Though she’s only seen on-screen once across the 20 seasons of Cheers and Frasier that feature Frasier Crane, Hester Crane is by far the most influential person on who Frasier Crane is. Her one appearance – featuring Nancy Marchand, who’d go on to play Livia Soprano on The Sopranos, until her death – is not a pretty one, either: Frasier introduces her to Diane (who he is dating at the time) and by the end of the episode, Hester’s trying to murder her. And yet, she’s one of the most important characters of Frasier’s life, especially in Frasier‘s first season, when her iconic status amongst the Crane boys sits in stark contrast to their relationship with Marty, her absence in their lives giving definition to the rifts between generations of Crane boys.
Written by Leslie Eberhard (who, unfortunately, would officially only pen one more Frasier script before his death in 2002), “Beloved Infidel” appears to be examining that rift between Frasier and his father, which comes to a head when Marty admits to having an affair with the wife of the couple him and Hester would have summer vacation with. Distraught, Frasier wanders around Seattle trying to figure out what happened; when he tells Niles “how could your father do this to my mother,” Frasier’s inability to come to terms with something that happened so long ago come to life. Frasier’s always identified with his mother, always felt closer to her than Marty; the first seven episodes have done a great job informing why, and tension in the household during his young adolescent age (if Niles was 9 the summer of the air, Frasier would’ve been 15).
An affair, however, holds completely different connotations for Frasier and Marty’s relationship; for those who’ve seen the last season of Cheers, Frasier was involved in a story about adultery, when Lilith cheated on him with Pascal, a scientist who lived in a pod. It eventually lead to him standing on a roof, declaring his life was over – something Cheers played up to a lot of humor, but something Frasier took very seriously as a catalytic event in Frasier’s life, starting the train that would end with him living in Seattle, standing in his apartment while Mrs. Lawler informs him that it was Hester and her husband who had an affair, not Mrs. Lawler and Marty.
That revelation completely changes the tenor of the episode; from there, “Beloved Infidel” is no longer an episode of comedy, save for Eddie’s comic relief rolling on the couch, or the running gag of Frasier getting Niles’ car towed for parking in the wrong spot outside a restaurant. In one of the show’s most moving scenes, Frasier confronts his father about Hester’s infidelity, and why Marty would try and protect Hester’s image decades after the incident (which Hester and Marty’s marriage ultimately survived, by the way). As the idolized member of the Crane family, the matriarch’s influence weighs heavy on her husband and children; and as Marty talks about how difficult it was to get over what happened, Hester’s absence proves to be the connective tissue between father and son that they’ve been searching for this first handful of episodes – and while they both “wish it was a birthmark,” they’ve found connection in the most expected (and unexpected) of places: in their own home, the place where every male reconciles with their father as an adult.
In the past, I’ve written at length about fatherhood and the value of “going home”; “Beloved Infidel”, in many ways, is the ultimate embodiment of these themes, which makes it an endlessly fascinating episode to watch, particularly in that final scene, where Marty and Frasier help each other heal from old wounds. Frasier is a show about taking chances and existing outside of the many definitions we (and others) place on ourselves; but more importantly, the best episodes of Frasier are about healing, about mending long-standing wounds in our lives. Throughout the series, this would morph into various things for each main character, but the thematic foundation of love and family remain the same, be it Frasier’s season-long dating slump in Season 6, or how the Niles/Maris story would eventually play out. However, the philosophy would always remain the same behind it, even in the show’s later, weaker seasons.
“Beloved Infidel” is as moving as an episode of a network sitcom can get, particularly when it tries to reach for the uncertainties in the story: is it really Marty’s fault Hester cheated, or is it deflection for a deeper wound? What will Frasier tell Frederick when he gets older and wonders what happened between his own parents? “Beloved Infidel” doesn’t try to have any of these answers: it is content living in the moment of connection between father and son, a beautiful, rare moment of understanding between the two, only colored further by the personal tragedies that brought them together, both in the past and present. That final scene stands among the most powerful, emotionally charged scenes I’ve ever watched on a so-called “comedy”; and while it might not make for the funniest television, it certainly makes for the most rewarding, heartwarming half hours of television you’ll ever watch.
– Needless to say, this episode sits high on my short list of “Best Frasier episodes ever.”
– There’s an entire subplot with Frasier and Eddie rolling around on the couch that I absolutely adore, if only because it gives us the image of him going nuts in over the closing credits.
– No sherry this episode, but Frasier does order a “nice and frothy” fuzzy navel, a first and last for the character, at least on this show.
– “What brings you here?” Niles: “A rental car, thanks to my brother.”
– Marty calls Daphne “Nurse Ratchet” after a tough work out, a phrase that has completely different connotations in 2015.
– Frasier’s silence at the question “What will you tell Frederick?” is unsettling, and played perfectly by Kelsey Grammer.
– Niles’ writing style at 9 – and the debate that comes from it – is a hilarious touch, one much-needed amongst the much darker material of the episode. “By 10, I had tightened my prose right up!”
– Daphne complains about being sent away for serious conversations, another great little touch.
[Photo via NBC]