeats the accusation, saying that "a really deep person like you has too many important things on her mind like the news or something to pay attention to her appearance." Quinn denies this, but Sandi might have been on to something. Why would she say that Quinn is "not that shallow" to get a nose job? "Too Cute" is a milestone; it is the episode in which we first see the Quinn-Sandi conflict. It is significant that the feud originates with Sandi believing that Quinn considers herself to be smarter than the rest of the FC. I believe that this is the beginning of Quinn's inner conflict: Should she cover up her intelligence in order to stay in the FC, or should she forsake the FC? This conflict was to increase in intensity in subsequent episodes.
It broke out in the open in "Quinn the Brain". As Mike Quinn has written in his essay "The Ladder Theory", Quinn in this episode finds her natural intelligence, but in the end hides it again and reverts to her old self. This happens under pressure from Sandi and the FC. Given a choice between continuing being a brain and risking expulsion from the FC, or returning to the fold, Quinn chooses the FC. She shows that she is capable of defying the dictates of Waif and make her own fashion statement, but cannot continue the defiance. Keeping her FC friends is more important. The conflict is resolved, but only temporarily. In "Monster", we again get an inkling that Quinn knows that all is not right when she gives her little speech: "I mean, sometimes I'm walking down the hall with Sandi, Stacy, and Tiffany and suddenly I'm outside of myself watching, and it's like, who are these girls? Can't they talk about anything besides guys, and clothes, and cars, but then, what would we talk about?" As Austin Covello has written, "Beneath her popular exterior lies an underconfident girl suffering from low self-esteem, something which ironically Daria was once accused of." "The New Kid" illustrates how Quinn manipulates people, in this case Robert, to get what she wants. In "Gifted", we again see the conflict between Quinn and the rest of the FC. She is thrown out by both Sandi and Tiffany, then runs out on Stacy. Going to Jane's, Quinn tells her that she is "sick of that game." Here is yet more evidence that Quinn is out of place in the FC, and that a total breach might be possible. In "Fair Enough", Sandi goes further than ever before in her rivalry with Quinn when she deliberately sabotages Quinn's performance.
The battle for the Fashion Club continues in "Daria Dance Party." Here, we have a new development: Quinn takes on the FC and wins. She takes undeserved credit for the success of the dance, while Sandi, Stacy and Tiffany are literally left out in the cold. It was a sign that Quinn was finally freeing herself from the tyranny of Sandi and the FC, and that she was capable of standing up to Sandi, while Stacy and Tiffany are not. Another incident in "DDP" which illustrates something important about Quinn is when the FC is considering dance themes. Quinn makes two sensible suggestions, which are dismissed by Sandi, who then proposes a wildly impractical idea. Quinn points out its impracticality, whereupon Sandi leaves, accompanied by Stacy and Tiffany. Something similar happens in "The Old and the Beautiful" when Quinn suggests donating the FC's old clothes to the homeless, and Sandi attempts to shoot down the idea. These incidents show that Quinn has more common sense than the rest of the FC.
The movie "Is It Fall Yet" is the moment when Quinn finally stops trying to hide her intelligence and instead shows it off. Her initial P-STAT score, 955, while not high enough to get her into a decent college, is still the highest in the FC. However, her tutoring with David gets off to a rocky start when it is interrupted by FC phone calls, and David starts to leave in disgust. This forces Quinn to make the decision to do better academically and continue the tutoring. Later, after David turns her down when she asks him out, she turns to Daria, which in itself is unprecedented (before this, Quinn never discussed her relationships with Daria). Whereas previously, Quinn had been the expert on relationships, we now see her deflated by David's rejection and going to Daria for support. Daria, in an unprecedented move for her, compliments Quinn: "Quinn, you're, um, not as superficial as you act. I'm sure you just feel obliged to stress the moronic aspects of your personality so you'll fit in better with the fashion drones. Like a mask you wear 'cause you think they wouldn't like the real you." (As we see in "Road Worrier", Daria is also not above taking fashion tips from Quinn.) With this, Daria expresses in a nutshell Quinn's conduct from the beginning of the series. Then, in Mr. DeMartino's class, we have the breakthrough moment: ""Manifest Destiny" was a phrase politicians used to say that God wanted the U.S. to keep expanding west all the way to the Pacific Ocean. Because why bother owning the country if Hollywood wasn't included?" When Sandi then accuses her of making a "foray into Geekland", Quinn comes back with "Sandi, just because someone can answer a simple question doesn't mean they're a pedagogue." With this, Quinn finally gets rid of her reluctance to show her intelligence, and to prove that it is superior to Sandi's. She has overcome her fear of Sandi. Also, the fact that she asked out David, a guy who is not popular, does not have a cool car or the right clothes, etc., is a sign that she is overcoming her obsession with appearances; as Daria says, "So if you saw past his looks, you can't be completely shallow."
The theme of Sandi's declining power is continued in "Fat Like Me." When both Sandi and Quinn resign the presidency, and Stacy and Tiffany try to keep the FC going, we hear from Stacy how the FC functioned: "You know, like Sandi used to. She'd say something like "nail decals" and Quinn would say they're passé and Sandi would ask if Quinn knew the difference between passé and retro and Quinn would explain what she meant to say and we'd move on to the next topic." What this shows is that the FC cannot function without both Sandi and Quinn. When Stacy and Tiffany ask her to come back to the FC, Quinn, in a show of integrity, refuses to betray Sandi; she even helps Sandi lose weight, which could be a sign of her developing concern for others other than herself. When the FC returns to normal, Quinn first tries to change the topic instead of Sandi ("Let's move on to eyelashes"), then disagrees with Sandi on a membership guideline ("But Sandi... with all the thickening mascaras available you can always make it look like you have more eyelashes than you really do, so is the actual number of lashes really that important?") Stacy and Tiffany then show their new independence by agreeing with Quinn; for the first time, Sandi has been overruled. The power dynamic of the FC has been permanently ruptured. Quinn has won.
