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24 May 2006 @ 09:41 am
M*A*S*H: An Introduction  
As promised to slayra, here's a post that I hope will help to explain M*A*S*H to those unfamiliar with it. It took me ages to finish, more due to laziness than anything else, of which I apologize. *hangs head in shame* Anyway, hope it helps you understand what the hell I'm always going on about!

Warning: I'll be mentioning some spoilers whenever necessary, so beware. Also, some of my comments are related to my own personal opinions, so please don't hurt me :P








Background
MASH stands for Mobile Army Surgical Hospital - the name given to a medical unit serving as a fully functional hospital in a combat area of operations.
According to Wikipedia, MASH units were "designed to get experienced personnel closer to the front, so that the wounded could be treated sooner and with greater success. Casualties were first treated at the point of injury through buddy aid, then routed through a battalion aid station for emergency stabilizing surgery, and finally routed to the MASH for the most extensive treatment. This proved to be highly successful; it was noted that during the Korean War, a seriously wounded soldier that made it to a MASH unit alive had a 97% chance of survival once he received treatment."
In 1952, Dr. H. Richard Hornberger was drafted and sent to serve in a MASH unit stationed in Korea. His experiences served as inspiration for his novel M*A*S*H: A Novel About Three Army Doctors, which he published the following decade under the pseudonym Richard Hooker.
In 1970, Robert Altman released a movie adaptation of Hornberger's novel, but made sure that almost all references to Korea were obliterated in order to make an allusion to the Vietnam War, which was still in progress at the time. Starring Donald Sutherland as Hawkeye, Elliott Gould as Trapper and Robert Duvall as Frank, the movie received several Oscar nominations (including Best Supporting Actress for Sally Kellerman's portrayal of Margaret), winning for Best Adapted Screenplay.
The movie's success made 20th Century Fox consider a sequel, based on the second M*A*S*H book, M*A*S*H Goes to Maine. Plans for the sequel led to nowhere, however, and were eventually replaced by plans to make a TV version of the original movie, which premiered on CBS on September 17, 1972.
Initially, ratings were very low and the show risked cancellation after only one season. However, a change of schedule when season 2 commenced helped to boost the show and to attract more fans, and eventually M*A*S*H rose to such success that it spanned 251 episodes, lasting for 11 seasons (4 times more than the duration of the Korean War).

The 4077th
Attention, all personnel. By direction of the Secretary of the Army, under AR 220-315, the Meritorious Unit Commendation is awarded to the Mobile Army Surgical Hospital 4077th unit for exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services. Despite the necessity of working in a forward area under adverse field conditions, this hospital maintained the highest professional standard at all times. The ability, loyalty and esprit decor exhibited by this hospital reflects great credit on each and every member.
--Deluge (season 4)

The MASH unit in which the show takes place, the 4077th, is often pointed out as one of the best. It is also the last place where its staff would wish to be. The camp is often bombed (sometimes by their own side) or attacked by snipers, there's either a lack of important supplies or an excess of useless stuff, the food is undeserving of such name, and wounded soldiers, generally nothing more than children, arrive in massive amounts, forcing the surgeons to work for days without the chance to rest. And this, obviously, is especially hard for people who don't belong in the army and don't believe in the validity of the war they've been forced into.
The way the people at the 4077th manage to maintain their sanity is to go crazy. This might seem like a contradiction in terms, but the truth is that, by maintaining a healthy dose of silliness and absurdity, they manage to face the horrors of the war without being devoured by the utter insanity and pointlessness of everything that surrounds them.

