{‘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.}

‘Requiem for a Lightweight’ – airdate 1st Oct ’72

Director – Hy Averback

Writer – Robert Klane

Hawkeye & trapper & cutler

Now I don’t often do a recap in my writing (just go and watch the damn episodes yourselves, they’re less than 25min long. Do the laundry or something while you watch them, be productive instead of sitting around all day waiting for bloggers to explain 45yr old TV show episodes to you) but I figured I’d give it a go here, just for fun:

“Hawkeye & Trapper find a new toy they want to play with, but can’t agree to share. Margarent sees the toy is distracting them, and tries to take the toy away. The only way Henry will prevent Hawkeye & Trapper from having their toy taken away by Margaret is if they agree to let this become the ‘Boxing episode’, so they do.”

Wow, that WAS easy. And anyone who’s seen and remembers the episode knows I’ve left out one incredibly important part – the ‘toy’ Hawkeye & Trapper are in competition over is Nurse Cutler, played deftly by Marcia Strassman. Now I swear I won’t let each and every audit of M*A*S*H episodes devolve into a finger wagging over blatant sexism, but it’s hard not to point it out here. Cutler is literally treated like a commodity, a prize for Hawkeye & Trapper to compete over. Her thoughts or opinions on her assignment and the attention of the two senior doctors are never explored beyond her mild desire to stay around these two dashing doctors who are just, gosh darn it, so good to her. Margaret doesn’t make things better when her solution to the doctors near harassment of Cutler amounts to sending her away. Now on one hand I try to understand, this IS the Army, and individuals need to be prepared to be re-assigned as part of the job, but through our modern lense we see another woman’s desires and objectives being sidelined by the lascivious wishes of the surgeons.

Now in the M*A*S*H universe, we know that the primary method of addressing this issue, Houlihan dressing down Hawkeye & Trapper for their distracting ways and making them respect her ‘authoritay’ is not going to happen, so the comedy needs to emerge from another source.

Image result for respect my authority gif

Hawkeye & Trapper are not written as characters who will take Margaret seriously, so the accepted understanding we have in our modern age of asking men to be responsible for their interactions with women needs to be put aside. Hawkeye & Trapper want something Margaret doesn’t want them to have. They need to convince Henry to go along with what they want, so he extorts them. All over the assignment of one nurse. Hilarity ensues!

And it does, once you get out of the first part of the episode. Once the boxing story is introduced, it becomes an episode of M*A*S*H I recognize. In fact, this is the FIRST episode in the audit that I distinctly remember watching as I grew up. This episode is chock full of the one-liners and word-play that I know shaped my sense of humour as a child. Things as simple as Radar describing the General’s boxer: “If he wanted to, he could be a platoon.” Or when McIntyre asks what happend to the individual who boxed last year “She’s gone!”

trapper boxing

Which leads to me another interesting point about sexims from this episode: In 1972 that joke about the female boxer would’ve landed because it was absurd. “A female boxer?” You might ask (as I frantically google ‘history female boxers’) “No such thing, just another bit of ludicrousity from the 4077” But watching the show today, that joke has a whole different meaning. There’s nowhere near the same stigma and ignorance around women’s sport today as there was 45yrs ago, yet the implication that in a major military unit fighting in a conventional war, the toughest boxer on site is still a woman, makes me chuckle. I take it as subtle dig at the passiveness and pacifism of the male characters in the show, since Hawkeye & Trapper are both lovers not fighters (as is evidenced by Trapper’s boxing abilities) Mulcahey (wearing William Christopher’s skin for the first time!) is a priest, Burns is an unequivocal weenie, and Blake is a hapless mess.

