S1 E17: A Midwinter Night’s Dream

FDs1e17-01Airdate: February 10, 1994
Director: David Lee
Writers: Chuck Ranberg, Anne Flett-Giordano

(episode transcript)

Opening thoughts:
Some series commit to a romantic connection between characters and find themselves toppling in mid-air over a toothy, salt-water predator. Others plot it out, center legitimate story and character elements over it, take a chance, and find a dash of luck, I guess. Frasier is an example of the latter, and this is the episode that initiates the transition in earnest. I’m talking, of course, about the inevitable courtship of Niles and Daphne.

This isn’t the first time I’ve sat through the whole Frasier canon– I binged it a couple of winters ago. Even as we frame it negatively by definition, gleefully indicting clichés and nonsense in the format and narrative and decrying the largely psychotic behavior of its characters, I hope the fact that I’m bothering to examine it this carefully speaks to its appeal, and the Niles/Daphne element might very well be where we find that appeal– it may be the only reason I watch Frasier at all (outside of Midwestern hotel rooms, of course).

Our episode synopsis:
Open at Cafe Nervosa. Niles orders a non-fat half-caff double cappuccino with cinnamon. Before Frasier orders, Daphne enters. She is getting coffee beans for the apartment. The waiter, Eric, flirts confidently and elaborately, calmly offering repeated executions of coffee-related double entendre, all of which Daphne happily welcomes. They both go to the register to ring her up for the beans, Eric not having taken Frasier’s order at all.

Daphne stops again at the table on her way out; announces that she has made a date with Eric for that coming Saturday. Niles is shell-shocked and can barely conceal his discomfort as Daphne expresses her excitement. She exits.

Niles claims he is upset only because Eric is a “community college type,” but clearly, Niles means to take ownership of Daphne’s would-be affections. Thus, for the first time, his infatuation with her is discussed outright on the show. Frasier voices his concern that, while it initially seemed like a harmless crush, Niles’ obsession has had obvious effects on his behavior. Frasier reminds Niles that he is married; suggests that there may be a lack of physical affection or a communication issue that Niles and Maris ought to address.

Scene 2: Untitled
Frasier arrives in the control room at KACL. He asks Roz how she is. Visibly upset, she asks if he actually wants to know; he outright specifies that he is just “making conversation” (I’ve never been quite sure what sort of definition of “conversation” this expression is meant to uphold, but there you go).
FDs1e17-03In the next breath, Frasier asks Roz to give him bedroom advice (on Niles’ and Maris’ behalf). Roz is happy to help. Her suggestion is fantasy role play meant to convey to the woman that the man is a powerful, capable lover.

We never find out what Roz was upset about, hence this scene was apparently meant to explicitly convey that Frasier takes Roz’s friendship for granted– yet it doesn’t address that either, so I’m not sure what to think. In a perfect world, Roz’s advice would have some element of sabotage as Frasier’s comeuppance, but perhaps fate will serve it to him cold. She’s certainly more at peace with herself than he is, so maybe that’s part of it. It seems that each episode in some way maintains Frasier’s character as a how-not-to primer for relationships.

Scene 3: Ahoy Matey
(Oh, incoherence. We have to do this more often.)FDs1e17-04It’s the middle of the night at the apartment. The doorbell rings. The lights go on; Frasier emerges from his bedroom in his pajamas and robe. He gets the door. It’s Niles, who explains that Maris has kicked him out. Oh– Niles is also wearing a pirate costume.
FDs1e17-05(It’s the nineties, am I right?)

Martin enters and simply says “I don’t want to know.” Niles’ exposition tells us that he hid in the closet and left a treasure map for Maris to find him. He also specifies that he was only wearing his eye patch at the time.
FDs1e17-06Anywho, it was not Maris, but the maid, who found Niles naked in the closet. Maris returned presently, and– well, what would you think? Martin tells Niles he can stay at the apartment that night; assures him that it’ll blow over. Martin exits. Frasier gets bedding for Niles. As he settles in on the couch, Niles explains that he never cries.

