M*A*S*HCast #101 – The Nurses

M*A*S*HCast -  Season 5, Episode 5: The Nurses

Special Guest Star: Amanda Reyes with Special Guest Appearance by Joan Darling

Air Date: October 19, 1976

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13 responses to “M*A*S*HCast #101 – The Nurses

  1. Thank you for this! Great episode, and what a treat to hear from the director! I love hearing all these different perspectives on the show, and to listen to her experience was just wonderful.

    “The Nurses” is one of my favorite episodes, I love that it focuses on women, and Margaret in particular – my favorite character. Not just on MASH, but my favorite character ever, she is simply amazing. Her journey through the seasons, her growth, longings and dreams, her shortcomings and mistakes, her drive, will to do good and her confidence to stand her ground and demand respect is simply inspiring.

    I have seen so many people comment on how “Margaret is so mean to her nurses and doesn’t even deserve that cup of coffee”. To me, it has never been about whether she deserves one or not, it’s the fact that she wants one. That this army brat – who doesn’t even have a home and has always been afraid to make friends because she knew they would be taken away from her – still longs to be part of the group.
    Yes, she is very hard on her nurses, and her people skills are not that great, I agree. But at least she doesn’t set one of her nurses up to be assaulted, like Hawkeye and Trapper does to her. But no one calls them mean, they are just wacky dudes. It’s like in “Margaret’s Engagement”, so many people hade said that Frank deserves that dig at Margaret at the end, because she is so mean to him in that episode. But no one calls Frank mean when he doesnt want to follow procedure in the OR or when he tries to force himself on Margaret. No, she is the mean one, because she is just so insensitive to poor, poor Frank.
    This is the daughter of Howitzer Al Houlihan we’re talking about – not the cuddliest of guys. I’m sure he taught his daughter to be strong, to work hard and not show any weakness, but I very much doubt he taught her anything about listening and relating to your subordinates. She became the leader her father wanted her to be. Maybe she felt like she couldn’t be the son he wanted, so she became the soldier he could tolerate. Much like Charles, my second favorite character, she didn’t have a dad, she had a father. I very much doubt that there was any laughter and shenanigans around the dinner table in the Houlihan-household either.
    She has spent her entire life feeling like a dissapointment to her father, and of course that affects her in many ways.
    She probably came into the whole situation in Korea with the expectation that she could be hard and tough at work, but when the scrubs came off, she would be part of the gang. But instead found herself ostracized from the group, harassed and made fun of, and of course that hardened her even more.

    I am personally a woman in a male dominated workplace, and it can truly suck sometimes, but I can only imagine how it must have been like to be a woman in the 50’s, trying to have a career in the military. How much harder a woman would have to work to even reach some level of respect, especially if she is blonde and pretty.

    So, with all of this said, I have never seen Margaret as mean. She doesn’t make the best choices and could handle many situations much better, but I can understand why she acts the way she does, right or wrong, and that is what makes her such an amazing character.
    I love the fact that she allows herself to be so vulnerable in front of her nurses, and I love that they actually listen to her and are willing to take a first step towards reconciliation.

    And just all the kudos to Loretta Swit – what a performance. I think many people tend to ignore how amazing she is just because they don’t like Margaret, but to me she is just magical. Not just in episodes like this, but I love looking at her even when she is in the background, her reactions are always amazing, she can say so much with just a look. And in this episode, oh my lord, she is so brilliant! All the pent up emotions and frustrations that comes out in that little gasp, it is simply stunning acting.

  2. Great episode Rob. Always a pleasure to have Amanda on the network. I’m a big fan of her own podcasts. The conversation with Joan Darling was another feather in your interview cap. She was indeed delightful, and her stories were wonderful. I think you should just have a regular interview show at this point. You’re killing it!

  3. What a great episode about such a great episode! And the fantastic interview with Joan Darling….wow! Kudos to you, Amanda, and to Ms Darling!
    As the son of a very outgoing, independent woman, the brother of two very strong sisters, and the husband and father of two more strong women, this episode always gets me. I tear up every time I watch it, not only for the love story (when Lt. Baker anxiously whispers “…Tony?”; bam, teary eyed!) but also for, of course, the tense conflict between Margaret and the Nurses.
    I agree with you, Rob, that I DO wish the nurses had included Kellye, Judy Farrell, and Enid Kent. It’s one of my pet peeves that the “supporting cast” was not as well maintained as the regular cast was. Of course I understand why, but it’s a shame. As a side note, I imagine sometimes that there is another roster of nurses; during the Bug Out episode, for example, weren’t there more than four? While those five women are all asleep in the Nurses’ Tent, who is On Duty? (Kellye, Judy, Enid etc in that other tent from Out of Sight? LOL) And as for the lack of individual tents….I think Father Mulcahy would have been a good sport about the Bakers using his tent. Or Klinger (who was on guard duty, so wouldn’t be using it!) Or the nurse from the Lt Radar episode had HER own tent, so they could have used hers?
    Here’s hoping we see Amanda again in Year Six!

