Impressions: M*A*S*H- Letters

Letters is the second episode of the ninth season of M*A*S*H, and it’s kind of a doozy. It reminds me a lot of my previously discussed Baby, It’s Cold Outside, as it has a larger plot comprising smaller stories. In that episode, it was how the cold impacted the M*A*S*H; in this one, it’s letters. It has a blend of humor but a lot of sadness and presents all involved with a very difficult reality that they must face.

The show opens with heavy rain, and most of the characters respond fairly poorly to it. Only Potter, who insists it’s not as bad as what he faced while in the trenches, and Klinger seem to not be put out by it. Klinger comes with mail, and Hawkeye is given a parcel full of letters. A teacher friend of his responded to his writing about how boring it can be by having her class write to them. Hawkeye hands out letters to everybody, and when Father Mulcahy reads his first, asking about having saved lives, he wants to trade. Hawkeye says no, that they must answer the letters given, and reminds Mulcahy that he did, in fact, save a dog who was drinking too much. Many of the characters are shown reflecting on something in the past while answering their letters.

Most of the letters they answer give the audience something amusing. Potter recounts a story of trying to shoot hoops, but then the whole camp gets overly enthusiastic about him breaking a record. Mulcahy’s own story is him letting the dog drink enough to get sick, and the dog is then afraid of alcohol. Klinger talks about trying to make extra money while working there. Charles, who at first refuses to participate, spends his time being rather insulting to the children who wrote, of course.

Margret has a fairly sad moment, though, remembering a soldier that was dying as she stayed by his side and let him believe he would be okay to talk to him through his final hours.

Hawkeye is hit with a whammy, though. He receives a letter from a boy who tells Hawkeye that he hates them because his brother was wounded, was fixed at a M*A*S*H, then went back to fight and died. Hawkeye, BJ, and Charles are all visibly distressed and hit with the reality that, yes, they do, in fact, fix soldiers up to send them to their death.

When Hawkeye goes to Mulcahy for help, Mulcahy says he is going to honor Hawkeye’s rule that they can’t exchange letters. Not because he is insensitive to Hawkeye’s distress but because he believes that how Hawkeye answers the boy is important to both of them.

We flash back and forth between the stories and Hawkeye’s struggle with the letter.

At one point, we get an extremely touching scene when Charles ends up with a letter from a girl that sent a leaf because it is autumn in Maine and the trees are beautiful. Charles reflects on the beauty of autumn in New England and the kindness and beauty in a young girl’s heart. It’s a lovely moment that nicely counters the difficulty of Hawkeye’s.

Hawkeye eventually is able to answer his letter when he performs surgery on a child who slipped in the mud. He tells the boy that hatred is what causes war and that he can’t allow his love for his brother to be overshadowed by such an ugly emotion. Hawkeye also realizes that in the midst of all the horror and things he has to do, like “weapons repair,” as he calls it at one point, that they do genuine good, and he needs to focus on that.

M*A*S*H had a few episodes like this, flashback episodes where the flashbacks are all new. There is a decent variety of stories and moments that range in emotions. We get sad ones, funny ones, and ones like Charles’ that stand out to me. It’s lovely and still tear-jerking.

Hawkeye’s story is rough but good and important. There is something to the reality of M*A*S*H units and their place in war. Doctors did fix up people who later died because of it, and calling it “weapons repair” is pretty brutal but also real. It is also true that an over-focus on that detracts from the reality that the human cost would be much higher without them.

I rather like this episode, although it makes me cry. It is another in the later part of the series that blends sadness with humor in a very striking way that leaves you with a lot of emotions.

So bottom line? I would put this on any “to-watch list” for M*A*S*H viewers. Charles is funny then rather caring. Hawkeye’s struggle is powerful, but there is enough humor to keep it from getting too dark and overwhelming. It is a well-done episode and one of my favorites from the more serious seasons.

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