Second Look: Frasier Season 1 Episode 8 – “Beloved Infidel”
Frasier Season 1, Episode 8 “Beloved Infidel”
Written by Leslie Eberhard
Directed by Andy Ackerman
Aired November 4, 1993 on NBC
For seven episodes, Frasier‘s been squarely focused (save for “The Crucible”) on the distance between Marty and Frasier Crane. Behind the strength of the dual lead performances of Grammar and Mahoney, Frasier has quickly grounded itself as an Odd Couple-esque comedy, about two men whose tastes and philosophies couldn’t be any more different. It’s a proven blueprint for a series; but the emotional final moments of episodes like “The Good Son” and “Space Quest” have teased something greater – potential “Beloved Infidel” catalyzes into one the best episodes of Frasier‘s first season (and one of my personal favorites of the series).
Though she’s only on-screen once across the 20 seasons of Cheers and Frasier featuring Frasier, Hester Crane is by far the most influential person on who Frasier Crane is. Her one appearance in Cheers‘ third season – played by Nancy Marchand, who’d later play the iconic Livia Soprano on The Sopranos – 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 giving definition to the rifts between generations.
Written by Leslie Eberhard (who, unfortunately, would officially only pen one more Frasier script before his death in 2002), “Beloved Infidel” picks up where “I Hate Frasier Crane” left things emotionally between Frasier and his father. After Frasier and Niles see their father secretly out to dinner with a former family friend, the brothers dig into the past (via the overwrought prose in Niles’ childhood journals) and remember a fallout with a couple their parents used to spend their summers with.
Their speculations lead to Marty admitting he had an affair with Marion Lawler, which caused weeks of fighting between him and Hester, and nearly destroyed their marriage. He won’t hear anything about it, though, which leaves Frasier and Niles distraught (Frasier tells Niles “how could your father do this to my mother!”) – if the first seven episodes have shown us anything, it is Frasier’s inability to understand his father’s choices, and cheating on his beloved mother is the perfect spark to dramatically escalate their conflict.
But rather than the news of the affair drawing them further into conflict, “Beloved Infidel” drops an ingenious twist on the audience to justify the sudden dramatic intensity. As the first episodes hinted towards, Frasier was involved in a story about adultery himself during Cheers‘ final season, when Lilith cheated on him with pod-boy scientist Louis Pascal. It eventually lead to him standing on a roof, declaring his life was over – something Cheers played up to a lot of humor, but would prove to be the catalytic event for his divorce and move to Seattle. That, of course, would lead us here; 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” drops its sitcom trappings to become a one-act play, of father and son finding the space to heal. 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. As the idolized member of the Crane family, her 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. While they both wish it was a birthmark they had in common, they’ve found a foundation for reconciliation in the terrible experience they’ve gone through, decades of conflict and regret beginning to heal over the shared misery and self-doubt of what they’ve been through (while also recognizing their active role in it, something I found particularly refreshing).
Thanks to some sharp writing and incredibly articulate performances, the third act of “Beloved Infidel” is amongst the best Frasier would ever have to offer (in later seasons, when Grammar’s performance is bordering on clownish, it’s always good to come back to episodes like this as a reminder of what he’s capable of). Frasier is a show about taking chances and existing outside of the many definitions we place on ourselves and others, and life’s insistence on subverting them. And the very, very best episodes are often about the role of healing in the pursuit of that growth and peace, as we try to mend the hardened scars formed by our shittiest life experiences.
Throughout the series, this idea would manifest in different ways for each main character, but the thematic foundation would remain intact (even in its later, weaker seasons), be it Frasier’s season-long dating slump in Season 6, Roz’s journey to motherhood, or how the Niles/Maris story would eventually play out.
I also love what “Beloved Infidel” leaves unanswered: 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, and smartly opts for a quieter, more meaningful resolution, with Frasier putting the family photo album back into storage, while Marty kicks back and turns on the TV before fading to credits. There’s no big hug, no tears, and no emotional score to drive home the impact of the scene preceding it. That restraint, a rarity for the young, rather theatrical sitcom, makes for a powerfully understated ending, and a wonderful final note to one of Frasier‘s finest half-hours.
- There’s an entire subplot with Frasier’s “couch rules” and Eddie’s defiance of them, which is worth it, if only for the tag over the closing credits.
- There is sherry in this episode… more interesting, however, is Frasier ordering a “nice and frothy” fuzzy navel while at dinner with Niles.
- “What brings you here?” Niles: “A rental car, thanks to my brother.”
- Man, I forgot just how infrequently Roz is used in these opening episodes.
- Frasier’s silence at the question “What will you tell Frederick?” is unsettling, and played perfectly by Kelsey Grammer.
- Niles: “Well, it’s times like this most families pull together and draw strength from each other. What shall we do?”
- Niles’ writing style at eight years old – and the debate that comes from it – is a great touch. “By 10, my writing had gotten considerably tighter.”
- Daphne complains about being sent away for serious conversations, showing a bit of that Moon family fire bubbling under the surface.