Thursday, May 10, 2012

Frasierquest 4.23: Odd Man Out

Frasier's not-so-chance encounter

Frasier: Great news! Laura's in town!

Niles: Who's Laura?

Frasier: A stranger who called my machine by mistake.

Season four closes on an odd note, but not one unwarranted by what's gone before. For once paying little to no attention to the the problems of other characters, "Odd Man Out" is all about Frasier being in a rut. It's a rut we've seen him in all season, and it reaches a peak here that inspires him to commit an act of romantic chivalry with Sarah Connor from the Terminator movies. The result is a simple story that starts out realistically awkward but ends up very sweet.

After Roz skips out on her own birthday dinner, Frasier has a humiliating experience dining alone in a restaurant of families and loving couples. In his early 40s and still single, he's starting to realize that Lilith was a long time ago. When he finds that a woman named Laura (Linda Hamilton, a guest caller on the show's first episode) called his machine by mistake and is arriving at the airport, he finds himself mysteriously drawn to her. She's a cellist, she's witty and cultured, and as Martin observes she expresses affection easily. So off to the airport Frasier goes, to rescue a woman he's never met from the horrible fate of having to take a cab.

All of this is building off Frasier's "dry spell" that's lasted most of the season. If he had been doing maybe a little better in the dating department, his desperation here wouldn't seem so believable, and while this doesn't seem like it was planned explicitly, it works well regardless. The episode is about him feeling lonelier than he ever has in his life, and at times it's almost too cutting. (Then again, I've eaten alone a lot of times without feeling a stigma about it. I'm weird that way.)

That the episode focuses on Frasier to the near-total exclusion of everyone else is unusual for a sitcom season finale. There's no real taking stock of where all the other characters are in their lives as in years past. It's easy enough to infer some things- Martin is still with Sherry, Niles is still in couples therapy, and Daphne and Roz are single and doing their best to enjoy it. It makes sense, then, to focus on Frasier, because he's the one with the most problems.

The redemption Frasier finds at the end of his adventure is not quite what he hoped for. Laura's married, but she tells him he should appreciate the thrill of not being married. It's a concept that cuts to the heart of Frasier as a character- he craves a certainty and stability to his life that just isn't there, and looks ridiculous as a result. But for a moment, at the end of his rope, he's willing to listen.

So we end the season with Frasier off to Mexico in pursuit of another beautiful woman, a redemptive yet silly note showing his optimism after a year of setbacks. This is not a man who stays down for long, which is why we can enjoy his pratfalls. After what is easily one of the show's best years, though, he's earned a vacation.

No Guest Caller

Written by Suzanne Martin
Directed by Jeff Melman
Aired May 27, 1997

Daphne: And I have a date with Greg.

Frasier: Greg? I don't believe I've met him yet.

Martin: I have, he's gorgeous. (Off their looks) Well, he is!

Daphne: Certainly the best looking man I've ever been out with. Of course, he doesn't have a thought in that pretty little head of his. Oh, this could be the one.

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