Je n'aime pas dans les vieux films américains quand les conducteurs ne regardent pas la route. Et de ratage en ratage, on s'habitue à ne jamais dépasser le stade du brouillon. La vie n'est que l'interminable répétition d'une représentation qui n'aura jamais lieu.

M*A*S*H Chronology: The Moose!


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*Okay, so Hy Averback returns already.  He’s getting off to a good head start.  He directed Requiem for a Lightweight just two episodes ago. 

*Have I talked yet about what a gorgeous title sequence this actually is?  I don’t think I have.  You know back when TV shows had time for actual theme songs.  This is one of my favorite TV theme songs actually.  I love a good sitcom with a theme song about how we should all just kill ourselves.  Beautiful song, actually. 

*So, this new guy arrives in camp, Sgt. Baker, and he has with him a Korean woman, Young Hi, that is his “moose,” which in this case means, basically, a personal slave.  This will obviously be the first “socially conscious” episode.  Unless To Market, to Market was about a real desk shortage. 

*Hawkeye gives directions to Sgt. Baker: “Turn left and you look for a broken-down, dirty old man and you follow him.”  “Yes, sir.  He’ll take me to Col. Blake?”  “He is Col. Blake.” 

*Oh, Spearchucker appears here, coming out of the OR with Hawkeye and Trapper. 

*Sgt. Baker uses the word “gook” and Hawkeye tells him he doesn’t care for the word. 

*Ho-Jon tells the surgeons that Sgt. Baker bought Young Hi from her family for five hundred dollars.  The show doesn’t make a big deal about it.  They don’t even give him a line and the reaction shot is quick.  But the show wisely cuts to Spearchucker for the first reaction shot.  It’s understated, but clever. 

*Hawkeye tries to get Henry to do something about the situation, but Henry says it won’t do any good.  All Henry can do is report Baker to his superior officer, but Henry happens to know that Baker’s superior officer has a moose of his own.  “I thought we were here to liberate these people,” Spearchucker opines.  “Must have been a misprint.” 

*So, Hawkeye and Trapper decide to convince Young Hi to leave Baker with their help.  However, she tells Hawkeye that Baker paid for her and to run away would be like stealing and would dishonor her family. 

*We then do a sharp, and rather hilarious, cut to Hawkeye in full dress uniform, lecturing Baker about morality.  It’s hilarious to see Hawkeye clean up like this, especially under his own aegis, as it were.  He’s dressing up to give a dressing down, as they say.  I enjoyed this moment. I mean, we all know Hawkeye; it killed him to dress up like this, especially when he wasn’t being made to do so.  But how else to give someone a direct order?

*This is even funnier when you’ve watched farther in the show.  Hawkeye unironically barks, “Stand at attention, soldier,” at one point.  Now, THAT’s funny. 

*Baker ain’t havin’ it though: “No meat cutter with a temporary commission’s gonna work me over.” 

*Hawkeye then switches tactics and tries to buy Young Hi from Baker.  When Baker expresses confusion over this sudden switch, Hawkeye excuses it by saying, “You’ve got to swing with the times.”  Baker won’t sell, however.  “You think it would look suspicious if he got run over in the shower?” Hawkeye wonders.

*So, of course, they next try to win her away from Baker in a card game.  They’re cheating, of course. Hawkeye is wired with an earpiece; Radar is watching Baker’s hand through a telescope, a la Goldfinger. 

*Ugly John appears in this sequence.

*So, should I talk about the laugh track?  Yeah, let’s talk about it.  So, the show didn’t want a laugh track, but the studio basically forced it on them.  They made a deal whereby there’s no laugh track in the OR scenes.  Later on, they do some episodes with no laugh track at all and they keep the laugh track fairly minimal.  Luckily, the DVDs allow you to watch the episodes the way the show intended, meaning with no laugh track.  You can watch with or without and after watching a couple of episodes both ways, I quickly settled on without as the best experience.  In many ways, viewed as the show creators intended, MASH appears ahead of its time.  Seen with the laugh track, it just feels sloppy. 

*But I’m re-watching the episodes with the laugh track, just for fun, as I write these reviews.  And, boy, in this card game sequence, the laugh track is just obnoxiously intrusive and stupid.  Man, oh, man, is this awful.  So, definitely, ditch the laugh track when you watch the DVDs. 

*Radar gets distracted when a nurse strolls in front of the telescope on the way to the showers.  “Wait, something’s blocking me . . . I’m still blocked . . . oh, boy, am I blocked.”  Alda does some great low key reactions to this chatter. 

*So, they get Baker for twenty-two hundred dollars, twelve hundred on an IOU.  He takes the deal and gives Young Hi to Hawkeye. 

*When Baker brings Young Hi to Hawkeye, he actuallly tells her goodbye with a good deal of affection and Hawkeye keeps telling him to shut up.  That’s an interesting layering.  I mean, sure, Baker’s a jerk, sure, slavery is a bitch, but . . . let him say goodbye, dude.  For just half a second, Baker seems to actually care. 

*But Hawkeye’s problem isn’t over.  I’ll let Young Hi sum it up: “Go? I be good moose for Hawkeye slob-san.  Make shave for you, shine shoes, laundry, cooking on stove . . . I get my gear, start work.  You see.  Everything be okay.  You be happy like hell.” 

*I guess Virginia Lee deserves some kudos.  This part is pretty broad, but she sells it to some degree.  Not entirely.  For one thing, she’s too old.  But to the degree she can sell it, she does sell it.  Even with all that stage show broken English.

