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.
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?