M*A*S*H (1974) – Check-Up, Life with Father, and Alcoholics Unanimous

Laurence Marks pens a great Trapper (Wayne Rogers) episode. First debuting on 22 October, 1974, the episode opens with the announcement that is time for the camp’s yearly physical, so everyone is getting checked out, but Trap is unwilling to let Frank Burns (Larry Linville) examine him.

In a conversation with Hawkeye (Alan Alda) they both diagnose him with an ulcer, which, happily, could be his ticket out of the Army! And a trip back to the world, where his family is waiting. While Hawkeye is upset that his friend is leaving, he’s also happy for him, and gives an emotional speech about how he’s survived the war because of Trapper.

To make sure he gets a proper send-off, Hawkeye and Blake (McLean Stevenson) organise a party that involves the entire camp, but before it gets underway, Radar (Gary Burghoff) delivers some news to Trapper and we see the wisdom of the U.S. Army at work.

There are some great moments with Blake and Houlihan (Loretta Swit) that made me laugh aloud, though Houlihan’s exam isn’t conducted with the best of bedside manner by Hawkeye, who alternates between hitting on her and insulting her. That’s a bit uncomfortable, but the rest of the episode is gold, and the words these brothers and sisters in arms share about serving with one another resonate.

Sure Trapper isn’t leaving yet, but soon. And he won’t be the only one. This was a great one for Rogers, and I like seeing him holding the spotlight for a change.

Life with Father was written by James Fritzell and Evertt Greenbaum. It first aired on 29 October, 1974, and lets Father Mulcahy (William Christopher) step a little further towards centre stage. During mail call, Hawkeye opens a letter that may let him win a pony, a goofy exercise for he and Trapper, Mulcahy receives one from his sister, who is a nun, who is thinking of leaving the service to become a mother, and Blake receives one from his wife that leads him to believe his wife is having an affair.

There is also a young Korean mother and her child who are dependents of an American soldier who are in need of a bris. Radar works to find a Rabbi by radio so that Mulcahy can officiate, while Henry Blake has a heartbreaking conversation with his wife.

Through it all, Hawk and Trapper search the picture Hawkeye received that has ten hidden presidents in it, and if they find them all, maybe they’ll win the pony!

Mulcahy was overdue for a moment to shine, and it’s nice to see how both of his story threads, the Korean mother, and the letter from his sister lead to a deeper understanding and allow him to move forward.

On the other hand, if Blake’s wife is having an affair, I’m not sure if we’ll hear about that again or will it be forgotten by the next episode?

I like seeing Hawk and Trap shifted to a supporting role in this episode, delivering some laughs while other members of the camp get a chance to do their thing.

Alcoholics Unanimous was also written by Greenbaum and Fritzell. It first aired on 12 November, 1974. This one is a little uneven in its message and theme – alcoholism is okay?

Blake is away, leaving Burns in charge, and he orders the camp dry, with no alcohol to be had anywhere, he even takes apart Hawk and Trap’s still. Denied an alcoholic beverage the two are soon at one another’s throats, and are angry with everyone.

Even Houlihan is troubled by this order of Frank’s as she has her own stash as well (something she ends up sharing with Hawkeye and Trapper – the three of them together are hilarious). Everyone in the episode has an excuse for wanting a drink, and they all revel in it. Drunkeness is made to look funny instead of looking at some of the real effects of alcoholism (they are briefly mentioned by Frank, but belittled by Hawk and Trap).

Course they are supposed to be in the 50s, and it was a different time, but that doesn’t mean the showrunners couldn’t have made a stronger commentary on alcoholics, and addiction. So while on the surface, this episode may seem funny, the fact that everyone on the camp seems to have a problem, and they are all okay with it, just sounds like they are enabling each other.

There’s more laughter and drama to be had next week as I return to the 4077th for another medicinal dose of M*A*S*H!

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