Every Monday, I spotlight a random episode of M*A*S*H, providing a brief review and asking readers to offer their thoughts.
“Hot Lips and Empty Arms” (#38, 2×14)
Originally Broadcast: Saturday, December 15th, 1973
Written by Linda Bloodworth & Mary Kay Place
Directed by Jackie Cooper
Capsule Summary: Margaret gets depressed and demands a transfer after receiving a letter from an old friend who married a doctor she turned down.
It’s more or less universally agreed by M*A*S*H fans that “Hot Lips and Empty Arms” is the episode that starts the character of Hot Lips on the path to becoming Margaret. Her evolution continues throughout Season 5 (“Margaret’s Engagement,” “The Nurses,” “Margaret’s Marriage”) and into Season 6 (“In Love and War” and the two-part “Comrades in Arms”) and Season 7 when her marriage to Donald Penobscott ends.
What’s notable about “Hot Lips and Empty Arms” is the simple fact that nothing actually changes for Margaret. She doesn’t leave the 4077th nor does she leave Frank. Nevertheless, viewers are given a glimpse of how frustrated Margaret is with her life and the decisions she’s made. “I married the army,” she tells Frank, “and what have I got to show for it? Rotten living conditions, no social life, surrounded by insolent doctors and nurses who don’t give me an ounce of respect.”
Margaret also makes her feelings for Hawkeye and Trapper very clear: she basically despises them and blames the pair for undermining her with her nurses. Yet she also apparently harbors feelings for Trapper (“That curly blond hair and that crooked smile. And you’re really built, too, you know, you son of a gun.”) as well as some regret for beginning a relationship with Frank.
In other words, Margaret is conflicted on multiple levels, unhappy with her career and her personal life. She’s unable to open up to anyone about how she really feels unless she gets very, very drunk. The Army is supposed to provide the discipline and sense of order she craves but the 4077th is anything but ordered and disciplined.
Loretta Swit certainly seems to have had a lot of fun getting to act drunk. I really love the interaction between Margaret and Henry about the incoming wounded:
Margaret: “Major Margan Houlihet reporting for duty, sir.”
Henry: “Oh boy, drunk as a skunk.”
Trapper: “She’s tanked.”
Hawkeye: “A fine time to make a drinking debut.”
Margaret: “Where are the casualties, sir?”
Henry: “Now just hold your horses. They’re not even here yet.”
Margaret: “Well, then let’s go get ’em, sir. I’ll drive.”
[Hawkeye and Trapper laugh]
Henry: “Major? Major, dear, you’re drunk.”
Margaret: “Oh, I’m not so think as you drunk I am.”
[Hawkeye and Trapper laugh]
Henry: “Uh, you’d better go to your tent, Major.”
Margaret: “I can’t operate in my tent.”
Trapper: “You’re doing okay so far.”
Margaret: “Oh, go salute yourself!”
I don’t think it’s a flaw in the episode that Margaret never explains why she decides not to transfer away from the 4077th. Maybe it’s the incoming patients. Maybe it’s Trapper. Maybe she’s too scared to leave a place she knows, a place that’s comfortable, for the unknown.
There’s not much going on in “Hot Lips and Empty Arms” that doesn’t involve Margaret in some way. The minor subplot in which Henry orders an adult movie and watches it with Hawkeye and Trapper draws in Margaret. She calls it “the most vulgar, based thing” she’s ever seen. Later, he orders two more films from the Tobasco Film Company: “Paulina Paris and Her Pelican” and Francine Laflame and Her Tassles in the Air.” Poor Radar has to sign his name to the order form.
Speaking of Radar, he’s seen drinking and smoking a cigar–two things the naive, innocent Radar of later seasons doesn’t do.
Hawkeye and Trapper try to sober up Margaret.
Linda Bloodworth and Mary Kay Place were the first women to write for M*A*S*H. The pair went on to write “Springtime” and “Mad Dogs and Servicemen” (both Season 3). Linda Bloodworth later wrote “Soldier of the Month” (Season 4) and “The Nurses” (Season 5) on her own. Mary Kay Place also acted in “Springtime,” playing Lt. Louise Simmons.
The shower scene in which Hawkeye and Trapper try to sober up Margaret was obviously the second (or third) take. Trapper’s shoulders are already wet before Margaret hugs him.
I love the opening scene with Radar delivering mail. Watch it closely. First he gives a letter to Goldman, who is sitting in a jeep, then hands one to Voskowitz (played by an uncredited actor), who is standing next to a barrel fire. Voskowitz turns the letter over in his hands several times while Radar knocks on a door and walks into a tent. Radar comes out of the tent with a cracker or a cookie in his mouth. As he walks toward the camera, Voskowitz drops his letter in the fire. Was that scripted? It had to be scripted. No extra would burn a prop without permission, right?
Next, Radar approaches a soldier (played by Dennis Troy) talking to Nurse Watson (the lovely Sheila Lauritsen). “Letter from your wife, sir,” Radar announces. The soldier takes the letter. Nurse Watson looks surprised and walks away. Radar then knocks on the Officers Latrine to deliver yet another letter. Of course he knows who’s in the latrine. He’s Radar.
Is the scene in which Margaret returns some of Frank’s things usually cut in syndication? I don’t recall Bimbo the stuffed dog.