{‘Audit Season’ is a segment where I break down my personal experiences and the world building details of a property. Each entry contains my musing on the world building nature of the segments as well as how these stories affected my life.}

PILOT airdate 17 Sep ’72

Director – Gene Reynolds

Writer – Larry Gelbart

I’m not here to synopsize, if you haven’t seen the episode it’s like 45 yrs old at this point, go and watch it for christ’s sake, then come back and read, pretending you never had to do any homework. But yeah, this is the episode where Hawkeye & Trapper raffle off a trip to Tokyo with ‘Lt. Dish’ (of the ‘dishnetwork’ Dish’s I suppose…) to earn money to send Ho Jon to medical school in the US, then find themselves having fallen afoul of Brig. General Hammond when the plan, typically, goes awry at the last minute.

This episode is just about as M*A*S*H as they come, which isn’t a surprise seeing as this is what they sold the series on. All the elements from the original film are here, modified for TV. Everyone except Radar O’Reilly has been recast, so that doesn’t really need to be explored (except for the bizarro-Father Mulcahey played by George Morgan, like he’s from some Kelvin-universe version of M*A*S*H) There are a few slight differences here from the film, most of which I can see existing to placate a few producers who felt they needed to have some kind of input/opinion on the final product; O’Houlihan is now just Houlihan, no longer played by former starfleet officer Elizabeth Dehner, sorry, Sally Kellerman. Instead she’s brought to life by Loretta Swit, and we’re all the better for it. Hawkeye is less his bucket hat and signature whistle, and Trapper seems to have lost his moustache, but the rest of what we see is instantly recognizable. The protracted opening is a perfect call back to the feature, Radar gets to be Radar, Blake is a near Forrest Gump-ified version of his future self, and everything in Korea is as it should be…

I grew up watching M*A*S*H on north american TV, so I cut my teeth on the laugh track. I’m watching off the DVD’s on this audit so I make the POINT of turning it off and enjoying how bizarrely sardonic the humour is. What is LOST in doing that however is the constrast between the surgery scenes and the rest of the show. While the laugh track is offensive to everyone alive who has ever laughed, having it present but then also absent during the surgery sequences was an excellent way to illustrate the duality of how the characters live, and what the show is trying to say. One could choose to view the laughtrack itself as a kind of terrible joke played on the characters, intruding on their lives with its ‘humour’ and where the only safe place is the one location they are using the humour to defend from. One could choose to, if they wanted. But one could also just turn the damn thing off and appreciate the amazing screenwriting without the obnoxious voices of ghosts echoing in your ears (because you can be guaranteed that everyone who’s voice is recorded on there is now dead.)

hawkeye and dish

On the theme of creepy things, let’s talk about Hawkeye and his stalking. Now I’m gonna do my very best to make sure not EVERY article I write about M*A*S*H is obsessed with it’s latent sexism, but it needs to be addressed properly if we’re all going to get out of here with our equality and diversity intact. Hawkeye wants Lt. Dish bad, bad enough to hide out in her footlocker for… “X” amount of time until he opens it up Bela Lugosi style to ‘surprise’ her. Dish, being the calm, cool lithium addict that she is, isn’t fazed at all by a man appearing in her wardrobe storage. She just closes the lid on him again, to wait for… what? I want to see the part where Hawkeye gets out again and leaves “I really have to pee.” This feeds into something though: Lt. Dish spends most of show sending Hawkeye very mixed signals, she says she’s “Engaged and trying to be faithful!” all the while cooing and not entirely pushing back against Hawekeye’s advances. Don’t be mistaken though, Hawkeye is definitely the aggressor here. All Dish can do is “Tee hee, stop that!” to him playfully.

This is important because as an impressionable child who learned all his most important lessons from TV, Hawkeye was one of my first examples on how to treat the opposite sex. Now make no mistake, Hawkeye has nothing but love, affection and (some) respect for his female co-workers, but by today’s standards he’s living on the border of sexual assault and owns a summer home in the enclave of sexual harassment. He reflects the same kind of ‘advice’ that has been passed down from men to their sons for patriarchial years: “Persistence pays off”. I’m not going to refute someones anecdote about how indeed persistence did pay off in the end, but I’m going to say with a great deal of (unverified) confidence that it almost never works the way it should. From TV Hawkeye (not Sutherland Hawkeye either, that’s a whole different discussion – go check out my last M*A*S*H post) I learned that being self-depreceatingly funny while also being sexually aggressive was a surefire way to endear yourself to the ladies. It probably instilled a sense of good humour in me, because truth of it is we see Hawkeye being rejected much more than he succeeds. It works like this; seems to me anytime we enter a scene where Hawkeye is already settled down with a woman, he’s on his way to being a charming success, but anytime we witness Hawkeye trying to make the initial connection, we see him failing. I’m hoping that by watching the further 11 seasons of this show I’ll be able to suss out whether this trend holds up or not. Yes, it’s terrible to learn how to treat the opposite sex from a TV show but what was I supposed to do? It’s not like I could just hide in their closets… No, no I could not do that. Because no matter how much I would think I was being charming or coy, the police would tell me I was ‘trespassing’. So thanks Hawkeye, for giving me such a terrible impression of how women react to being stalked.

