Episode Spotlight: Hot Lips is Back in Town

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

“Hot Lips is Back in Town” (#163, 7×19)
Originally Broadcast: Monday, January 29th, 1979
Teleplay by Larry Balmagia and Bernard Dilbert
Story by Bernard Dilbert and Gary Markowitz
Directed by Charles Dubin

Capsule Summary: Margaret’s divorce is finalized so she decides to rededicate herself to a life in the army. Meanwhile, Radar tries to impress a pretty new nurse.

The evolution of Margaret Houlihan continued in this episode’s A-story, following other key episodes for the character like “Hot Lips and Empty Arms,” “The Nurses” and “Hot Lips Is Back In Town.” Here we see her received notice that her marriage to Donald Penobscott has come to an end. Her divorce has been finalized.

The scene in the mess tent when she gets the news plays well due to the obvious confusion on the part of Charles about whether to congratulate Margaret or express their condolences. Radar didn’t seem to have the same problem, offering his apologies for interrupting her celebration. That Margaret would turn to the army after reevaluating her life fit the character, as did her rushing into a big project without giving it much thought.

Fitting, too, was the unfortunate fact that General Weiskopf misinterpreted her invitation to the 4077th to observe her new nurse triage program. After all, the two obviously had a relationship at some point and for all we know Margaret used that to convince him to travel to the 4077th (either consciously or subconsciously). Over the years Margaret was depicted as someone who didn’t have a problem sleeping with colonels and generals, even if doing so didn’t seem to get her anywhere.

General Lyle Dumbkopf and Cato
General Lyle Dumbkopf and Cato

In that respect, “Hot Lips is Back in Town” is a big step forward for Margaret not because her divorce forced her to reevaluate her life but because that reevaluation meant coming to terms with her past. She could have gone with Weiskopf and been promoted and maybe eventually improved nursing in Korea. But it wouldn’t have been because of her talent and expertise. I’m not sure Hot Lips would have actually taken Weiskopf up on his offer but Margaret wouldn’t even entertain the possibility.

The B-story involving Radar attempting to woo Nurse Nugent was tired and repetitive. All that stands out was his conversation with Charles about how to approach girls.

Hawkeye and B.J.’s General Dumbkopf and Cato routine was some old-school M*A*S*H tomfoolery. Where did B.J. find a party horn/noisemaker that sounded like chirping birds?

Did you notice the hair style Nurse Bigelow (Enid Kent) was sporting in this episode? I wonder if 1950s era military regulations allowed women to wear their hair short.

20 Comments

  • Me being who I am, I actually like the B-story involving Radar in this episode, but I do agree that while at the same time, it did come across as tired and repetitive, especially considering the plot had been done twice before (Radar vying for Lieutenant Anderson’s affection in “Love Story” (1×14), and Lieuntenant Simmons’s in “Springtime” (3×06), the only difference was Nugent seemed to be a better match for Radar – he had nothing in common with Anderson and was at a loss conversing with her about Tolstoy and Baaaach, and he got the hots for Simmons after seeing her in a bikini, but Nugent was so demure and sweet and actually sought friendship with him, even though he was so preoccupied with trying to impress her that he was oblivious that.

    But, as far as the A-story goes, it was kind of amusing what the others were going through having to put up with Margaret: first they saw she was dead from the neck up from her divorce decree that they tried to loosen her up with a round of drinks in the Officer’s Club, but then, once she found herself, and initiated her own nurse triage program, they then felt like they had created a monster. Also surprised you didn’t mention that Margaret brought up the spirit of Frank in this episode too. I do like how Margaret told off Weiskopf for misinterpreting her invitation as another chance for them to have a good time, when that’s not what she had in mind at all.

    There’s just ONE thing about this episode I don’t understand: Hawkeye, B.J., and Margaret each got considerably drunk in the Officer’s Club, but then just a VERY short time later, Margaret is completely sobered up as she wakes Potter up to tell him about realizing the Army is her life and career… but then the following morning, Hawkeye has a hangover while taking a shower… so how did Margaret sober up so quickly, yet Hawkeye had a hangover?