In "Lucky Strike", we have a continuation of the development in "IICY" of Quinn's confidence in her intelligence. When Quinn first learns that Daria is to be her substitute teacher, she is horrified; but when she realizes that she knows the material, and takes notes in class (much to Sandi's disdain), she eagerly takes the test without apprehension, and Daria gives her a B+. As she did when she correctly answered DeMartino's Manifest Destiny question, Quinn smiles in her new self-confidence. The test is also similar to her essay in "Quinn the Brain," only now she is proud of the fact that she has done well academically and doesn't try to hide it from the FC. When Quinn tries to get Daria's assurance that the test will be easy so that the others in the FC can do well on it, Daria responds with one of the most significant lines in the series-"Hey, why should you go out of your way to protect the stupid? You're not one of them!" Here, finally, we have Daria acknowledging that Quinn is on a higher intellectual plane than the rest of the FC. This is a total reversal of what Daria's attitude towards Quinn has been since the beginning of the series. Quinn has clearly outgrown the FC. In "IIFY", David implies something similar when he says, "Look at the losers you hang out with. No chance of feeling stupid around them." "LS" also includes an event that indicates that Quinn is softening her attitude towards Daria: her admission to the FC that Daria is indeed her sister. Here is another sign of growth. In this change of attitude toward each other, both Daria and Quinn are maturing. This is continued in "Aunt Nauseam", in which Daria and Quinn collaborate to show Helen and her sisters how ridiculous their conflicts are, and end up watching Gone With The Wind together.
In the movie "Is It College Yet", there are two final stages in the development of Quinn's maturity: the Lindy situation and the breakup of the Fashion Club. She shows her growth in the way she deals with Lindy's alcoholism: when Lindy offers her a drink in the movie theater, she turns it down; after the movie, she tries to get Lindy to take a cab home rather than drive; and then her unsuccessful visit to Lindy in which she tries to convince her that she has a problem. Here, we see Quinn in a totally new situation: actually caring about somebody else. The Lindy experience is a new one for her, and a searing lesson in how the adult world works. She can't manipulate people anymore like she used to. Quinn's restaurant job forces her to take a sabbatical from the FC, and this leads to the demise of the club. Adult responsibilities such as work have begun to change Quinn, and it is appropriate that she has to abandon the FC because of a job. It is a sign that her adolescence is coming to an end. Then again, at the graduation ceremony, we see Quinn trying to disguise herself in a hat and sunglasses; could this mean that she is still embarrassed at being related to Daria?
So, what does it all mean? Quinn has turned out to be a far more complex and interesting character than she seemed to be at the beginning of the series. At first, she was Daria's shallow, superficial and self-centered younger sister, obsessed with fashion, a symbol of everything Daria was not. In the course of the series, Quinn gained much depth and became a much more well-rounded character. In fact, I believe that, aside from Daria herself, Quinn is the character who changed the most during the series. Whereas, at first, she hid her intelligence in order to blend in with the FC, she later gained enough confidence to take pride in it, whatever the FC thought of it. After all, she is a Morgendorffer, Daria's sister; she has to be smart. The Morgendorffer-Barksdale genes cannot be held back. And, at the end of the series, she leaves the FC, finally recognizing that she was out of place in it. As for the future, maybe "Write Where It Hurts" holds a clue. In Daria's final story, Quinn is a responsible parent who looks back at her teenage years and laughs ("I was a stuck-up little nightmare.") In any case, I am glad that the creators of the series decided to give Daria a kid sister.
Postscript: One area in which Quinn is superior to Daria
There is at least one area in which Quinn is better than Daria, and that is social skills. Quinn on her worst day is more outgoing, more self-assured, more confident, than Daria on her best day. This is obvious right from the start, in "Esteemsters", when Quinn no sooner gets out of the Morgendorffer car than she becomes a member of the Fashion Club, and Daria sarcastically promises to help her adjust to the school. Her talents extend to sales, as seen in the phone card scene in "Café Disaffecto". Then, of course, there are the various ways in which she manipulates boyfriends. But Quinn's confidence, her bravery, is most apparent in "Speedtrapped." In fact, Daria's timidity as compared to Quinn's boldness seems to be one of the central themes of this episode. First, Quinn shows that she is a better driver than Daria, and calls Daria timid. (She later calls her "meek" and "respectful" in dealing with guys: "Daria, all guys are all alike. The secret is knowing how to ask them."). Then, when they have to raise the bail money, Quinn dresses as a cowgirl, jumps on top of the bar, and gets the cowboys to contribute money. Although the episode ends with Daria proving she isn't timid by running over Travis's suitcase, we know that Quinn is obviously more adept at relating to people. Social skills are something that Quinn could teach Daria a few lessons about, and does. What this seems to suggest is that intelligence isn't everything. Daria, for all her brains, is a rank amateur in interpersonal relations, while her sister is a pro. Even when Quinn was shallow and superficial, she could still run rings around Daria in any social situation. This might mean that Daria's sarcasm and hostility toward Quinn could have been caused by her jealousy of her sister's popularity. I believe that Quinn's confidence, her boldness, the fact that she is a people person while Daria isn't, is one of Quinn's most attractive qualities.