The Characters


Name: Benjamin Franklin Pierce
Rank: Captain
Played by: Alan Alda (all 11 seasons)
Hawkeye comes from Crabapple Cove, a very small community in Maine. An only child, he lost his mother when he was very young, and was raised by his father, Dr. Daniel Pierce (who gave him the name Hawkeye after his favorite book, The Last of the Mohicans), with whom he has a very close relationship.
Hawkeye is a brilliant surgeon, and the greatest asset the 4077th could have - which explains why he became chief surgeon when other surgeons outranked him. He's also the most disruptive person in the camp, and the one who expresses louder his utter disgust for the terror surrounding them, which is why he's often criticized by Frank and Margaret for disrupting morale. However, it is his precisely this disturbance that gives strength to the camp's morale on many occasions - and it's also what helps him maintain his sanity.
The biggest problem with Hawkeye is that he feels too much. As Colonel Potter points out, when it comes to death, Hawkeye is a sore loser, which is why he reacts so badly to defeat, and why he is so dedicated.


Name: John Francis Xavier McIntyre
Rank: Captain
Played by: Wayne Rogers (seasons 1-3)
General: "Trapper" John McIntyre is my favorite character in the movie - and, in spite of the fact that in the TV show other characters raise higher in my top list of favorites, I still have a soft spot for the man.
The show never explains where the nickname "Trapper" comes from, but we can find the explanation in the movie:
Hawkeye: Trapper John. Only man ever felt fulfillment in a Boston-Maine Railway in the ladies' can. Conductor opened the door, the girl looked out and yelled "He trapped me! Ohmygod he trapped me!"
--M*A*S*H (the movie)

There is a big difference between the two versions of Trapper - the movie version is a loud, talented thoracic doctor who is closer in personality and plot development to the television version of Hawkeye than to the sweeter, goofier Trapper we got from Wayne Rogers - but overall, the Trapperness of Trapper remains intact and we can easily see this explanation for his nickname as still being valid. We can also imagine that he and Hawkeye already knew each other before Korea, though we don't get many references to that either.
Trapper is married and has two children, and it is pointed out on several occasions that he loves his family - but this doesn't stop him for being as much of a womanizer as Hawkeye. He has a kind heart, though, and spends some of his free time (when he's not chasing the nurses, that is) helping the villagers and especially the children.
He reacts to being in the middle of the war with a mix of cynicism and goofiness, instead of the anger that is more easily seen in Hawkeye and BJ (his successor). However, if you look carefully you can see that he is being eaten up by the whole situation, which eventually gives him an ulcer.
Why he leaves the 4077th (spoiler - select with cursor to read): He is sent home in season 4's first episode, Welcome to Korea; we don't know if the ulcer he developed earlier had anything to do with it, but it's a strong possibility. Hawkeye goes to see Trapper at the airport in order to say goodbye, but misses him for 10 minutes.


Name: BJ Hunnicutt
Rank: Captain
Played by: Mike Farrell (seasons 4-11)
General: With the departure of Trapper, Hawkeye found a new partner in crime in BJ Hunnicutt. As the first new character to be added in replacement of someone already well-known and loved by the fans, BJ is the result of an intelligent strategy of M*A*S*H's Powers That Be: instead of getting a character who is just like their predecessor, we get someone who can fill in said predecessor's shoes but has a rather distinct personality and a different way to handle things, something that we will get with all subsequent replacements in this show. With Trapper, we had a red-nosed clown, while BJ is more of a white-faced one - a (more or less) straight man who can help with the craziness but who is more able to be the voice of reason when Hawkeye takes things too far or is in need of a calmer approach to things. He is also closer to Hawkeye in some aspects in which Trapper would react differently. AND he wears the best ugly hat in history, but that's beside the point.
The first time we see BJ, he's a fresh-faced young captain, who was drafted the moment he left medical school and who had to leave to Korea before he could truly experience fatherhood (his daughter, Erin, was born while he was in training). Completely unprepared for what awaits him as a MASH doctor, BJ has a real baptism of fire in the journey from the airport to the 4077th (Welcome to Korea, season 4), a journey that will also cement his friendship with Hawkeye and ruin all hopes Frank had that he'd be able to mold the new doctor to his image. As the season progresses, we see that BJ is adapting himself to his new life and becoming as rebellious, unmilitary and efficient as any of his colleagues. However, his heart is still in the San Francisco Bay with his wife, Peg, with whom he exchanges an enormous amount of letters and packages.


