I can not say this was an impressive season. Far too much of the season was empty and substanceless. Not a single episode this season in the "Too Cute" or "Arts N Crass" mold, and "Legends of the Mall" had to be the most pointless episode of the series, rivaling even "Depth Takes a Holiday." There were several bad episodes, and some bad trends, but it wasn't a total disaster, as there were a couple good episodes.
This season really suffered from an attempt to address too many
characters in too short a time period. Kevin and Brittany were way
overused, but Brittany also got her best episode appearance ever in
"Groped by an Angel." They haven't changed at all all series, except
to get even more irritating.
I guess that one of the lessons of this season is to be careful what
you wish for. I wanted more exposure to Jodie's character, and did
not at all like what we saw. After "Partner's Complaint" she gets
some good lines, but that's about it except for making it obvious
that although Daria and Jane like/respect her a bit more than the
rest of their classmates, which is not the same as saying they're
friends. Unfortunately this makes "Partner's Complaint" even less
likable, but I'll be getting to that.
Quinn finally starts to actually think. Not much, and not for long
yet, and it technically happens after the season, but it does happen.
Before that she's as shallow as ever and gives Daria some good setup
lines. Unfortunately the main Quinn appearances were tied to undermining
Daria's character, especially as done in "Groped by an Angel." Quinn's
little brush with spirituality was meant as a nice family bonding
moment, but turned out as Daria spouting lame, potentially harmful
platitudes, and the entire episode serves as little more than an answer
to the "what's the harm?" question asked in the beginning.
Tom is exposed some this season, but mostly what he does is fight with Jane over little things. He is shown as smart and educated, but he's also got some very intermittent relationship skills. Of all the guys on the show, this is really the only one that could fit as Daria's first boyfriend, but the likelihood of them staying together long-term seems pretty slight.
Jane gets some good and some bad appearances, and what we mostly
find out about her is that she gets really jealous. This season definitely
shows her in a less favorable light than any other, as in addition
to her easy jealousy we see her insecurity (which she manages to hide
from everyone, even Daria), her relaxed ethics, her impulsiveness,
and her ability to lie to herself. This latter one is usually moderated
by Daria, but we have to fall back to Trent a couple times.
The worst trend of all this season involves Daria's crumbling ethics.
It starts off in "Partner's Complaint" and is highlighted a couple
of time later in the season, in "Mart of Darkness" and "Groped by
an Angel." This also ties in with the tacked-on Link subplot in "Is
It Fall Yet?" and the focus on character development. I have no problem
with character development, but what's been happening doesn't count.
Change is not the same as development, and this season has shown a
devolution of her character, especially as it regards ethics and morality.
I've seen this point somewhat brought up on some message boards, in
connection with the recurring theme of Daria being bribed into something
that's run through the show. The key point that's been missing is
that Daria never accepts a bribe in regards to something she's
objecting to on moral grounds. Everything she gets bribed into involves
an activity she dislikes, finds irritating, or considers a waste of
time. Once she develops a moral objection to it, she quits.
Overall, this season was funnier than third, but I don't think it
even quite matches it in quality, which is a very disappointing thing.
Aside from Daria's ethics the most troubling trend is the increasing
amount of filler, both full episodes and subplots within the episodes.
The show is really starting to look thin; the animation is better,
but the stories are much weaker, and they no longer seem willing to
do anything that challenges societal conventions. It just looks like
they mostly ran out of ideas during third season, didn't have enough
lead time on fourth to work up any plots other than the Daria/Jane/Tom
thread, but weren't willing to stop just yet. Hopefully fifth season
will contain better ideas that weren't developed in time to make this