The old man and the cats…

MASH Revisited:

S. 1, Eps. 5-6: The Moose/Yankee Doodle Doctor

Yung Hi apparently got off lightly.

It seems that the “moose” (a corruption of the Japanese word “musume” (“Girl”) was a real phenomenon. (There’s a singularly unedifying section on the relationship in Japan during the Korean War in a Korean War veteran’s online memoir, which asserts that the relationship was generally sexual in nature.) 

So Sgt. Baker, who is perhaps the most unsympathetic character in the series to date, is not as abusive as the reality would have allowed, as Yung Hi insists that Baker has not taken advantage of her in that way. 

The Swampmen–Hawkeye, Trapper, and Dr. Oliver Harmon Jones (Oliver Wendell Jones, in the original novel–don’t make me put his nickname in print; it hasn’t aged well!) recoil at this young woman being sold by her family into servitude. After a failed effort by Captain Pierce (in full uniform for a change) to bully his subordinate officer into releasing Yung Hi, the Swampmen set up a rigged poker match, with Radar spying on Baker’s cards, and a receiver in Hawkeye’s ear allowing Radar to transmit the information. Hawkeye wins the poker game, and Yung Hi.

Happy ending?

Not quite yet; Yung Hi now seeks to serve Hawkeye as well as she served Baker. Pierce tries to teach her how to enjoy freedom, but she keeps trying to be a good worker. Hawkeyes tries to send her to Seoul, but she returns.  

When they try to return Yung Hi to her family, as a free woman, her baby brother Benny–an Americanized young tough of the Damon Runyon variety, with a heart filled with larceny–who explains that he will just sell her again, for even more money.

In a lovely moment, the Swampmen are downcast at her leaving with Benny, only for her to return, having learned who to tell to “shove off!”

So the Swampmen try to “de-moosify” her, teaching her self-respect, having her work around the hospital, and discover that she’s capable of more than serving American soldiers. She finds a home at convent school in Seoul, and the episode ends with Pierce, McIntyre, and Jones celebrating her freedom, and her new attitude, as revealed in a happy letter from Yung Hi.

The episode is funny–Benny is a comic monster who uses Korean tradition to exploit his sister, while ignoring tradition himself–and poignant. The censors in 1972 would hardly have let the show show Baker as sexually exploiting Yung Hi, but by having her allude to Baker’s not having done so, the possibility of it is underlined for the audience.  

But even absent the specter of sexual exploitation, the fact is that Yung Hi has been treated by her family, by Baker, and by who knows who else, as a commodity–a thing, not a person. Pierce, McIntyre, and Jones are genuinely revolted by this, and their efforts to free Yung Hi are comic, but increasingly urgent.

Timothy Brown , another alumnus of the film, playing Corporal Judson, not as Dr. Jone. He is very good–he’s warm, confident, and holds his own in his scenes with Alda and Rogers–in fact, he’s memorable when he gets to mock Alda’s Pierce for not living up to his high principles. His anger at Yung Hi’s position is equally authentic, and his rapport with the two leads is convincing.  

Brown’s part is especially visible in this episode in part because the cast is so shrunk–this is the episode where he is most directly involved. “The Moose” is something of a “bottle episode” as, part for a brief scene in Henry’s office, the story really exclusively belongs to Yung Hi, the Swampmen (minus Burns) and the guest stars.  

****  

Alan Alda is clearly enjoying himself in “Yankee Doodle Doctor,” and his enjoyment is infectious. He gets to do a long–really long–impression of Groucho Marx (its first appearance in the series), with Wayne Rogers as Harpo as they subvert a ridiculous propaganda movie (starring Pierce, scripted by Burns, and sponsored by yet another of Margaret’s general rank conquests–Herb Volland as General Crandall Clayton).

While Alda’s is the star turn, Larry Linville’s pompous narration–absurd, but just this side of plausibility, only a little more over the top than Don La Fontaine–is as funny as any of Alda and Rogers’s antics. Though the unveiling of the narration to a mocking Pierce and McIntyre is possibly the best comic beat of the episode, as Frank tries to impress, and Loretta Swit does a great slow burn:

Frank Burns: [practicing reciting for upcoming film] “A group of brave men are at work in a make shift operating room struggling to save your sons and brothers while outside the dogs of war bark at the door of this sanctuary.”
Trapper: [Hawkeye barks like a dog] Down, boy, down, down! Roll over. Jump through that.
Frank Burns: “These are the saints in surgical garb, dedicated surgeons, all volunteers. Every red-blooded American knows, if he is wounded, he will be in the strong, capable hands of a Yankee Doodle Doctor.”
Hawkeye, Trapper [singing]: A Yankee Doodle Doctor? Stuck a feather in his nurse and called her macaroni.

Hawkeye and Trapper destroy the film, and make one to their own taste–Groucho and Harpo impressions, slapstick, and a sober finale from Captain Pierce:

Hawkeye: [Recorded at the end of the film Hawkeye and Trapper made] Three hours ago, this man was in a battle. Two hours ago, we operated on him. He’s got a 50-50 chance. We win some, we lose some. That’s what it’s all about. No promises. No guaranteed survival. No saints in surgical garb. Our willingness, our experience, our technique are not enough. Guns, and bombs, and anti-personnel mines have more power to take life than we have to preserve it. Not a very happy ending for a movie. But then, no war is a movie.

It’s a good ending. Even General Clayton agrees–he intends to keep it in the new version, that will open with his intro, and end with Pierce’s musings. But the General wants a copy of the Pierce/Mcintyre version, too. He needs a good laugh, every now and then.

LOVE & WAR:

*Major Houlihan seems particularly irresistible to Generals Hammond and Clayton.

*In a nice call back to “Requiem for a Lightweight,” Hawkeye manages to reverse Trapper’s winning the affections of Lt. Margie Cutler (Marcia Strassman), and walks off with her at the end of the episode.


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