Name: Frank Marion Burns, AKA Ferret Face
Rank: Major
Played by: Larry Linville (seasons 1-5)
General: Frank Burns was one of the characters who changed the most with the transition from movie to television. Initially a brooding religious fanatic (some touches of that early religious obsession can still be seen in season 1), with time he changed into the ferret-like, beady-eyed twit the fans loved to hate, and whom his television portrayer, Larry Linville, once said was based on "every idiot I've ever known."
Originally from Fort Wayne, Indiana, Frank is married to Louise, but has been involved with Margaret Houlihan "ever since they both laid their beady little eyes on each other." (Hawkeye in Dear Dad, Season 1). His love for Louise's money (the only reason why he married her in the first place) is stronger than his love for Margaret - which, added to the most "charming" aspects of his personality, will be responsible for the demise of their wartime romance.
A terrible doctor, who has the tendency to blame his constant mistakes on someone else, Frank is unsurprisingly the butt of his colleagues' jokes when it comes to medical matters. His obsession with military order and discipline is the main reason for Frank's disgust for the wild, fun-loving life at the 4077th. Angry at the fact that Henry lets Hawkeye and Trapper get away with anything, he tries to go over his head on several occasions (and even tries to get him court-martialed) and takes any opportunity he can as second-in-command to insert some strict discipline in the camp. With Henry gone, he rejoices in the fact that he's now the commanding officer and tries to mold the 4077th to his image, but the arrival of Colonel Potter will thwart his plans - and in spite of Potter being regular army and thus having a more military approach to things, the fact that he has removed Frank from his spot of power (and later showing some acceptance to the actions of Hawkeye & co., understanding their position) makes him refuse to accept and appreciate Potter's authority.
Why he leaves the 4077th (spoiler - select with cursor to read): After Margaret marries Lieutenant-Colonel Donald Penobscott, Frank has a nervous breakdown and starts to chase blonde women in the streets of Seoul. He's eventually sent back to the States and promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel, much to Hawkeye and BJ's ire.


Name: Margaret Houlihan
Rank: Major
Played by: Loretta Swit (all 11 seasons)
General: Of all the characters in the show, Margaret is probably the one who changed the most as time progressed. The events she experienced and the people she encountered while serving as head nurse at the 4077th made her change from the strict, army-obsessed antagonist to Hawkeye & Co. from the early seasons to a caring, loyal ally.
Margaret's passion for the army is deeply rooted in her childhood - as an "army brat," the army has been the only home she's ever known, which is why she defends it so passionately:
Margaret: The service is my life. I was born in an army hospital.
Potter: Started in khaki diapers, hey?
Margaret: Mother and I followed Dad to every army post he was assigned to: Benning, Ord, Dix, Kilmer... The army was all I knew! I had no idea what a civilian was. I thought it was somebody waiting around for his uniform to come back from the cleaners. When I was five I had a crying fit because they wouldn't let me have a crew cut. I was born to serve, Colonel. You must let me!
--Deluge (season 4)