Frasier goes to bed and turns the lights out. Daphne returns from her date, kisses Eric goodnight, and goes to her room without noticing Niles. Comically, Niles generously jams our contrast receptors, weeping under the covers.
FDs1e17-08Scene 4: Untitled
Martin and Frasier are at the breakfast table. Daphne is refilling coffee. She says that she may be falling for Eric.
FDs1e17-09Niles enters; exposits that Maris has gone to Arizona to book some time at her favorite “coping” spa. Daphne mentions Eric again. Niles screams, protesting that she’s always talking about Eric.

Frasier suggests couples therapy. Martin scoffs at that and prescribes flowers and a home-cooked dinner. Daphne offers to help cooking. She begins to explain that she has a date with Eric that night and actually masks his name by awkwardly adding another syllable to “Eric” with an “A”, then fabricates an explanation that she has an elderly aunt by the name of Erica.

The Niles-and-Daphne fan in me wants to call this out as placating Niles’ furiously fervent, ever-thinly veiled feelings (we can even call them intentions) for Daphne, but his outburst mere minutes ago calls for just this sort of little cover-up and then some.

Niles reviews Maris’ dietary restrictions.
FDs1e17-10Scene 5: It Was A Dark and Stormy Night
(Did we do cliché already? Wait– oh, good. One incoherent; one cliché. Proceed.)
Second Title: No Really
(This self-conscious postscript makes it clear that the Frasier crew is perfectly aware of our scene title requirements. If one did not openly tend toward the cliché and the incoherent, why would It Was A Dark and Stormy Night require such clarification under these circumstances?)
FDs1e17-11At Maris’ mansion, a heavy thunderstorm is in progress. Niles and Daphne enter the living room. Niles tells the story of how he and Maris met. Daphne explains that Eric broke up with her and cries as Niles consoles her. The phone rings. Maris tells Niles over the phone that the storm has prohibited her from returning to Seattle. He hangs up and explains everything to Daphne. The power goes out.
FDs1e17-12Scene 6: Untitled
(I would have called it I Would Walk 500 Niles.)
At the apartment, Martin is on the phone with Daphne, who is informing him that she’ll be staying at Niles’ house. Martin hangs up the phone and informs Frasier. Frasier nods. Martin then explains Maris’ being kept from returning home. Frasier panics and grabs his coat. He and Martin exit.FDs1e17-14Scene 7: Untitled
(I would have called it Fool in the Rain. See? I’ve already fulfilled the “cliché” and “incoherent” quotas, and I don’t even work here.)

At Niles’ house, the power is still out, and there are tall, fancy candles everywhere. Niles, in his robe, sits playing at the piano. Daphne comes down the stairs in attractive lady jammies. Niles swiftly botches his pristine piano playing when he sees her– that’s so Niles!

He is so frantic about misjudging his own will to avoid sliding into an unfaithful episode with our Daphne that he calls the apartment.
FDs1e17-22Frasier and Martin argue about which route to take to Niles’ house, and this shot of them can not appear on t-shirts of ours soon enough:
FDs1e17-21They discuss their and our mutual bewilderment over the ostensible marital chemistry of Niles and Maris. The car stalls at the road. Frasier gets out and starts up the driveway on foot.

Meanwhile, in Niles’ darkened living room, Daphne is still upset about Eric. Niles consoles her again. They lounge by the fire and tell each other that they feel very close. Maris’ clock goes off, having been silent for ages. Niles abruptly sits up. He still loves Maris, and Daphne says so aloud.
FDs1e17-15Niles gives a touching speech about what love means to him, which is kind of a great TV moment. With that, the Niles/Daphne tension has subsided for now, but the two of them have left behind any doubt that a lifelong love is growing between them. In doing so, they’ve led us to open the Niles and Daphne category here at Frasier Denied.

Daphne kisses Niles on the cheek. Frasier appears at the glass doors and, to my delight, references The Graduate with barrels of rain falling on him, which is kind of a great TV moment.

