M*A*S*HCast #57 – Alcoholics Unanimous

M*A*S*HCast –  Season 3, Episode 9: Alcoholics Unanimous

Special Guest Star: Amanda Reyes

Air Date: November 12, 1974

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12 responses to “M*A*S*HCast #57 – Alcoholics Unanimous

  1. Thanks for another excellent episode.

    As another Father Mulchahy fan, I have to agree that it is nice to see him getting more to do in these episodes. I hadn’t really noticed before the special relationship that Mulchahy has with Klinger, but I like it. It almost looks like Klinger is serving as Mulchahy’s verger (i.e., a layperson who helps the priest behind the scenes in the Anglican Church). I don’t know if they have vergers in the Catholic Church. Regardless, I’ll try to pay better attention to their relationship as we go forward.

    Finally, as much as I love Mulchahy’s temperance sermon, it is hard to beat the scene with Trapper, Hawkeye, and Margaret drinking together in the Swamp.

  2. This is my least favorite episode of the third season. The last scene before the tag offends me I think more than you. I knew an alcoholic and I find the resolution at the end (drinking is OK because Frank is doing it) to be a tremendous cop out. Hawkeye and Trapper ask if they are alcoholics. They are so addicted that they even want to steal sacramental wine. Just because Frank takes a couple of sips does not discount the other guys’ enormous reliance on alcohol.

    And another thing that irritates me in the series (emphasized here but not unique to this episode) is the uneven portrayal of alcohol on the personality of the characters. Case in point — Hawkeye and Trapper constantly drink and in most cases they can empty the still and show no signs of inebriation. But here Margaret has a medium sized decanter of brandy. If you notice when the three are in the swamp there is still liquid in the bottle, every glass is full but all three are sloshed. That small amount of brandy per person (I would estimate less than three ounces per person) definitely would not have affected the men because of their constant boozing.

    And small point, in an episode the Father blesses a newborn and its mother and as he raises his head he sees Klinger and says “Klinger, I thought you were an atheist”.

  3. The way the show just winked at everyone binge drinking along with the infidelity is my biggest issue with the show. At least they downplayed the cheating after Trapper and Henry left. But everyone kept boozing it up. Everyone who came to the swamp would visit the still. Then they were at the O Club or Rosie’s all the time. Good thing there was never a medical emergency when everyone was drunk.

    I think it would have been great if Hawk and Trapper realized they were overdoing it and dialed it back.

    There is an interview with Jamie Farr on YouTube where he indicates he is religious. So I wonder if he asked to have Klinger go to church along with being from Toledo.

    I liked episodes where Mulcahy was given a bigger role. It was nice they didn’t make him a joke character but a real person who cared about everyone. I wonder how George Morgan would have been in the role.

    I think this is the second episode this season with no Henry. I wonder if he had already given notice so they were starting to phase him out or was Mac such a pain they gave him a time out and that influenced his decision to quit.

    I am the oddball that likes Frank. I think there were times he showed flashes of humanity and even had a dry sense of humor at times. Maybe if in Season 5 they had evolved him after Margaret got engaged Linville stays.

  4. There’s an old joke which goes: Q: What’s the definition of an alcoholic? A: Someone who drinks more than their doctor. That punchline speaks to a misplaced sense of invulnerability that doctors can have.

    Alcoholism is a terrible, life-ravaging, life-threatening condition, and doctors are no more immune to the addictive properties of alcohol than anyone else. Indeed, alcohol tends to be the drug of choice for doctors, perhaps fuelled by a culture of drinking that starts at medical school (well, it was like that back when I was a med student!) People from all walks of life often start using (and misusing) alcohol to deal with life’s stresses, and – given that the 4077’s fictional doctors and nurses are making life & death decisions and undertaking complex surgeries with no guarantee of success, right in the middle of an active war zone – it’s not hard to understand that their stress levels must be unbearable. Alcohol is their way of coping with the war (and having to endure Frank is just one symptom of that conflict), but – as always – drinking does nothing to solve the underlying problem, and as coping mechanisms go it’s one with the potential for longterm harm once the initial stress relief effect has worn off. (Remember Trapper’s stomach ulcer just a few episodes previous?)

    It’s an important topic, and a brave one for a sitcom to tackle. The biggest problem with it being that there’s no obvious ‘punchline’ ending, and opting to play it for laughs in the closing scene could easily be seen as making much too light of a serious issue.

  5. It’s such a shame the Klinger-Mulcahy scene was cut in syndication. The two of them shared lots of scenes in these first few seasons, so I wonder how many others were cut. Which also meant not getting to see Farr and Christopher, a darn crime considering they didn’t get lots of work by this point.

    Margaret’s “Who was that?” was so hilarious, as were Hawkeye’s and Trapper’s reaction! Loved it!

    1. Oh I forgot something! When you and Amanda were talking about Klinger’s bit about ordering gloves (which was a fantastic bit), I had the thought “he sounds like a modern day cosplayer, getting into the minutiae of making his outfit!” And now that’s my head canon. Klinger is a cosplayer!

  6. Thank you, Amanda and Rob! The two of you made a very enjoyable podcast out of a mediocre MASH episode. Of course, mediocre MASH is still quite good, and this definitely had high points.

    Tim — yes! I was trying to explain Klinger’s attitude to a twenty-something who’s never watched MASH the other day, and cosplayer nails it. It’s the same drive.

    Chris — I really appreciate the medical reality that you and Dr. Anj bring to MASHcast and other shows on the network. Thank you.

