Tuesday, August 20, 2013

M*A*S*H Season 3 Ramblings

The third season of M*A*S*H is generally considered the “apex” by quite a few fans of the series, especially the ones who only like the original cast and faded during all the changes (between Seasons Four and Six). I acknowledge that it is an apex of the series, at least, in the sense of the various eras of the series, because one (that one being me) could argue that the entire eleven year run of the series is really at least four different incarnations.

I argue that the apex of that era came in Season Two, mostly because the writing was much tighter in nature than in Season Three; it is very good in Season Three, but there were many more head-scratchers present. Consider some of the lines emanating from Hawkeye:

It’s inhuman to serve the same food day after day. Fish, liver, day after day! I’ve eaten a river of liver and an ocean of fish! I’ve eaten so much fish I’m ready to grow gills. I’ve eaten so much liver I can only make love if I’m smothered in bacon and onions.” – “Adam’s Ribs”

I will not carry a gun, Frank. When I got thrown into this war I had a clear understanding with the Pentagon: no guns. I'll carry your books, I'll carry a torch, I'll carry a tune, I'll carry on, carry over, carry forward, Cary Grant, cash and carry, carry me back to Old Virginia, I'll even 'hari-kari' if you show me how, but I will not carry a gun!” – “Officer of the Day”

There is nothing organic about these words; it sounds like a TV show, and that’s one of the key differences between Season Two and Season Three.

Before anyone gets on me for being too critical, let me remind you that I enjoy this season very much. As an entire season, it is very strong. While I do prefer Season Two, Season Three really is the “coming out party” for the series, and also denotes the first attempts at experimentation in the writing and direction of the series.

The only episode I really didn’t care for in the entire season was “The Consultant”, when Robert Alda (Alan’s father) plays an older doctor who comes to the 4077th and he cracks under the stress of having been in his third different war zone. It’s not a bad episode (as I maintain there are no bad episodes from a production standpoint), but I just don’t like it a whole lot.

When I speak of Season Three as a “coming out party”, take a look at some of the episodes that are stepping out of the comfort zone.

1) “O.R.” – the first episode of the series to go without a laugh track, and every single scene centers in the hospital area; there is nothing in the Swamp or the Mess Tent. It also has the origin of Sidney Freedman’s signature quote: “Ladies and Gentlemen, take my advice: pull down your pants and slide on the ice.”

2) “Rainbow Bridge” and “Aid Station” – both of these involve great personal danger to the doctors and other personnel to help wounded in need, whether in a Chinese hospital or at an army aid station. I consider these to be developmental in the character of Klinger and the latter to be the first major defrosting in the Hawkeye-Margaret relationship.

3) “Abyssinia, Henry” – Of the first three seasons, this was probably the most shocking. Henry is going home, but his plane is shot down over the Sea of Japan and he is presumably killed. While the series had done death before “Sometimes You Hear the Bullet” (Season One), it had not dealt with a main character being killed previously, and the final O.R. scene is about as genuine a shock as you will ever see (the actors did not know it was coming until just before).

One final point to end these ramblings, this season is the one (in my opinion) where Radar truly becomes Radar – that sweet, naïve farm boy. This actually takes place over two episodes in the middle of the season: “Mad Dogs and Servicemen” and “Private Charles Lamb” – the former has Radar being bitten by a dog which they think has rabies. It is also the first time we see the true extent of Radar’s menagerie of various animals and rodents.

The latter has Radar saving a lamb that was meant to be eaten for Orthodox (or Greek) Easter by forging travel orders and an identity for the lamb. In the first two seasons, we see Radar being a shyster and a meat-eating glutton on occasion. By this point, he is innocent, vegetarian, and more of (as my mom calls him) “the Radar we came to know and love.”

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