Episode Spotlight: Who Knew?

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

“Who Knew?” (#240, 11×05)
Originally Broadcast: Monday, November 22nd, 1982
Written by: Elias Davis & David Pollock
Directed by: Harry Morgan

Capsule Summary: When a nurse he dated is killed, Hawkeye offers to give the eulogy only to discover nobody knew anything about her. Ultimately, after reading her dairy, Hawkeye learns about a shy nurse who was in awe of the 4077th and in love with him.

I’ve always felt “Who Knew?” is an episode that could have been great but just wasn’t. And not because it features the death of a character never mentioned before nor even seen in the episode, instantly removing any emotional attachment for viewers and making the emotions of the character suspect as well. But of course that was the point. Lt. Millie Carpenter was just another nurse and not someone special.

This is probably the only episode from the later seasons of M*A*S*H that probably would have worked better during the early years. The Hawkeye of Season 11 simply isn’t the womanizer he once was. That part of his character was downplayed to such a degree starting mid-way through the series that whenever he’s depicted as fooling around with nurses in the later years it just doesn’t feel right.

Charles, Potter and the Shmoo
Charles, Potter and the Shmoo

The opening scene of this episode, in which Hawkeye recounts his recent encounter to B.J. isn’t easy to watch, perhaps because Alan Alda seemed so uncomfortable saying the lines. Because Hawkeye was by this point a more “evolved” character when it came to women, an episode in which he has to come to terms with the fact that he uses humor to stay emotionally detached from women feels very out of place. Had this episode taken place during the second or third season, on the other hand, it would have made much more of an impact, even if the lesson was unlearned by the next episode.

Hawkeye’s eulogy runs a bit long and is far too schmaltzy. And how about him making a point to only tell a handful of the people in front of him that he loves them, totaling ignoring all the other people he’s served alongside for months/years/however long the Korean War had been going on by 1982. It makes sense from a storytelling point of view but within the context of the series it’s downright insulting.

I can’t recall now if there are any other episodes that touch upon the probably very real tactic of Army personnel not wanting to get close to people out of fear they’ll be transferred or killed. Of course, it turns out Millie wasn’t actually doing that but was in fact shy. But it would have made for a good episode. I sort of remember an episode in which a nurse didn’t want to get close to anyone. Anyone?

Anyway, you know you’ve got an episode that doesn’t work when the B story is more entertaining than the A story. And it’s only because of Charles. Klinger’s scheme to introduce the hula hoop Stateside is, like most of his schemes, ludicrous. It’s even more ludicrous because it involves hula hoops. But Charles had some really great lines and the sight of him trying to hula hoop is priceless. Likewise, the scene between Charles and Potter and the Shmoo is a nice one. Where, I wonder, did the propmaster find an inflatable Shmoo (and if it was vintage now I wonder how much it would be worth today)?

M*A*S*H Mystery: Who provided the uncredited voice for Lt. Millie Carpenter?

21 Comments

  • Pinkpagoda says:

    I kind of liked this episode – althought it would have been just a little better if we had met her in a previous episode. Or at least seen Hawkeye kiss her goodnight at the beginning of the episode – so that we could identifiy with her on some level. I find the nurses to be kind of cold at her demise, when they are so involved with Bigelow when she gets hurt during “They call the wind Korea”. Even Margaret shows nothing.

    As for schmoos – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shmoo – they were evidently quite a phenomenon, and it was perfect that Potter have one, since they originated in his favorite comic strip – Lil Abner.

    • Pinkpagoda says:

      We thought she was kind of distant, unfriendly. In fact, she had a kind of awe for us, for having done our jobs so well for so long. She would have told us that, but she couldn’t. She was too shy to express her deepest feelings, so she wrote them in her diary… It’s too late for Milly to change, and that’s sad. Maybe we can all take a page from her diary to remind us of what we all need to learn… To all the people here I have sweated and endured with, … you’re very important to me. I hope in the future I do a better job of letting you know it. I love every one of you.

  • Tuttle says:

    Totally agree with your review. Elements of this episode actually would’ve had quite an impact had it been done during the “Gelbart” years. Seems very out of place here.

    Also agree with Hawkeye’s eulogy being a bit insulting. It reminded me of “The Party”, where the main characters have a gathering of their families but exclude everyone else in camp. I know these things are done because it’s just a tv show focusing on the main cast but in both cases the lack of inclusion was glaring.

    • Kallanit says:

      Agree with you about The Party. I never understood why some of the nurses and other extras weren’t sitting in the background with letters in their hands during the session when the main characters were in the Mess tent trying to choose a date for the party. Even if the nurses and extras never said anything during that scene, it would still have looked as though they were involved, and there’s no reason why they couldn’t have been in the photograph as well..

