The old man and the cats…

MASH Revisited

“Dear Dad”

The first in a series, if only we knew. Hawkeye has at last got a lull, after 70 hours of “meatball surgery” and he’s writing his well-beloved father.

“If jokes seem sacrilegious in an operating room, I promise you that they’re a necessary defense against what we get down here at this end of the draft board.”–Hawkeye Pierce.

It’s a Christmas episode, and one in which Hawkeye gets to give us his perspective one all the denizens of the 4077th–Henry Blake is a good doctor, and a pretty good Joe,” he writes his father in Vermont (WHAT? Yeah.). But as a commander, Pierce doesn’t rate him too high–“it’s like being on a sinking liner, running to the bridge, and finding out the Captain is Daffy Duck.”

Mulcahy is setting out a Nativity scene, only to hear that his solo, “I’m confession’ that I’m lovin’ you” is the first number for the Glee Club. Radar is mailing a jeep home in installments.

In a nice bit of narration, Hawkeye invites his father (and us) to the mess tent for a cup of coffee. As he gets into the tent, he greets Mulcahy, trimming the tree, as “Red,” another lingering vestige from the book and film. Hawkeye makes the first of several amorous appointments. We then get to hear poor Henry try to discuss sex for the benefit of the enlisted, with most of his officers turning the lecture into agony for the poor Colonel. The charts the Army have provided are absurdly abstract, adding to the bemusement, as Henry, increasingly nervous discusses the “union of figure A to figure B, the woman…” things go downhill fast, thanks to Trapper’s hypothetical.

When Radar tries to get Henry to describe the sex act, Henry barks “dismissed” and lurches away.

Trapper, it turns out, has a great way about him with the local children, who love him, and the lollipops he gives them. Their parents trust him, too, as he delivers a baby cow.

Mulcahy is “a terrific guy,” Pierce tells us, only for us to see Mulcahy intervene between Burns and Klinger, whom he orders to remove his bandanna (a gift from his mother), only for Burns to knock over all of the samples for the lab, and then blame Klinger. (This is also very much from the film–when Robert Duvall as Burns has a patient die, he blames the mentally slow Private Boone, who breaks down in tears, thinking he’s killed a man. Whenever Frank Burns loses a patient, Hawkeye (Donald Sutherland) tells us, “IT’s either God’s will or somebody else’s fault.”)

Klinger launches himself at Burns, bouncing from bed to bed, with Mulcahy struggling to stop the fight (Burns is fleeing for his life, with Klinger in hot pursuit) until Klinger punches Burns, knocking him out. Mulcahy sends Klinger out, and gets the MPs to leave it with him.

When Klinger returns with a grenade, mayhem in his heart, Mulcahy asks Klinger down, recognizing the Corporal’s fatigue, his mother’s superstitious gift as an offering of love, and Mulcahy brings Klinger back to himself.

On the subject of the nurses, Hawkeye manages to combine lechery and admiration for their skill. He admits he wouldn’t mind making a pass at Major Houlihan, if he could do it and salute her at the same time.

In a prank based on that in the film staged against Duvall and Kellerman, Hawkeye and Trapper play havoc with Burns’s and Houlihan’s plans for a romantic evening–broadcasting some of their conversation, sabotaging her tent (the proof of the pudding is in the pillow). It’s not quite as mean as the film version, but it does feel petty.

Karmic justice is visited on Hawkeye, after he dresses as Santa Claus to give presents to the orphan children, only for an emergency to arise–a group of soldiers pinned down, one of them with a bad chest would. Hawkeye, still in his Santa outfit, is lowered down from a helicopter into the foxhole, and stabilizes the patient. When he returns to the 4077th, he collapses on his bunk, and finishes the letter–giving his father greetings from all the characters– Radar, Klinger, Father Mulcahy, “even Major Frank Burns,” Major Houlihan, the “ladies of the ensemble” (the nurses), Henry Blake, Trapper John, and his exhausted self.

The reverse credits and the Christmas music playing over them underscore the ensemble nature of the show, and the variations from the normal format and storytelling used by MASH makes the episode distinctive.

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