Episode Spotlight: Hawkeye

Every Monday, I spotlight a random episode of M*A*S*H, providing a brief review and asking readers to offer their thoughts.

“Hawkeye” (#90, 4×18)
Originally Broadcast: Tuesday, January 13th, 1976
Written by Larry Gelbart & Simon Muntner
Directed by Larry Gelbart

Capsule Summary: While returning from an aid station, Hawkeye gets in an accident and sustains a concussion. To stay awake, he talks to a Korean family until help arrives from the 4077th.

I’m not sure I’d call “Hawkeye” a controversial episode. A polarizing one, perhaps. There are five reviews at the Internet Movie Database. Four are positive (three 9-star reviews and a single 8-star review) while one is negative (a 1-star review). Of the eight reviews at TV.com, five are positive (all 10/10) and three are negative (1.5/10, 1.7/10, and 2.5/10).

Those who despise the episode like to call it an ego trip on the part of Alan Alda. But he didn’t write the episode or come up with the idea for it. I’d like to think even those M*A*S*H fans who don’t like “Hawkeye” can admit it’s an interesting writing experiment from Larry Gelbart and Simon Munter and features an impressive performance from Alda. Personally, while I truly appreciate the experiment and the performance, I don’t think “Hawkeye” has much rewatchability. It’s an episode you watch once and don’t revisit for a decade or so.

In terms of story, there’s really not much to discuss. Hawkeye basically rambles for 20+ minutes. He discusses medical school, watching musicals in Boston, growing up in Maine, the wonder and mystery of babies, and the complex human thumb.

Not surprisingly, Hawkeye talks about women a lot: Lefty the waitress from Sol and Sol’s Delicatessen; Eloise McKay from the eighth grade; and strippers Ann Corio, Margie Hart, and Polly O’Day. Two were real-life burlesque dancers. Polly O’Day and her parrot were made up for the episode.

If I had to pick a favorite part of the episode, I’d probably go with Hawkeye’s ode to the human thumb.

Still from the M*A*S*H episode Hawkeye showing Hawkeye and Margo the cow
Hawkeye talks about movies with Margo the cow.

Larry Gelbart discussed “Hawkeye” several times at the alt.tv.mash Usenet group:

August 4th, 1999
The reason for doing it was because it represented a terrific writing and acting challenge – and by Season 4, the challenges were getting tougher and tougher.

August 4th, 1999
>Were you pleased with the results?

Yes, I was. And Alda was very helpful in terms of the script, as well.

January 19th, 2003
> I know you and Simon Muntner wrote this ep but I always wondered how much, if any, input Alda had here.

A good deal.

January 20th, 2003
>It’s a half hour Hawkeye fest. I don’t know of any other episode that features only one major character throughout. Had to be Alda’s idea.

Turth [sic] is, it was not his idea at all.

But he contributed several bits and ideas to the script.

That’s what I meant when he some input in the show.

September 20th, 2003
> LG, what were you thinking with this one? Was it an experiment gone wrong?

Only for those who think that’s so. While there’s many an episode in the first four seasons that I think were complete or partial misses, l can’t say I feel that way about this one.

It’s not a question anyone being right or wrong here, it’s all a matter of personal taste – or distaste if that’s the case.

I’ll stop, before this becomes a one-man show, as well.

With two exceptions, the actors and actresses playing the Korean family in this episode made other appearances on M*A*S*H. Philip Ahn (The Father) was later in “Exorcism” during Season 5 and “Change Day” during Season 6. Shizuko Hoshi (The Mother) originated the role of Rosie in “Mad Dogs and Servicemen” during Season 3. She was later in “B.J. Papa San” during Season 7 and “Private Finance” during Season 8. June Kim (The Pregnant Woman) guest starred in “The Abduction of Margaret Houlihan” and “Souvenirs” during Season 5 and “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen” during Season 11. Susan Sakimoto (The Oldest Child) also guest starred in “The Abduction of Margaret Houlihan” during Season 5.

Jeff Osaka and Jayleen Sun (The Younger Children) have no other acting credits according to the Internet Movie Database but Sun later worked as stunt woman on several films between 1988 and 1995.

“Hawkeye” received two Emmy nominations: Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography for Entertainment Programming for a Series (William K. Jurgensen) and Outstanding Writing in a Comedy Series (Larry Gelbart, Simon Muntner). It lost both. Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography went to Baretta for “Keep Your Eye on the Sparrow” while Outstanding Writing in a Comedy Series went to The Mary Tyler Moore Show for “Chuckles Bites the Dust.”

Hawkeye is the only main character to appear in this episode.

7 Comments

  • BDOR says:

    I just feel like if this was an experiment on Larry Gelbart’s part to see if a single character could carry the whole show for an episode that another character should have been chosen: Hawkeye was already sort of the unofficial main character, so having an entire episode of him monologuing was pretty pointless and redundant. Any of the other characters could have gotten a chance to shine in the spotlight, and we probably could have learned some things we didn’t already know about said character.

    COMBAT! did an interesting episode where it’s two main leads – Vic Morrow and Rick Jason – didn’t appear at all, and it was just the supporting castmembers carrying the show: that’s the kind of episode M*A*S*H probably could have done: without the Swamprats or Potter, and maybe focus on some sort of hijinks that Radar and Klinger get into.

  • Seoul City Sue says:

    Something I found out just recently about 2 of the M*A*S*H alums while watching the 1967 Academy Awards – Shizuko Hoshi was married to Mako (who was nominated as Best Supporting Actor for The Sand Pebbles).

  • futurenurse says:

    This isn’t one of my all-time favorites, but I still feel it was a good episode. I think it was a very interesting concept that was probably pretty new at that current time in television. There aren’t many characters that could entertain me by rambling for 30 minutes, but Hawkeye is one of those few that pulls it off. I do agree with RJ on the rewatchability, as I have only watched this one a few times. That being said, I don’t think they designed the episodes to be watched over and over again (although I certainly watch them repeatedly, lol). Overall, an interesting idea that led to a successful and entertaining episode. 🙂

  • HannibalMO says:

    In my opinion, this episode is just OK, but not much better. I haven’t watched it in a while, so I will watch it soon and I may update my post.

    I agree with futurenurse, it’s an interesting concept, but I don’t think it works. To me, what made M*A*S*H work was the ensemble of characters. (This is kinda why I like the later seasons better). and the single character just doesn’t carry the episode for me.

  • Jonathan Edney says:

    I have always liked this episode, it has many memorable quotes and it just process what a tour-de-force Alan Alda was for the show but also in general. Technically, he sings, acts and dances across this twenty-five minutes (for varying lengths of time admittedly). I’m pleased to see confirmation that it was not Alda’s idea, as those who like to bash him would no doubt leap on this episode for ammunition, and I never really thought he would effectively give himself a single-hander.

  • Joe says:

    I remember reading somewhere back when this one first aired that they got the idea for it from an episode of “MAUDE” where the entire show consisted of Maude by herself in a physiatrists office talking non-stop.

  • Winchester the Third says:

    Also interesting that Hawkeye mentions the film The Ox-Bow Incident (which is great) which stars a young Harry Morgan.

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