Saturday, April 18, 2015

Love Means Never Having to Say It

Niles (David Hyde Pierce): What a peculiar combination of odors. It smells like a fish died, and all the other fish sent flowers.

The relationship between fathers and sons can be a complicated one. I think that was the message that Frasier sought to convey on this night 20 years ago. If so, the writers were right. You can trust me on that one.

The episode started in that sneaky way Frasier had of introducing a subject — by way of a conversation between Frasier (Kelsey Grammer) and Roz (Peri Gilpin). Roz was a little down, and Frasier asked why. Roz's problem was that she had told a guy that she loved him, and he seemed spooked by that. "He got this look on his face," Roz said, "like Indiana Jones running from the big ball."

That gave Frasier a chance to talk about how difficult it is for some people to say the phrase, "I love you," and that led him to musing about his relationship with his father. His father had never said those words to Frasier, and he began obsessing over the idea.

As it turned out, Martin (John Mahoney) didn't have that much trouble saying the phrase. He said it to his buddy Duke, with whom he had planned to go ice fishing but Duke injured his back and had to bow out, and he said it to Eddie the dog.

When Duke had to cancel, Martin began hinting around about having the cabin on the lake already rented but he couldn't go up there alone ...

Frasier refused, although he did have a compromise idea: "They're doing a revival of 'The Iceman Cometh' downtown. Now we could catch a matinee and then go out for sushi and stay well within the same theme." Martin didn't go for that.

Then Niles (David Hyde Pierce) overheard Daphne (Jane Leeves) speaking of how masculine her brothers always seemed after a day of fishing, and he volunteered to go.

As Frasier began to obsess again about hearing his father say "I love you" and wondered why his father could say it to Duke and the dog but not to him, Daphne pointed out that Duke would go fishing with Martin when Martin wanted to go fishing.

"So you're suggesting I should go along and pretend I'm enjoying myself doing something that gives me no pleasure at all just to hear the words 'I love you'?" he asked.

"Why not?" Daphne replied. "Women have been doing it for centuries."

So Frasier went ice fishing — and, as anyone who ever watched "Grumpy Old Men" knows, ice fishing is done in a small structure (frequently called a cabin) on a frozen body of water, usually a lake. A hole is drilled in the ice, and the fishing lines are dropped down the holes. When Frasier first saw the cabin, he thought it was where they would be sleeping. Martin assured him they would be sleeping in a motel.

Frasier wasn't very good company, complaining about just about everything. Finally, it was suggested that he drive back to the motel and return for Martin and Niles later, and he was going to do that — until it seemed that the car keys had been lost.

Fortunately, the keys hadn't been lost. Martin spotted them on the floor of the cabin. Niles picked them up and tossed them to Frasier, but the toss fell short — and into the hole that had been drilled for fishing. That was clearly unfortunate.

Martin said he and Duke had spent the night in a cabin about 10 years earlier when their car battery died, and the three of them could do so, too. He produced a bottle of Jim Beam, and the three proceeded to warm themselves internally.

Martin said they needed a drinking song, and Frasier, desperately seeking a sign of his father's approval, suggested a drinking song from an opera. Niles disagreed on which opera it came from, but before long the three were singing it ... in Italian.

When Martin went outside to relieve himself, the brothers began to tell each other why they had come fishing when it was something they both loathed. Niles explained that he had become envious of the bond he saw developing between Frasier and Martin, and he wanted that kind of relationship as well.

And Frasier confessed that he had come on the trip hoping to hear Martin say, "I love you."

And then, Martin actually did say the words in the kind of honest, direct conversation that, frankly, may not be possible for many fathers and sons. In that respect, I thought it was unrealistic.

But not entirely.

Martin confessed that "Your mother used to get on me about not saying stuff." That rang true, especially for men of Martin's generation, who were raised to be unemotional. Younger men have been encouraged more by society to open up about their feelings.

It was a chance for each to look at the other.