Let’s also not forget the entire point of this episode – Hawkeye and Trapper make money selling raffle tickets that entitle the winner to a weekend in Tokyo with Lt. Dish, you know, to enjoy her company and love of cherry blossoms. The show gets around the accusations of prostitution by ultimately pairing Lt. Dish with someone who’s never, ever been accused of sexual wrongdoing, a priest. Of course bizarro-Father Mulcahey is a paragon of virtue and never presented as anything less, so the short term selling of a person as a prize is made okay because the winner is very unlikely to do anything untoward to her. The ends justify the means in Korea! Wait, weren’t we sending a kid to medical school with all this money? Right!

not mulcahey

There’s one final kicker here, and that’s Hawkeye & Trapper’s interaction with Gen. Hammond. This is a trope/theme we will see replayed time and again in M*A*S*H, the ‘Two doctors physically assault another, but are SOOOO good at what they do that the law is powerless against them” trope. Let’s be real, in a *nearly* justified action they drug Frank Burns in order to prevent him from stopping their party, and when Hammond is brought to bear on the issue, his anger is melted by the fact that Hawkeye & Trapper are the best meatball surgeons in the army. Works out too well for them, since they end up stuck where they started, not in jail and waiting for the next set of choppers to arrive. This kind of thing will reappear again in M*A*S*H, mark my words.

The Pilot is an excellent window on what the show will be, feeling just like any other solid episode of M*A*S*H does. Not sure if this is a testament to how well executed the show is, or to how little the show changes over time. The situation demands further audits and investigations!

“To Market, to Market”

Airdate – 24 Sep ’72

Director – Michael Herlihy

Writer – Burt Styler

all gone

This is probably the very first episode of M*A*S*H that feels like it’s own episode, rather than a bite-sized version of the film. It follows the M*A*S*H book of storytelling where a problem is noticed by Hawkeye & Trapper, to which they engineer a truly hair-brained solution, that ultimately blows up in their faces, yet they still somehow succeed. In the same sense that the characters in ‘It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia’  can never manage to succeed due to being terrible, self absorbed people, Hawkeye & Trapper ALWAYS succeed, despite the odds, because they are just so darned lovable.

This episode does an excellent job of making comedy out of a very serious problem facing doctors in this situation, the black market. It’s the strength of this show, it’s ability to find comedy in what it is the doctors do in their situation, rather than searching for it in either the sad racial stereotypes the show perpetuates at this point or in mocking the comically sinister Burns/Houlihan duo. Jack Soo as Charlie Lee brings some amazing acting chops to what would’ve been a charicature role otherwise, and his expressions when Hawkeye & Trapper remove his desk to be potentially replaced by Blakes new desk (You’ll never guess, it’s made of oak!) are priceless, a great piece of acting and directing I think. This episode is FULL of that kind of thing, though the focus on events and characters OUTSIDE the camp rather than inside marks this as a story still trying to find it’s feet, it’s soul. As the series progresses we see more and more stories where the conflict, drama, and hilarious, wicked comedy comes directly from events inside the camp, driven by characters whose names are in the title sequence, and this is when M*A*S*H really starts to shine. I won’t at all fault what we have happening here, because it’s great entertainment in its own right, but it’s indicative of a show that has a long way to go before it finds its true groove.

