The Other Side of The Kiss
An Examination of the Infamous "Love Triangle"
by Kara Wild

Daria has been gone for nearly a year, and still we get wound up over the Tom Sloane Controversy. His merits as a character, the way he and Daria got together, or whether his mere presence harmed key dynamics on the show.

One of the most recent discussions on concerned the infamous kiss in "Dye! Dye! My Darling." I have always believed that Daria and Tom's attraction to each developed too quickly between "I Loathe a Parade" (406) and "Dye! Dye! My Darling" (413), making it seem as if they had barely begun liking each other before they were sticking their tongues down each others' throats. As a result, I could never fully accept that the attraction was natural, that it had grown organically instead of being pushed along by writers who wanted us to accept Tom Sloane as Daria's boyfriend.

Still, I had never wondered until that discussion whether the true reason I did not accept the pairing was because there was no attraction between Daria and Tom. You read right: there was no mutual attraction between Daria and Tom.

To clarify, let me say I believe Tom was attracted to Daria as early as "I Loathe a Parade," if not sooner. Also, that the show's writers and producers wanted us to believe things were heating up between them. During the "Behind the Scenes" special that accompanied the Season Four premiere, one of the producers admitted that Daria would be in a "relationship." Then when ILAP came along weeks later, the song they played at the end was "I Know There's Something Going On." Nevertheless, Daria was not attracted to Tom, at least not until "Fire!" if even then. She did not think of him as a potential boyfriend until after The Kiss.

Still, you might ask: if the writers believed there was a relationship, who are we to question them? They were the ones who guided the show. That may be, but that doesn't mean everything they sought to convey came across on screen. Otherwise, there would have been no debate over Tom's merits as a boyfriend, and we would have seen Kevin and Brittany as worthy of the attention shoveled at them in Season Four. Since what we see on screen is often so different, we can argue that a character displayed behavior that flies in the face of what the writers wanted. In this case, I will argue that Daria never saw Tom as a love interest before "Is It Fall Yet?", and that themes from Season Four designed to help Daria instead made the situation worse.

Past "Romances"

By now, to say that Daria did not like sharing her feelings would be cliche. No "I love you"'s passed this cynic's lips during the show's five-year run. Even so, Daria left plenty of clues that showed her true feelings. For instance, in "Too Cute," she put aside her animosity with Quinn and told her she looked "perfect" even without cosmetic treatment. In "See Jane Run," she assured a remorseful Jane, "You came out of kindergarten knowing more than Kevin." In "Daria!", she feared that her parents were worried about her, and in "Ill," she mumbled to them, "Thanks for being there for me," before leaving quickly.

Yet during the crucial episodes leading to DDMD, when Daria was supposedly feeling her first tingles of attraction to Tom Sloane, we saw nothing. Nothing beyond friendship and good-natured camaraderie, that is. One could argue that this time Daria had something to lose by showing she cared: her friendship with Jane. She was so aware of the moral ramifications, she could not admit her crush to Jane or herself. That explanation would make sense, had she not been in similar situations where her feelings posed a threat to her self-image and worldview, and was rather lesssuccessful at hiding her true feelings.

Liking Trent Lane, for instance, may not have jeopardized a friendship, but it was hardly a risk-free venture. As Daria's first recorded crush, it put her in a position of vulnerability at a time when everything she said and did showed a need to maintain total control. Outright rejection by the older, cooler Trent could have been as tough a blow for Season One Daria as losing Jane in Season Four; therefore, Daria did not seem especially keen to confess her feelings. Jane and the audience still knew, though, because Daria could not help blushing around Trent, or losing track of her words around him, or secretly fantasizing about him, or doing stupid things in his presence.

In "The New Kid," Daria may not have had anything to lose from a relationship with Ted DeWitt-Clinton, but she still told anyone who would listen that she and Ted were not going out. Even so, she betrayed her interest in Ted by reading up on Goya after learning he was a fan, and speaking of Ted in soft, sweet tones that by Episode 207, we had rarely heard from her. "He's just very honest and ethical and I shouldn't have been so mean," Daria lamented at one point.