    • RJ says:

      I hadn’t thought about that, BDOR. I’m betting Hawkeye kept drinking after he got back to the Swamp.

    • Mash Fan says:

      She was clearly drunk when she visited Potter, as indicated with her kiss on his ear, both at the beginning and end of their conversation. My guess as to why Hawkeye was more hungover would be that he continued drinking and probably drank considerably more than Margaret.

  • Seoul City Sue says:

    I, for one, always laugh at the Gen. Dumbkopf and Cato bit. It’s so over the top corny that I can’t help but giggle during the entire charade.

  • pinkpagoda says:

    Regarding the remark on Bigelow’s hair, I looked up women’s hairstyles for military and other http://ezinearticles.com/?1950s-Hairstyles&id=3818518

    “A few young women, such as teddy girls and butch lesbians, went for a more androgynous or masculine look. In the 1950s this was very rare and even risky: a masculine hairstyle on a woman could get her arrested or assaulted for supposed homosexuality, then looked at as a perversion.”

    I hadn’t even thought of that. Other than Amelia Earhardt and Babe Diedrickson (both hit their hey day in the 30s and both were in traditionally male roles) – I can’t really think of women with short hair. In fact, in the roaring 20s short bobs were “in”, but in the 50s – long curls and up dos were acceptable.

    • pinkpagoda says:

      Of course, in the 50s, men’s hair was frowned upon if it touched their ears. And look at Hawkeye, and even Sidney.

      • Tuttle says:

        I always thought that the hairstyles were one of anachronisms of the series. Most of the men had hair that was far too long for a military post(Hawkeye and BJ in particular). Many of Margaret’s hairstyles, particularly in the later seasons, were very 80’s.

      • Nowadays, so many women are constantly getting all their hair chopped off, and with them having stick figures, they all look like twelve-year-old boys. Michelle Williams? Somebody please tell her to grow her hair and eat a sandwich.

        Ginnifer Goodwin is the only one, I find, who can actually make really short hair on a woman look good.

    • jgf says:

      “…but in the 50s – long curls and up dos were acceptable.”

      Check out TV shows and movies of the fifties, even shoulder length hair was rare. In fact it is typically implied that anything longer denotes, at best, a bohemian mindset.

  • Doc Funnypants says:

    Referencing Margaret’s triage plan, I believe she should’ve taken Gen. Weiskopf up on his offer to transfer to Tokyo, regardless of what it would’ve done to her integrity. Also, I thought Radar pursuing Lt. Nugent seemed cringe-worthy and difficult to watch.

    • Maggie Hoolihan says:

      I’m not sure you’re seeing the larger picture here. Maybe it’s a woman’s perspective being a bit different than a man’s? It’s not just about integrity. She would have in essence, had to prostitute herself night after night with a man not of her own choosing. It would have felt like rape to her. Having to sleep with someone you do not desire is not an easy thing for anyone male or female. To suggest that she should take the promotion and possibly have to deal with loss of self-respect but also possible mental issues because of what she had to do as part of her new “job” is a very short -sighted view. I’m pretty sure Lisle wasn’t just referring to romantic dinners. He would have expected her to go all the way and the new Margaret wanted no part of that life anymore. She had been around the block one too many times and was tired.

  • Bex says:

    Can someone please help me! When Margaret found out about Donaldson cheating what was the name she called him. Has been driving me crazy!

  • mspence says:

    I wonder if the B story was one of the reasons Burghoff left the show? Also the Hot Lips title bugs me; I’d have thought they were past the Hot Lips stage of Margaret’s character by this time.

    • Maggie Hoolihan says:

      No I think he said he left to spend more time with his family. I’m guessing he got tired of the character too. I don’t believe he became a born again Christian until after he left the show so I don’t think anything in the show would have bothered him morally. It’s weird that he would leave the show until to try to recreate the character in a spinoff show about Radar at home. If he was missing his family, wouldn’t a starring role be even more work for him?

  • Latrinogram says:

    I actually like the B story. Even though it was repetitive, I can actually believe that Nugent would like Radar. She was a sweet girl. Too bad she was never seen again.