  4. Great you had a female guest given the topic of the episode. I agree it is obvious a woman wrote it, especially the bachelorette party episode.

    This episode continues a couple of themes from Lt. Radar episode. First, Potter buying Hawkeye’s BS about needing to use Margaret’s tent for a guy who has a disease you only get in the Nile. Then the nurses being packed in like sardines when usually the “nurse of the week” has her own tent.

    So why not the VIP tent? Or Mulcahy’s place? He probably wouldn’t object since they are married.

    And she only shows up at the tent at bedtime. So where did she hang out the rest of the day when she wasn’t on duty?

    So you can get leave from combat if you want a quickie with your wife?

    Other than Kellye, none of the nurses got beyond being just stick figures. Sure, a few were around for several episodes but none really got much to do besides a one liner and was either Abel or Baker, depending on the week.

    Might have been nice to have a true second in command nurse. Have her be a captain, another career woman like Margaret. Young enough so she isn’t as hard boiled but with more experience than the other nurses so she knows about combat medicine and can tell Hawkeye to back off when she has to.

    I also like the episode because Frank got a scene where he was actually more of a buddy to the other doctors when talking about getting back with Margaret.

    Anyway, great episode and I enjoyed hearing another voice from an insider. Thanks as always.

  5. Thank you for a great episode of MASHCast with terrific guests. That was a fascinating interview with Joan Darling. Her detailed memories and insights about directing this episode are impressive. It is amazing that she directed not only one of the best episodes of MASH but also one of the funniest and most iconic episodes of The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

    As everyone agrees, Loretta Swit really shows her acting ability in this episode. In that scene at the end, she conveys what it feels like when your feelings start to come out after being bottled up, as well as what it feels like to perceive that you are being excluded from a social group. I think this episode may be the most pivotal turning point for Margaret in the entire series.

    My favorite line is when Colonel Potter is asking Radar about how the quarantined patient was doing, Radar says the patient got better, and Colonel Potter says, “I thought he had Typhoid!” The way Harry Morgan raises his voice when he says “Typhoid” cracks me up. I don’t know if I quite buy that Colonel Potter ever went along with the quarantined patient story in the first place, just like I don’t understand why they didn’t use Klinger’s tent instead of Margaret’s, but those are sort of fun little plot holes to talk about while still admiring what a fantastic episode this is.

  6. Fantastic episode and great interview Rob.

    For those of us in any sort of management, Margaret’s plight is similar. You need to be the boss sometimes. You want to be a colleague and friend. And how do you walk that fine line?

    For Hot Lips, it has to be even harder. This is the military. She was so much of a hard-ass, so much handcuffed to Frank in earlier seasons that she might turn down the ‘lousy cup of coffee’. But this, as you say, is a different Margaret in a different place in her life. So all that has changed and it is shown so beautifully in that scene where she almost breaks down. No one wants to be alone. Before she was alone with Frank. But now she seems more of the community. Just wonderful.

    As for the tent predicament, I wonder what Father Mulcahy would say? He has a private tent for sure. And he would understand what this would mean for that marriage, that holy bond. I wonder if he would allow his tent to be the honeymoon suite? I wonder if that might also make it uncomfortable for the husband/wife to consummate things.

    I would also think The Swamp would be a better choice. Easy enough to fool Frank into it. Or put Frank on overnight rounding duty and Hawkeye and BJ can bunk elsewhere.

    Anyways, great episode of MASH for the evolution of Margaret. And great episode of MASHcast! You continue to amaze Rob!

  7. Great episode. A complete acting tour de force by Loretta Swit. I think I agree with almost everybody else in regards to Margaret’s scene with the nurses and how good Loretta Swit is in that particular scene. Every single time I see it I can feel a lump in my throat, she is so believable. But it is absolutely no fluke. I remember seeing Loretta Swit interviewed years later on a MASH special and was specifically asked about that scene, and she reprised it on the spot for the interviewer and was amazing. The skill to be able to repeat that performance at but a moments notice, was truly spectacular. Kudos to all involved in this episode.