Yet with Tom, there was nothing. No behavior before "Dye! Dye! My Darling" to indicate that Daria's feelings toward him were not what she said they were: "Okay, I don't hate him so much anymore, but that's not exactly an affair to remember." If The Kiss was supposed to show that Daria's true feelings could not be denied, why was there absolutely nothing beforehand? Even if Daria denied everything to Jane, to herself, would she really have been able to suppress a blush? A stray thought about Tom? A slip of the tongue to a member of her family about "just something Tom said," prompting "Oh? Who's Tom?" "Just some guy." Even if Daria tried to fight against it, could she have concealed everything when she was so unsuccessful in the past?

"I Loathe a Parade" and the Episodes Pre-"Fire!"

When people point to signs of Daria and Tom's growing attraction, almost all of it seems either one-sided (Tom's attraction to Daria) or so ambiguous it borders on wistful thinking. Take "I Loathe a Parade." Daria at first showed overt hostility toward Tom, narrowing her eyes as she said his name. Then little by little she lightened up, trading wisecracks with him as they dodged the parade goers. But it was Tom who seemed to draw heavier, more innuendo-laced conclusions from their time together. Watching a parade float go up in flames, Tom told Daria, "Thanks for getting lost in the moment with me." Daria responded, "Um, you're welcome?", which was pretty much her reaction whenever Tom made any such statements. In "Dye! Dye! My Darling," when Tom tried to draw some deeper meaning from their time at the parade, Dari cut him off and returned the conversation to Jane. Given that their adventure at the parade took place mostly in real time, and that much of it was spent dodging people, looking for Tad Gupty, and getting stuck on parade floats, it's hard to think what meaningful things Daria and Tom could have talked about. Tom tried to get Daria to "embrace the horror" and talked of Jane getting too caught up in her artwork, but otherwise nothing stood out.

Many have pointed to the end scene, when Tom looked back at a miserable Daria covered with paint, as a sign that Daria was falling in love with him and sad to see him go. But then again, maybe it's because Daria was all covered in paint and feeling icky. At my high school senior breakfast, I got beaned in the head with a quiche, tossed by some careless peer like the ones having the paint fight in ILAP. Even though I knew it was an accident, I still felt rotten. Daria also could have been sad to see Tom go... because she had had a nice time, and was sorry for the afternoon to end on this sour note. In any case, this was not the moment where Daria's attraction to Tom was as plain as day.

One could argue that it started with ILAP, though, had we been given some sign that Daria was affected by the outing. "Of Human Bonding" onward provided many occasions for Daria, alone in her room, to have a sudden thought about Young Thomas, or to finger some paint-covered piece of clothing that she had salvaged from the special day as a reminder. Or, against her better judgement, to look up information on Fielding Prep the same way she consumed Goya in "The New Kid." One of my fellow fans believes that Daria showed her attraction to Tom when she watched him wiggle his ass on the computer screen in "Psycho Therapy," but to me, that moment was too ambiguous to count. In fact, it revealed nothing. Daria watched Tom with the same voyeuristic pleasure/pain as she watched Jane floss her teeth and Trent scratch his butt. "A little wider. We can't see all your fillings," she told Jane. For Trent: "Don't pick your nose, don't pick your nose." For Tom: "Oh God, this is too painful." When Daria watched Tom, there was no half smile or twinkle in her eye; she seemed genuinely embarrassed for him.

In "Mart of Darkness" and "Groped By an Angel," an unexpected blush on Daria's cheeks at the mention of Tom's name might have revealed that Jane's relationship was in far worse shape than she realized. Still... nothing.

What is clear is that the events in "I Loathe a Parade" had an effect on Tom. Next time they met on screen, in "Fire!," he acted almost ecstatic to see her. "Hi, Daria!" he said, like a puppy happy to see its master. Later, he sought Daria out to talk with her. Then in "Dye! Dye! My Darling," after a worried Daria called up Tom to ask about Jane, Tom complained about Jane and made the afore-mentioned references to the parade. Whether or not Daria and Tom had shared anything, Tom believed they did. If Tom were always so obvious in his attraction to Daria, it's no surprise that Jane would pick up on it.

