Of course, the “will they, won’t they” storyline is not unique to “Frasier” and is often found in one form or another in the TV series / sitcom world. David and Maddy (“Moonlighting”) and Ross and Rachel (“Friends”) are just 2 examples that spring to mind. Nevertheless, perhaps what made the Niles and Daphne coupling (or lack thereof) so compelling was that, unlike similar unrequited pairings, we the viewer were never absolutely certain that these two would ever end up together, since it always seemed like the attraction was completely one-sided. With David and Maddy the attraction was blatantly mutual and merely unspoken, and although it was mainly Ross lusting after Rachel, there were some pretty strong hints that she also felt something for him (albeit unconsciously). The writers of “Frasier” chose a much subtler, more effective and ultimately more believable approach. For starters, Niles and Daphne are polar opposites in practically everything – personality, tastes, social standing etc. – yet we can accept that Niles would be attracted to Daphne because she represents everything that he himself desperately wishes to be. He’s uptight and she’s laid back, she’s down to earth and approachable while he’s aloof and neurotic – the list goes on. In fact, given Niles’s usual choice of partner (Maris and later Mel), his infatuation with Daphne should have been even harder to swallow – all praise to David Hyde Pierce’s performance that we never questioned this. Besides, let’s not forget that Martin and Hester Crane was a similar case of opposites attract.
Which just leaves the question of Daphne. Could she ever possibly feel the same way about Niles? Well, for the majority of the series I found myself thinking “No way”. Yet, here again I must congratulate the writers for making Daphne’s developing feelings for Niles believable. Rather than employ a more sudden transformation – Daphne finding out and instantly (and conveniently) realising she loved him too with little or no explanation as to why – the writers took their time and made it a more gradual process, drawn out over half of season seven. In fact, Daphne was all ready to let him down gently had not events prevented her from telling him she knew. Instead, knowing that Niles harboured deep emotions for her was enough to start Daphne looking at him and, over a period of time, realising that Niles has all these really good qualities – his chivalry, his attentiveness, his caring nature – as well as some less obvious ones. I’m glad that they took this approach as something that I’d always disliked about the Ross/Rachel revelation was that it took virtually no time at all for Rachel to switch from virtual apathy to complete affection.
My one objection – and this is something that someone else identified in another review – is I felt that not enough was done to demonstrate why Donny was the wrong man for Daphne. True it added to the tension as it felt like it could have gone either way when Daphne was choosing between Donny and Niles. But the flipside of this is that it was hard to see why Daphne would even look at Niles when Donny seems like such a nice guy and Daphne herself describes him as “a dear and wonderful man”. She’s happily engaged to Donny, finds out by accident that Niles has been in love with her for seven years, circumstances prevent her from telling Niles that she knows and with this new found knowledge starts to look at him differently and notice that he has all these qualities that she never noticed before. Look turns to like, like turns to attraction and attraction turns to love. The process is believable but what sets Daphne on this journey is less clear. Rather than give Donny some repellent qualities, we simply have to accept that Donny is just not ‘the one’ – something that we’ve known since the previous season in “Visions of Daphne” when at the end of the episode it was revealed to the audience alone that Niles was meant to be with Daphne. One route that the writers could have taken was for Daphne to realise that she’s also had feelings for Niles for years but never realised. In fact this is the most likely explanation for the development of Daphne’s emotions. This is never made particularly explicit but there are subtle clues throughout the earlier seasons. For instance, Daphne’s comment in ‘Moondance’ that she was surprised how easy it was for her to pretend that she was in love with Niles. Or in ‘Daphne Hates Sherry’ when it became apparent that Daphne is attracted to Niles to an extent. Certainly physical attraction is a factor and let’s face it, Niles is better looking than Donny is, but then if Daphne’s relationship with Donny was completely secure and built on love then surely she wouldn’t be looking elsewhere.
In the end, it’s probably best to just accept that the romantic in Daphne was stimulated by the revelation that Niles has been in love with her for seven years. To learn that you have been the object of someone’s passion for such a long time, it is only natural to feel at the very least flattered. In Daphne’s case it would make her feel attractive, feminine and desirable, all of which would naturally draw her to Niles, but above all it would make her feel romantic. Perhaps her relationship with Donny has never been particularly romantic. Not to mention that Niles does have time on his side – he’s known her for a long time and the two of them have become good friends – whereas Daphne has only known Donny for about a year and a half. In conclusion, the long-awaited union between Niles and Daphne was very satisfactory if rather agonising. When they finally share their first kiss, surely we all exclaimed “Thank God”.