He enters, loudly protesting that lives are being thrown away. Daphne is offended. Frasier “recovers” by claiming that he was actually merely upset that the night was being wasted since no one was singing. With purpose, Frasier asks Daphne to get wine and tells Niles to meet him at the piano.

I actually love this moment kind of deeply. It’s a perfect way to let the big news settle. I find the glaring, mutual denial involved in concurring with such a hasty, eccentric pretext as “I came here to urgently tell you to sing” so familial and benevolent: From here on, that nescient love of theirs will grow in earnest, and to see that it does so properly, trust is extended between all parties, even brother Frasier.
FDs1e17-20Credits vignette:
Frasier, Niles, and Daphne drink and sing at the piano as Martin stands outside in the rain.

Closing thoughts:
It was only 4 episodes ago that the Frasier crew ever-briefly presented the possibility of amorous tension between Daphne and Frasier.

You may not have read the ‘About’ page, so we’ll review: It is the official opinion of Frasier Denied that the central story of the show involves Niles’ and Daphne’s deepening relationship. Please note that I would love to hear arguments against this, by the way. Perhaps you reason that Frasier is character- rather than story-oriented, or that the narrative of the series is about the whole family. Let me know what you think.

Meanwhile, as we Deny another day, I say again that Seinfeld‘s George Costanza and King of the Hill‘s Luanne Platter both experience more events and changes in life than Frasier Crane does on this, his beloved eponymous show. Furthermore, after the season 7 finale, in which Niles and Daphne marry, the Frasier crew has absolutely nothing to offer us.

But this is a happy time! Why am I talking about that? Frasier‘s Niles and Daphne are more likable than Ross and Rachel, they’re not stammering adolescents like Winnie and Kevin (for the most part), and they aren’t, uh, siblings like Luke & Leia. Most importantly, they are relatable. I have been entertained and endeared by many of TV’s will they/won’t they couples and their varied outcomes, but Niles and Daphne bring such a strikingly familiar personality and psychology to the screen. The only couple I’ve ever rooted for more decisively is Jim and Pam, but come on– they’re the Beatles of will they/won’t they couples– you can’t feel bad there.

Kudos to Frasier for its success in initiating a courtship between these characters. It’s about as high stakes as killing somebody off– in some circumstances, maybe more.
FDs1e17-16Conflicts that occur simply because someone behaves in a very unrealistic way—most often by not explaining something mundane:
I would think that Niles could have explained to Maris that she was the one he’d intended to find him naked in their closet. He did, after all, leave a treasure map.

Continuity errors or anachronism:
(none)

# of women Frasier has dated:
Episode: [0]   previous cumulative: [3]   series cumulative: [3]

# of women Frasier has slept with:
Episode: [0]   previous cumulative: [1]   series cumulative: [1]

# of jokes about how Roz sleeps with everyone:
Episode: [2]   previous cumulative: [3]   series cumulative: [5]

# of actual references to Roz sleeping with someone:
Episode: [0]   previous cumulative: [3]   series cumulative: [3]

# of “Dad’s chair is awful” jokes:
Episode: [0]   previous cumulative: [5]   series cumulative: [5]

# of times Frasier shouts “NILES!”:
Episode: [2]   previous cumulative: [4]   series cumulative: [6]

Mentions of Maris:
Episode: [15]   previous cumulative: [33]   series cumulative: [48]

# of times Frasier or Niles (both psychiatrists) exhibit mentally ill tendencies:
Episode: [0]   previous cumulative: [10]   series cumulative: [10]
Though Frasier is a total jag for directly telling Roz that he doesn’t care how she’s doing, then immediately asking for sex advice.

# of tender pauses:
[Episode: [0]   previous cumulative: [9]   series cumulative: [9]

“Kind of a great TV moment” moments:
FDs1e17-18Also, there were about 40 “Kind of a great Frasier moment” moments in this episode– every time Niles and Daphne tacitly communicated their latent bond with no mistaking, I nearly messed up my pedicure, and I had to forcefully stop myself from adding a dozen more screen shots.

TV Guide version (© Netflix): Niles goes to Frasier, seeking advice about problems with his wife, Maris.”
FDs1e17-17

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