Monday, February 14, 2011

Frasierquest 3.13: Moon Dance

Niles and Daphne on the dance floor
Martin: Take my word for it - you're sticking a fork in a toaster.

Niles: Well, my muffin's stuck!

When last we left Niles and Daphne, they were firmly in the “not going to happen anytime soon” category; Frasier had supposed that his actually winning her on any level would require a mass extinction event. “Moon Dance” doesn’t upend the status quo, but it’s the first episode since “Midwinter Night’s Dream” two seasons ago to suggest that these two might be a good couple. In so doing it creates one of the most striking and romantic images of the series, one that would be referenced years and years later.

It’s also an amazing fluke of an episode. At the last minute, it was bumped up in the production schedule, and so in order to turn the story into a full script, the entire staff broke into teams and wrote each scene separately, doing minor editing at the end to make it work together. Without the much larger than usual “Written by” credit at the beginning, I doubt anyone would guess; it’s a great script. Kelsey Grammer makes his directorial debut here, and the warmth he brings helps make this a television masterpiece.

Maris has been gallivanting around town with all sorts of male suitors, and it’s driving Niles mad. He’s quickly being perceived in high society as a lonely sad sack, and he decides that he needs to start dating pronto. He manages to invite Marjorie Nash, the fruit-on-the-bottom yogurt heiress, to a gala winter’s ball, but he can’t dance. Daphne volunteers to give him a few lessons, and he starts to enjoy their sessions so much he doesn’t tell her when Marjorie cancels. But all goes well, as when he finally does tell Daphne, she decides she’ll accompany him. Niles is even more overjoyed, but Martin warns him that he may just end up saying something he’ll regret. Guess what happens.

You’ll notice that Frasier himself is not really in this episode very much. On a vacation with Frederick to Colonial Williamsburg, he unintentionally leaves Martin to deal with the insanity at home. Martin does an okay job with the whole “voice of reason” thing, understanding Niles’ attraction to Daphne and almost making him see that he’s in a dangerous situation, but because Daphne doesn’t know any of this he can only go so far. It’s a nice twist on the formula; it can be hard for a show to get to the point where they barely have their star in an episode, but Frasier’s ensemble has been strong enough for a while now. Grammer’s direction is superb, managing to be visually striking in a format which most often settles for technically competent, in addition to getting some great performances. The dance sequences themselves are very impressive, with Tim Smith choreographing and David Hyde Pierce and Jane Leeves (who started her career as a dancer) apparently doing their own moves. There are a couple of overhead shots, I’m not sure, but the rest is them.

Most of this episode’s appeal and impact lies in the simple joy of the dance. I’m no connoisseur of dancing as a spectator sport, I’ve never seen an Astaire/Rogers movie, but I can only imagine that the people making this episode had that tradition in mind. Daphne, perhaps understanding that a lot of Niles’ problems come from his being so very high strung, encourages him to relax and let himself go, and we feel his liberation and his exhilaration as he makes a connection with the woman of his dreams. Of course, it eventually leads to his making a major blunder, but thankfully, she doesn’t quite understand that he means it when he says he adores her.

The final twist is an interesting one. It’s sad, of course, because Niles really hasn’t won Daphne over in one mad tango, but what I can’t help but be left with is a sense of just how sweet a gesture she’s made. It’s hard to think of what bold instinct told her to go ahead and play the paramour, but it does wonders not just for Niles’ image, but his confidence. It’s a profound gesture of friendship and affection, and though Daphne’s already well established as a sweet and caring woman, it’s almost above and beyond the call of duty. She may not be in love with Niles, but there’s love in her actions.

And so we have an episode both bittersweet and thrilling; funny, with some extra doses of cuteness thanks to a subplot involving Eddie, but emotionally powerful as well. Niles and Daphne’s dance may not have brought them together, but from here on out they gained a sense of inevitability. The greater dance between them has started, a slow and complicated waltz that makes up one of the greatest romances in television history. And it all started with a simple box step.

Guest Caller: Jodie Foster as Marlene

Written by (takes a deep breath) Joe Keenan, Christopher Lloyd, Rob Greenberg, Jack Burditt, Chuck Ranberg, Anne Flett-Giordano, Linda Morris, and Vic Rauseo

Directed by Kelsey Grammer
Aired February 6, 1996

Daphne: Don't think, just feel. You're an Argentine slum dweller. You have no house, no car. You don't know where your next meal is coming from. But none of that matters, because tonight- we have the Tango.

Niles: Oh mama, I've got it all!

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