F. Scott Fitzgerald is often misquoted as saying “there are no second acts in the American life” when what he really meant was more along the lines of, “I didn’t think there were second acts in the American life but like, there actually are.” Frasier is presented to us as encompassing this idea: can a man embark on a new career in a new city? Can a man start over with his cantankerous father? Can a man handle having a hot new girlfriend on a weekly basis after his divorce?
But as the show progresses, a new theme emerges, like a flower shyly unfolding its petals to reveal its stamen under the encouraging warmth of a Springtime sun: Niles has the raging hots for Daphne! And we don’t know what’s going to happen with them! It’s been hiding in plain sight (the best place to hide) during the show’s infancy but this is the first episode where we tackle it, and the implications of it, quite head-on.
In a roundabout way.
At Cafe Nervosa, Daphne strikes up a flirtation over coffee beans with Eric, a barista (“I like something that holds its body on my tongue”) and Frasier notices Niles’ outrage about it. Frasier calls him out, which is good – let’s not act as though there isn’t a massive power imbalance here between Daphne and her employer’s brother. Frasier’s reasoning is not the same as mine, but nevertheless sound: Niles is married! This is improper! He coaxes out of Niles that the relationship has settled into a “grey, numbing blandness” and encourages him to try to spice it up somehow, though hilariously his advice trails off fruitlessly, all “well the two of you could … actually it’s you and Maris, I’m stumped.”
This brings us to the magnificent set up where Niles knocks on Frasier’s door dressed as a pirate, distraught because Maris has kicked him out. His attempts to sauce things up backfired spectacularly when the maid caught him, nude but for a strategically placed eyepatch (“is it technically still an eyepatch if it’s covering your -“) and Maris misconstrued what she saw. (Another case of total disregard for the imbalance of power between employer and employee; there’s no mention of what became of the blameless maid.) David Hyde Pierce as Niles is so good at playing aggrieved – “I barely had time to grab my pantaloons or buckle my swash” – and Martin has never seemed quite so much the baffled everyman as when standing next to the billowingly-bloused Niles – “I still say a couple of years in the service would’ve done you two boys a world of good.”
In any other sitcom of modest calibre the credits could roll right here and it would be a satisfying episode but this is Frasier and we haven’t even got to the real thrust of it yet.
Martin convinces Niles that a traditional candlelit dinner will help woo back the flounced-off Maris, and Daphne offers to help him with this since “the cook walked out in sympathy.” And suddenly Niles finds himself in a rather interesting situation.
It’s a dark and stormy night (“no, really” the title card sardonically assures us), the power has gone out, Maris is stuck in a retreat in Arizona (when she flounces off, she really flounces off), Daphne, soaked from the rain, has changed into a white silk peignoir (that’s old money for Glamorous Nightie) and is holding a candelabra, and to top it all off she’s beside herself because Eric has retracted his coffee bean innuendo and dumped her to focus on his music (“I knew it was an excuse – I’ve heard his music!”) All these factors swirl up some sexual tension as thick and rich as pâté de foie gras and the show knows this. The show also knows – and sorry to defuse the tension so quickly for you – that we haven’t actually earned this yet. Yes, Daphne is sobbing onto Niles’ shoulder and yes it’s dark and candlelit and yes Niles is confiding in Daphne about things he hadn’t talked about before to anyone. Frasier knows it, and the show cuts between Niles and Daphne to scenes of Frasier and Martin driving across town through the storm to try to stop Niles from compromising his marriage in a moment of moment-fuelled weakness. But in fact Frasier doesn’t have to do anything at all – as per usual, he’s completely surplus to requirements.
Upon arrival, Daphne had noticed a Glockenspiel, which Niles explained with a quiet desolation and perfect enunciation, “We bought it on our honeymoon in Zürich. I brought it down from the attic to remind Maris of better times. It used to play beautiful music, and now it doesn’t. How’s that for irony?”