A final argument could be made that Daria did blush and show signs of attraction to Tom, but all off screen because showing it would have taken too much time or have robbed the story arc of needed suspense. Nonsense. If we're supposed to accept that, then the writers did not do their jobs. It's one thing to hint at Stacy or Helen's background without going into much depth, since they were supporting characters whose lives did not carry the show. But Daria's supposed growing attraction to Tom presented major challenges to the current dynamics and to the future of the show itself. It should have been front and center, not hidden away in some contrived attempt at "suspense." I would prefer to think that the writers were clumsy, that they thought they had left enough hints in ILAP, than that they showed such poor judgement.

So what do we have? Up until "Fire!", we know that Daria did not hate Tom. She may have even liked him. But anything more is based entirely on speculation.

"Fire!" and "Dye! Dye! My Darling"

Now let's look at "Fire!" Jane learned that Daria had had off screen contact with Tom, leaving a message on his answering machine about an arthouse film which was to her and Tom's taste, but not Jane's ("Best nap I ever had."). Jane became jealous, and displayed it by first acting edgy when Daria came over to her house, then by pulling Tom out of Penny's room after settling Daria in for the night. In a later scene, Tom came into Penny's/Daria's room where Daria was reading and they had a long, enjoyable, intellectual discussion that caused both to lose track of time until Jane popped in on them. Daria turned to watch them go with a thoughtful expression, perhaps showing interest in or fondness for Tom, or perhaps pleasure that she finally found an intellectual match.

Why couldn't it be a sign of budding friendship as much as attraction? Daria at some point must have thought about having another friend, and knowing that someone close to her (friend's boyfriend) was an intellectual equal could have filled her with pleasure and relief. Tom already had his "place," so she could talk with him without worrying about unpredictable results. She did talk and laugh with him and have a good time, but she also did with Jodie in "Gifted." Jodie and Daria even had their own ILAP-like adventures at Grove Hills Academy, and came away with a good laugh and renewed respect for one another. Given that Jane was so possessive of Tom in the final episodes of Season Four, it is almost surprising that she was never more threatened by the idea of Daria having another friend.

In any case, Love Triangle convention demanded that Jane see Daria and Tom's rapport as an obvious sign that they had designs on one another. Shortly after finding them in conversation, Jane began acting jealous of Daria for Tom's attention toward her and her supposed reciprocation (via the call on the answering machine). I presume this was the only time Jane had heard of Daria initiating something with Tom, since this was the only example she brought up. Daria tried to assure Jane that his visit to Penny's room could have been for innocent reasons (Jane too busy with a whirring drill), but Jane seemed less concerned by what Daria and Tom had done than by what they could do. She told Jodie (paraphrasing), "Then he and Daria spend all this time talking about all the stuff they've read," indicating that what really bothered her was that they were intellectual equals and therefore could be better suited for each other than she and Tom. No sooner did Jane start acting jealous than Trent got involved, telling Daria (paraphrasing), "Guys can always tell when another guy is into someone." Daria retorted, "I think I would know if Tom were into me, and he's not." Trent: "Even so, nobody ever said you meant for it to happen." Daria may have been mistaken about Tom's feelings toward her, but bottom line: it was Tom's feelings for Daria Trent picked up on, not hers for Tom. Between Jane's assumptions and Trent's fatalism, the Tom situation came across as out of Daria's control, putting her in a position that she never wanted to be in. That Daria could ever steer her own fate seemed irrelevant.

That brings us to The Kiss episode, "Dye! Dye! My Darling." By the beginning, Jane's paranoia was such that she had gone from fuming over Daria's message on Tom's answering machine to thinking that Daria and Tom were making out behind her back! "Come on!" Daria responded appropriately. In spite of Daria's reasonable assertion in "Fire!" that she shouldn't be blamed for Jane's relationship woes, Jane seemed determined to force a confession out of Daria. What followed was one of the chilliest conversations ever between the Partners in Crime:

JANE: I thought, you know, maybe you were a little jealous of me and Tom and you felt like you had to...

DARIA: What?!

JANE: Just a teensy little bit, and it's okay. Believe me, I'm sure if I were in your position...

DARIA: What position? What are you talking about? How can you accuse me of being jealous of you and Tom?

