As much as Frasier might like to associate itself with Shakespeare, “A Mid-Winter Night’s Dream” is a rather simplistic half hour of television, one constructed around Niles’ desperate crush on Daphne, and whether he’s actually serious about pursuing her. To do this, “A Mid-Winter Night’s Dream” employs some of its wackier narrative tactics, bumbling through its first two acts with easy punch lines aimed at Maris before (almost) recovering in the final act. It’s an early attempt by Frasier to humanize the very broad character of Niles, and one that nearly works; however, its allegiance to thinly-veiled sexual references wins out in the end sell it short, a farce of conveniences that isn’t as clever or charming as it might seem.
Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of the episode is how it openly embraces cliche, without offering a twist on the conventions of its story, or any attempt to subvert its formula: Daphne dates a bohemian coffee shop employee, gets hurt when he breaks up with her to “focus on his music,” then nearly ends up in Niles’ arms after she comes over on a stormy night to help him prepare a meal for Maris (who herself is mad at Niles, his misguided attempts at role play making her think he was having an affair with the maid). Rather than engage in Daphne’s angst at trying to date in a America, or the fraying edges of Niles’ marriage, “Dream” doesn’t have much of a leg to stand on, save for all the sexual innuendo exchanged between him and Daphne, as the episode pushes them into the living room of his wife’s mansion, him in a smoking jacket and her in a night gown, in front of a warm hot fire with no electricity.
Knowing that this aired in the 1990s and Niles was still officially married, we all know Niles is not going to actually cheat on his wife: even those who haven’t seen the entirety of the series could infer that this would not be the episode where Niles declared his love for Daphne and they lived happily ever after. No, instead we get a very poorly choreographed moment where it’s clear Daphne sees Niles lean down to kiss her, a moment that is never discussed, beyond when Niles abstractly talks about “love”; rather than having them engage in their feelings, Frasier gives us all the terrible psychological advice to suppress our feelings for the sake of convenience in life. Niles clearly can’t live without Maris’s money (before meeting her, he was just an intern for her family’s company), and he’s too afraid to embark on a journey of something unknown by severing what he views as a “comfortable” love – a journey that sadly, Frasier would never really push him to do himself, always finding ways to portray Maris as less than worthy of Niles’ love – at least Vera on Cheers had a husband who, ultimately, loved her beyond all things, making the two of them a horrible comparison.
The problem with Frasier‘s version of the unseen, easy joke wife is that they tried to have it both ways; give Niles this story of romance, while still trying to make him a person who cares about his wife. And it makes for conflicted scenes like their moments in front of the fireplace, which either require the audience to assume Daphne is a complete idiot (she doesn’t realize the situation she’s putting Niles in?), or that Niles is a little sleazier than his pocket square suggests. This isn’t Carmela and the priest on The Sopranos, either: Frasier clearly wants us to imagine these two together, never taking the time to really develop Niles’ marriage to Maris in a way other than soul crushing or terrible. While it makes for great jokes, it’s not exactly something a dimensional character is built off of, and without that, “Dream” just feels like a big tease for a story the show knows it isn’t ready for, even if it thinks so for the wrong reasons (“save it for later seasons!” rather than “let’s actually develop this emotional conflict for Niles!”).
Simply put, “Dream” just doesn’t work. The farther it moves from the premise of Niles trying to spice up his marriage to Maris to become a story of Niles pursuing Daphne, it undercuts some of the potential to build out a more rounded, detailed portrait of both Maris, and Niles’ connection to her. Nothing in “Dream” really suggests to us why Niles really, really loves Maris (though he expresses he loved her because of a moment of fate and “electricity,” which flies in the face of his previously-expressed philosophies on life), and what it leaves us with is a particularly unfunny episode about Niles almost cheating on his wife, hardly the kind of thing Frasier often turned into poignant stories.
– Would Niles really put an eye patch on his junk? Of the many out-of-character details in this episode, that one sticks out like a sore thumb.
– This episode needed a good Roz runner – matter of fact, most recent episodes have suffered from NER – Not Enough Roz.
– Daphne loves the Kenyan blend: “I like something that holds its body against my tongue.”
– What does Roz do when the romance is over in a relationship? “I get dressed and go home!”
– There’s a Pirates of the Caribbean joke in this episode, though obviously not in reference to the movie that wouldn’t come out for another nine years.
– Niles can’t cry? What a weird episode.
-“I want enough foam to be aesthetically pleasing, but not enough to leave a mustache.”
– The only funny scene in this episode is when Frasier and Marty start arguing about driving routes and tires on the ride to Niles’ house, and Eddie intently listening to Niles leave Frasier a voice mail, of course.
– Daphne did not understand Niles’ speech: “He was just talking about her excruciating small face, and how they laugh at white people.” What the hell happened to her brain in this episode?
[Photo via NBC]