Later, as Daphne and Niles, the latter almost hyperventilating from the situational hotness, appear to be in prelude to a kiss, both plying each other with sympathy and praise in equal measure…Chekhov’s Glockenspiel goes off.
“Dr Crane, your Glockenspiel has sprung to life!” cries Daphne, and just in case you thought we were anywhere other than a sitcom, the innuendo has to be hammered home by Niles looking confused and then realising she means it literally. And lo, it reminds him of his strange fondness for Maris:
“Love is a funny thing, isn’t it? Sometimes it’s exciting and passionate. Sometimes it’s something else. Something… comfortable and familiar. That newly-exfoliated little face staring up at you across the breakfast table…sharing a laugh together when you see someone wearing white after Labor Day.”
I think it’s quite crucial to the show’s credibility that this exchange takes place. Yes Maris is an entirely bizarre construct but we need to nevertheless believe that there is something that holds her and Niles together otherwise it’s too empty, too mean, too pointless. And that’s why this show is so great. It almost gives us what we think we want, and instead gives us something much, much more rewarding: A slow-burning will-they-won’t-they! Delicious.
The recipe for this week is inspired by Daphne and Eric’s exchange about beans; it’s based on a classic Venetian dish which translates fairly directly to “rich/broke as hell” and is traditionally done with prawns representing the money and the beans representing the lack thereof. I decided untraditionally that pistachios would be a worthy stand in since it’ll cost you roughly one future child’s varsity tuition to procure a small pouch of nuts. Not to mention the pink and green colour scheme is just lovely. The bean thing aside I felt that the recipe title’s insistence upon monetary status was very apt for an episode centred around Niles and the absent-like-a-prawn Maris. This makes for a delicious light meal on its own though feel free to add some salad leaves – I think it would benefit from something peppery or bitter like rocket or radicchio.
i richi i e povieri
- 1 tin borlotti beans, drained
- four tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- two tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
- four tablespoons shelled pistachio nuts
- sea salt and black pepper, to taste
Mix everything together in a bowl. Eat.
Also worth acknowledging in relation to this recipe is Niles telling Daphne about Maris’ eating habits when Daphne offers to help cook a romantic dinner for her:
Niles: Oh, you have free reign. Just bear in mind she can’t have shellfish…poultry, red meat, saturated fats, nitrates, wheat, starch, sulfites, MSG or dairy. Did I say nuts?
Frasier: Oh, I think that’s implied!
Favoured quote: This whole episode is just crackling with good dialogue. I love Daphne being all “I already have a nickname for him. Eric the Red, doesn’t it favour him?” which is not necessarily massively humorous but a charming example of her daffy turn of phrase, even more so when she later explains to Frasier – who finally gets to the mansion to find there was no-one who needed rescuing –
Why, just moments ago he made a beautiful speech about how much he loves his wife, how he cherishes her excruciating little face, and how they laugh at white people!
There’s also a season-best quote from Roz, who makes a brief but perfect appearance:
Frasier: What do you do when the romance goes out of a relationship?
Roz: I get dressed and go home.
As ever Roz, we stand and salute you.
My usual, please: At last, a good coffee order to justify the existence of my commenting on their coffee orders – Niles orders a “double cappuccino, half-caf, non-fat milk, with just enough foam as to be aesthetically pleasing but not so much that it leaves a mustache.” When Eric the Red then asks whether he wants chocolate or cinnamon, Niles is all “oh they make this so complicated.” An obvious laugh line, but cutely delivered with Niles’ pert petulance.
Em-Maris-Ment of Riches: This entire episode is a Maris ludicrousity goldmine and I’ve covered most of it but it’s worth adding that we get some fantastic backstory – she and Niles met when she was locked out of this very same gothic mansion (that has been in her family for four generations) when she was “returning from the antique market with a rare bell jar once owned by Sylvia Plath.” Her and Niles apparently made an instant connection and were “married just three short years later.” Oh Maris!