M*A*S*H (1974) – George, Mail Call, and A Smattering of Intelligence

This week brings is the conclusion of season two of M*A*S*H, and we get started with George. Written by John W. Regier and Gary Markowitz this episode first aired on 16 February, 1974.

In a groundbreaking episode, for the time, the story took on the subject of gays in the military. Hawkeye (Alan Alda) learns that a young, well-decorated solider, George (Richard Ely) who he has been operating on has been beaten by his fellows, because he’s gay.

Frank (Larry Linville) learning the nature of George’s beatings starts pushing Henry Blake (McLean Stevenson) to deliver the soldier a dishonourable discharge because of his orientation. Hawkeye and Trapper (Wayne Rogers) are infuriated to think that Blake might give into Frank Burns’ demands, and try to find a way or scheme to stop Frank’s efforts.

Their point is who cares what anyone’s orientation is, George is not hurting anyone, and he’s serving his country. In fact, he’s determined to return to his unit and finish out his tour. No one but Frank and Houlihan (Loretta Swit) – a little bit – seems to be worried about George, and it makes a solid commentary on those who are and were worried about LGBTQ+ serving in the military – what does it matter? They’re willing to serve and fight for their country.

Your hangups about them serving are your own, and not theirs. They aren’t the ones with the problem.

I love the fact that it doesn’t bother anyone in the unit at all, except for the majors. They just want their patient to get better, and live his life, and if he wants to do so in the Army, then that’s his choice.

Mail Call is the penultimate episode of the season and was directed by Alan Alda. It first aired on 23 February, 1974. Written by Laurence Marks and series developer Larry Gelbart, the story centres around most of the company receiving letters from home, or writing home (which is 16 hours behind, and provides Radar (Gary Burghoff) and Frank with a great scene).

Trapper gets a letter that sends him into a funk because he’s missing his daughters growing up, Klinger (Jamie Farr) is penning letters about sick family in order to get his discharge, and Hawkeye puts one over on Frank who is investing his money and reaping some rewards.

You can’t feel bad for Frank, and it’s unclear if he loses all his money, or if Hawkeye stops the message from being sent, but Burns learns about a stock option in a letter Hawkeye has written to his father and hidden from Frank. Frank goes looking for it, through Hawk’s things and schemes from there.

If he hadn’t gone snooping he wouldn’t have flirted with disaster, not to mention mucking up (temporarily) his relationship with Margaret Houlihan, and some new heels she’s gotten for her playtime with Frank.

It’s just a fun episode, Radar has some nice moments as he gets himself a penpal, and we see that Alda is a solid director. And that brings us to the final episode of the season…

A Smattering of Intelligence was directed by Gelbart and written by Gelbart and Marks. It brought the season to a close on 2 March, 1974, and like the previous season includes a conclusion that highlights all the major characters before we leave them until season three.

This episode sees a couple of intelligence agents working against one another in the camp. When Colonel Flagg (Edward Winter) shows up, an old friend of Trapper’s, Vinnie Pratt (Bill Fletcher) can’t be far behind as they seem to be competing with one another to justify their agencies’ budgets.

Upon learning their identities, Trapper and Hawkeye just can’t resist messing with them and setting up Frank as a subversive and the focus of the agents inspection.

The camp gives the agents a runaround, pitting them against each other, and giving Radar the opportunity to be a bit of a spy. I think Hawk and Trap mess with them simply because it goes against their beliefs of right and wrong, and the fact that they are doing all of this in what is basically a hospital.

The series, two seasons in, has established itself, created beloved characters and has shown that it can walk the line between comedy and drama, delivering messages and laughs in equal measure. I’ll re-up for a third tour with the 4077th next week when I dive into season three of M*A*S*H.

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