Sunday, August 28, 2011

M*A*S*H Season 2 Ramblings

The second season of M*A*S*H is one of my favorites for a few reasons, but the main one surrounds the fact that it was one of the tightest seasons written in the whole series.  Allow me to elaborate - the first season was spent trying to establish the series more than anything else, and had barely escaped cancellation, thanks (allegedly) to the wife of William S. Paley, the head of CBS.  The second season had a sense of identity and it did not stray far from it - since there was the feeling that the series ought to go with wIthat was successful so far.

Another major reason I enjoy the second season immensely is the fact although it was spun very tightly, character development was pushed. However, it was done in a way that it didn't throw the show off the course the writers and producers had set for it. These two things made for a perfect way to go about a sophomore season in a show.  It didn't have the huge fanbase yet, and thus could not get away with the things that were taken for granted in the later seasons of the series.

There were so many great episodes in the second season, but before I get there, I will mention the one episode that I don't particularly care for - 'Operation Noselift'.  In many ways, it reminds me of the first season episode 'Major Fred C. Dobbs': silly hijinks that just strike me as not being all the way in the spirit of the series; in other words, it felt too formulaic and resembles the ridiculous fantasy episodes of other shows of the era.  Okay, that one negative aspect aside, let's move on to the fun and good stuff...

The opening episode of the second season, 'Divided We Stand', made for the perfect re-introduction of the characters and reestablished their personalities, but a little more deeply than they had been developed during the first season.  It also did an outstanding job in showing that the 4077 is in 'an impossible place doing impossible work', and thus the crap they pulled was a necessary defense mechanism against insanity.

Many episodes run up against the boundary of fantasy, but only the one mentioned above ('Operation Noselift') truly crossed that boundary.  Episodes such as 'Five O'Clock Charlie', 'For Want Of A Boot', and 'A Smattering of Intelligence' are the best examples of this ability, and as such great credit ought to go to the writers for not allowing them to descend into straight farce.

One of the treats of Season Two is the presence of Pat Morita in two episodes.  Morita (who was Japanese, ironically) played Captain Pak, a wise-cracking South Korean doctor who was sent to observe the medical techniques and practices of the 4077.  He first showed up in the episode 'Deal Me Out' (an honorable mention in my Top Ten) to participate in the 'medical conference', otherwise known as a marathon poker game.  His second appearance was later in 'The Chosen People', where there were all sorts of shenanigans with the local Koreans, including squatters and a woman who claimed Radar was the father of her child.  Morita got a lot of quick, choice, and humorous lines, and to this day is probably my favorite 'recurring' (if you can call him that) character.

The second season (and this was true through about the sixth season) also had the ability to discuss serious things without becoming extremely heavy handed and preachy about it. Episodes such as "L.I.P. (Local Indigenous Personnel)", which dealt with interracial marriage, and 'George', which dealt with homosexuality were good examples of interspersing humor with a serious touch.  I am not sure a tenth season episode could have pulled this off as well (or at all).

This brings me to two of my favorites (both of which made the top ten), and I will reproduce here what I wrote on for that list.  The first one...
'The Trial of Henry Blake' – This is one of the earlier type ‘clip’ episodes, along with the ‘Dear Dad’ episodes, in which you sort of have a first person account of how Henry sees everything after being accused of all sorts of crimes by Burns and Houlihan. This has some classic lines such as ‘big red bird with fuzzy pink feet’ in regard to Klinger and Henry’s garbled explanation as to what a gurney is – a rolling table where they roll the patients to and from the places they need ‘to be taken to and from from’. Yes, that’s a real line from the episode.
And the second one...
'The Incubator' – First of all, Nurse Owens has the perfect line to sum up the Lattanzi Corollary regarding why the 4077th cannot get an incubator – ‘because it would save time and it would make sense’ to have one. The moving up the chain of command by Hawkeye and Trapper to get the incubator is what makes this episode so great – from the by-the-book quartermaster captain, to the pack-rat major, to the ‘resourceful’ colonel, all the way up to General Mitchell, who reminds the assembled media that at this ‘press-conference, the last I want to do is answer a lot of questions!’ Hawkeye and Trapper get back to find out that Radar had done some major horse-trading to get one for them.
*For the record, 'The Trial of Henry Blake' was number seven on the list and 'The Incubator' was number three.

Season Two is really the start of M*A*S*H being the show we all love and remember and provides so many memorable instances and episodes while starting to come into its own identity as a television series.  If any of you have a favorite episode from this season, put it in the comment thread.

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