Episode Spotlight: What’s Up, Doc?


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

“What’s Up, Doc?” (#139, 6×19)
Originally Broadcast: Monday, January 30th, 1978
Written by Larry Balmagia
Directed by George Tyne

Capsule Summary: Margaret thinks she’s pregnant and needs to use Radar’s rabbit for a lab test to confirm. Meanwhile, a wounded soldier takes Charles hostage in an attempt to get back to the States.

The A story in this episode involving Margaret’s potential pregnancy included some really great lines from Hawkeye. Perhaps the best came when they were talking in the scrub room after surgery and Margaret was explaining her symptoms. She says she’s been irritable lately and Hawkeye responds “Well, if you count irritability you’ve been pregnant since I’ve known you.”

Given Margaret’s personality, I would have expected her to try to medically verify whether or not she was pregnant herself. Of course, it wasn’t like she could just go buy a home pregnancy kit. It wasn’t that simple in the 1950s. You needed a rabbit, or a mouse or a frog to run a pregnancy test.

It fits with Margaret’s character that she’d ultimately confide in Hawkeye and fits with his that he’d a) be overjoyed at the news, and b) immediately offer to help. Notice that after congratulating her, Hawkeye hugs Margaret and then quickly pulls away, apologizing, as if hugging her too tightly could harm the baby.

I do wonder if Hawkeye was really qualified to perform surgery on Fluffy the rabbit or the pregnancy test using Fluffy’s ovaries.

Screenshot featuring David Ogden Stiers as Charles, shaking Klinger's hand (Jamie Farr)

Charles thanks Klinger for saving his life

The B story involving B.J.’s patient, Lt. Mortinson, taking Charles hostage with a pistol was reminiscent of “Deal Me Out” in which a patient takes Frank hostage with a pistol. Things play out quite differently, though, and given the number of angry patients with guns I suppose we can believe it would happen more than once. I do wonder how Mortinson was able to smuggle his pistol into Post Op, though.

I wonder if Margaret later took Nurse Bell off report once she found out she wasn’t pregnant and cooled off. Poor Bell.

Does anyone else find it amusing that Lt. Martinson was played by Charles Frank, a man with two first names that happen to be connected to M*A*S*H? I wonder if anyone made any jokes about his name during filming.

24 Replies to “Episode Spotlight: What’s Up, Doc?”

  1. Charles Frank also appeared in the episode of MASH Dear Sigmund as the pilot who avoided the war by just dropping his load and being home for dinner, and his wife Susan Blanchard appeared as Nurse Cooper in Images.

    The B Story got pretty silly at the end – with Klinger – but the poignant exchange between Hawkeye and Margaret at the end is very realistic, and touching. “I’m happy for you Margaret – So am I….. but also a little sad…. so am I”

  2. Great episode. It’s got Radar, and a bunny, what more can you ask?

    However, I do have a few notes about this episode:

    We all know Margaret has a pregnancy scare in this episode, which she determines by the symptoms she’s been experiencing, including morning sickness, irritability, and talks about she’s not sure if she’s about to miss her period. In the end, it turns out that she’s not pregnant, and the symptoms she was experiencing were gallbladder trouble.

    I know they tried to make sure that the show was as medically accurate as possible, with Dr. Walter D. Dishell, MD on staff as the show’s medical advisor, but are those really the symptoms of gallbladder trouble? I don’t think so. My mom had gallbladder trouble back in the summer, even had surgery to have it removed (and unfortunately, she’s still never been quite right since), but she didn’t experience the symptoms Margaret did. In fact, the only symptom my mom had was severe, excruitiating pain deep in her side. So how was it decided that Margaret’s almost-pregnancy symptoms were associated with her gallbladder?

    I’ve been rewatching “What’s Up Doc?” (6×20) lately (mainly for the bunny storyline), but I’m confused as to why that patient just suddenly took Charles hostage… I mean, Charles really didn’t do anything, he just tried to talk to him like B.J. had been trying to since the beginning of the episode, then he just suddenly pulls out that gun and takes him hostage. All Charles said that he understands how he feels being a man of education and “breeding” and how the army is no place for Ivy Leaguers like them, so he understands completely.

