M*A*S*H is a war dramedy that follows the antics of a surgical hospital placed close to the front lines of the Korean War. It was adapted from the 1970s film of the same name and ran for an impressive 11 seasons from 1972 to 1983. A major theme about MASH is that while it was set in the Korean War, a lot of the anti-war messaging was fairly universal and reflective of the Vietnam War itself.
It also had some aspects that… well, aged poorly, to say the least. When watching something, I try to consider it in the context of the times it was made, but some jokes and plotlines can be a bit uncomfortable (it can be down right racist among other things for instance). Overall, however, it had a strong message against war and the value of human life, and had more positive messages than not.
The show itself went through a few stages as well. The movie was a dark comedy that leaned heavily into the zany antics of the main characters, and while there was some of the anti-war message, it was not as heavy. The same can be said for the earlier seasons of the show, which reflect the movie a lot more. Around the 4th season, the series started to switch, with the later seasons being much more heavy-handed with the messages.
I am a huge fan of the series. I would frequently watch reruns with my dad when I was young, and randomly throughout my life have picked it back up to watch it even more. In fact, I can say that Alan Alda as Hawkeye was one of my first sort of fictional/celebrity “crushes.” So I thought I would revisit some of the episodes.
I wanted to start with Baby, It’s Cold Outside from season 7. This episode of M*A*S*H is a bit different from other sitcoms as it doesn’t follow the a, b plotlines that a lot of them do. M*A*S*H occasionally does, but in this episode (and many others), it instead sets up an overarching plotline and then has several smaller stories related. In Baby, It’s Cold Outside, the extreme cold in Korea is the overarching plot, and everything sort of falls under that.
On the more comedic side of things, we have just the general struggle with the coldness. Radar is forced to take heaters from tents, and everybody in camp responds accordingly. Charles receives a polar suit from his parents, much to the annoyance of everybody else. He gives his gloves to Margaret only to regret the decision and spends the rest of the episode trying to get them back, trying to trick her, buy them, etc.
The more serious plotlines include Klinger going temporarily deaf due to their own mines exploding, thanks to the cold. Hawkeye also has a patient suffering from extreme hypothermia, and they are struggling to figure out how to save them.
All of this, of course, plays out with the usual M*A*S*H hilarity and light humor. From Radar suggesting they submerge the patient in a coffin filled with water, and the odd reaction to that, Klinger’s antics both when he loses his hearing and then upon getting it back. It gives and an entertaining and good snapshot of how much of the camp is impacted by the cold and balances both sides of the series.
The only issue that can come with this type of formula is that each of the plotlines moves quickly. By the time we have a chance to settle on what is happening to Klinger, he already has his hearing back. Hawkeye’s impatience over the temperature of his patient doesn’t land as well because we haven’t had to wait all that long. Potter doesn’t want to submerge him, believing it will have negative consequences, but Hawkeye feels compelled to do it after waiting around and nothing working. The problem is the episode is only 20ish minutes, so the pacing for that impatience doesn’t land as well as it might.
It is a double-edged sword for the episodes that dodge the a and b plotlines. It is better in that the coldness isn’t going to just impact two separate things but many aspects of the camp, but each of those smaller plotlines aren’t developed as well. It works extremely well in some cases and a little less so in others.
In this episode, it’s a mixed bag. I wish we had more time to sit and settle with things, but I like the faster pacing when it comes to the wit and keeping the humor going.
In the end, Hawkeye is able to save his patient, although with a little risk. Charles manages to steal the gloves back. Klinger gets his hearing back, but immediately tries to pretend he didn’t as a dodge. The episode also ends as many of them do, with the plotlines themselves having a conclusion, but the overarching narrative is still incomplete. They are still cold, they will still have to keep struggling, and it will still (in the fictional world) impact their ability to do their jobs. These types of endings work well with M*A*S*H. Almost everything is tidied up enough that the audience is satisfied, and it follows the overall sitcom rule of closing a story down. However, it leaves us with the sense of “they are still there, and nothing is truly finished” because nothing truly is.
So bottom line. I guess going with M*A*S*H overall then this episode. I do tend to recommend M*A*S*H a lot. As I said, some of the humor and plotlines have aged pretty poorly, but not all of it. The messages are strong and usually good, and if you like zany and quick-moving humor, it is all over the show. I tend to prefer the later seasons over the earlier ones. And season 7 hit a nice stride for me with the balancing act of trying to be an anti-war drama but still the screwball comedy it once was.
This episode, in particular, I would recommend if you are doing a rewatch. It is a good snapshot episode of various different aspects of what is happening in the camp, even if each individual part does not feel fully fleshed out. This one will make you laugh more than think but doesn’t completely lack that drama undercurrent. Although I wish Radar didn’t have that damn balaclava (if you watch the episode, you’ll get it).
So what do you think? Are you a fan of M*A*S*H? Are there episodes you particularly like? Any episodes you’d like me to cover? Let me know!