    I like the scene Radar has with Charles, and also the scene at the end where Hawkeye raises his drink to Radar.

    The A story is pretty good too. Margaret’s actions are believable throughout the episode, and she lets her nurses know that she is proud of them. Interestingly, here is yet another general that she had a past with. “Hot Lips” would have taken the general’s offer; “Margaret” did not.

    • Doc Funnypants says:

      When exactly did Margaret tell the nurses she was proud of them in this episode?
      Margaret: I expect perfection or better.
      Sounds like something Frank Burns would say, which gives you an idea of how much Margaret was influenced by Ferret Face.

      • Doc Funnypants says:

        Sorry to reply to my own comment, but now I remember when Margaret said she was proud of her nurses. She didn’t tell the nurses directly but she told Gen. Weiskopf in her tent that she was proud. I half-expected Lyle to tell her that if she accepted his proposal, she would have to give up nursing and be just an administrator.

  • phil says:

    Pivotal moment in the evolution of the Hot Lips-to-Margaret transition:

    “Here’s to me.”

  • Maggie Hoolihan says:

    Bill Christopher’s take on Margaret’s divorce:

    “Loretta didn’t want too much to be married. I think Father Mulcahy should have been more involved in the disintegration of her marriage. He married her. I thought there was a great [potential] scene there for him to ask if there was something he could do to save her marriage. I think she uses Colonel Potter as the father rather than Mulcahy. They tended to keep Father Mulcahy around but didn’t allow him to grow as much as he could. ”

    I think this shows a lot about what Christopher thought the show was really about. There was that famous story of him saying the show was about a chaplain in a MASH unit. It’s surprising to me that he couldn’t see why Margaret might prefer to go to a married father of several kids than a celibate man of God. I’m not sure what Bill thought he might be able to do to “save” a marriage between a man and woman who had both cheated on each other, lied to each other, and had never lived together. Not to mention that one of them moved thousands of miles away without telling the other. It’s a bit tough to save a marriage when one of the partners is far away and unreachable much of the time. While it makes sense that Bill Christopher would want more screen time, it’s surprising that he would single out Margaret’s marriage as a way to get it. What on Earth could he hope to offer except to advise her to work on it? He would never ever tell her to get divorced since that’s against Catholic doctrine. Of course Margaret wouldn’t go to him knowing what his answer would be. Not to mention his lack of knowledge about sex, intimacy, and husband/wife needs. Margaret went to Potter for an objective opinion, not one tinged with religious doctrine.

    Bill Christopher saw himself as more of a shrink in the vein of Dr Freedman but I’m not sure people always used him that way. That’s the writers’ fault because they usually had Mulcahy inserting some religious witticism or teaching into everything he said. (G for Gabriel; reminds me of story of Isaac; etc) To be effective, priests should be a bit more worldly and not always bring everything back to commandments and biblical teachings. He even got embarrassed when a soldier in post op was reading the Song of Solomon, which is a beautiful part of the Bible about romantic love. Nobody wants to hear reminders about religion 24/7 and certainly not when they’re having real problems that need real solutions.

    One thing about Sidney is that he offered real solutions and advice; hypnosis or tough love or just talk therapy. Mulcahy was a great listener but would usually tell some story from the Bible and advise to think about it further (pray on it). Sometimes that works, not always. Experience counts for a lot and Mulcahy just didn’t have experience in a lot of things people at MASH were going through.

    Margaret wasn’t particularly religious either so I’m not sure she would go to a priest for advice anyway. Potter took the place of the loving and warm father she never had which was an important component of the show. Very surprising Bill Christopher didn’t see that or thought it should be sacrificed so he would have more screen time.

  • Doc Funnypants says:

    Just curious, but I’d like to know if Margaret was afraid of what Weiskopf would do if her rejection of his offer made it through HQ’s grapevine. I mean he could’ve concocted a lie about Margaret spurning him and the bigwigs punishing her for disobeying a superior officer. What I want to know is what would happen if HQ opened an inquiry about it and took Lyle’s side. What would happen to Margaret and what punishment would she face?

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