Episode Spotlight: Bless You, Hawkeye

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

“Bless You, Hawkeye” (#211, 9×17)
Originally Broadcast: Monday, March 16th, 1981
Written by Dan Wilcox & Thad Mumford
Directed by Nell Cox

Capsule Summary: Sidney Freedman is called in when Hawkeye starts sneezing and can’t stop.

I’m expecting a strong reaction in the comments section to this episode. I get the impression a lot of fans hate it. Yet there are many fans who consider it a solid episode. At the moment, it enjoys a 7.6/10 rating at TV.com and a similiar 7.3/10 at the Internet Movie Database.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I’ve never heard someone sneeze the way Hawkeye does in this episode. It doesn’t sound like a sneeze, to be honest, which of course it isn’t. Alan Alda is doing his best to fake a sneeze but I’m not sure it’s something you can fake.

Hawkeye’s sneezes start with a forceful inhalation before stopping abruptly. There’s no balance, no follow-through. They sound unnatural to me, which is why each and every sneeze pulls me out of the episode. If only the writers had come up with some other way for Hawkeye’s repressed memory to manifest itself. Cut out the absurd sneezes, and the episode improves dramatically.

When Hawkeye stumbles into Colonel Potter’s office and declares “I’m going to die,” I believe him. He looks awful. The sneezing has been joined by furious and scratching. After Sidney Freedman arrives, Hawkeye repeats his prediction that he’s going to die:

Hawkeye: “Sidney, I’m scared.”
Sidney: “It’s certainly understandable.”
Hawkeye: “I’m gonna die.”

I may criticize his sneezing, but Alan Alda does a superb job selling Hawkeye’s terror and his sense of helplessness. Sidney suspects Hawkeye will figure out what’s wrong with him when he’s ready–and he’s right. A horrific childhood memory eventually resurfaces. When Hawkeye was seven, he was fishing with his beloved older cousin Billy and Billy pushed him into the water. Hawkeye almost drowned. He nearly died. Unable to handle the betrayal, young Hawkeye altered the memory so he wouldn’t remember Billy pushing him, only Billy saving his life.

Contrast Hawkeye’s fear of what’s happening to him earlier in the episode with his hysterical wailing as he remembers his childhood trauma, remembers being pushed by Billy. It’s too much, too melodramatic. The wailing is particularly painful. That said, I have no idea how I’d react if I suddenly remembered my cousin trying to kill me when I was a child. Perhaps I shouldn’t judge Hawkeye too harshly for his histrionics.

“Bless You, Hawkeye” isn’t a favorite episode but I don’t loathe it the way some do. It’s greatest failing isn’t fake sneezing or overwrought emotion, but repeating a storyline used earlier in the series. “Hawk’s Nightmare” from Season 5 is nearly identical. Rather than sneezing and scratching, it features nightmares and sleepwalking. In both episodes, Sidney arrives at the 4077th to help Hawkeye. In both episodes, Hawkeye is dealing with a psychological issue relating to his childhood.

Still from the M*A*S*H episode Bless You, Hawkeye showing Hawkeye
Hawkeye is convinced he’s going to die.

This is the first of three episodes directed by Nell Cox. The others are “Heroes” from Season 10 and “Run for the Money” from Season 11. She directed more episodes than any other woman. In fact, she’s the only woman to direct more than a single episode.

If for some reason you’d like to watch a supercut of every single one of Hawkeye’s sneezes from this episode, here‘s a link to a YouTube video. Enjoy.

It looks like B.J. is playing pyramid solitaire in the Swamp right before Hawkeye starts tossing things out the door.

Colonel Potter makes a Judge Crater reference in relation to missing keys to the lab. Crater famously disappeared in 1930. His disappearance remains unsolved to this day.

12 Comments

  • Jon says:

    TV Guide reviewed the production of this episode in its cover article of Apr. 25, 1981. The cover features a Hirschfeld portrait of Alan Alda:

    http://www.tvguidemagazine.com/archive/suboffer/1980s/1981/19810425_c1.jpg.html

    I wouldn’t necessarily agree that its production was all “fun & games”, as the cover states, but I’m sure the cast & crew had some fun producing it.

  • BDOR says:

    You should hear how my mom sneezes: she yells, “WAH-HOOOOOOOOOO!” Every. Single. Time.

  • Larry P. says:

    Count me among the fans who hate this episode. Honestly, it’s in my top 10 least favorites; I detest it. It’s overwrought, depressing, and a poor imitation of “Hawk’s Nightmare,” an episode I’m not a huge fan of anyway.

    Hawkeye’s breaking down is actually painful to watch. And having a sneezing fit because a smell brought back a repressed memory? Even if that plot does have some basis in mental reality, that doesn’t mean it makes for great TV. (They entered the same general wheelhouse in the series finale, and were IMO much more successful.)

    Some may disagree, and that’s cool, but personally? I find this ep awful.

  • Seoul City Sue says:

    Worst episode of the entire series. Ranks right up there with ‘Inga,’

    • Larry P. says:

      I nearly mentioned something along those lines in my comment; I think I’d take this one over “Inga,” but in that scenario, I’m not coming out a winner either way.

  • Joe says:

    I have to agree with the person who said this is the worst episode.

    But then, most of the “post-Radar” episodes aren’t among my favorites, CBS should have cancelled the show when Radar left.

  • 007 says:

    I agree with RJ that it’s not the worst episode, although definitely not a fan of it. It’s nice to hear that someone else hated the sneezing as much as me though haha. The episode is actually not that bad at all except for that damn sneezing. It’s so LOUD and sounds so incredibly fake and forced, that like RJ said, it totally brings me out of the episode every time.

    Whenever this episode was on TV, I’d sit there with the remote in my hand so I could spam the mute button every time Hawkeye sneezes, especially the couple instances of multiple sneezes in a row.

    • 007 says:

      Just for kicks I watched the video of all the sneezes. It’s half hilarious and half annoys the hell out of me! haha

  • SPC Smada says:

    I’ve always wondered if that’s how a grown man would actually react to remembering something like that.

  • Doc Funnypants says:

    Charles: Arsenic would solve your problem. I know it would solve mine.
    Definitely a perfect example of Winchester’s disdain for Hawkeye.
    Is it true that you can catch a cold by not wearing underwear, as Charles condescendingly told Hawkeye?
    Hawkeye’s sneezes really were overdone and his reaction to his cousin’s betrayal was excessively melodramatic.

  • hrflyer says:

    As a doctor, wouldn’t Hawkeye have known better to cover his nose/mouth when sneezing? With the lone exception of the walk through post-op, he’s spreading more germs than Typhoid Mary. Even Sidney covers his nose in his lone sneeze.

  • Lady you ARE a Piece of Cornbread says:

    It’s ironic that the tag has Sidney fake sneezing better in character than Alda does out of character.

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