Friday, July 22, 2011

Frasierquest 4.3: The Impossible Dream

Frasier in the wrong bed
Niles: Focus on any detail in the motel room. What’s the first thing that pops into your mind?

Frasier: Uh... a crescent shaped lamp.

Niles: Perfect. Crescent shaped lamp. Run with that. Crescent... moon... Daphne Moon... French maid... brass bed... satin robe...

Fraiser: This is my dream.

Dream analysis is one of those weird bits of psychology that even amateurs like myself can pretend to understand. I’m not sure how seriously it’s still taken, but fiction likes to use dreams as symbols a lot, and so sooner or later we end up getting a personal look into Frasier’s head. In practice, the premise of Frasier confronted by an inscrutable but disturbing dream ends up playing almost like an episode of House, with multiple false diagnoses before the final correct one. All in all it’s a cool change of pace, with a few fun extras thrown in.

Frasier’s plagued by a recurring nightmare. He wakes up in a seedy, dimly lit hotel room with a tattoo reading “Chesty” on his arm, when none other than Gil Chesterton steps out of the shower. Frasier is so distressed by this dream that he enlists Niles to help find its true meaning (which he’s reasonably certain is not wish fulfillment.) Twice he thinks he’s come up with a solution, pointing to a dilemma that may be brewing in his subconscious, and by moving it to his conscious mind hopefully expelling the dream, but it keeps coming back and defying his analysis.

I like how the structure of this episode is built on the idea that a dream can be expelled or altered by interpreting it. Even when Frasier’s theories fail to get him out of this recurring nightmare, they end up changing details. It does mean that the structure is just “this doesn’t work, this doesn’t work” until Frasier cottons to the real explanation (and even that may not fully fix things), but in the course of twenty-some minutes it doesn’t feel that repetitive.

There’s a potentially problematic element of gay panic in Frasier’s dream, but I like how this ends up being handled. Instead of simply being comically terrified at the suggestion that he might have buried homosexual feelings, he honestly starts to wonder. He talks with his father about it. In some ways it’s an overreaction- dreams are probably not the best place to look to start confirming or questioning your sexuality- but since we’ve established Frasier is in a dry spell, some existential questioning is understandable. Martin’s probably right- if Frasier were gay he’d know by now- and in any case, I doubt Gil’s his type.

Continuing what now looks to be a pattern of trying to give everyone something to do, Martin and Daphne share another scene this episode, playing a joke on a fellow elevator passenger by improvising a discussion straight out of a spy novel. This has absolutely nothing to do with anything, but it’s brilliant- it’s really funny in itself (a rare instance of something that’s funny to the characters also being funny to the audience), and illuminates the characters by showing their more playful side. It’s something we haven’t quite seen before from either, but it doesn’t feel out of place. Both characters also try to help Frasier with his dream problem, Daphne making an adorably loopy suggestion and also sharing a story that, well, let’s say it makes for a nice mental image. (And speaking of nice images, the lovely Pauley Perette, now of NCIS fame, shows up as a Café Nervosa barista.)

The end of the episode implies that Frasier hasn’t quite licked his problem. He’s worked out that his boredom with the dull cases on his show lately forced his subconscious to come up with a complex puzzle for him to solve, but all that means is that now Sigmund Freud is his bedtime companion. in a sense the episode just sort of ends when the premise is exhausted, but given how much fun the ride has been it’s hard to complain too much. This isn’t a classic episode but it’s a memorable one, with a fun concept effectively mined for laughs and for a little bit of character shading. If nothing else, it leaves us with the lesson that if you have a bizarre and disturbing recurring dream, it may just be because you’re really, really bored.

Guest Callers: Kieran Culkin as Jimmy, Christopher Durang as Rudy

Written by Rob Greenberg
Directed by David Lee
Aired October 15, 1996

Daphne: Well, in your dream, who was in the shower? Gil. What is a shower? Running water. Who needs water? Fish. What do fish have? Gills. Do you see where I’m going?

Frasier: Insane?

1 comment:

M.K. Greenwood said...

This episode, to me, shows us how far we've come in gay rights. This was first broadcast 20 years ago (geesh I'm old) and still cutting-edge for a show to even mention gay issues.

The show was very progressive (for its time) by having Frasier deeply admire a gay man (I forget the character's name but he was the opera director played by Patrick Stewart). I don't think this episode has anything to do with Frasier having any problem with gay people per se, but rather questioning his self-knowledge.

Frasier knows far less about himself than he thinks he does (see Don Juan in Hell Part II), and becomes upset when he feels he doesn't understand his own feelings and motivations (again, Don Juan in Hell II).

Long story short, I think the gay angle upsets Frasier not because he has a problem with homosexuality, but is highly bothered when something causes him to question what he's always believed to be his sexuality.