mulcahey

What a great segway into Colonel Blake! Henry is quickly becoming my most favourite character on this show, I’m sure I never gave him a fair shot in all the years prior. He’s overworked, underqualified and yet still manages to ‘command’ his camp. A good point was made that despite Henry being a complete pushover, he’s still in charge of the 4077, and him slamming the door on Hawkeye & Trapper over Cutler is a great example of this. I’m also in love with his monologue to himself after he first realizes Radar has had him sign half a dozen blank sheets of paper “…to save time.” His soliloquy is amazing considering that it runs under someone elses dialogue and was probably obscured by the laughtrack (if I bothered to listen to that format of the show). What I love most about Blake is how he is both inept and still capable. He couldn’t care less about how the camp is run, as long as it’s run. This makes him APPEAR to be a witless fool, but lets not mistake a lack of finesse for a lack of care. Henry is deeply devoted to the camp he runs and the people in it, evidenced by just how much shit he lets them get away with on a regular basis. The only times we ever see Henry get uptight are when the camp and its workings are threatened. His response to general Barker’s appeal for a boxer is one such instance, since if Henry were to outright decline or refuse, the 4077 would come under greater scrutiny from the General, thus putting its bizarre and manic workings under a much greater microscope than it needs. He is on the side of Hawkeye & Trapper so long as their antics do not threaten the “smooth” operation of his little domain. It’s this kind of pre-dudeist mellow that also allows me to push past Henry’s infidelity.

Blake & general

Though it’s never made a focus, Henry is indeed married. So far his wife has received little if any mention, but she does exist. For several episodes we’ve seen Henry involved in potentially compromising positions for a married man, but these are played off for humour, as so much of the sexist philandering in this show is. Ultimately M*A*S*H was made in the 70’s, a time of major socio-sexual revolution in America, and the laissez faire attitude about infidelity is a sign of the times. In that sense, I see Henry as far less of a pursuant, (unlike Hawkeye & Trapper) and more of someone prepared to make the ‘best of a situation’ when it came to the potential affections of women nurses under his… command. Oh crap, just stepped in another problem…

Won’t go there now, but I will use the previous discussion to outline a larger issue with a more prominent character: ‘Trapper’ John McIntyre is also married. And this is a bigger problem as far as the show is concerned when it comes to empathy for Trapper. In order for this story to work, we need to pit our two lead males against each other, however in any conventional situation, it’s clear who between them should be the primary suitor of nurse Cutler: Hawkeye. Trapper is married, and this has been in the forefront from the pilot episode, yet he pursues nurse Cutler in the same manner a single man would, competing with Hawkeye for her affections. As fun and humour as this is, it hurts our appreciation of Trapper because we as the contemporary audience are actively watching him pursue a morally objectionable act. If this was Rescue Me or Mad Men we would be able to understand his actions in the broader context of a complicated, flawed character, but Hawk & Trap are meant to be the good guys, we’re meant to relate and empathize to them and their need to flaunt authority in the face of horror, but this simple act pushes Trapper back a step. What I come away with, I’m not sure about others, is that Trapper is a great surgeon, a practical joker and a blast at parties, but he may not be the most moralistic or reliable friend. He’s the kind of mate you love to hang around with, but ultimately wouldn’t trust with your money or the task of picking you up from the airport.

 

‘Chief Surgeon Who???’ – airdate 8th Oct ’72

Director – E.W. Swackhammer (dibs on coverband name)

Writer – Larry Gelbart

emperor hawkeye

Among the first of the M*A*S*Hiest of M*A*S*H episodes, this is the one that clarifies just who the very best surgeon in the 4077 (hint: it’s Hawkeye) while setting us up with a third-act premise that M*A*S*H will return to time and time again.

What am I blathering about exactly? Let’s take some time to get there, because I have a word count I’m trying to hit and I don’t like my audits of different episodes to be different lenghts. This episode holds one of my favourite writing convetions, mainly technobabble. I grew up watching ‘Trek (surprise!) so I have a healthy ear for the techno sounding nonsense the characters need to spout to each other when talking about the future world they live in. The term ‘technobabble’ was coined to explain and provide context to this highly structured (but most often nonsensical) way of conveying information to the audience without them actually knowing what you’re talking about. “Rerouting the phase emitters and polarizing the secondary junction shunt should return power to your primary energizer coils!” Says Scotty/LaForge/O’Brien/Torres/Trip whoever, and the ‘Trek audience buys it because we know those words are supposed to mean SOMETHING in context with the universe. In M*A*S*H here we get an excellent example of surgerybabble between Spearchucker (He’s still here, wow) and Hawkeye. It sounds technical, and since I’ve watched ‘HOUSE MD.’ 3 and 1/2 times I’m pretty much a medical technician myself so I grasp what it is they’re communicating to each other, and this scene is used to put Frank Burns on the outside by demonstrating that HE doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Even though the audience is in the same boat as him, it appears to that much more inept because the other characters illustrate how thin his understanding is of the subject matter.

