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  • Writer's picturecasey

Frasier episode 3.13 "Moon Dance"

I came to the 90’s sitcom scene for Friends, but I stayed for Frasier. More specifically, I stayed for Dr. Niles Crane. The best episodes of Frasier are the ones that open with Kelsey Grammer casually stepping out to visit Frederick for a few days, not to be seen for the next half hour while Niles quite literally trips over himself for Daphne. I don’t dislike Frasier as a character, but he’s a lot. He’s yelly and condescending and he’s been around for so long that it’s nice to have a breather from him every now and then. And the rest of the Crane clan has no problem holding their own. The sign of a truly well-rounded cast of characters, when Frasier returns to bookend these episodes, I find myself thinking that I can’t believe how much has happened since he left.

“Moon Dance” is one of these episodes. I’ve seen it more times than I could count, and every time I find myself shocked that it’s only 22 minutes long; it really is an emotional rollercoaster. Frasier deftly ducks out to take Frederick to Williamsburg in the cold open, yet it doesn’t feel at all offbeat to still find Niles in his apartment in his absence- in fact, he’s here to bemoan his lack of a social life. Niles and Maris have separated, and he’s become privy to rumors and photos of Maris seeing other men. Martin, honestly an adorably patient dad, suggests Niles put himself out there and have some more self-confidence.

The next day punctuates Niles’ extremely limited social circle: he’s already in the living room when Martin, Daphne, and Eddie return from a walk. He’s practically giddy when he asks his dad if he’s free on Saturday. Martin can barely get out his “yeah, why?” before Niles blurts out “well I’m not, I have a date!”. He’s taking an acquaintance, Marjorie, out to their social club’s annual dance (“rumors persist about her husband’s death, but hey, a date’s a date!”).

Considering it’s the catalyst of the entire episode, the subject of dancing comes up incredibly naturally- of course it would never consider to Niles that he might actually have to dance at this dance (“Maris always hated public displays of rhythm”), and of course Daphne would offer to give him some lessons. Everything that happens in this episode makes for great TV and it’s also really just exactly what all of these people would do.

David Hyde Pierce has said that he didn’t expect anyone to like Niles, but he just has that extra ounce of innocence and integrity that earns him my sympathy when Frasier doesn’t. The dancing lessons start out harmlessly, not that Niles could be anything but. At first, he’s not even having that good a time: “this is boring, yet difficult” (the one-liners just keep coming and they’re too good not to highlight). But of course, after a couple drinks he can’t get enough of this quality time with Daphne. While she runs off to get another CD, Marjorie calls, cancelling their date. Martin apologizes to his son but heads off to bed before he can see Niles, tempted by the close contact of the samba, neglect to tell Daphne that he no longer needs the lessons.

David Hyde Pierce and Jane Leeves in "Moon Dance". Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

The next day Martin is properly confused, then concerned, when Niles has bought several new CDs for that night’s dancing lessons. In a quick aside, Martin tells Niles that he’s “sticking a fork in the toaster” by spending this intimate time with Daphne, which is instantly met with “well my muffin’s stuck!”. But when Daphne is back in earshot, Niles does the right thing and tells her about the cancelled date. Of course, his strength can only hold out for so long when Daphne offers to go to the ball with him herself. There’s no dishonesty in the situation anymore, and besides, she says she would have a great time.

Cue Frasier’s timely return from his visit with Frederick on the night of the dance. He’s his usual unpleasant self, announcing to Martin that he’s still on vacation and doesn’t want to hear a word from his family until tomorrow. The good news: he’s the butt of this joke, as the doorbell rings and Daphne, dressed to the nines, runs to answer it, excitedly declaring that her date has arrived. Of course, it’s Niles and the two head out, arm in arm, with Frasier’s jaw on the floor. Who could explain the situation? Certainly not Martin, who’s been forbidden to speak to him for the night.

At this point in the story, we’ve had some fun with Niles and Daphne, and Frasier has returned to bookend the episode. It could end here, and I’d feel satisfied, but we still have to go to the dance! This is when the silly and whimsical takes a turn for the emotional and poignant. Niles and Daphne arrive at the dance to many an apologetic look and anecdote about who has recently seen Maris where and with which attractive man. But soon, Daphne pulls Niles onto the dance floor and the fruit of their labor is on full display.

They take it one step further by attempting a tango, something they never worked on at home, but which Daphne insists Niles will love- after all, their bodies have to touch the entire time. Caught up in the heat of the moment, Niles declares that he adores Daphne as he twists and spins her around the dance floor, which at this point is all theirs. He claps a hand over his mouth as soon as he says it, but Daphne responds that she adores him too. Shocked but clearly elated, Niles finishes what has become an award-winning dance, and the two even share a kiss on the lips before landing in their final pose. This must be it, right? They danced, they shared some powerful words, they kissed, and it all happened so naturally. Is this the final 'will they' of their 'will they/won't they'?

David Hyde Pierce and Jane Leeves in "Moon Dance". Image courtesy of IMDb.

Niles is visibly blown away from the electricity of the moment, sitting down and barely even able to get a word out. They're talking giddily about how everyone was watching them, when Daphne revels over the fact that not only is Niles a great dancer, he’s also an impressive actor. The wind is kicked right back out of Niles’ sails as Daphne explains that they were doing a bit, going the extra mile to get Niles his street cred back amongst his peers. Niles lets this sink in, then, physically and emotionally drained by the most loaded tango I’ve ever seen, decides that it’s time to go.

When Daphne makes a quick run to the bathroom, a female acquaintance approaches Niles and gives him her card- in case he ever wants to go dancing again. Niles is very civil with her and is flattered by the offer, but when Daphne returns, he leaves the card on the table with no intention of taking it with him. Yet, as they make for the door, Daphne praises Niles for stepping out of his comfort zone tonight: “and to think you almost didn’t come. It’s a shame when people let fear stop them from trying something new.” Niles is struck by this, and excuses himself to return to their table and put the woman’s business card in his jacket pocket. In a layered closing line, Niles holds his arm out to Daphne; “I’m ready now”.

I think of this episode so fondly, and it is such a sound reminder that sitcoms can have depth, substance, and heart. And it did it all without its title character! Any time I want to think, laugh, and feel, all in 22 minutes, Frasier is my go-to. And I haven’t even gotten to say anything about the queer undertones that impact the entire show without ever being brought to the surface, so I’m sure I’ll be back another time with much more Frasier.

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