Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen: The Final Episode of M*A*S*H

The cast of M*A*S*H from season two. In back from left are Frank
Burns (played by Larry Linville), Trapper John McIntyre (Wayne Rogers)
 and Walter "Radar" O'Reilly (Gary Burghoff), while in front from left
are Margaret "Hot Lips" Houlihan (Loretta Swit), Benjamin "Hawkeye"
Pierce (Alan Alda), and Henry Blake (McLean Stevenson.
It was poignant, touching, surreal, sad, and happy. There really aren't enough adjectives to describe one of the greatest television moments of the 1980s, and in history.

There is no greater television moment from my youth then the last episode of M*A*S*H. It was one of the most anticipated TV events ever. After 10 seasons, the producers of M*AS*H had announced the 11th season would be their last season. When the finale finished, it ended up running five times longer than any single episode.

The cast of M*A*S*H much of the time after the fifth
season. In back from left are Father Francis Mulcahy
(William Christopher), and Max Klinger (Jamie Farr);
in middle from left are B.J. Hunnicutt (Mike Farrell),
Sherman Potter (Harry Morgan), Margaret "Hot Lips"
Houlihan (Loretta Swit), and Charles Emerson
Winchester (David Ogden Stiers); and in front is
Benjamin "Hawkeye" Pierce (Alan Alda)
M*A*S*H was one of those shows that was on all the time. It debuted on Sept. 17, 1972, based on the critically-acclaimed Robert Altman movie which was based on the book by Richard Hooker.

When I was growing up in the 1980s, M*A*S*H had already been syndicated and was on in reruns every week night on CFCN Calgary. The first run, new episodes aired Monday nights on CBC at 9 p.m.

The show went through several distinct phases as the cast changed. Initially it was very much a slapstick comedy with characters such as Trapper John McIntyre (Wayne Rogers), Henry Blake (McLean Stevenson), and Frank Burns (Larry Linville), in addition to Hawkeye Pierce (Alan Alda). Eventually, after the third season, Stevenson and Rogers left. Henry Blake was replaced by Colonel Sherman T. Potter (Harry Morgan) and Trapper was replaced by B.J. Hunnicutt (Mike Farrell). Linville left after the fifth season and was replaced by Charles Emerson Winchester III (David Ogden Stiers).

M*A*S*H evolved into a much more serious, and at times darker, show. There were some episodes that were disturbing, like a dream episode that really was, in places, graphic for its time. There are several episodes that were essentially dramatic with a bit of comedy.

The end
If memory serves, it was after the tenth season that Alan Alda wanted to end M*A*S*H. They took a vote of cast members. All but three voted to make the eleventh season the last one. The three who did not vote in favour of that were Harry Morgan (Sherman T. Potter), Jamie Farr (Maxwell Q. Klinger), and Father Francis Mulcahy (William Christopher). They were appeased with a sequel to M*A*S*H Called AfterMASH.

The final season was shorter, 15 episodes to be exact, with six of those episodes filmed in season ten and held over, followed by the series finale.

Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen
In an era before series finales became the norm, it was strange to watch week after week, knowing a countdown was on to the last ever episode. That's why, if you were to watch it now, some of the references would be lost, because they were part of stories from previous episodes leading up to the finale.

Because they had announced what they were doing right after the conclusion of the tenth season, hype and anticipation built all through the summer of 1982, right up to the airing of the finale on Feb. 28, 1983.

It really was not what I had expected, to say the least.

It was a Monday night and I remember waiting impatiently for school to end. After it began, I recall watching and hoping it would never end. It really had become part of life and, even at 13 years old, I did not want it to end.

A collage of the final scene of M*A*S*H.
There really is too much to detail here. They wrapped up all the loose ends, and had some emotional goodbyes: Hawkeye shared a passionate kiss with Margaret Houlihan; Hawkeye and B.J. saluted Colonel Potter when he left; and the irony of Klinger staying in Korea after trying for years to get sent home by acting crazy. I do recall thinking, when B.J. got called home and leaving without saying goodbye to Hawkeye, Hawkeye had the same reaction he had when Trapper John left without saying goodbye. B.J. did eventually return. At the end of the episode, he was saying goodbye to Hawkeye and told him he left him a note. The helicopter was too loud and Hawkeye could not hear what he said. Then when the chopper lifted off, and pulled away and we all see "GOODBYE" written in stones, it brought a tear to my eye. More than one as I recall.

Parting thoughts
Good TV shows engage us as viewers. We feel like we know the characters personally and live their lives through their eyes. Over time we get to know the smallest details, celebrate their successes, share their failures, and even mourn their deaths. M*A*S*H lasted 11 years, three times longer than the war on which it was based, and we got to know those characters well. Potter's wife was Mildred. Hawkeye was named after his father Benjamin Franklin Pierce, who was a small-town physician in Crab Apple Cove, Maine. B.J. had a wife Peg, and a daughter Erin in Mill Valley, California. Winchester was a Harvard graduate from an affluent family in Boston, and in one episode we discovered his sister Honoria has a stutter. Klinger aches to get back home to Toledo and his wife Laverne, but she eventually ran off with his best friend. It goes on and on.

We followed their lives for 11 years, and their eternal hope that some day the war would stop and they could go home. While the war raged, we saw how harsh and brutal it could be, and how they coped. There was rarely a time the surgeons were not drinking in their off hours. What would you do?

When I saw "Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen" as an adult, I once again had tears in my eyes when they all said goodbye. If you have ever been in close quarters with the same people over a long period of time, you grow close and bond. Once you separate it never is the same. So in a way I could share their sadness at saying goodbye. But by then, I also understood the pain, suffering, and misery war could inflict on people, especially field doctors and nurses. So, unlike the first time I saw it, part of me cheered the fact they finally got to go home, and away from the horrors of war.

Goodbye, farewell, and amen. There could never have been a better title.

1 comment:

  1. T`was a great series. I Mish Mash....Yes, I do believe I`ll have another beer:)