Thursday, December 09, 2010

Frasierquest 3.5: Kisses Sweeter Than Wine

Daphne helps Niles get rid of a stain on his conscience

Frasier: Look, I don't know what kind of twisted fantasy you've concocted about Daphne. I suppose it involves a comet hitting the earth and you and she having to rebuild the species!

It’s been a while since we visited the Niles and Daphne story, and not a lot has changed. He’s still smitten, bordering on outright head-over-heels, but he’s also still married which limits what he can do without becoming an outright creep. The knowledge that he really can’t pursue her was probably one of the driving forces behind “Kisses Sweeter Than Wine”, an episode which seems designed to put a brake on things. If the critical deconstruction of romantic comedies has taught us anything it’s that the overzealous pursuit of unrequited love is more pathetic than funny and can cross the line into outright scary, and though this episode predates much of the backlash to this particular trope, you can tell that the writers were thinking about this issue. If Niles’ fussing about Daphne getting the wrong, not-him sort of boyfriend in “The Matchmaker” was comical, for him to be sympathetic he has to realize that Daphne’s deserving of an actual relationship with someone who can do more than smell her hair. This is explored in a bittersweet story with some light touches to offset the potency.

It all starts innocently enough. Frasier is having the wine club (of course he’s in a wine club) over for a tasting. He attempts to move dad’s chair out of the living room for this event- it does not react well to such an imposition and scuffs the floor in retribution. Niles knows a contractor, Joe DeCarlo (Tony Carrerio), who comes over to help fix the scuff. He meets Daphne, who is instantly taken with him, which perturbs Niles. As contractors often do, Joe discovers that Frasier has bigger problems than just a scuffed floor, so with the clock ticking down to Seattle’s most respected men and women (including a Senator) arriving at the door, his apartment is a mess of workmen repairing faulty wiring and cracked gas pipes. Amidst all this, Daphne asks Niles if he knows if Joe is dating anyone, and he tells a little fib. Convinced that Joe sleeps around a lot, Daphne rejects him when he asks her out. But Niles’ ethics, when breached, have a tendency to give him nosebleeds, and when Frasier discovers a trail of blood leading to his bathroom, he learns the messy story, and demands Niles put things right, while at the same time hoping somehow to salvage his evening.

Niles’ behavior in this episode is a good example of the things a fictional character can potentially get away with if we like them enough. Niles’ actions are indefensible, even if he tries to rationalize them as thinking that Joe just isn’t worthy of Daphne. She deserves someone like a doctor, or a lawyer, or- well, like him, but he can’t say it openly. We let him do this because Niles has our sympathy in general- he’s a small, vulnerable, innocent-faced man with a romantic streak, and when his conscience catches up to him in the form of a violent nosebleed (a nice echo of “Call Me Irresponsible”), we’re not surprised. He’s easy to forgive, and that’s probably why the writers have him do something like this to start with, though it helps that he saves himself with a big selfless romantic gesture at the episode’s cliamx.

Daphne, meanwhile, gets a new boyfriend out of the deal, and this one’s staying for a while. Joe isn’t on the show that often from now on, but he pops up just enough to establish that Daphne’s in a relationship, a change from prior seasons. It’s a minor shift in the status quo that introduces a few new story hooks, and Tony Carrerio is engaging enough as her beau; he’s a plain nice guy, even if there’s a subtext that he and his fellow contractors may be chiseling Frasier just a tad. (I’m not really clear whether that’s meant to be the joke, or whether it’s more the Murphy’s Law principle of a simple job turning into something insanely complicated.) Daphne’s sweeter than usual when she’s in love, so I can’t complain.

Giving Daphne a boyfriend also complicates the Niles/Daphne dynamic further, and though I’m not very good at divining authorial intent, the idea may have been to make sure that whatever this was stayed subdued for a while- it wasn’t exactly heating up before, but by this point audiences wanted development. At this early stage I’m not sure the writers thought they would ever be actually getting the two together for real, so the best thing would be to put in more reasons why the status quo remains- now they’re both taken and Niles is far too ethical to cross both borders. But they don’t want to kill the angle either, and so at the end we get a little “spark” between the two that true shippers can grab as proof that this isn’t over.

So the status quo evolves and is preserved at the same time, and we get further proof of Niles’ ethics and how he can temporarily forget them. In the meantime, Frasier learns just how horribly out of control a simple scuff repair job can become, but also how fast it can go if you have a few hundred dollars in cash handy. It’s a game of contrast, and these kinds of tensions seem to go to the roots of what engages our attention. At heart, bumpy rides are the ones we enjoy.

Guest Caller: Brooke Adams as Marilyn

Written by Anne Flett-Giordano
Directed by Philip Charles Mackenzie
Aired November 7, 1995

Niles: If you had ever smelled her hair, you would know she is worth at least one more try. She is an angel. She is a goddess. And she is waiting for you in the bathroom.

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