So my husband and I have this fantheory about MASH...
You know how it’s a huge joke that the Korean conflict only lasted a few years, while MASH lasted for eleven? Well, I made a crack to my husband that it, like so many other stupid fantheories, was purgatory. the actual 4077th really was destroyed in a bombing, no survivors, fairly early on in the conflict. And the staff just never knew.
When the casualties came in, they were soldiers and occasionally civilians who had died in battle. The ones who died at the unit were near-death experiences, waking up in a hospital in reality later with strange stories of a really hairy nurse and a doctor in Groucho Marx glasses. Those 98% or so who survived and were sent on to Seoul for recovery? And the people who got their orders and were sent home? They were just sent on to the afterlife. We almost never heard back from them.
And when the “war” was over and the unit closed, well, that was the staff being sent on too. Maybe Hawkeye’s breakdown over the not-chicken at the end had something to do with finally being able to let go of the horrors and move on. Margaret’s failed marriage was her finally coping with the fact that she’d never managed to have a husband in life… and maybe that this wasn’t such a bad thing. Maybe Sidney Freedman was secretly an angel, sent to help them deal with their fates.
My husband went quiet when I made that joke. Then he suggested that the unit was destroyed by Five-O-Clock Charlie. Headcanon accepted.
M*A*S*H was some of the best humor of an age that can never be recreated, but its also serious. Its also truth. It’s also this… And I think anyone who thinks its a boring show never quite got the dark reality showing through underneath.
I’m not awake enough to write the long, rambling post about MASH’s take on character development, but I can’t sleep, so here’s less coherent rambling:
MASH, for the most part, didn’t do character development as much as it just changed who characters were as it fit the plot. Frank’s probably the most blatant example, but Hawkeye and Radar are up there with him.
Which isn’t to say it never did character development, but even at its best, MASH didn’t do it very consistently or well. I’m not sure who I’d say got the best, actual character development (not in a which I liked the best or something, but just in a yes, this character changed because of reasons and it made sense and was consistent), but maybe Margaret. Maybe I’m only thinking that because I just watched through most of season 5 where she’s getting promoted from awful person who exists to make life difficult for more primary characters into actually being a person.
I like the later seasons, where things are darker and way more liberal (and way more obvious about just being commentary on the Vietnam War in disguise), better, but damn if I don’t question the kind of mental gymnastics they had to go on to get the characters there.
But also, part of that is probably how MASH came out at a time where shows weren’t really expected to have things like character development, or change, because how are people gonna follow that if they’re not watching it in order? And MASH was pretty well ahead of its time with shit like having shit have actual effects.
Related to nothing else in this post, as an adult, I find Charles to be the most relatable character, and that’s fucked up.