M*A*S*H (1976) – The Nurses, The Abduction of Margaret Houlihan, and Dear Sigmund

Loretta Swit has a pair of episodes this week that allow her to shine as her character Margaret Houlihan. First up is The Nurses. Written by Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, it was first broadcast on 19 October, 1976, and lets the main cast step back a bit to let a supporting cast of nurses have a little of the limelight.

Houlihan has always been a bit of a stickler for rules and regulations, and consequently runs a tight ship that sometimes causes some problems with her nurses, who after doing countless hours in the OR and post-op just want to unwind.

One evening Lt. Baker (Linda Kelsey) goes too far, and is given restricted duties and confined to quarters, just as her husband, also a Lt. Baker (Gregory Harrison) gets a 24 hour leave and comes to see her. The couple didn’t even get a chance to honeymoon.

With some help from Radar (Gary Burghoff), Hawkeye (Alan Alda) and B.J. (Mike Farrell) the couple get their wedding night, but Houlihan catches Baker as she returns to the nurses’ quarters, and busts her.

After a fiery confrontation with her group, Houlihan opens up a little more to them, though, technically she’s not in the wrong – but she always wanted to be part of the group, and covers for, and protects the nurses, when Potter (Harry Morgan) asks for answers.

At the episode’s end, there’s a little camaraderie between the major and her nurses.

As an aside, there’s also a bit of an anachronistic error in the episode – in Houlihan’s quarters, there’s a photo of what looks to be a couple very much in love on the canvas wall – it’s a still from the musical number Dammit Janet, from the Rocky Horror Picture Show.

The Abduction of Margaret Houlihan was written by Allan Katz and Don Reo from a story by Gene Reynolds. It first aired on 26 October, 1976.

Things get wacky in the camp when no one can find Houlihan. It seems she was called away in the middle of the night to help a local pregnant woman give birth, information that she shares with Klinger (Jamie Farr) who sleepily relates it to Radar who thinks the corporal is just dreaming.

Unsure of where she is, or what has happened, the camp turns out to look for her, and even Colonel Flagg (Edward Winter) shows up to devise plans, and sow more confusion.

This is a bit of a sillier and goofy episode, but I do love seeing Hawk and B.J. take shots at Flagg who is such a stereotypical image of a gung-ho, secretive military type that you can’t help but laugh at him.

And while all this is going on Margaret is helping a young Korean woman deliver her first baby, before returning to camp and shocking everyone when she simply strolls into Potter’s office.

As a character, at this point, she is really beginning to loosen up, while still being a dedicated Army major, and I love that we’re seeing her do more.

Dear Sigmund was written and directed by Alan Alda (which one him an Emmy for directing) and sees Sidney Freedman (Allan Arbus) in the camp, looking to recharge his batteries a bit. As therapy he is writing a letter to Sigmund Freud, and talks about the inhabitants and the antics of the camp.

We get glimpses at the good and the bad of the camp, and the way each member of the camp does their job to its full and how they relax and let go afterwards. From Hawk’s clowning around and drinking, to Mulcahy’s (William Christopher) dealing with the patients, to someone pulling pranks around the camp.

Sidney needs the time in the camp to remind him of the living that actually goes on. While Hawk forces a pilot, Captain Hathaway (Charles Frank) to help out to see that the war isn’t as clean as he thinks it is from the cockpit of his bomber, something that shatters the pilot, but may help him to realise that fighting isn’t the answer, even if you’re doing it from twenty thousand feet.

There’s a wonderful balance between the laughter and the drama in this episode, and it is one of Alda’s favourites of the ones he wrote.

He has an ear for the characters, and knows how they behave, and why, and tells a good story with his camera. And in regards to Houlihan’s continued growth as a character, she is actually included in the poker games that Hawk, Sidney, Radar, Klinger and B.J. take part in.

Man, I love this show. I can’t wait to see what they get up to next week in the 4077th.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s