  • Pinkpagoda says:

    Regarding the Shmoo – Just found where Hakes Auction house sold one in 2009 for $249.00 – but it didn’t look like this one, it was red with the features done in yellow, and was sideways, like the shmoos in the drawings. – My guess is that it was more current than the one in the MASH episode – There are several folks on line that remember owning one, but none that still had one or even a photo.

  • Seoul City Sue says:

    Watching this episode on TV right now and caught something interesting. The kid Klinger calls on to demonstrate the hula hoop to Charles is named ‘Oosan.’ According to an earlier episode (Welcome to Korea), Oosan means an umbrella (not to mention Hawkeye thought he was using it as an insult against the farmer)….so does this mean, the kid’s name is ‘Umbrella?’

  • Abyssinia says:

    In Chinese as well as Korean, different word pronunciations can mean different things, even if the word is spelled the same.

  • Hawkeye says:

    No one seemed to answer your question of the reminder of a nurse in another episode that was shy or didn’t want to be around anyone. The answer would be, edwina!

  • doc funnypants says:

    IIRC, Charles wanted to invest in Klinger’s invention, but after trying it out and getting laughed at, he changed his mind. This episode seemed a bit schmaltzy especially Hawkeye’s eulogy for Millie.

  • jgf says:

    “I can’t recall now if there are any other episodes that touch upon the probably very real tactic of Army personnel not wanting to get close to people out of fear they’ll be transferred or killed.”

    In reality the Army’s experience in the Korean War was just the opposite. In the early days they thought rotating people in and out of front line units frequently (3-6 months) would lower stress and “battle fatigue”. What they found was that no one ever got to know anyone else, experienced troops had no time to pass on their knowledge, there was no feeling of unity or “family”, and morale plummeted. When they increased rotation to twelve months morale and efficiency increased.

  • mspence says:

    Well, Hawkeye wasn’t close to everyone in camp, so it made sense that he would only tell those that he was closest to how he felt. But Hawkeye’s attitude toward’s Millie did seem out of character for the more mature Hawkeye.

  • 007 says:

    Just watched this episode on DVD for the first time. I had never seen that scene with the Shmoo before. It must be cut out on the old TV Land and ME TV runs.

    Figures that Hawkeye would take a Eulogy at a funeral and turn it into something about him. Regardless of how out of character it was for him to act the way he did towards Millie in the latter seasons, it was totally in character to flip a Eulogy and turn it into the Hawkeye Show. It was an episode of the Alan Alda & friends show after all.

    This episode is also another example of one of the character flaws Klinger has with another one of his get rich schemes, similar to his newspaper in depressing news.

  • Sue says:

    I think the voice of Millie sounds like Mary-Joan Negro.

  • Chrissy says:

    I was struck by the fact that Father Mulcahy gave Hawkeye the nurse’s diary. That seemed like a huge breach of privacy, even in death I wouldn’t want the world to read my private thoughts, much less a misogynist doctor.

    Then for Hawkeye to turn the whole service into being about him, disgusting.

  • Justin says:

    I think most of the reviews that I have read are totally missing the point of this episode. I think this episode is about Hawkeye, and Millie’s character was the vehicle to get it there. It’s about the continued evolution of Hawkeye and how the war is getting to him. All the character of mash have evolved. They after softer, not so much comedy and hi-jinx. They are all more serious, tired and just want to go home. These later and final years have some very fine acting by Alan Alda. I just wonder how many of these reviewers watched this show when it was on tv originally, because I’m guessing they didn’t.

  • Wayne says:

    This was the episode that chronologically didn’t fit, as it shows Klinger inventing the Hula Hoop. But if you go back to Season 5, Episode 7, “Dear Sigmund” you’ll see Klinger stating that “If I thought it would get me out I’d wear Hula Hoops in my ears. This would indicate that the Hula Hoop had already been invented thus no need for Klinger seemingly inventing the toy in this episode. Not to mention the Hula Hoop wasn’t actually invented until 1958, way after the Korean War had ended.

  • Lady, you ARE a Piece of Cornbread says:

    Too bad Klinger forgot about Boots Miller when he needed a ticket to a toy company head honcho.

  • Lady, You ARE A Piece of Cornbread says:

    A brief mention of an actual Shmoo related military mission in 1948

    http://www.fampeople.com/cat-al-capp_2

  • Maggie Hoolihan says:

    I was slightly disappointed that they made Millie into someone misunderstood. Who says that every person that dies has to be a great, nice person? Seems to me that there are plenty of people who don’t share because they’re selfish, are loners because they don’t like people, and are just generally not very friendly. It would have been nice to see MASH tackle that one.

    Father Mulcahy had no business reading or sharing the diary with anyone. His job as summary court reporter means he’s in charge of gathering personal effects and sending home. I’m hard pressed to see why he felt the need to read her entire diary in that role other than curiosity and titillation. He should have known that it would have included things about people in camp which is an invasion of their privacy also. The camp shouldn’t feel that he’s going to run and read their personal thoughts because he wants to be thorough in his duty.

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