JANE: Hey, are we doing the hair here or not? I just mean the way you're always... "accidentally" barging in on us and just "happening" to find yourself alone with him. I know you don't mean anything by it, so don't worry about it.

DARIA: Don't worry about it?! You accuse me of having some kind of designs on your boyfriend and you tell me don't worry about it?

JANE: Hair! (Daria yanks on her hair.) Ow!

DARIA: Sorry.

JANE: Maybe we'd better talk about this later.

DARIA: There's nothing to talk about. You're delusional.

A fan once pointed out that in "Partner's Complaint," Daria and Jane talked as if they'd known each other for a month. To me, that's how this conversation reads. Jane ought to have realized that while Daria had been jealous of her before, her way of coping was to mope and act passive-aggressive, as in "See Jane Run" and "Jane's Addition." Why would Jane suddenly think that Daria would put any attraction to Tom ahead of their friendship, when Daria had done nothing of the kind before? What teenage soap operas was Jane watching? It's as if Jane thought Daria had become someone else.

As for Daria's response to Jane's accusation, it was very strong. While fans might sift through ambiguous moments to find examples of Daria's attraction to Tom, there was nothing ambiguous here. Daria was surprised, shocked, and angry. She was completely up front with her feelings about Jane's accusation. If anything, Jane seemed to be the one who avoided her feelings in the past two episodes -- dodging Daria in the school hallway in "Fire!", then coming up with the hair dyeing scheme instead of just telling her friend how she felt.

That brings us to The Kiss scene. Parked out in front of the Morgendorffer house, Tom invited Daria into his car to discuss their "situation." Shortly after Daria told him that he screwed up the one good friendship she'd ever had, Tom leaned over and kissed her. Immediately after, Daria did the: "Dammit! Dammit! Dammit! Dammit!" Tom: "I liked it, too." Daria: "That's not funny!" A pause, and then this time, Daria and Tom leaned over at the same time to kiss each other for several more seconds. Tom: "That was definitely not funny." Daria: "I gotta go!" And she left immediately, while Tom watched after her with a look that could have been fondness, but definitely wasn't shock or regret.

Yet Daria did kiss Tom voluntarily. Could this have been certifiable proof that Jane wasn't wrong and Daria really was attracted to Tom all along, only she was in complete denial of it. Or...

When Tom kissed Daria the first time, it happened very fast. No sooner did Daria realize what was happening than she was gripped with horror. "I liked it to," Tom said, but in Daria's case, did she even have time to like it? Tom knew he was going to kiss her, but for Daria it was completely unexpected. It could be that the second time around, Daria kissed Tom because 1) she had never really been kissed by a guy before (Trent's peck included) and wanted to feel what it was like, and 2) she knew that having sinned with Tom once, there was no going back. A third reason, a bit shakier, but possible, is that Daria was so stunned by the whole thing, she didn't even realize what she was doing when she went back for seconds.

Still, Daria going to kiss Tom did put her in the "blame" and "betrayal" category. Jane now had a concrete reason to be upset with her. At the same time, it still was not a positive indication that Daria was satisfying emotions repressed since ILAP. For one thing, while Tom may have been pleased by the kiss, Daria did not express one bit of happiness. Never at any time did she appear to savor the memory of her first real kiss, only to realize: "Oh my God, he was my best friend's boyfriend!" Nope, from the time Daria left the car, through the rest of the episode, it was misery and more misery. She was so acutely aware of her sin that she blurted it out to Jane almost at first opportunity. From there, Daria continued to disavow wanting anything to do with Tom, even in a conversation with Helen when she made a rare confession of vulnerability. A talk with her mother, a neutral party, would have been the perfect time for Daria to admit that maybe she kinda-sorta was interested in dating Tom, and had been since the parade, but oh, what a horrible thing to do to Jane. But still, nothing. Deep denial on Daria's part, or could this be how she genuinely felt?

