Saturday, November 19, 2011

Mixed Doubles

I have written before of the Frasier series' keen observations on all aspects of the human condition.

The episode that aired 15 years ago tonight, "Mixed Doubles," is one of the best examples — in an understated kind of way.

It was a week before my birthday — a time that has tended to make me more reflective with each passing year — and perhaps my perception was affected by that. But I felt that each character revealed his/her true colors, his/her real motivations, in that episode.

The story began with Daphne (Jane Leeves) returning to the Crane home after a date with her boyfriend, but she brought bad news. Her boyfriend had broken up with her, and the mere mention of the disastrous dinner she had just lived through was enough to cause her to burst into uncontrolled tears.

(By this point in the series, I felt it was clear that Daphne loved her work, but she desperately wanted to be a wife and mother. Niles, as the audience knew only too well, desperately wanted Daphne.)

The Crane men sought to comfort her but were undone by their own weaknesses — the fussy Frasier (Kelsey Grammer) by his obsession with appearances and Martin (John Mahoney) by his clumsiness. Niles (David Hyde Pierce), of course, was motivated purely by his desire for Daphne. Only Roz (Peri Gilpin), who was greeted at the door by a sobbing Daphne, instinctively understood what had happened and took Daphne to her bedroom where the two could speak privately.

Niles decided that he was finally going to tell Daphne how he felt about her. This was the series' fourth season, and regular viewers had known all along that he was hot for her — but, despite the fact that she claimed to be psychic, Daphne never seemed to realize it until a few years later.

It was an ongoing source of humor, kind of an inside joke, but if Niles, who was separated from his wife, was going to confess his feelings to Daphne, it would mark a major turning point in the story line. The nature of their relationship was sure to change.

In November 1996, she seemed completely oblivious to his feelings for her as she tap danced from one relationship to another.

Whether that was a factor in his decision, Frasier counseled Niles to sleep on it, to "give it a day" of reflection, and Niles reluctantly agreed.

Unfortunately for Niles, Roz sought to cheer up Daphne by taking her out for drinks — and the emotionally vulnerable Daphne met a young man and hit it off.

Even more unfortunate for Niles was the fact that the young man, Rodney, was exactly like him. He had the same build, the same mannerisms, even the same preferences — including, as it turned out, an apparent preference for Adelle, a woman Niles started seeing after Daphne began her rebound relationship with Rodney.

Niles discovered that Rodney and Adelle had a thing for each other quite by accident. He was having coffee with Frasier, who had just persuaded him that, although Daphne was in a new relationship, so was Niles — and with someone who made him happy.

At that point, Rodney and Adelle walked in and sat down at a table out of Niles' view.

He turned and looked in their direction — and realized what was happening. His response was one of indignation, all right — at Rodney for his betrayal of Daphne, not at Adelle for her betrayal of him — and he stormed from the cafe after confronting them.

In the final scene, Niles met Daphne at the bar where they had first met Adelle and Rodney. Niles was going to tell Daphne that Adelle and Rodney were a couple, but she had already heard, and the two of them began commiserating in a conversation that certainly must have been one of the best examples of foreshadowing in TV history.
Daphne: If it had been a different time in both our lives, we might actually have met. How do you suppose that would have gone?

Niles: What? Our conversation?

Daphne: Yes! Just for fun. We could both use a smile.

Niles: Well, I would have said, 'Is this seat taken?' And you would have said, 'No.' You would have said, 'My name is Daphne,' and I would have said, 'My name is Niles.' And then I would have said, 'What are you doing for the rest of your life?'

Daphne: You always know just the right thing to say! I love you, Dr. Crane.

Niles: I love you, too, Daphne.

And it helped preserve the original nature of the Niles–Daphne relationship for a few more seasons.