Thursday, November 12, 2009

Frasierquest 1.8: Beloved Infidel

Frasier and Niles hit the books
Frasier: “How am I doing?” How are you doing, Niles? Doesn’t it bother you that your father cheated on my mother?

I remembered this episode as being darker than it actually is. It’s about a dark subject, to be sure, but handles it with grace. “Beloved Infidel” returns us to a focus on the Crane family dynamic, and on Frasier and Martin’s relationship in specific. It’s a bit slow, but the ultimate payoff is worth it, as the two find common ground over an unpleasant reality.

Out for dinner, Frasier and Niles spot Martin in the company of Marion Lawlor (Pat Crowley), who seems upset. The Lawlors were old family friends of the Cranes, who weren’t seen much after a falling out during a vacation at a cabin by the lake. Delving back into photo albums and diaries, Niles and Frasier begin to suspect that their dad may have actually had an affair with Marion. When Daphne forces a confrontation on the issue (and is excused from the room for her troubles), Martin owns up to it and asks that they don’t speak of it again. Frasier is deeply troubled by the discovery, but a chance encounter with Marion reveals the actual truth; it was his mother who cheated on Martin with Marion’s husband.

As I noted back in “Dinner at Eight”, Hester Crane is often invoked as a saintly figure, with the reverence that we give the departed, so it’s interesting that as early as the first year they gave nuance to an offscreen character by showing she was far from perfect. (Of course, CHEERS viewers had a different picture of Frasier’s mother, but there’s an inevitable discontinuity between the two shows.) The unpleasantness of the subject is offset by the revelation that this was far in the past and that Martin and Hester were able to work past it and have a long, happy marriage.

Niles is happy to move on when his father “confesses”, accepting that this is past, and the fact that he’s satisfied and Frasier isn’t is a contrast I hadn’t noticed before. What really troubles Frasier isn’t so much what they did, but the realization that his parents aren’t morally flawless. In the end it’s probably for the best that he knows this, and much of the satisfication in the episode is in its climax, wherein Frasier finally reveals to Martin that he was once cuckolded as well. Everyone makes mistakes sometimes and everyone gets hurt. Equally powerful is Martin’s assurance that Frasier shouldn’t think less of his mother for what happened.

A few side developments are worth noting; Roz has a date and Frasier starts to genuinely question her taste in men, and Daphne tells a few stories about her many brothers back in Manchester, including Billy, the ballroom dancer. Frasier attempts to get to the bottom of things by calling Aunt Vivian, “keeper of the Crane family secrets”, and I’m not sure this character is ever mentioned again. Eddie gets a nice gag too, and there’s some good timing on Moose and trainer Matilde de Cagny’s part.

A variety of diversions- Roz’s love life, Daphne’s stories, Niles’ “Healing With Humor Support Group”- help keep the shadow of parental infidelity from making this an excessively grim episode, but at heart, the fact that they’re willing to examine this subject at all demonstrates the trust the show has for its audience. (Granted, it has the benefit of the guilty party being dead and the incident far in the past.) This episode, like a lot of the first season ones, has a certain “basic” feel to it, with a straightforward plot line and not many frills, and I confess I’m almost impatient to get to the crazier stuff. Still, not many shows would attempt a story like this in their first year, and fewer would pull it off as well.

Guest Caller: JoBeth Williams as Danielle

Written by Leslie Eberhard
Directed by Andy Ackerman
Aired November 4, 1993

Frasier: So, who is this guy? Not another one of those trendy young kids who’s got three earrings and a ponytail, wearing a T-shirt under his sportscoat?

Roz: Is he here?

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