By Ashley Amon and Andrew Daar
Season 1, Episodes 15 and 16, “You Can’t Tell a Crook by His Cover” and “The Show Where Lilith Comes Back”
Ashley: “I’m a great judge of character”, someone will say to you. Maybe you think it about yourself. We’d all like to believe that we can sum up a person in their entirety and Dr. Frasier Crane is no exception. In “You Can’t Tell a Crook by His Cover” the brilliant psychiatrist that he is believes whole-heartedly he can’t be fooled by a criminal mind. He understands the human psyche so naturally he’d be able to peg an ex-con, right? Thanks to a bet from Martin, Frasier plays Sherlock Holmes in a game of deduction, attempting to figure out which of Martin’s poker buddies is an ex-con. And comically, he doesn’t do so well. Frasier’s judgments are two-fold in this episode as he also underestimates Daphne. We’ve seen in past episodes how Frasier feels Daphne is part of his family and not just a servant. He feels a bit protective of this young woman and goes to the Topaz Room, a seedy bar in the dodgier side of Seattle, to retrieve her with the help of his brother.
And Niles, still worpshiping Daphne, is concerned that the “delicate English Rose” would be sullied by the element of the Seattle underbelly. The two brothers in this horrible dive bar is a great scene: suits and ties, Phi Beta Kappa keys dangling, they’re completely out of their element. It doesn’t matter, however, as the two men come to save Daphne. In the end, she does the saving. Daphne’s character development in this episode proves that she’s a tough cookie capable of taking care of herself. She grew up with an unusually large amount of brothers, she’s a hell of a billiards player, and she certainly doesn’t need the Brothers Crane to be her Knights in Shining Armor.
World: 2, Frasier: 0.
As for Daphne in the following episode (“The Show Where Lilith Comes Back”), her reaction to Lilith’s presence is priceless. With her connection to the psychic plane, Daphne presents physical symptoms because of a “clawing at the cosmic continuum”. And seeing that Lilith is named after the demon goddess of biblical fame, it’s great comedy.
So Lilith comes back.
Andrew, what do you think about Lilith’s return? This is her first appearance in the series and from what I gather, the first time Frasier’s seen her since their divorce/move from Boston.
Andrew: I’ve seen a handful of Cheers episodes, but I think only one of them had Lilith in it, so I don’t know much about their relationship prior to the divorce. Therefore, most information I had about Lilith came from Frasier and his family, and it wasn’t exactly glowing. Frasier speaks disparagingly about her over the radio, Martin calls her “weird,” Niles is in a petty tiff with her, and her aura is so negative that Daphne gets psychic headaches that don’t let up until Lilith leaves Seattle. But as the episode went on, I started to think that all of the leads were experiencing temporary focused poor judge of character. Lilith has plenty of flaws, but “The Show Where Lilith Comes Back” makes it clear that she and Frasier have a genuine appreciation for each other, even if they don’t love each other anymore.
Much of the episode’s — and, by extension, the character’s — treatment of Lilith is contradictory. The Cranes talk about her like she’s a passionless ice queen, but her relationship with Frasier is clearly based on passion. The two of them find each other incredibly attractive, and Lilith displays a lot of passion post-coitus (even if she retains her monotone voice). Daphne recoils from Lilith’s negative energy, but aside from being rude and overly analytical, Lilith never gives off a dark vibe. On the contrary, she shows affection, if not love, for Frasier, and she loves Frederich unconditionally. I understand that humor is often derived from exaggeration, but in this case, the action and the dialogue are so disparate as to undercut the foundation of some of the jokes.
On the other hand, the flaws Lilith does have are quite funny and do create some good hypocritical humor for the Crane family because many of Lilith’s worst traits are reflected in the Crane boys. Like Frasier and Niles, Lilith thinks she’s smarter than everyone around her. Like Martin, Lilith speaks her mind and can be downright rude in the name of “telling it like it is.” Her rudeness is more intense than Martin’s, to the point where she seems to lack the understanding of social decorum. (When Niles points out that laughing at Maris’ wedding vows was rude, she rationalizes her behavior by stating that she was merely expressing her honest reaction to the vows. But while the vows were indeed quite silly, part of being an adult is containing reactions that unnecessarily hurt other people’s feelings.) Still, it’s not a stretch to imagine why Lilith and Frasier got together.