    George W. — You may be pleased to know that modern deployments are generally more temperate. There’s a thing called General Order 1-C (pronounced 1-Charlie). It was once General Order 1, but it’s been modified a few times. It restricts or forbids several activities for troops in the Middle East and Central Asia. One is alcohol consumption — forbidden in Afghanistan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait, and restricted in other places. And 1-C allows a service member to have sex with his or her spouse, but unless the spouse is also military and deployed to the same place at the same time, it’s difficult to arrange. Of course, people are people, and those things still happen, but significantly less often and far less conspicuously than MASH portrays it. These may be the biggest differences between life in modern combat zones and life as portrayed on MASH.

    Iron Guts, it’s a shame you never had a real military command, since you understand how to care for the troops and achieve an objective at the lowest cost to them. Frank was at his least unrealistic this episode, unfortunately. Mind you, many officers are outstanding, and almost all are better than Frank on his best day. But there are always a few who take all the fine training and education on leadership the military can provide and put none of it into practice. It’s puzzling, but I’ve learned that such behavior isn’t restricted to the military.

    So, I didn’t know about vergers until now, but there’s an armed equivalent called a chaplain’s assistant. They’re enlisted troops who do everything from accounting, service setup, and logistics to counseling and training. In a combat zone, they protect the chaplain, since he can’t fight without losing his non-combatant status under the Geneva Conventions. Father Mulcahy should have had one, I think, but Klinger certainly performed some of those duties.

    You two keyed in on all the most charming bits of this episode — Mulcahy’s queuing Hawkeye and Trapper to compliment the gloves, Klinger’s glove fitting speech, and Margaret’s perfectly delivered, “Who was that?” Regarding Hawkeye and Trapper’s decision to pray for booze, my dad told me a similar story. He was in a small career field in the Air Force that (in the sixties and seventies) had a hard time getting and keeping good officers. They had one captain they really thought highly of, but two successive promotion boards failed to promote him to major. The third time is a long shot, and then, as now, a captain will be forced out if he can’t make it. Dad said they had guys going to church who did not normally go, specifically to pray for this captain’s promotion. Then-Captain Carney made it and went on to a storied career. He wrote a memoir called No Room for Error, which was mostly him telling stories about all the officers and NCOs who made his success possible.

    1. You got me thinking about this episode of MASH in context of the time it was made. I think a good case can be made that among MASH’s contributions to TV history was overt jokes about drinking and sex. Characters as “drunks” were not uncommon, going back to Phil Harris’s role on the radio version of The Jack Benny Show, but having your lead characters being motivated by the pursuit of alcohol was original. At this time, things like The Dean Martin Roasts, featuring Foster Brooks, used (the illusion) of the funny drunk constantly. I think that this was part of the liberating of popular culture. Hollywood films were free from previous rules regarding language and nudity, TV shows like All In The Family were exploring more incendiary personal dynamics, advertising was getting more blatant about your “sex appeal,” and the Playboy philosophy was in full flower. On MASH, the lead characters drank to excess, had sex, and flouted authority. This is less than ten years since Rob and Laura Petrie slept in separate beds. Less than ten years later we would witness the inevitable backlash, with someone like Sam Malone on Cheers, as a character who suffers from alcoholism and it’s not played for laughs.
      But at this time, it was all payed for laughs.

      1. Yeah, the 12 step programs say that admitting you have a problem is the first step, but maybe on TV, the first step was admitting the problem existed at all.

    2. I am glad there are rules about alcohol in field hospitals. I get this is a TV show which requires suspension of disbelief to some degree. But when there are several episodes a season that feature everybody plastered it becomes a bit hard to accept. Maybe the unseen other doctors we have speculated about are on duty when our guys are at the O Club.

      1. I always no-prized it that way, too, George — especially since my understanding is that the technical advisors for the show who had been MASH personnel in Korea confirmed there was a lot of drinking. If you ran it like military aviation (or even civilian firefighting or emergency rooms), you would have alert crews ready to handle the first wave and other folks who would have time to get ready.

        One thing the show portrayed totally realistically (I think; I didn’t visit Korea ‘til ‘99) is the mixed predictability of incoming wounded. Sometimes, the UN forces were about to launch a major offensive, and a plasma truck would roll in to tell them wounded were coming. Or they would know that a particular campaign was ongoing, and you may as well stay sober, because any respite would be brief. Sometimes, the enemy attacked out of nowhere (because he always gets a vote on whether or not you’re fighting that day), and they would have surprise casualties.

  7. You got me thinking about this episode of MASH in context of the time it was made. I think a good case can be made that among MASH’s contributions to TV history was overt jokes about drinking and sex. Characters as “drunks” were not uncommon, going back to Phil Harris’s role on the radio version of The Jack Benny Show, but having your lead characters being motivated by the pursuit of alcohol was original. At this time, things like The Dean Martin Roasts, featuring Foster Brooks, used (the illusion) of the funny drunk constantly. I think that this was part of the liberating of popular culture. Hollywood films were free from previous rules regarding language and nudity, TV shows like All In The Family were exploring more incendiary personal dynamics, advertising was getting more blatant about your “sex appeal,” and the Playboy philosophy was in full flower. On MASH, the lead characters drank to excess, had sex, and flouted authority. This is less than ten years since Rob and Laura Petrie slept in separate beds. Less than ten years later we would witness the inevitable backlash, with someone like Sam Malone on Cheers, as a character who suffers from alcoholism and it’s not played for laughs.
    But at this time, it was all payed for laughs.

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