Charles "Upchuck" Ruttheimer III,
Ms. Claire Defoe
Mr. O'Neill, inspired by a speaker at a teacher's conference, assigns his class the task of finding something they know they would fail at, then attempt to do it and record the outcome. The most shocking outcome, however, is Jane's attempt to become popular, which works too well when she decides she doesn't want to "come back."
At a statewide teachers' conference, Mr. O'Neill becomes inspired by a speaker's assertion that "failure is often a sign of impending success." He then instucts his students to find something they know they would fail at, and see whether or not they do. The assignment has a wide range of outcomes: Brittany thinks she'd fail at being unpopular, but ends up getting kicked off the cheerleading squad when she starts quoting world events; Kevin thinks he'd fail at sports, but gets kicked off the team when he intentionally starts making mistakes; Mack succeeds at failing to teach Kevin the three branches of government; Jodie suceeds at failing to get the summer off from all her community service jobs; Daria fails to get Quinn grounded from attending the mall fashion show, but winds up being stuck as her chaperone; and Jane succeeds too well in becoming part of the popular crowd. Her new "conventional" look shocks Daria, Tom, and Trent, but what rocks them even more is her proclamation that she doesn't want to go back; however, Jane quickly returns to her previous self when, while trying out for the cheerleading squad, it finally dawns upon her exactly what she's doing. In the end, Mack and Jodie help get Kevin and Brittany back on their respective teams, and Jane and Daria console a devestated Mr. O'Neill (shattered by the realization that his "wonderful" assignment backfired horribly)... with the added bonus of Daria convincing him to babysit Quinn during the mall fashion show.
Any assignment whose main goal is to fail on purpose should be seen for exactly what it is, as Daria and Jane concluded: a colossal waste of time. I would agree that sometimes people need to be brought down a peg by messing up big time (I think I did a rant on this subject, along the lines of "can anyone be too successful," but that's way off topic). However, setting oneself up for guaranteed failure is more than likely going to end up leading to depression, or at least a severe lack of confidence. This has got to be the dumbest piece of homework I've ever imagined, but, as I've seen a few people mention, I wouldn't be too surprised if stuff like this is being assigned in actual classrooms.
When Daria saw the Fashion Club walk by and proclaimed that "she knew what to fail at," or words to that effect, I thought that she was going to try to fail at being in that club (it turned out Jane's "project" came a bit closer). I thank the television gods that that course wasn't taken (it would have been too easy, not to mention vomit-inducing). However, this was one of the few times that what I thought would happen didn't happen.
Jodie and Mack seemed to be the best (or at least the quickest) at failing. Admittedly, Mack chose an easy one; I bet every other teacher at Lawndale knows that it's easier to teach a dead dog new tricks than teach Kevin anything. As for Jodie, I feel her pain. She really needs the summer off! If her parents are really that bad, they are setting themselves up for a rebellion. It's just a matter of time, now.
Jane is so unconventional that she would definitely fail at being conventional, right? Yeah, I'd think so too. But after scaring the heck out of her brother, best friend and significant other, she seemed to get into it. It really is easy for her to fit in, which may be why she chooses not to (besides the popular people she'd have to deal with). It took the chance of almost becoming a cheerleader to bring her back.
Daria's personal road to failure was right on track, until the plan produced some unwanted side effects. There was no way Quinn would really be grounded, and if she was then fine. It turned out that she did fail (that's good, I think) but ended up paying the price by having to money-sit Quinn. Fortunately, she (or more accurately, Jane) had a backup plan.
As for that plan, I can't help but think that Jane genuinely wanted to help Mr. O'Neill, but thought she needed Daria's help. So, she sort of made the promise to Daria that they could get Mr. O'Neill to do something for them (namely, take Daria's place following Quinn around for a day) if they helped him. It seemed to work well enough.
One of the ironies of the aforementioned assignment is how Mr. O'Neill actually went through with it without noticing. Of course, he wasn't trying to fail, but you'd think he'd at least be able to see what was happening. Hopefully (but I doubt it), he grew to learn that giving assignments like that isn't a good idea.
I had a kind of mixed reaction to this episode. It was good to see Daria back in the old-school form that the show was originally built on. You know, the way Daria would get screwed over for most of the episode and then marginally come out ahead at the end. We could probably use more episodes like this overall. Moving down the line, we have Jane, who flourished while trying to complete her assignment. She did get caught up in it and went a little too far by almost really trying out for cheerleading (I think that started as a joke for her own amusement). However, there were a lot of parts about this episode that kept it down. First, I'm starting to grow tired of the "ensemble" episodes that have, up to this point, been endemic of season four. While I probably shouldn't penalize "The F Word" for that, I'm going to anyway. The name of the show is Daria, not Lawndale High (just make sure you all say a prayer that Kevin and Brittany don't have prominent roles in every episode from here on out). The other problem I had was that most of the episode felt telegraphed to me. For instance, as soon as I saw the other cheerleaders sitting by themselves at Pizza King, I knew that somehow Jane was going to be asked to join the squad. Overall, could've been better, could've been a lot worse.
Daria as a Whole #1, Alter-Ego of the Week:
My favorite was momma bird Helen feeding baby bird Jakey. Also, Tom got his first alter-ego, so I guess he's not going anywhere (not that I want him to go).
Daria as a Whole #2, Fantasy:
This is the second time that Kevin and Jane have been hooked up in someone's mind (the first was in "Write Where it Hurts"). <fake outrage> Is this someone's idea of a sick joke? </fake outrage> Actually, it is sort of funny, but at the same time scary. Very scary.
Copyright © 2000 Mike Quinn [All Rights Reserved]. Used with permission. The views presented here are those of the author, and may or may not necessarily be those of Outpost Daria Reborn.