Of course, this vision of life is bound to generate conflicts with doctors sent to the front by force, who don't have that attachment to army life and have no intentions to understand someone who has. In the movie, we get a scene that shows that shock of ideologies, in which Margaret and Hawkeye try to have a friendly conversation; Hawkeye asks her where she comes from and she replies with "the army is my home," which makes him roll his eyes in disgust and which is the starting point to what eventually becomes an argument in which both parts refuse to acknowledge each other's point of view. This "army vs. doctors" conflict is the starting point for their animosity and for Margaret teaming up with Frank, who shares her viewpoints (though their mutual attraction also counts as a strong factor for them to become allies). In this point of the show, consequently, we'll see Margaret as a strict, ruthless antagonist, who is not afraid to use her many contacts in high places (*coughs*) to undermine Henry's authority and ensure discipline. However, in some occasions, we manage to see glimpses of her more caring side, which will later become her most noticeable trait, as in season 1's Sticky Wicket, when she swallows her pride and tries to reach for Hawkeye by trying to help him find an explanation when one of his patients gets a turn for the worse; initially, Hawkeye repels her in the same way as in the movie scene mentioned above, but eventually they join forces (in what we can see as a truce).
The moment of change in Margaret's life will come in season 4, when Colonel Potter becomes commanding officer. As a regular army man, Potter has the sense of military discipline that Margaret appreciates but understands that the doctors are no soldiers and thus should not be treated as such. Though still a strong antagonist and taking Frank's side on most occasions, Margaret begins to warm up noticeably thanks to the Colonel's fatherly influence. Of course, it also helps that she is getting increasingly disappointed with Frank, and that their relationship is turning sour - let's not forget the time when Frank makes his will, leaving all his money to his wife and all his clothes(!) to Margaret (Soldier of the Month). Or when, afraid that his wife divorces him after she finds out about his affair with Margaret, he calls her and says that Margaret is old and ugly (Mail Call, Again). Or that whole gun situation (The Gun).
By next season, Margaret has finally given up on Frank and decided to move on. She gets engaged with Donald Penobscott, a Lieutenant-Colonel stationed in Tokyo, whom she marries in the season finale. Their relationship doesn't last very long, though. As Margaret states early on, Frank Burns was no Donald Penobscott, but then again Donald was no Frank, either. She tries to make her marriage work in spite of all the problems, but his constant cheating and mistreating eventually become too much and she divorces him. At this point, we see a different Margaret Houlihan, much stronger and worthy of the respect of everybody at the 4077th - including her former "nemesis" (his own words), Hawkeye, with whom she now shares a relationship of mutual appreciation and respect.


Name: Charles Emerson Winchester III
Rank: Major
Played by: David Ogden Stiers (seasons 6-11)
General: Charles was assigned to the 4077th on a temporary basis, but ended up staying there indefinitely after Frank's departure. Angered at the thought that he'll have to spend the rest of the war in "an inflamed boil on the buttocks of the world" (Fade Out, Fade In, season 6), he alienates himself from the rest of the camp with his arrogant and cold manners. However, in spite of acting selfish and uncaring and treating most of his colleagues (especially Hawkeye and BJ) as inferiors, he sometimes lets down his guard and reveals that he can be generous and caring. He is also a great surgeon, though his perfectionism sometimes works against this, as he takes longer to operate than any other MASH surgeon - which, under the circumstances under which they work, can be a disaster.
As an antagonist to Hawkeye and BJ, Charles is much tougher to defeat than Frank, as he is able to fight back on the same level, and he does it with style. This is shown on the very first episode he appears in, Fade Out, Fade In, when Hawkeye puts a snake on his bed. If this had happened to Frank, he'd scream like a girl and run to complain to Colonel Potter. Charles? Oh, he calmly puts the snake on Hawkeye's bed and sits by the record player, listening to some music while waiting for the moment of discovery - after which he replies to Hawk's screams with a simple "Please... Mozart." And with this simple scene, a worthy opponent is born.


Name: Henry Blake
Rank: Lieutenant-Colonel
Played by: MacLean Stevenson (seasons 1-3)
General: The first commanding officer of the 4077th, Henry was not an army man and didn't feel comfortable at all with his position, which is why he was usually not much of an authority figure, preferring to be a friend to his subordinates rather than a CO. However, when it was necessary to take a hard decision, Henry would do it. This laid-back approach infuriated Frank and Margaret, who were always trying to go over Henry's head in order to instill some discipline to the camp and to prevent Hawkeye and Trapper from doing things their way.
Henry had a very close relationship with Radar, for whom he was something of a father figure. During Henry's "reign" of the 4077th, it was Radar who basically ran the camp and made sure that everything was in order; sometimes, Radar would take advantage of that power over Henry (especially when Hawkeye and Trapper needed something) but overall their bond was very strong.
Why he leaves the 4077th (spoiler - select with cursor to read): He's discharged and sent home, but sadly never reaches his destination as the plane is struck down over the Sea of Japan.


