Sunday, April 30, 2006

Where have you gone, Hawkeye?

It was the one bright spot in an otherwise abysmal night.

Toss and turn. Can't sleep. Finally get up at 5 a.m. and turn on the TV.

And there, like an old friend, is Hawkeye Pierce and "M*A*S*H."

They don't make shows like this anymore. Most everything now is brainless. "M*A*S*H" was funny, yes. Silly, even, at times. But it was also literate, well-acted and, shock of all shocks, every now and then it made you think.

We seemed to have lost all of that.

And if "M*A*S*H" became too sentimental near the end, which it did, well, the show always had a heart.

Take this episode. "Bless You, Hawkeye." It's a classic.

Out of nowhere one day, Hawkeye Pierce (Alan Alda) starts sneezing. Just can't stop. "Achoo! Achoo!" everywhere he goes. The other doctors at the 4077th think it may be an allergic reaction. They test him for everything. Nothing shows up.

Hawkeye breaks out into a rash. He gets worse. Convinces himself he's dying. Wise Colonel Potter (Harry Morgan) wonders if the problem might be in Hawk's head. So he calls army psychiatrist Sidney Freedman (Allan Arbus) to come to the rescue.

Sidney gets Hawk talking about his childhood. He remembers growing up in Crabapple Cove, Maine, a place where there's "a lobster in every pot and a Methodist in every garage."

He talks about his cousin Billy. Hawkeye loved Billy. Idolized him, in fact.

One day, on a nearby pond during a fishing trip when Hawkeye was seven, Billy pushes him out of a boat. He panics, swallows a bunch of water and sinks to the bottom. Billy finally pulls him up to safety. Hawk comes up smelling like a wet burlap sack.

"You're so clumsy," Billy says. "If it wasn't for me, you'd be dead."

Hawkeye breaks down, lost in the memory.

"I loved him," Hawkeye says through his tears. "Why did he do that?"

Turns out a patient brought into the 4077th for treatment a few days ago came in scared to death and smelling, yep, like a wet burlap sack. Odor, Sidney says, can be the most powerful memory trigger.

Hawkeye can't believe that even here, in the midst of the hell that was a MASH unit during the Korean War, it takes a repressed memory from childhood to bring him down.

"It's the little battlefields," Sidney says, "that can leave some of the worst scars."

Sometimes those you love most hurt you. Instead of helping you into the boat, they push you out.

But the worst thing you can do is hold it in. Maybe the best thing to do is to deal with it and move on.

Wow. Heady stuff for a TV sit-com. Five will get you 10 you won't find anything like this on "Friends."

Where have the likes of you gone, Hawkeye Pierce?


Anonymous Michael Church said...

Thanks for a great summary of one of the best episodes of a fine series. I may borrow it as a sermon illustration.

Btw, there's a typo in your blog's subhead -- "editior." You might want to fix that.

1:08 PM  

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