The Smell of Music is the 16th episode of the 6th season of MAS*H. It is far enough into the 6th season that Charles has become a more established character, and we are seeing the differences between him and Frank more clearly. It is also a good episode but might give viewers a bit of whiplash because the A plotline is rather hilarious, but the B plotline is sad and intense.
The episode begins with the MAS*H members getting out of what is told to be another marathon surgery session. Hawkeye and BJ discuss their plans post-surgery, only to be interrupted by fairly horrible horn playing. Thus we get our A and funny plotline. Hawkeye and BJ argue with Charles over his horn playing, and it ultimately devolves. When they say they are going to shower, Charles expresses happiness as they stink. In response, Hawkeye and BJ say they will not shower until Charles agrees to stop playing the horn. As Hawkeye and BJ are going around camp, everybody else starts to notice their funk, and they explain they are on a dirtiness strike. Of course, nobody is on their side, but they are at least a little sympathetic to the horrible horn playing.
The B plotline is introduced when they must once again go back into surgery. Father Mulcahy and Potter are showing concern over a young man with a wound to his face. Mulcahy points out that such an obvious and bad-looking wound will carry deeper impacts with it. This is confirmed when later, Potter visits the young man, and he expresses that he’ll lose his girl since he’s ugly now. Potter tries to convince him to give surgery a chance, but the man is inconsolable.
When Potter visits the swamp, he is bothered by the stink but still willing to let the surgeons work it out themselves. While there, the wounded soldier tries to kill himself and very nearly succeeds. It’s a pretty drastic turn from Hawkeye and BJ being teased about their smell.
Things keep pushing further ahead, and Hawkeye and BJ finally snap. They begin to cause a ruckus in camp, hoping to annoy Charles into finally giving up, and instead, he ends up in a stand-off with them. The soldier, not being guarded, takes off to the operating room to try to kill himself with gas. Potter finds him and at first fights with him to try to stop him. When that doesn’t work, Potter begins to take over and attempts to cover the man’s mouth with the gas to help him kill himself, not really with the intention to do so but to get the soldier to fight for his life. It works, and he fights off Potter and breaks down. Potter tells him he is glad that the “part of you that wants to live is stronger than the part that wants to die.”
While Potter helps the soldier back to his bed, the camp finally turns on the surgeons. They first attack Hawkeye and BJ with water and then scrub them down with soap. Once the two stinkers are clean, they take Charles’ horn and run it over with a jeep. Potter, happy that the soldier is finally okay and that the arguing has stopped, makes the surgeons pay for everybody’s drinks at the Officer’s Club.
This is a fairly solid episode of MAS*H and shows a lot of different aspects of the changes the show is starting to take at this point. One of the biggest is Charles vs. Hawkeye and BJ. While Frank would occasionally fight back, he tended to be much weaker than the two and so would never have pushed back as hard as Charles does in this episode. I have expressed before that this is a dynamic I really liked when they replaced Frank with Charles. Frank was too much of a punching bag and was also worthy of being so. While I don’t really feel sympathy for Charles in this episode, I mean, he’s bothering the whole camp, it’s not a case of Hawkeye and BJ going after him for being horrible, just a pest. The stand-off between the three is actually more amusing to watch, and it is nice to see Charles fight back. It’s also an extra bonus that it’s not even that Hawkeye and BJ are able to defeat Charles, but that the whole camp comes together to get back at all three of them.
Add to that, that it’s pretty hilarious. The camp pulls no punches on Hawkeye and BJ, and you get some good jokes at their expense. It is a good look at Potter’s character in terms of how he commands. The writers almost always – there are a few exceptions – did a good job of making it seem like Potter is not ignoring the problem but knows when he needs to let them work it out for themselves.
The B plotline is also exceptionally well done. The soldier’s pain is palpable. He truly believes that he will lose everything when he returns home. The love of his life, the respect of other people, and that the life he will live will be forever tainted by the scars on his face. My heart truly breaks for him, and it’s also sad watching Potter be so down. Potter wants so badly to help this young man but struggles to find a way to do so until the climax. Potter finally realizing what he has to do and forcing the man to fight him to stay alive is pretty powerful.
It’s an excellent look at both the remaining humor of the show and the shift to more serious plotlines. We are slowly moving into when the show will have a lot of heavier episodes with little (or no) comic relief but still in a transition. The balance with the surgeons works well for this stage of the show. While the B plotline is sad and serious, it would have been too early in the shifting tone not to have a more amusing A plot.
This episode also manages to avoid what I have called a consistent problem with the show. Both plots are fully fleshed out with a beginning and an end. I love MAS*H, but I will continue to repeat myself; there are a few episodes that either rush or even flat out don’t complete storylines. This episode avoids that, mostly. It is a little fast but overall solid.
So bottom line? A must watch if you are just picking out a handful of episodes of this series. It shows the new dynamic with Charles well, has two solid plotlines and manages to balance humor and sadness well. If you are looking for just an amusing episode, I would probably recommend a few others before this one. However, if you are looking for something that is more in the middle rather than the heavier episodes later, this one is spot on. It’ll make you laugh, make you sad, and comes around with a solid and happy ending.