Name: Walter Eugene O'Reilly
Rank: Corporal
Played by: Gary Burghoff (seasons 1-8)
General: The youngest member of the 4077th, Radar was a fresh-faced young boy from Ottumwa, Iowa, who slept with a teddy bear and who saw the world through the eyes of a child. Henry Blake took him under his wing, and the two became very close, with Henry becoming the father Radar never had, as his real father (who was already in his sixties when Radar was born) had died when he was a child. In exchange, Radar did his job as company clerk with outstanding efficiency, doing anything possible (and some impossible things as well) to make sure that everything in the camp ran smoothly. Sometimes, he uses this power to help Hawkeye and Trapper's plans, by making Henry sign things without realizing what they really are (at one point, he even tried to make him sign blank papers) or letting the two tricksters have access to things they shouldn't; with Colonel Potter in command, though, this will no longer happen, as the Colonel is not as easy to control.
Radar's nickname comes from his incredible ability to predict things before they happen (for example, he can sense that helicopters are coming before anyone else) and from being able to tell what his commanding officers need before they order him to do anything; this last part frustrated Henry constantly, and often resulted in humorous moment when the two of them said the same thing at the same time (a joke originally created by Robert Altman for the movie, and which survived the transition to television). Sometimes, it also seems that Radar is able to read minds:
Hawkeye: (writing) "The only man in sight is Radar O'Reilly. An amazing kid. I've never put much stock in ESP, but if it is possible for one person to read another person's mind, Radar has that ability - the little fink."
Radar: (who was passing by Hawkeye) Is that a nice thing to say?
--Dead Dad... Again (season 1)

Radar will also have a strong father-son bond with Colonel Potter, who will take him under his wing in the same manner as Henry. His relationship with Hawkeye is also very strong; Hawkeye might tease him often, and is obviously uncomfortable with the younger man's hero-worshipping, but deeply cares for him like a brother and would do anything for him.
Why he leaves the 4077th (spoiler - select with cursor to read): After his uncle dies, Radar is discharged so that he can go home and help his family.


Name: Sherman T. Potter
Rank: Colonel
Played by: Harry Morgan (seasons 4-11)
General: When Colonel Potter becomes commanding officer of the 4077th, it seems like the wild days of the camp are over. A regular army man, Potter seems to be strict and able to rule the place with an iron hand. However, it is soon evident that the Colonel is not as tough and inflexible as they feared - aware that the people under his command are not in Korea by choice, he lets some things slip and allows some rules to be broken when he feels that it is necessary to do so, and he treats them as family rather than soldiers. However, he is still able to maintain his authority in a way that Henry never could.
Horses are Colonel Potter's biggest passion; in fact, one of the first things he does after arriving at the 4077th is to fill the walls of his office with pictures of horses he rode. Aware of this, Radar offers him a horse that he, Hawkeye and BJ rescued, a gesture that touches the Colonel. He'll name the horse Sophie and takes care of her throughout his experience at the camp.


Name: Maxwell Q. Klinger
Rank: Corporal (later Sergeant)
Played by: Jamie Farr (all 11 seasons)
General: Initially, Klinger was meant to appear in only one episode (season 1's Chief Surgeon Who?); however, the character revealed himself to be so popular that he began to appear more regularly - and, by season 4, he joined the regular cast.
Klinger's disgust for the army is so strong that he spends most of the show trying to leave. However, he refuses to get a dishonorable discharge and instead spends all his time and energy trying to convince people that he's crazy so that he can get what is known as a Section 8 and sent back to his native town of Toledo, Ohio. The most usual of his schemes is to dress up as a woman, using an enormous and elaborate wardrobe I covet more than anything in the show that consists mostly of things he found in catalogs or that were given to him by an uncle who succeeded in getting a Section 8 that way; sometimes he can be seen wearing a uniform, but there's always a touch of feminine clothing somewhere, like earrings of a flowery hat. Besides that, he has also tried to eat a jeep piece by piece, kiss a visiting admiral, lose his memory and speak only in Lebanese (he descends from Lebanese immigrants), and walk around the camp with his invisible pet camel, among many others. Neither Colonel Potter nor Henry fall for his schemes (in fact, they both seem to be quite amused by them), so Klinger remains at the camp, doing several different tasks - orderly, sentinel, cook, or general handyman. In spite of his wish to go home, he always does the best he can at whatever he does.