  8. I can’t add anything to this discussion, so suffice that I agree “The Nurses” is fantastic, and this episode was a wonderful listen. Hearing Joan Darling discuss it was icing on the cake. Well done!

  9. I think the coffee is the wrong food item to be paying attention to in this episode I think it’s the fudge. Though I haven’t seen anything to back this up. But the history of fudge and how it is portraide in the episode makes me think it is what they are connecting to Margaret’s pivotal moment and real beginning of a paradim shift in personality.

    While it’s not known when fudge was first made most things point to the late 1800s. But no matter when it quickly became associated with female education and especially women’s college first known to come out of Vassar college and became known as Vassar chocolates for a while. It was commonly cooked in the dorm rooms over gas stoves. However like in the episode it was not actually allowed to be made by the women in their rooms and was actually done as a form of rebellion. So it seems to me that the fudge represents the nexus between following rules and decorum and the less stringent and emotional side.

    So I think it’s telling that Margaret sticks her finger in then half jokingly says it’s horrible.

  10. Rob, great work by you and Amanda, and Joan was a delight. It’s telling that she got this opportunity after doing acclaimed work on the Mary Tyler Moore show. Groundbreakers, ceiling smashers, and pioneers seem to get more opportunities when they play like Jackie Robinson. It’s unfortunate that such a high degree of excellence seems to be necessary just to get equal treatment.

    On that note, the story about her warm welcome on the set and especially the encouraging remark by the crew member was wonderful. We hear (and need to hear) the #metoo stories, but we need good examples, too.

    Regarding the story, there were many things that resonated with me, but only a couple that others haven’t addressed. One was the nurse who “went numb” as a way to cope. I’ve done that (with far less justification), and it didn’t work for me any better than it did for her. I think it might help in the moment, but you actually lose ground (emotional health-wise) if you try it long term.

    Second, it occurs to me that subordinates often have a problem seeing supervisors as full-fledged humans — people dealing with pressures and needs completely separate from the job tasks. Once we break that code on that, we work more effectively with our bosses and do a better job of “managing up.”

  11. I always had an issue with this episode. At first flush, Margaret is upset because it seems like she feels like she’s entitled to a degree of camaraderie that she didn’t earn. She has always wielded her position as major as a cudgel. It isn’t until you really reflect on what Margaret’s life has been like that you realize that Margaret can only work with the tools she is given.

    So what we have is a woman who adores her father and craves his approval, but he’s extremely stern. So, in turn, she will take this behavior on towards her nurses: this is how her father shows his “affection” for Margaret, so this is how she shows how much she cares about her nurses. Margaret cannot process that this is dysfunctional, and that her father is, unintentionally, being emotionally abusive to her. So Margaret has dug this deep crevasse between her nurses and herself.

    Now, for the longest time, Margaret has seen this as par for the course – and the whole “being lonely at the top;” and she’s had Frank to basically distract her. But now Frank is out of the picture and her fiancé is long distance. But that’s not what changes Margaret.

    It isn’t until Col. Potter is appointed the commander of the MASH unit that Margaret finally gets to see compassionate authority. She sees that Potter can have a casual relationship with the doctors while still maintaining his authority. For the first time she has a role model that is not toxic, and she (as we have seen) embraces Potter as something of a surrogate father. So she pivots and now she wants to accomplish what Potter has achieved with Pierce and BJ. But Margaret does not have the toolkit to bridge the gap caused by her own behavior. In The Nurses, this comes to a head in the only way Margaret is capable of expressing it: by articulating how isolated she felt. I always thought she was blaming the nurses, when in fact she was simply confessing to them how isolated she felt and that a friendly gesture would have been met in kind. It is basically the compassion of the nurses to understand that Margaret is speaking from a position of pain, not blame. When the nurses take her up on the gesture, and find that it is genuine, Margaret is then able to work towards emulating Col. Potter’s approach with the doctors.

    Later, we will find that Margaret’s deep respect and adoration of Col. Potter cracks the denial she has always had about how her father treats her. Early Margaret would have taken her fathers admonitions as incentive to improve. Now, she has seen compassionate authority, so her father’s feedback merely comes off as criticism and Margaret is unable to deny how deeply hurt her father always made her feel.

    Ultimately, we are watching Margaret be unmade and remade as she unchains herself – first from Frank, now from the damage done by a poor parenting. And the sad thing is that there are chains Margaret will never be able to break, as we will see in latter episodes as Margaret hits glass ceiling after glass ceiling in both her military and in private life. In many ways, Margaret has his the highest point in her career at the 4077th, as she is given sufficient authority, agency, and respect. And we know she will never see similar stateside for at least another 20+ years.

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