The old man and the cats…

MASH Revisited: S. 1 Eps 3-4

Margaret (Loretta Swit) is more complicated than she seems even this early.

No, no; I don’t intend to force episodes together into mini-reviews. It’s just that these two go together so naturally that it’s hard not to look at them together. That’s partially because the first focuses more on Trapper John, while Hawkeye is the focus of “Chief Surgeon Who?” We start seeing some differences between the two Swampmen, and each has a moment in the Sun.

For Trapper, in “Requiem” it’s winning the affections of Nurse Margie Cutler (Marcia Strassman) because “you fought for me.” And indeed Trapper does–albeit a little reluctantly. Still, the good doctor (he fights under the name “Kid Doctor” against General Barker’s large and loutish “Killer.”

For Hawkeye, it’s being appointed Chief Surgeon of the 4077th by Col. Blake, over the vehement (if shrill) protests of Major Burns, and the more formidable objections of Major Houlihan, relayed to General Barker (Sorrell Booke), another of the Major’s amorous conquests. (General Hammond in the pilot and “To Market, to Market,” was as well. He’s also one of the very few actors from the film to recreate his part for television, as did a considerably more important character, Gary Burghoff’s Radar O’Reilly. More on Radar a little down the road).  

In “Requiem,” we see both doctors are infatuated with Margie. When their infatuation offends Margaret, she transfers Cutler to another unit. In Trapper and Hawkeye’s effort to persuade Henry to countermand Houlihan’s transfer and get Cutler back, Hawkeye puts aside the venery for a moment, and appeals to Henry’s best side; the man is a good doctor, and Hawkeye urges him that “Real talent in the operating room is hard to find.” Henry glumly agrees, and offers to do it if either Hawkeye or Trapper will participate in the inter-unit boxing tournament. Hawkeye claims shoulder damage, and wheedles Trapper into agreeing to fight.

We get several training scenes that are pretty amusing, including one in which Father Mulcahy reveals that he is an experienced trainer for CYO boxers, and, asked to give Trapper some advice says “Prayer. I don’t think he has one.”

But let’s take a look at a moment when Trapper is working the bag (Frank’s bag, if he did but know it) in front of the Swamp. Trapper is, as mentioned, working the (Frank’s) bag. Hawkeye is resting comfortably in a chair sipping a martini when Margaret walks by. Hawkeye gives her a cheery “Oh, Good morning, Major,” and Margaret’s response is–well, I find it interesting. Loretta Swit gives a brilliant, happy smile, and responds with an even more cheery cheery “Good morning, Captain.” It’s a well acted moment; Hawkeye in a good mood, carelessly being polite, Margaret’s persona unfolds a little bit, she allows herself to be warm. Even when Hawkeye decides to get rid of her, he does so in the same friendly tone, saying “‘Im afraid I can’t ask you to stay. My boy’s in training, and he’s not even supposed to look at a women until after the fight.” Margaret, still friendly, answers, “Oh, I understand.” Swit plays the moment as Margaret enjoying being friendly with Hawkeye and Trapper; she seems genuinely happy. Then of course it shatters. “Just a minute,” the Major almost growls, “isn’t that Frank’s bag?”

Trapper answers, pretty brutally, “I thought you were Frank’s bag.” It’s rather nasty. Alda plays it quiet, almost as if Pierce doesn’t quite know how to react to Trapper’s dig. Margaret, angry, but hurt, storms away. It’s a moment when, for just a minute, you can see Margaret and Frank’s side of things.  

When the boys discover that Trapper’s opponent is, apparently, a killing machine, it’s John Orchard’s “Ugly John” Black, the anesthesiologist, who comes up with a plan (based on his own experience): douse the boxing gloves with ether, get in a “lucky shot” (and hold it to the face of the other fighter), and declare victory. And it’s likely to work except that Frank–in a moment of surprising acuity–swaps out the ether for an ether bottle filled with distilled water. At the end of the first round, the somewhat battered Trapper is holding on, but the switch is found out–Hawkeye gets fresh ether, and the day (and Margie Cutler’s affections) is saved.