Name: John Francis Patrick Mulcahy
Rank: Lieutenant (later Captain)
Played by: George Morgan in the pilot episode; William Christopher from episode 2 onwards (all 11 seasons)
General: Father Mulcahy is yet another character who changed drastically when the story was adapted to television. In the movie, he is a bumbling priest who is unable to be taken seriously. In the pilot episode, George Morgan's portrayal of Father Mulcahy is short and has no lines, but it can be seen as following the same perspective of the character. With William Christopher, however, the character will change considerably; though slightly bumbling at first, he is held in very high esteem by the rest of the staff for his wisdom and fatherly presence, and for the courage he sometimes displays. Being a Catholic priest, he is however open and accepting to all religions and when necessary will minister to the needs of people of all faiths - which can be seen when he has to attend a bris in replacement of a rabbi.

Links
General links:
  • M*A*S*H (TV series) on Wikipedia - a detailed article on the TV show.

  • Finest Kind - My personal favorite spot to visit when I'm looking for M*A*S*H-related information.

  • Best Care Anywhere - Lots of info, pics, sound clips... If you're looking for something, it's likely to be there.

  • The 4077th Home Page - A really cool UK site with lots of goodies.

  • MASH 4077 - A Czech website. It's not in English, but it has an extensive photo gallery that I highly recommend.


  • LiveJournal M*A*S*H communities:
    M*A*S*H has a very cozy corner on LJ-land. Here are some of the communities you can find:
  • ultmash - The community that deals with anything M*A*S*H-related, and the place to visit.

  • mash_icons - Icons, icons everywhere. Again, a must-visit community.

  • mashstillness - Icontest community, that offers weekly challenges. As a crazed icon-maker (thought still a newbie when it comes to this fandom) I think it's a great community to join.

  • mash_slash - The community where you can post all M*A*S*H slash fics, regardless of your ship of choice.

  • aboyandhisbear - Dedicated to Radar O'Reilly, this community is the best place to visit if you want to find anything about our lovable company clerk, from icons to fics. The star feature in this community is the Daily Radar Moment, which will allow you to see images of a particular scene every day.

  • bjhawkeye - Created and moderated by yours truly, this community focuses on anything regarding BJ and Hawkeye, and with their relationship together (both slash and gen views of it are welcome). Fics, graphics, vids, icons or just general squeeage about those two crazy captains is appreciated by the BJ/H lot.

  • hawkandmags - The Hawkeye/Margaret community. If you love the way those two interact with each other, join and participate!

  • apriestinkorea - If you ship Hawkeye/Father Mulcahy, this is the community for you.

  • trapperhotlips - My other community, this time for all fans of Trapper/Margaret.


  • If there's another community you think I should add to this list, drop a comment letting me know.



    *****
    Credits:
  • Wikipedia

  • Finest Kind

  • Images by MASH 4077 and wikidwitch
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    Current Mood: accomplishedaccomplished
     
     
     
    murf1013murf1013 on July 16th, 2006 04:53 pm (UTC)
    Actually, even though BJ did say that, I was never completely confirmed that his parent's were Bea Hunnicutt and Jay Hunnicutt. I think you were right to leave that out of the details above. If you wanted to add it, you could say that it was never confirmed, but ...
    Just Pat: Dear LJnentari on July 16th, 2006 06:35 pm (UTC)
    Yeah, I had my doubts about it when I wrote this post, because back then I hadn't seen Lil yet. However, now that I have seen it, I don't really believe BJ was being serious when he told Hawkeye that his parents were called Bea and Jay. Instead of throwing his hands up in disgust, like pandora_ilona said, it looked more like he was smirking and really enjoying to see Hawk's frustration. Anyway, it's all rather dubious, so it's better if I leave that reference out and make people wonder.