Episode Spotlight: Hawk’s Nightmare

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

“Hawk’s Nightmare” (#109, 5×13)
Originally Broadcast: Tuesday, December 21st, 1976
Written by Burt Prelutsky
Directed by Burt Metcalfe

Capsule Summary: Hawkeye begins sleepwalking and suffering from nightmares so Colonel Potter calls Sidney Freedman for help.

Last month, I reviewed “Bless You, Hawkeye” from Season 9. That episode is very similiar to “Hawk’s Nightmare” from Season 5, which I’m reviewing today. In my opinion, “Hawk’s Nightmare” does a better job depicting Hawkeye in the grips of a minor psychological breakdown. To be fair, one of the major problems with “Bless You, Hawkeye” is Alan Alda’s sneezing. But the episode also suffers from feeling like a copy of an earlier episode.

“Hawk’s Nightmare” is a rare episode of M*A*S*H with just one storyline. It’s all about Hawkeye’s sleepwalking and his nightmares. There’s really nothing else going on in the episode aside from the tense interaction between Margaret and Frank in Post Op. The relationship between the two changed drastically during Season 5 following Margaret’s engagement.

We also learn a little bit about Frank’s childhood. His father took away his Popeye nightlight because he didn’t want his son to be a coward whenever it was dark. “There’s nothing in the dark that’s not there in the light,” Frank explains. It’s a

The opening scene in O.R. sets up Hawkeye’s nightmares. He’s distraught at how young the wounded patients are. “They’re babies,” he declares. After an 18-hour stint in surgery, Hawkeye tries to sleep. But his mind won’t let him. He starts playing basketball and shooting marbles while sleepwalking. He suffers from nightmares about his best friends from childhood dying.

The conversation between Hawkeye and Sidney near the end of the episodes lays out the problem:

Sidney: “You’re making it all the way back to Crabapple Cove. All the way back to a time when playing ball and shooting marbles and going on picnics were all there was to worry about. No more responsibility.”
Hawkeye: “No more life and death decisions.”
Sidney: “And pain was a skinned knee.”
Hawkeye: “What about my nightmares?” Sidney: “What about them?”
Hawkeye: “I keep having these dreams about these these kids I grew up with. And I– The dreams start out okay. The kids are fine. And then they end in disaster.”
Sidney: “Like those kids who roll past you on that bloody assembly line. You dream to escape, but the war invades your dream, and you wake up screaming. The dream is peaceful. Reality is the nightmare.”

When Hawkeye asks if he’s crazy, Sidney scoffs. “Actually, Hawkeye, you’re probably the sanest person I’ve ever known. The fact is, if you were crazy, you’d sleep like a baby.”

Due to the constraints of network television, Hawkeye’s nightmares are never mentioned again, even though Sidney suggests they may not going away entirely until the war ends. Perhaps “Bless You, Hawkeye” would’ve worked better had the nightmares resurfaced instead of sneezing caused by Hawkeye’s repressed trauma from childhood.

I’m curious about B.J.’s limited role in the episode. He’s Hawkeye’s bunk mate and good friend. He should be more concerned than anyone about Hawkeye’s mental state. But Klinger and Radar both spend more time talking to or about Hawkeye. In fact, Radar has a lengthy discussion with Colonel Potter about Hawkeye.

Still from the M*A*S*H episode Hawk's Nightmare showing Hawkeye
Hawkeye shoots imaginary marbles while sleepwalking.

Allan Arbus is only in this episode for roughly five minutes.

Hawkeye tells Private Burke he hasn’t seen his father in two years. Were doctors in Korea for that long during the Korean War?

Igor and Kellye can be seen in the Officers’ Club sharing drinks.

We learn a little bit about the fictional Crabapple Cove, Maine in this episode. According to Hawkeye, it was settled in 1684 and has a population of 3,976.

