|Through a Lens Darkly
|February 24, 1999
|Special Guest Voices
"Through a Lens Darkly" was the premiere episode of the third season of the Daria TV series (episode number 301). It first aired on MTV on February 24, 1999. Despite being the first episode in production for the third season, it was not the first episode aired. "Daria!," whose production number was episode 307, was aired one week prior on February 17, 1999. The episode was written by Glenn Eichler.
The title is a play on the phrase "through a glass, darkly", from 1 Corinthians 13:12.
Daria almost hits a dog when practicing her driving, revealing to Helen that she can’t see too well on the side, as her heavy glass frames block the vision. This prompts Helen to insist she try contact lenses, an idea Daria first scorns at, because past chats have taught her her mother thinks "if I get contacts I'll suddenly turn into the homecoming queen". Her mother, however, is able to turn Daria's argument back on her, agreeing people should accept Daria as she is "instead of seeing your glasses and jumping to some moronic conclusion based on ridiculous stereotypes and their own ignorance." ("Good one.")
Daria starts to think about trying contacts, but is worried when an unwitting Jane casually remarks how the glasses are part of Daria’s "persona": someone who doesn't care about their looks. That causes Daria to turn to Quinn (who has been waiting for this day): if she does start to show she cares about her looks a little bit, does this make her a hypocrite and invalidate many of her previous stances? This philosophical question causes physical pain for Quinn, so Daria translates it - but her sister, misunderstanding her sister’s problem launches in a long and useless speech describing everything Daria should change on her appearance, prompting the later to flee.
Finally, Daria phones and gets good advice from her glass-wearing aunt Amy, who points out that using contact lenses is no vanity, only an option to have a slightly different appearance. And it would also "set your parents back a couple hundred bucks". This sets Daria’s mind to visit an ophthalmologist and purchase them.
The next day Daria shows up at the Lane household wearing her lenses. After Jane moans several replies to the idea of leaving the house ("you're not really a morning person are you?"), Daria exposes her heart and says she hopes Jane doesn't think she hasn't sold out or compromised.
"No, I don't think anything like that. (peers at Daria again) Where are your glasses?"
After Jane is "more or less awake", Daria is relieved to find Jane doesn't think she's 'sold out'. She starts to get reactions from colleagues and teachers: Jane thinks she looks cool (but "either [way] works for me"). O’Neill and Ms. Li, after first failing to recognize her, are delighted and make enthusiastic comments, because they think she's trying to become more sociable, creating a new identity for herself, and "dropping that standoffish persona". An annoyed Daria protests that she only got them for driving, and is more annoyed when asked "so why are you wearing them now?". Later, Kevin and Brittany also compliment Daria’s new look - "you're, like, practically normal!". Daria snarks that she got them because "I wanted to fit in better" and is annoyed when Kevin believes her, so she snarks the glasses were making her too smart.
The contact lenses are irritating her eyes, so Daria takes them just as the school day ends, needing help from Jane to walk home as she didn't bring her glasses. On the way home, they run into Trent, who tells Daria "looks good" - causing her to blush. That night, Daria has a nightmare in which her reflections are warped as long as she wears glasses - when she wears contacts, she looks normal, but then suddenly turns monstrous and distorted.
The next day, with her eyes still sensitive, Daria decides not to put the contacts on... and also not to wear glasses. The resulting lack of vision causes her to keep bumping into colleagues in school. At lunch, a conversation with Kevin, who had decided to start wearing glasses to “be a little smarter” - but to avoid being too smart because "I like having friends", he took the lenses out - makes Jane realize Daria isn't wearing her contacts. She is pleasantly surprised when Daria admits it was out of sheer vanity and starts to tease her, causing Daria flees in self-disgust at being found out.
Jane and Jodie find Daria hidden in a stall in the bathroom and try to bring her out, pointing that a little vanity is nothing wrong and that Daria holds herself to a too high standard, but Daria refuses to leave, feeling ashamed and a hypocrite. It is Brittany that inadvertently brings her out when she comments that Daria admitting she cares a little about her appearance was brave, and makes the blond cheerleader feel less shallow and more at ease, "like we're not that different, just human, or whatever". Daria accepts that and leaves the stall. Jodie and Jane are struck at Brittany’s insight. Brittany takes out a pair of cheap glasses: "Wow! These things do work!"
Later that day Daria and Jane talk about glasses and appearances. Daria comments that she is confused and wants her glasses back: she says she knows her glasses mark her out as different but, more importantly for her, she thinks that she has the capacity to 'see' things better than most people "so to hell with them and what they think of you and your glasses". She says she prefers herself that way to caring about her appearance.
Unfortunately, Daria won't have all afternoon to figure out how to tell her mother she's dumping the contacts: Helen just arrived for an unscheduled driving lesson, right as a man is walking a group of dogs...
- Trent is listening to the song "Them Bones" by Alice in Chains in the Trentmobile as he drives past Daria and Jane (in the original MTV broadcasts and re-runs on The N).
- This episode was voted the best episode of Daria by fans in the Daria Tournament of Champions back in 2002-3.
- MTV's flipbook Filed Kingdom reveals the dog has a name: "His name is Pugsly and he's modeled after (Daria producer) Susie Lewis's pet bulldog."
- In the Beavis and Butt-Head episode "Spare Me" it is revealed that Daria knows how to change a flat tire, she probably was taught that at Highland High's Driving Ed class which appeared in the episode "Safe Driving", so it's possible that Daria had earlier experience with learning how to drive a car. Still it took her until "Speedtrapped" until she fully mastered it to the point that she got her license.
- This is the second appearance of Amy Barksdale, and the only time the inside of her home is shown.
- Outside of Quinn, Daria had rarely had her appearance attacked (to her face) at Lawndale High. Issues of Beavis and Butt-head, however, would have Beavis and Butt-head regularly making disparaging remarks, twice genuinely angering her.
- Daria was briefly sans glasses in several episodes prior to this, the episodes being "The Invitation","Road Worrier","Quinn the Brain" and "Ill", but her eyesight wasn't mentioned. Only in "That Was Then, This is Dumb" do we get a preview just how poor Daria's eyesight is. "There, that's better, now I can't see a thing."
- Coincidentally, this episode aired during the theatrical run of She's All That: a film centred around an unpopular, "unattractive" girl gaining popularity and happiness after having a makeover, including using contacts instead of glasses. (This is a recurring trope in American romantic comedies and teen dramas) Twelve years later, internet review The Nostalgia Chick would compare the episode with the film, finding both that Daria was a more believable misanthrope than All That's Laney and that Lens lacks the film's implications that conformity will lead to happiness.
- The book discussed in Mr. O'Neill class is The Prince and the Pauper, by Mark Twain.
Daria's Reading Material
"Through a Lens Darkly" and Fanfic
- Daria having issues with her appearance would prove fodder for many a fanfic.
- Several alternate universe fanfics have done alternate versions of this story, including Finn Morgendorffer.
- And in Wouter's story "Growing pains" Daria relates Jane's difficulty with a late growth spurt to her contact lens adventure citing that "Accepting vanity required small steps" with Jane going "Yes, yes, I can recall your 'Through a lens darkly' adventure."
On “Through a Lens Darkly” the Episode
- “Through a Lens Darkly” transcript
- Episode Analysis of Pierce Me and "Through A Lens Darkly" by WellTemperedClavier
Alternate-Universe Versions of “Through a Lens Darkly”
- The chapter Lessons of the John Lane series, by Richard Lobinske, focus on Daria and John practicing driving.
Alternate Canon Versions of “Through a Lens Darkly”