Which brings me to a deeper issue with M*A*S*H thematics. The show tends to be divided up among fans between two eras; What I call the ‘Feature’ era, which is where we are now, and ‘Later M*A*S*H’. The differences work as such: The Feature era is of course directly connected to the film. All the characters from the film are here in the first season, though Spearchucker and Ugly John are hardly used and eventually phased out because you can only have so many featured characters per episode, and neither Spearchucker nor Ugly John are ever given any real development or chance to grow. Hawkeye & Trapper are truly where it’s at, and therein lies the big change. Some time in the future Trapper will leave to be replaced by BJ Honeycutt, and all of M*A*S*H will turn on this change. Why’s that? Right now, Hawkeye & Trapper are two peas in a pod, two jokers, both wild. They’re the best/worst kind of enabling friends who constantly challenge each other to ‘do better’, to be more outlandish. There’s so sense of restraint or responsibility between them, since neither of them cares to be responsible. When BJ arrives on the scene, he changes the dynamic Hawkeye has with the audience. No longer do we have two maniacs running the show, now we have a Jekyll/Hyde relationship, or more what I like to think of as a ‘Calvin & Hobbes’ relationship. Hawkeye will always be Calvin, brilliant in every way but unable to overcome his own internalized urges and emotions, whereas BJ is a much more refined character, a true Hobbes. He’s still a lunatic, don’t get me wrong, but there’s an honesty and heart to him that Trapper John McIntyre is missing. Trapper is nihilistic (“Bad news from home; My wife still loves me!”) while BJ is a true family man. He plays off Hawkeye’s deeper empathies and brings them to light, whereas Trapper simply trampled  right over them in order to reach the next drink, or prank. BJ becomes the philosopher who Hawkeye must gauge himself by.  By the era of ‘Later M*A*S*H’ we also have a change from Blake to Potter, and Burns to Winchester and these new characters do an excellent job of complimenting the remaining cast members better than their original counterparts do. I’ll touch on this again when we start to see these casting changes appear, but for now it’s enough to understand that the dynamic between Hawkeye & Trapper creates a very different kind of story than the ones we will see in the first and second seasons.

Want to know what’s crazy about these episodes? I’m pretty sure than until I lined them up for this audit, I’d never seen them before. That’s actually saying something because M*A*S*H was a mainstay on the TV growing up, so much so that in recent years I’ve only ever found one other episode in much later seasons that I was sure I hadn’t seen. I remember having a small prejudice against these earliest episodes when I was younger because they still featured characters I didn’t know too well and didn’t stick around (Spearchucker and Ugly John) and something about them didn’t quite feel ‘settled’ yet. Also, with Klinger not yet part of the cast I feel like a very important part of the show is missing. So yes, there are a few episodes even a die hard fan like me has yet to see, and if in performing this audit I can find MORE episodes I never realized I hadn’t seen, I’ll be a very happy individual. Not sure how likely that is after all though, since I’m literally wearing my M*A*S*H shirt as I write this and only a scant few tens of thousands of consumers out there can say that.

IMG_0983

*proof*

‘To Market, to Market’ also gives us what will become another mainstay of M*A*S*H, and that’s the ridiculous sight gag. Henry’s desk, flying away into oblivion is both a beautifully comic solution to our hero’s problems, but also serves as an amazing image on its own. There is a huge part of me that suspects the ‘Flying Lenin’ sequence from ‘Goodbye Lenin’ must’ve taken at least SOME inspiration from the desk sequence here. When you also consider that all the interiors are shot on a Hollywood soundstage while the exteriors were on location in the So-Cal mountains, it ’twas some brilliant directing and editing that managed to link both of these locations visually and continuously without ever creating the impression that the inside of Henry’s office ISN’T also out in the scrublands hills of wherever. We also can’t forget the hilarity of Henry rushing up to his liquor cabinet to check that the black marketeers didn’t take his booze, completey missing the fact both his prized desk and his office wall are missing. It’s the kind of over-the-top visual humour that will keep the show moving long into the future.flying desk

And mentioning Henry brings me to one last point. The lovable father/son relationship between Blake & Radar. In no way am I brilliant enough or have been around long enough to have deduced this myself, but over the years fans have noticed the caring ‘father/son’ thing between prognosticating Radar and ‘out to lunch’ Henry Blake. I see it too, but I’m pretty sure I see it a little differently. I don’t see a loving yet bumbling older father offering guidance to his young, naive son, I see an elderly dementia patient being tended to by his adult child. Think about it, Radar needs to do nearly EVERYTHING for Blake, and Blake can’t even remember what any of it is half the time. I know a few elderly folk fighting the good fight with Alzheimers, and the way Radar tells Blake everything he’s about to ask feels a lot like explaining for the twelfth time that it is not 1972 and this is a different prime minister Trudeau. Blake would be absolutely lost without Radar, and Radar knows it. So of course in true M*A*S*H fashion Radar goes about taking advantage of the situation he finds himself in. Do I advocate having your dementia stricken parent sign papers of which they don’t understand? No, not at all, unless they are Blake and you are Radar, in which case it becomes hilarious.

goodbye desk

One day Henry Blake will be my Hallowe’en costume – essentially as soon as I have a Hallowe’en party to go to and I don’t procrastinate and anm forced to  throw together another iteration of ‘The Dude’.

Until next time M*A*S*H fans!

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