I really like M*A*S*H. In fact, I think its some of the best (if not some of the only) war commentary on TV. It can be repetitive at times and sometimes too silly, but it is also often intelligent, witty and profound. Aside from the war commentary, the diverse characters grow throughout their time on the show and truly do take on a life-like quality that is rare in general, much less in current TV shows.
Recently a friend of mine told me he thought M*A*S*H to be stupid, silly him, but it also came up in a comment on the Niebuhr post on military chaplaincy. With the consistent inclusion of the chaplain (and therefore Christianity) and questioning the ethics of war, M*A*S*H provides a particularly fertile ground for theological discussion on all sorts of things war.
And so here is a list of episodes of some of my favorites to A. prove that M*A*S*H is not stupid, but instead thoughtful and B. supply a curriculum/syllabus, if you will, of some episodes that may provoke theological thought. This list is not intended to be a best of (though it does include some of my favorites) or is it meant as an introduction for someone looking for an overall idea of what the show is normally like, simply this list attempts to supply a beginning for those seeking a theological interaction with war and violence in M*A*S*H. Lastly, the episode summaries are shamelessly copied from Wikipedia.
1. Season 2, Episode 24 “A Smattering of Intelligence”
Two different American intelligence agents arrive at the camp and both appear to be trying to thwart each other and score federal funding for their rival espionage organizations. Hawkeye and Trapper John decide to have some fun by tricking both spies into going after Frank Burns.
2. Season 3, Episode 5 “O.R.”
A series of short sub-plots all focusing around drama in the operating room after a major assault. An Ethiopian soldier is featured.
3. Season 4, Episode 24 “The Interview”
A stateside television correspondent interviews M*A*S*H personnel about their experiences and thoughts. (in Black and White)
4. Season 5, Episode 13 “Hawk’s Nightmare”
Hawkeye’s sanity is wearing thin. He experiences constant nightmares and bouts of sleepwalking, so Dr. Sidney Freedman arrives to help Hawkeye deal with his problems.
5. Season 7, Episode 15 “Dear Sis”
December 1951: Father Mulcahy sends his sister a Christmas letter bemoaning his feelings of uselessness and his desperate desire to provide more comfort for the troops. Mulcahy has run-ins with two problem patients; one who won’t take anesthetic and nearly chokes Mulcahy, and an hysteric who punches Mulcahy.
6. Season 9, Episode 14 “Oh, How We Danced”
B.J. is upset as his wedding anniversary is coming up while he is thousands of miles away, so the camp gets a home movie shipped in from his wife. The camp also takes care of an injured Korean child and Major Winchester grudgingly performs a hygiene inspection on a front-line unit.
7. Season 9, Episode 17 “Bless You, Hawkeye”
Hawkeye has a serious sneezing problem that appears to be psychological in nature, so Dr. Sidney Freedman arrives to find out what has him sneezing around the clock.
8. Season 9, Episode 18 “Blood Brothers”
A G.I. dying of leukemia cares less for his own health than for the health of his critically wounded comrade. Father Mulcahy must prepare for an inspection from a particularly strict Cardinal.
9. Season 10, Episode 14 “A Holy Mess”
An AWOL soldier requests sanctuary during one of Father Mulcahy’s services, leading to a huge legal dispute and potentially ruining plans for a special breakfast in the mess tent-turned-chapel.
10. Season 11, Episode 16 “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen”
July 27, 1953 The armistice is signed, ending the war, and the hospital staff must come to terms with the effects the war had on their lives. The finale ran for 2 1/2 hours. (I wouldn’t watch this one until I’ve literally gone through most of the available episodes, it is just too good to skip to the end and rob it of its punch.)