*This is a more layered look at the whole concept than you might expect.  The show very definitely casts Baker as a villain; I mean, he bought a person.  But it casts Hawkeye, not as a hero, but as something of a fool, who quickly gets in over his own head when he tries to bull into something with no real cultural understanding.  Young Hi isn’t an American or a philosopher.  She doesn’t understand what Hawkeye means when he tries to tell her she’s “free.”  She knows her place in society and she doesn’t understand why Hawkeye doesn’t understand it too.  It’s a good look at culture clash.  Sometimes idealism has to meet some harsh realities; maybe not everyone in the world wants to be “liberated.” 

*There is a hilarious scene of Trapper and Spearchucker entering the Swamp to find that it is spotlessly clean.  That’s pretty funny and has to be the only time we actually see the floor of the Swamp.  The boys are oddly angry about this.  “Get your butt in here,” Spearchucker bellows. 

*You know who’s not in this episode?  Frank.  We need his perspective on this. 

*So, Hawkeye forces a weeping Young Hi to get on a truck to Seoul.  She is screaming that she wants to stay and crying.  But he forces “freedom” on her, sending her to Seoul where she probably knows no one and will be worse off.  The American flag flutters in the breeze above them.  Accidental or deliberate framing?  Do you really have to ask? 

*Okay, so I don’t know that I want to address the politics of the show really.  But this is a compelling story for me.  It feels like every foreign policy blunder we’ve ever made.  The war in Iraq.  The war in Afghanistan.  Vietnam.  We go in; we liberate; everyone rejoices; democracy and prosperity abounds.  Or perhaps we go in; we destroy the only social environment the native people have ever known; everyone is desperately confused and/or angry; we leave; things get worse for everybody. 

*I’m not saying that I necessarily always believe the latter has happened.  But neither has the former always happened.  And it’s a compelling and important thing to think about that the real world is not so simple as Hawkeye thinks it is in this episode or as people think it is in real life.  I enjoy the  complexity of the show’s vision.  Baker isn’t right in this episode; but neither is Hawkeye really.    Hawkeye’s idealism is more morally correct, but he doesn’t have any vision of the pragmatic realities that he has to deal with in the world as it is. 

*So, that night, Trapper interrupts Hawkeye in the middle of a make-out session in the middle of a minefield to let him know that the Moose is back, having hitched a ride back.  “But you’re free,” Hawk mumbles.  Trapper has some more words of wisdom: “This kid is part moose, part yo-yo.”  Trapper, for once, comes off like the smarter of the two. 

*Hawkeye decides to make some plans with Trapper.  He barks at Young Hi, “Just stand there.  Don’t clean anything.”  Virginia Lee kills this moment.  As soon as Hawk turns his back, she begins edging toward his bed and is plumping his pillow before you know it. 

*Ah, Hawk finally mentions that Frank is in Tokyo on R&R.  At least they finally explained it. 

*So, Hawk decides to give her some “person lessons.”  We get some short scenes of Hawkeye teaching her better English, Young Hi making conversation with some of the nurses and Spearchucker talking to her about eye contact.

*Ho-Jon has found the “head of Young Hi’s family.”  It’s a kid that looks about ten.  He is smoking a cigarette and reading Hollywood Scandal.  His name is Benny.  Hawkeye is relieved when Benny agrees to take Young Hi off their hands.  Until . . . “You come back to Seoul.  We get a thousand, maybe fifteen hundred bucks for you.”  Yes, that’s right; Benny’ll take her back . . . so he can sell her again!

*Young Hi’s fine with it.  Hawk isn’t.  “I have duty to my family.”  “What about your duty to yourself?”  She tells him flatly; she doesn’t think she has a duty to herself.  Her family is her self.  She thinks Hawk and Trapper anyway.  They’ve taught her a lot.

*The after show denoument is of Hawk reading a letter from Young Hi to Trap and Spearchucker.  She’s in a convent school, learning towards becoming a  nurse, or at least a nursing assistant.  They all mention how much they miss her.  Hawkeye says he misses her especially; look at his boots, he says, they’re disgraceful.  The episode ends with Spearchucker and Trapper beating Hawkeye up. 

*Well, much is made of several breaks in the show’s run.  The third season closer, Abyssinia, Henry, is rightly seen as a watershed.  With the fourth season opener, Welcome to Korea, the show begins moving in a more verite direction.   Many people point to Sometimes You Hear the Bullet, a first season ep, which is one of the first to really deal with a death in the OR seriously and emotionally.  But I say it all kind of starts here.  The episode is still farcical.  Young Hi’s sudden reversal at the end feels very “early MASH.”  Later in the series, the story lines wouldn’t have such tidy wrap-ups.  But there are large portions of this episode that are quite serious and quite thoughtful in detailing serious culture clash and the problem of idealism meeting harsh reality.  This isn’t Sometimes You Hear the Bullet or Welcome to Korea or Abyssina, Henry or The Interview or any number of better episodes.  But it’s a darn good first pass at a socially conscious episode.  We’ll forgive the sitcommy resolution.  The show is  only five episodes in; it’s already signaling where it’s headed, even if it doesn’t have the nerves necessary yet to really pull it off. 

*** out of **** stars.

Hy Averback, Laurence Marks

MASH Episodes, by Quality:

1.       Chief Surgeon Who?

2.       The Moose

3.       To Market, to Market

4.       Requiem for a Lightweight

5.       Pilot

The Abridged MASH

To Market, to Market

Chief Surgeon Who?

The Moose

M*A*S*H Chronology