The notion of Daria dating Tom did not even come up until Jane mentioned it. Jane, as if trying to dictate the course of events the way Tom did when he told her they were about to break up, practically insisted that Daria and Tom go out, because "Tom and you makes more sense than Tom and me." Quite odd: throughout their last scene together in DDMD, Daria just reacted to whatever Jane said, like someone experiencing a car crash. Jane told Daria she could go ahead and date Tom. Jane told Daria that she and Tom were well-suited for one another. Jane told Daria that she was the lady and the tiger, as though Daria had secretly schemed for all this. When Daria asked about the status of their friendship, Jane informed her "We're the kind of friends who can't stand the sight of each other." Jane dictated the terms. Jane wouldn't listen to Daria. Jane wouldn't acknowledge that Daria might have been sincere when she said there would be no The Kiss, Part Two. Have I mentioned that I don't like Jane very much in this episode?

Because of the way Jane laid it all on Daria, I have trouble believing that she was somehow granting Daria's secret wish to date Tom. If anything, this came across as Jane's attempt to avoid any more terrible shock or pain. She undoubtedly viewed The Kiss as a confirmation of the fears she'd had all along, whereas Daria might have viewed it quite differently. The Kiss may very well have been... a kiss. A fit of hormones and no more. Except now, Jane had announced that her friendship with Daria hung by a thread, that she not only "hated" Daria, but that she "[couldn't] stand the sight" of her. So Daria found herself without the comfort of her Partner in Crime for the first time in three years. As a poster on pointed out, once deprived of friendship, Daria could not do "alone" very well. "See Jane Run" revealed her to be constantly moping and talking to herself, and Jane wasn't even upset with her for most of that time. Jane's anger here, partially justified, sent Daria into an unprecedented dark place.

The final scene of DDMD showed Daria lying on her bed, staring at the ceiling in contemplation. Only the ringing phone could snap her out of it, and the last lines of the episode were "Daria? It's Tom." Duh-duh-duhhhhhh.

Now the thing is, we don't have a clue what transpired in that conversation. Only two things are clear -- that several weeks later, Tom was Daria's "guy I'm dating" and that Tom initiated the conversation. This might have been a simple consolation phone call, followed by a tough-luck get-together, and the real dating might not have begun until a few weeks later. Jane, herself, might have called up Tom and pushed him to talk to Daria, much as she did in reverse when she and Daria last got together. What definitely is not clear is whether Tom simply said, "Hey Daria, now that it's okay to date, do you want to?" followed by Daria's "Sure!" Had Tom not initiated contact, Daria might have never spoken to him again.

So what can we surmise? Daria and Tom did have an intellectual chemistry. Daria seemed to enjoy kissing Tom that second time in the car. Tom seemed to really like Daria, while Daria did not hate Tom. Beyond that is nothing more than speculation. Certainly before The Kiss, there was no hard evidence that Daria had a secret thing for Tom. It is not even clear that Daria had a thing for him after The Kiss, before "Is It Fall Yet?". All that is clear is that she enjoyed it. But otherwise, kissing Tom might have been the equivalent of a one-night stand.

That leads one to ask: if Daria did not have a thing for Tom before The Kiss, why else would she have gone out with him? Perhaps it was because she did not have Jane as her usual rock of support, whereas Tom liked her and wanted to spend time with her. In her vulnerable position, she might have found that a great source of comfort. Furthermore, Daria might have realized that she had a rare opportunity to experience a "normal life" through dating. It was not often that guys sought her out, especially intelligent, funny guys like Tom. Even if she and Jane made up, things between them might never be the same; why stay in the past when the future looked brighter?

These are viable explanations, but looking closely at Season Four, and taking into account Jane's, Tom's, and even Trent's behavior, another possibility arises. Daria went out with Tom because she let herself be persuaded into thinking she was attracted to him all along.

Season Four: Give People a Chance

The notion that Daria could be talked into believing anything seems absurd. The girl with the iron-clad beliefs who could spy bullshit a mile away? Yet during Season Three and especially Season Four, this happened repeatedly. Season Four was Daria's season of self-questioning and self-doubt, when she tried to see the world from other people's perspectives.