“Chief Surgeon Who?” contains some resonance of “Requiem.” As in the earlier episode, General Barker is drawn to the 4077th, this time based on a complaint from Major Houlihan, about the inappropriate behavior of the newly appointed Chief Surgeon, Hawkeye. Ironically, it’s Frank’s own complaint about Hawkeye’s behavior in the OR that gets Hawkeye the unsought post. In particular, Hawkeye offends by countermanding Frank’s recommendation dealing with pancreatic injury. Frank, relying on “the book,” says “drain it.” Pierce belays that order, imperiously saying “resect it.” He criticizes Frank as “a year behind in your journals,” and Hawkeye’s advice is taken.  

With Frank demanding charges against Pierce, including failure to salute a superior officer, Henry has him brought into the room. Watching Burns and Pierce spar, Henry makes a decision: “What I obviously have to do is appoint a chief surgeon…He’ll be in charge of all surgical situations. In addition to his own work, he’ll assist each shift to help with the tough cases. The job will be a killer.” Burns assures Henry that he can adjust, only to find that Henry has given the job to Hawkeye. Burns protests, but, as usual when it comes to medical matters, Henry knows what he’s doing. Pinning Frank with his eyes, he raps out “Face it! Pierce is the best cutter in the outfit. He’s certified in chest and general surgery. In case you haven’t read the papers, there’s a war on. We’re here to patch guys together. We can’t be so G.I. we lose patients.” Frank plaintively asks “Are you implying he’s a better doctor?” Henry saves Frank’s face a little, answering “Yes, when the heat’s on.”

Burns resorts to Margaret for comfort and passion, although his effort to be brave at the slight leads to him weeping against her torso. Meanwhile, at the Mess Hall, a coronation of the new Chief Surgeon is under weigh. (The scene, in a nice use of source material, is a toned down version of a similar scene in the novel and the film.) Radar leads Hawkeye in while bestrewing his path with confetti. Hawkeye, when urged to give a speech that starts off funny, then changes: “But let me say this, honestly, when you live in a cruddy situation like this long enough, you get to love a few people and even hate a few. I guess outside of our families we’ll never be closer to anybody than we are to each other.”

Trapper then asks, “You finished?” and Hawkeye responds “What did I get on the humble meter?,” to the annoyance of those who thought Pierce was moved. The mood lightens when Radar runs in with Hawkeye’s orb (a volleyball) and scepter (a plunger). 

Burns and Houlihan have lured General Barker to the unit, where he is confronted by Corporal Klinger (first appearance!) in a WAC uniform. Barker is unimpressed. Concerned that Pierce is neglecting a patient, he’s infuriated to find him playing poker. When he returns, Hawkeye is gone. But then, wandering the camp to find Blake, he runs into a series of romantic trysts including, to his intense annoyance, Margaret (whom he had hoped was waiting for him) and Frank. Several hours later, he finds Hawkeye scrubbing up, and goes in to watch. Pierce’s delay has given the wounded soldier time to receive blood and fluids and to stabilize. In surgery, he finds additional injuries that Barker did not, and performs coolly and calmly. On their way out of the OR, Henry challenges Barker:

Blake: Well, sir, what do you think of my chief surgeon now? 

Barker: I’m not very good at apologies, Pierce, but forgive a rusty old doctor, will you? 

Pierce: I think you’re very good at apologies, General.

Blake: Major Burns is probably going to continue to complain to you about the promotion.

Barker: May I make a suggestion about Major Burns? 

Blake: Yes, sir.

Give him a high colonic and send him on a ten-mile hike.

Pierce: With full pack.

Barker: Good touch.

The next scene bookmarks Margaret’s brief rapprochement with Hawkeye in “Requiem.” In a busy OR, Trapper asks Hawkeye for an assist. But Burns has a tough issue, and asks “Can you give me a hand with this resection? ” Hawkeye makes sure Trapper can keep his patient’s situation stable, and goes to assist Burns. Calmly, respectfully, he looks to Frank, and says “I’m ready, Doctor.” The two start working. Hawkeye says to Frank, “We’ll split the fee, right? After a second, Burns answers, matching Hawkeye’s tone, “right.”

Beneath their masks, both doctors smile.

Transcripts of the episodes: 

Requiem for a Lightweight

Chief Surgeon Who?

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