9 Comments

  • BDOR says:

    This episode always interests me, mainly because I have a fascination with dreams myself, mainly because I seldom have pleasant, or what I would consider to be “normal” dreams – most of my dreams are trippy, strange, bizarre, and even borderline nightmarish without being actual nightmares. And yet, occasionally, it’s from these freaky-deaky-trippy dreams that some of my best ideas come from, so I suppose that’s something.

    • 007 says:

      Hah you and me both buddy. Pretty much every dream I have is weird as hell with random elements from my life or thoughts thrown together with random elements outta nowhere and mixed in ways that don’t make any sense whatsoever but seem totally normal in the dream.

      For the same reason as you, I actually dislike dream type episodes/sequences in movies/shows because dreams on screen are never weird or tripped out enough. They’re all too straightforward and realistic. Some of these writers need to take a trip through my brain before writing a dream episode!

      • BDOR says:

        I’m kind of the opposite: sometimes I’m a sucker for dream sequences, but there was a period of time years ago when I invoked them far too much in my work that it was becoming far too cliched and everything. But yes, I know exactly what you mean, the same thing happens to me with elements of my real life filtering into the dreams in ways that they don’t make too much sense, or even makes them feel unusual.

  • 007 says:

    Decent episode, certainly better than Bless You, Hawkeye, that’s for sure. Granted I don’t know much about sleep walking, but some of Hawkeye’s sleepwalking seemed a bit far fetched to me. Jumping around playing basketball, getting down on the ground shooting marbles, that seems a bit over the top. I think of sleep walking as basically just being like a zombie and roaming around, not being super active and jumpity like that.

    The scene where Hawkeye wakes up screaming always annoyed me though. Not as much as the sneezing in Bless You, Hawkeye, but it’s just so loud! I always preemptively keep my finger on the mute button when that parts coming up.

  • Farret Face says:

    I’m always a sucker for Sidney episodes. My least favorite is probably “Goodbye, Cruel World,” and that’s mostly because neither of those stories were fleshed out enough, and Sidney was barely there (but he really shined when he was there). I also love episodes showcasing how fragile Hawkeye’s mental state is, so of course I love this one

    I agree that this episode’s better than “Bless You, Hawkeye,” even though I still enjoy that one due to the biases I mentioned above. Obviously, seeing Hawkeye sleepwalk is a lot more enjoyable than hearing the loud, constant sneezing, but beyond that, I also think the reason for the sleepwalking is a lot more telling for Hawkeye’s character than the reason for his sneezing. I especially loved that talk between Hawkeye and Sidney quoted here. And of course, I also really liked when they were fake-playing basketball.

  • mspence says:

    Funny moment: A sleepwalking Hawkeye refers to Radar as an old childhood friend called Stinky. Radar: “That’s the sort of name that could stick with a fella.”

    This was the first episode that would deal with the war’s effect on the characters’ subconscious, the other being the surreal episode “Dreams” which was about the characters’ nightmares about the war. I wonder if they spoke to Sydney about those, too…

  • Doc Funnypants says:

    I read the review, and I hate to nitpick but there’s an incomplete sentence starting with “It’s a”. What were you planning on saying in that sentence?
    About this episode, it’s OK, but Hawk’s hopscotching, marble-shooting, zombie basketball-playing sleepwalking is just plain weird to me. I also have bizarre dreams from time to time, but my dreams are more like full-scale movies. One in particular involves me being kidnapped and taken to a warehouse. Of course, the ending never happens because I wake up before anything bad happens to me.

    • BDOR says:

      I’ve had complete TV show and movie ideas come to me in my dreams before, which is why I’ve said, a lot of my better ideas come to me in my dreams.

      However, one of those ideas was kinda “stolen” before I got the chance to do anything with it: you know that Emily Blunt movie THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU? I had an idea for a very similar movie come to me in a dream years before they did that movie.

    • RJ says:

      Good catch but sadly I have no idea what I was going to say with the “It’s a” sentence fragment.

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