It began with "Partner's Complaint," where Daria criticized Jodie's hypocrisy for using her dad's name shortly after complaining that she wanted to succeed on her own merits. Jodie fired back with, "Hey, our assignment was to get a loan, not save the world.... And if I happened to depart from your black-and-white world of ethics... and wandered into a gray area, then too bad. Maybe the first guy was a racist, maybe not. Maybe I was right. Maybe I overreacted. Hey, you wouldn't be working with me if you weren't fighting with Jane. Does that make you a racist?" Obviously not used to hearing an intelligent opposing argument, Daria could not stay on offense, and instead reacted to Jodie for the rest of the conversation. Jodie presented her behavior as something which could be viewed in many different ways, none of them necessarily The Right Way. She outright stated that Daria's point of view was too narrow before finally leaving Daria alone to chew on this in her room. Later, when Helen came to check on her, they had the following exchange:

DARIA: Do you think I'm a rigid, unrealistic, unforgiving self-righteous jerk who can't hold on to a friend?

HELEN: [Jodie] didn't say anything like that.

DARIA: But, do you?

HELEN: Daria, you have strong beliefs and you want to live by them. That's not a fault or a character flaw. It's admirable; it's what makes you who you are.

DARIA: Jodie didn't think so.

HELEN: Jodie is a little more pragmatic than you are. She didn't appreciate being criticized for it.

DARIA: I don't blame her.

HELEN: And since she's pragmatic, she also knows that the fact that someone's having a bad day doesn't make them a bad person.

DARIA: What about someone with a pattern of alienating people with her self-righteous pronouncements?

HELEN: People aren't as easily alienated as you think, Daria. Ask Jane. She'll tell you.

Many aspects of this conversation set the tone for Season Four. Daria was tired of sticking to her moralistic point of view, and worried that it would cost her any future friends. Helen complimented her conviction, but rather than add that Daria was right to criticize Jodie, she described Jodie as "more pragmatic." By doing so, she followed Jodie's lead in painting people's points of view and behavior in shades of grey. She also reminded Daria that even when people sin, others are not so rigid that they will hold it against them forever. Daria seemed to take this conversation to heart, as shown by her failing to mention Jodie's namedropping in their economics presentation, and during the later exchange after class. Jodie: "Listen, I shouldn't have bitten your head off either. I'm sorry about that." Daria : "Don't worry about it. I was tired of that head anyway."

Thus began a whole new Daria approach to other people. While there were still the traditional episodes like "Antisocial Climbers," where Daria and Jane stood back and criticized everyone around them, the majority of Season Four episodes consisted of Daria trying to see other peoples' points of view and work with them on their terms.

"A Tree Grows in Lawndale" - Whereas Daria from Seasons One through Three might have criticized the town's foolish fixation on high school football, Season Four Daria tried to bolster Kevin's self-esteem, even though the method would not have directly resulted in him playing football again.

"The 'F' Word" - This episode was not strictly about Daria, but it carried on the themeof other people's perspectives having more weight. We got to see the trials of Kevin, Brittany, Jane, Jodie, and more.

"Of Human Bonding" - Here, Daria took pity on her father and accompanied him on a business trip. We got to see more from Jake's perspective and learned that Daria wished she could communicate with him better. The episode climaxed with Daria giving in to Jake's pleas to go balloon riding with him, even though she knew it would be a bad idea.

"Psycho Therapy" - At the end of this episode, Helen got upset and ran out of a therapy session. Daria found her on the brink of tears, then reassured her that she was a good mother and human being. Whether Daria believed her own words, we don't know. Certainly Daria from the earlier seasons, in a different setting, would have found much to criticize about Helen's uneven parenting methods. In this episode, Daria seemed to acknowledge them, but act more accepting.

"Groped By An Angel" - In an episode with a similar outcome to "Partner's Complaint" and "Psycho Therapy," Quinn started believing in guardian angels, while Daria found the idea foolish and narcissistic. Helen then reminded her that there was nothing wrong with Quinn for believing differently, and that Daria ought to practice more tolerance. When Daria found Quinn in tears after her angel "deserted" her, Daria did a turn-around and assured Quinn that it was okay for her to believe in guardian angels, that people should believe in "whatever makes them feel best."

That brings us to "Fire!" and "Dye! Dye! My Darling." It is ironic that Give People a Chance, a mantra that was supposed to help Daria by expanding her horizons, may have led her to do something harmful to her friendship. In the case of "Fire!" and DDMD, Daria gave Jane, Trent, and Tom the chance to convince her she felt something for Tom when she may not have.

