Monday, February 11, 2008

Daria's Killer Impulse

We all do impulsive things that we shouldn't: buying a chocolate bar while on a diet, speeding up when the light ahead turns yellow, forwarding chain letters, voting Republican in November 2000. What few of us ever do on impulse is try to kill someone, which Daria did in "Speedtrapped." Oh, sure, you can say she was just kidding around when she aimed her father's car at cute cowboy Travis by the side of the road, she wasn't really going to hit him, no harm done. Let's review the evidence. What exactly happened at the end of that episode?

We'll set the scene. The countryside is flat except for telephone poles and scrubby grass and rocks. Newly licensed Daria is driving, Quinn is riding shotgun in her cowgirl outfit, their mission to help Jane and Mystik Spiral has been accomplished. Daria, however, is still steamed over cute cowboy Travis taking Jane's $100, even if it was moron sister Quinn who willingly gave him the money for a bus ticket and a new gingham outfit. As they start the hours-long drive home, the siblings chat. The following dialog is from the episode transcript on Outpost Daria, with some tweaking based on my repeated views of the scene.
  • Daria: [calm] That was nice what you said, that we make a good team.
  • Quinn: [breezy] I guess sometimes being timid works just as well as being confident.
  • Daria: [irked tone] I'm not timid.
  • Quinn: [suddenly excited; leans out of car window, points, and cries out] Oh my gosh, look! It's Travis! [waves at Travis, who is standing with his suitcase on the two-lane highway, about 2-3 feet from the shoulder]
  • Daria: [low voice] Seriously, do you really think I'm timid?
  • Quinn: [still leaning out window, normal voice] Yes, but it doesn't matter. [shouts and waves at Travis in excitement] It's Travis!
  • Daria: [in a flat, decisive tone, speaking as if to herself] I'm not timid. [Daria's right foot pushes gas pedal almost to the floor, engine revs up as car accelerates]
  • Quinn: [back in her seat, looking anxiously at Daria] What are you doing? [looks at road ahead, eyes grow huge] Daria? [shrieks] Daria! [Travis sees car approaching and runs from highway; Quinn screams as car runs over Travis's suitcase; suitcase is smashed open and contents are scattered everywhere; Travis steps back on highway and looks at departing car with stunned expression]
  • Daria: [calm, watching road ahead as Quinn looks out rear window] Okay . . . now do you think I'm timid?
  • Quinn: [turns around, nervous look and tone] Um, no. Why don't we just put on some music and relax?
  • Daria: [flat voice] I'll pick the music.
  • Quinn: [very agreeable] Fair enough.
Well, there it is!

In the scene, Travis is clearly shown standing on the highway blacktop well into the lane itself. His suitcase is behind him but closer to the shoulder than he is. Daria would not have to do anything but stay in her lane to hit Travis or his suitcase. When the suitcase was struck, the car was as close to the right shoulder as it could get without running off the road. The elapsed time between the moment Travis lept from the road to the moment Daria hit his suitcase is about one second.

You can assume that Daria assumed Travis would get the hint and jump from the highway so she could hit only his suitcase. Or, you can assume she was pissed as hell and didn't care if she hit the suitcase, Travis, or both. In any event, Daria was one second from hitting Travis, and she made no effort to swerve and avoid him.

This is arguably the dumbest thing Daria ever did. It is also arguably the most evil thing she ever did, to almost kill a human being just to prove a point to her sister. Travis was at worst a moocher and didn't mind sweet-talking teenage girls out of some cash. (He didn't use the money for a bus ticket, obviously.) He didn't appear to be armed, drunk, violent, abusive, sexually aggressive, or anything other than a cheerful, good-natured, roguish hitchhiker with a guitar. He was certainly nicer than the pedophiles who appeared in "I Don't," "Lucky Strike," and The Daria Database. Daria did nothing at all to the minister who hit on Quinn at Erin's wedding. Maybe the thought that the lost money had belonged to Jane, her best and only friend, ramped up her rage.

What if Travis had been just a second too slow, was too surprised to move, or didn't believe she would really try to hit him?