I’d like to hear your thoughts on the show’s treatment of Lilith, but there is something else I need to address. I loved how “You Can’t Tell A Crook By His Cover” reminded us that Martin, despite not having the same education as Frasier, is a very intelligent and shrewd man and that Frasier’s intelligence is not as extensive as he thinks it is. But, there was something that caught me off guard and seriously undermined Frasier’s credentials as a psychiatrist. When analyzing Martin’s friends to determine who the ex-con was, Frasier took Linda’s comment about Daphne being attractive as an indication that she was a lesbian. Frasier noted that homosexuality is often the result of being confined among people of one’s own gender. Now, I’m aware that in the nearly 20 years since this episode aired, homosexuality has become more understood and accepted, but I’m trying to wrap my head around the idea that people believed that homosexuality was caused by the absence of the opposite sex. And if memory serves, Frasier was usually a pretty gay-friendly show (Dan Butler was openly gay at the time of filming, and I believe Edward Hibbert was as well; David Hyde Pierce was not out during production, but there was speculation). So I’m wondering: was this bad writing? Extremely poor research? Or were the writers intentionally trying to portray Frasier as out of touch about certain basic elements of human nature?
Ashley: I don’t think the writers were intentionally aiming to show Frasier’s thinking as stereotypical in regards to Linda’s comment. I honestly think it’s just a quip to explain Linda’s presence there at the poker table. If you were writing that scene how would you explain Linda? I mean, how would you present her as a possible felon? I’m not really sure what I’d do, but to be honest, the homosexuality angle isn’t the first to pop into my mind. But also, I don’t know much about prison culture so I think I’d be terrible at writing this scene. Do I think this scene would exist if Frasier were on the air now? Absolutely. I still think that writers today (men or women) would use Linda’s “Daphne is Sexy” comment to allude to prison homosexuality, and not in a way to cause offense.
As for Lilith, there is a lot of hyperbole surrounding her. I wouldn’t call Lilith “weird” like Martin (Maris, definitely); I’d say she’s dead-pan and monotone on the surface but underneath she loves the people that are important to her, including her ex-husband. Have you ever watched the series Wings? Frasier and Lilith make a cameo in one episode when they host a small convention on Nantucket. Lilith’s behavior in that is intersting as she shows jealously when Frasier keeps mentioning Frederick’s nanny Dagmar (and Dagmar’s ample bosom).
It’s possible that this “dark aura” Frasier and the rest of the characters claim to feel is an extension of the Evil Ex-Wife Archetype. Can you introduce the ex-wife that cheated on Frasier as she really is without this sense of darkness around her? Of course. Like you said, she’s terribly rude and abrupt. She’s kind of a show-off in the way she speaks to Frasier on his show as well as mocking Niles’ wedding vows. The same could be said about her interaction with Daphne. There could have been a way to write Lilith disparaging Daphne’s psychic abilities as complete phooey. I certainly wouldn’t peg Lilith as the demon goddess she’s named after nor a member of the Evil Ex-Wives club. She certainly hasn’t come back to hurt Frasier as any point in their post-divorce relationship
Andrew: I think you misunderstood me. The phrasing of Frasier’s question implied that he thought that going to prison causes homosexuality, as opposed to people engaging in homosexual conduct (sometimes against the other person’s will) for the purpose of getting some kind of sexual release. As for Linda, I don’t want to get too far afield of our purpose here, but there are plenty of ways to imply she might have been the prisoner without resorting to “lesbian inmate” trope. Conversely, the gay prison experience could also be used for either of the men. I also think that if a show today were to make the leap from homosexuality to prison, it would get into some trouble because it would be forwarding either the idea that homosexuality only occurs in prison or that all homosexuals are criminals. Suffice it to say the line made me very uncomfortable.
Although, in one sense, the line did fit in with just how out of touch Frasier and Niles were in this episode. They believe themselves to be so knowledgeable about human behavior, and yet Niles doesn’t see a problem with wearing his Phi Beta Kappa key to the Topaz Room and neither understand the gravity of the situation when they cause the guy to miss his pool shot. In the grand scheme of things, a single pool shot is meaningless and the guy should lighten up. But in the world of the pool hall, it’s the most important thing there is. And during the poker game, Frasier makes a complete ass of himself; Martin points out how much of a jackass he is when he makes the homosexuality “deduction.”
Seattle bars: The Topaz Room