Now of course shows like M*A*S*H, HOUSE MD., Grey’s Anatomy and others have medical consultants on staff who fill in the surgerybabble with applicable and plausible phrasing, (but not on Scrubs, everything on that show that wasn’t Eliza Coupe was a hackjob not worth noting… [then whey did you note it, jackass?]) so unlike ‘Trek it’s not made up by the production designers, the language has a real-life beyond the confines of TV. I grew up knowing a lot of medical terms, what hemorrhage was, what a hematoma was, what tachycardia meant, and was always confused later in life when people were unaware of these medical terms. Guess I need to thank M*A*S*H for A) making me seem like a pretty smart kid when I was 10 and B) making sure my exhaustive knowledge of 70’s surgical terminology made me look like a complete loser when I was 17.

henrys office

So Hawkeye is the new chief surgeon! Hooray! Never mind that in the original novel and film that Trapper was made chief surgeon. The reason for such a change probably had something to do with the charisma and marketability of Alan Alda over Wayne Rogers (but they both so dreamy…) but it does lay the foundation for Rogers leaving in later seasons, feeling that Alda’s Hawkeye was receiving the ‘lead actor’ treatment on a show that was intended to be an ensemble from its first inception. In the context of the show it makes sense that Hawkeye is made chief surgeon over Trapper when one considers the different levels of responsbility we seen from both characters. Henry lays it out pretty clearly when he states that the chief surgeon needs to be able to devote more time than before to patients on all shifts, be available for consults at any moment. Based on the character we’ve had painted for us, Trapper is not that responsible. He may be an amazing surgeon, but between the two of them Hawkeye is the one I would count on to put himself out to help other surgeons or patients. I think Trapper enjoys his off time too much.

We are also painted a beautiful picture of what Frank’s place ultimately is in the show. When Henry establishes that he sincerely believes that Hawkeye is the better surgeon “…when the heat’s on.” cements Hawkeye’s legendary status in the minds of the audience, while finally qualifying that Frank is a ‘decent enough’ surgeon, but will never be the type to inspire confidence in his abilities. By awarding the title of Chief Surgeon to a man ranked lower than he is, M*A*S*H deliberately relegates Frank to the role of ‘punchline’ for the rest of his duration on the show. It works because it gives Hawkeye & Trapper a great target to practice on, but it undercuts Frank’s potential as an antagonist. Margaret serves as a better foil for Hawk & Trap in the future, while Frank is just good for setting up the laugh track (which I don’t hear anyways…)

debut klinger

We get to meet Klinger! Finally! And in all his glory of course, bucking for a section 8 psyche discharge by wearing women’s clothes. Now, when his character gets featured more prominently we’ll talk about the delicate nature of equating wearing gender non-conforming clothes as an expression of mental illness, but for now we can just enjoy his presence as another wacky background character adding colour to the 4077th. His character’s second appearance in the episode, naked, plays better to the mental health angle, but is immediately reduced when he returns to his dresses in later episodes. Henry is right thought when he comments that Klinger “Has the legs for it.” Jamie Farr has a set of calves I know a few gym folk would die over.

There’s insight into Radar here as well, when General Barker discovers him in Blake’s office at 3am drinking his booze and smoking his cigars. Radar’s response to being caught is priceless though: “I thought one of us needed to be reasonable.” It just goes to show how comfortable Radar is with his manipulation of Henry, and it gives a very different kind of Radar than we will see when Potter arrives in a few seasons. That Radar returns to being a very innocent, naive character, while the current Radar is much more sinister and self-motivated. Time will tell which Radar I enjoy more.

So why is this episode ‘super M*A*S*Hy’ to me? The story plays with several tropes that M*A*S*H will return to time and time again in its 11 yr run: The ‘big general comes to the 4077th, finds it to be a den of bedlam and vice, but ultimately warms to the unit and its inhabitants when he discovers how well they ‘doctor’. I’m going to keep track of how often we run with this chestnut in the future, but for now I know we have at least 2 examples, the Pilot and this episode. I will keep a running counter going forward. It’s a story point that works to drive home the purpose and message of the show, but it’s also a very ‘ends justify the means’ message, which can become problematic as we move forward. M*A*S*H is nothing if not replete with conflicting and counter-intuitive messaging.

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