The speed limit on two-lane country roads around the Chesapeake Bay area is 55 miles per hour. Daria accelerated before hitting the suitcase, so she could have been going 65-70 or faster. A sedan of the type Daria was driving weighs over 3,000 lbs., a ton and a half.

No point in doing the math for the kinetic energy that represents. It's blammo, baby. I can't believe the suitcase didn't fly a hundred feet or the car didn't flip over after running over a foot-thick obstacle at high speed, but that's cartoon physics for you. (LATE ADD: If Travis's suitcase was made of cardboard, which some cheap ones are, and he didn't have much clothing in it, then I can see the car smashing and flattening it without much difficulty.)

What does this little episode say about Our Heroine? Your turn to chime in. The Comments box is open.


legendeld said...

It could be said that maybe Daria like many people her age was unable to combine cause and effect. Thus the reality of how close she came to harming a person never occured to her.
It could also be said that she weighed the likely hood that a judge would send a model innocent young girl to jail for accidently running over a stranger.

Either way it stands out from what we would normaly consider Canon behavior.

E. A. Smith said...

I would say that Daria most likely planned to swerve out of the way if Travis didn't jump. However, as an inexperienced driver, she probably didn't have a feel for just how hard a large vehicle is to turn on a dime, and didn't think about how her velocity would carry her over him much faster than she could react (yes, Daria's smart, but there's a big difference between head knowledge and the kind of instinctive feel that experience brings). So, dumb? Absolutely. Evil? I don't think so.

Anonymous said...

BG here. Ms. Barch probably would put it best: 'You go, girl!' He took advantage of two teenage girls. he deserved to have a little fear 'o Thelma & Louise thrown into him, or rolled over him, as the case may be.

Dumb thing to do? Yes.

Deserved? Oh, yeah.

The moral of the story? Frak with Daria's best friend, and you may end up with a Firestone facial or a tattoo pattern seen usually only in NASCAR. :-)

the nightgoblyn said...

Suddenly I find myself remembering another episode, one that ends with Daria saying, "I can hit." As I recall she then closes the bedroom door, the viewer's last look in the room past her being a frightened looking Quinn.

Maybe some of these evil, psycho Daria stories aren't so far fetched?

The Angst Guy, not at home, said...

I can't help but wonder if, as she pressed down the accelerator, Daria remembered something Jane once said to her: Gonna work your way up to humans slowly?

The Angst Guy said...

Heed my warnings! Daria is evil! EEEE-VILLLLL!!!!

This message has been brought to you as a public service.

Anonymous said...

The video file that I have may be different, because I think the time elapsed between Travis starting to leap and Daria hitting his suitcase is closer to 3 seconds. There is also a cut and change in angle of view between Travis leaping and Daria flattening that suitcase, so the "actual" time difference between leap and smashing may be even longer.

I think that one reason why Travis started to move rather early is because he recognized the car and the girls or because this wasn't first time somebody accelerated for him.

Still dumb thing to do though.

It looked to me that Daria's problems with driving were more about attitude rather than actual skills in that episode, but her inexperience combined with that target practice could still have caused casualties with a less swift target.

I'm not sure about the minister in "I don't", but I think that Daria wasn't in most of the scenes he was in. That could explain her lack of reaction. Also possible is that Daria didn't react because she thought that Quinn wasn't in any real danger because of her skills with guys and a large number of potential witnesses. All the minister did was talk about "love" and Rita had asked him to officiate despite knowing his problems with "love", so Daria didn't have much to act about.

In "Lucky Strike" Daria did the most efficient, maximum results with least effort, thing she could do when she heard Quinn tell about substitute teacher.

In my opinion Daria isn't evil but can rarely be impulsively nasty and dangerous with right stimulus.
Most of her opponents end up suffering one of her observations or money loss and low level humiliation.

Anonymous said...

Check the B&B episode "Incognito" where she calmly acts as spotter so that the biology class can return fire on the kid who just shot at them.The wider point being that violence was so common that they just went back to the lesson as soon as the exchange was over.Other examples from B&B include her suckering two mentally disabled kids into paying hundreds of dollars on her behalf.