We have already seen how Daria had trouble holding her own against opponents like Jodie, who were well-spoken and believed strongly in their own arguments. Jane in the final two episodes of Season Four definitely fell into that category. She insisted repeatedly that Daria had a thing for Tom, that Daria and Tom made sense together. This was followed by Trent, who insisted that "guys can always tell" when there is chemistry between two people. Daria told him it was all horsepucky, but true to Season Four form, seemed to take his and Jane's comments to heart, so much so that she looked disturbed in the final scene. Then came Tom, who by The Kiss scene was already treating Jane like someone from his past. He stated emphatically, that he and Jane "went out for a while and got bored. It happens all the time," before moving to kiss Daria. Right after the first kiss, he assumed by Daria's reaction that she had enjoyed it as much as he.

Against three people confident of their own perspectives, two of whom were good friends, anyone would have a hard time. Yet Daria in Season Four seemed especially vulnerable. After questioning her beliefs in a number of episodes, Daria was in no position to confidently brush off their assumptions. Instead, after the initial round of denial, she did the same as in other Season Four episodes: internalized other people's arguments, questioned her own values, and wound up agreeing with or at least appeasing those with whom she disagreed. That would explain why Daria did not insist more strongly in the last scene of DDMD that she had no interest dating Tom and would not do so no matter what Jane thought. "I thought we were going to talk about you! At least I think that's what I thought," she told Jane weakly. Yes, The Kiss alone was enough to shake Daria up and make her doubt herself, but had no one said anything about Daria liking Tom beforehand, she might have recovered more quickly. Instead, we had the scene at the end of DDMD where a confused and guilty Daria let Jane dictate what was what.

That does not mean Jane, Trent, and Tom were correct. Jane may have been projecting her own impulsive tendencies when she accused Daria of swooping down on Tom. After all, in "Jane's Addition," Jane and Tom had talked for barely two minutes before Jane agreed to ride with Tom in his car. Soon after, Tom was Jane's boyfriend. As for Tom, post after post has pointed out his numerous blindspots in Seasons Four and Five. Among them, his inability to see Daria's lingering guilt over The Kiss and his presumption that Daria should turn down a scholarship because of its impure moralistic origin ("Prize Fighters") when he, himself, was unwilling to turn down a legacy ride into Bromwell ("Is It College Yet?").


To sum up: unlike with Trent and Ted, Daria displayed no overt signs of romantic interest in Tom prior to The Kiss, or even after The Kiss until "Is It Fall Yet?" Tom, however, displayed more overt signs of interest in Daria from "I Loathe a Parade" onward. Tom and Jane's relationship was in trouble, and when Tom mentioned Daria, Jane jumped to the conclusion that something romantic was going on between them, in spite of no strong evidence. Daria denied it, but since she was learning to consider other people's perspectives, she was feeling less certain of her own point of view, and thus of her own motives. She eventually began dating Tom in "Is It Fall Yet?", possibly because she did grow to like him, or because she needed companionship in Jane's absence, or because her experiences in Season Four made her just believe she liked Tom. The fact remains, though, that she exhibited almost no interest in him as a romantic crush prior to The Kiss, which seems very strange even if you accept the theory that she was in total denial of her feelings. At most, Daria showed a liking for Tom... but those few instances do not necessarily point to romance. If they were supposed to, that risks the stereotype that men and women with common interests can never be just friends.

Daria continued to go out with Tom through Season Five. She may have done so because she enjoyed his company, but another reason seemed to be self-blame. A subtle message laid on her in "Is It Fall Yet?" was that if her relationship failed, it was her fault because she and Tom were oh-so compatible and only Daria's closed-in nature could botch things up. But that's for a Daria the Bad Puppy essay sometime off in the future.

A part of Daria may have known, though, that she and Tom were not meant to be, because in Season Five their relationship never seemed to shift out of first gear. In fact, by Episode 9, Daria and Tom's relationship seemed to be in as poor shape as Jane and Tom's was by Episode 9 of Season Four.


Special thanks to Roger E. Moore for beta-reading this essay, Martin Pollard for the Daria episode transcripts, and especially the people who frequent the message boards and Without our discussions, I doubt I would have had such rich material to work with.