    1. I looked up gallbladder symptoms and found that there are “silent gallstones” – People can go for years with digestive symptoms and never realize that they may be related to a gallbladder problem. That’s because they are so inter-woven with other digestive symptoms such as indigestion, gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea and nausea.

      And Margaret’s claim that “that time of the month hasn’t been that time of the month, and that was last month” – can be brought about by nerves, stress, worry, malnutrition, not eating enough, and getting older – all of which we can agree Margaret probably suffered from one time to another. Stress would account for the irritability as well.

  3. One pretty terrible aspect of this episode – Hawkeye and Margaret are totally willing to KILL Radar’s rabbit, so that Margaret doesn’t have to travel to Seoul. Really? Suck it up Margaret, and get in a jeep.

    1. That’s exactly what I thought watching this episode. Our Major wants to know if she’s pregnant – let’s do anything possible to find out. It seems like nobody but Radar liked animals.

    2. They didn’t seem to be willing to kill the bunny, it seemed to be out of desperation: Margaret didn’t want to draw attention to herself and her problems by going to Seoul, meanwhile, Hawkeye even says, “Radar would NEVER go for this… that rabbit’s his pet, he lives with it, he reads to it, he’d even marry it if it was the same religion…”, but Potter pointed out, “It’s the choice between his rabbit and our head nurse.”

      1. Yeah, but it really wasn’t. Margaret could have gone to Seoul for ostensibly many reasons. To see Donald, for a Conference, or just for some R&R – so….. I guess they needed to do it for the story line.

      2. The rabbit test was for decades the standard pregnancy test; it was quick, reliable, and cheap. The rabbit was euthanized, the ovaries removed, and the remains dumped; who wants to pay surgeon/hospital fees to save a 50 cent rabbit? (I don’t know the price in the fifties, hospitals get their rabbits from sources who breed them for medical use, but thirty years ago baby rabbits were $2 in a pet store ….I finally sold my 9ft python when the vet recommended feeding her baby rabbits).

  4. One part of this I found a little puzzling was when Margaret was thinking she might be pregnant that that would be the end of her military career. I don’t see why that would be necessarily so I am sure even then there were women who raised kids and still had time for a career.

    1. General opinion back then was pregnant women should “take it easy”, not stress themselves, in fact, be all but bed-ridden. They were also expected to stay home and take care of the children.

      A pregnancy would be the end of a woman’s military career as she would be deemed incapable of continuing her military duties.

      At best Margaret could look forward to being sent stateside immediately, spending a few months in an administrative position, then getting an honorable discharge “for medical reasons” once her pregnancy is obvious.

      1. I wondered about this too. Why only a few months in an administrative position on the states? Frank got sent to the states without being discharged from the military. Were we supposed to assume that was only for a few months? Flagg offered to have Winchester transferred to “Ft. Blevins 9-5 make that 4:30” so he was going to work in the states; presumably in a cushy job that Margaret probably could do after giving birth, while in military. Why couldn’t she assist the doctors that were doing x rays for selective service in the “back pay” episode? I guess it’s all sexism, but Margaret had clearly proven her worth to the military and had what colonel potter called in his first episode “a spotless record” so seems like the military could have found a way to utilize her skills.

  5. Here’s another thing I don’t quite understand about this episode:

    Everybody (and by that, I mean viewers, not the characters), assume part of the reason Margaret doesn’t want anyone to know about her possibly being pregnant, let alone not wanting to tell Donald is because the baby might not even be his, considering she’s been known to horse around with almost every man of equal or higher rank (Frank, all the generals, among others)… the problem is, why do viewers come to this conclusion? Yes, I know we have this exchange:

    POTTER: Did you tell Donald yet?
    POTTER: (Pause) Should you?
    MARGARET: Yes!
    POTTER: Then tell him! I remember when our son was born, made me prouder than a stallion out to stud!
    HAWKEYE: Colonel, I don’t think you get it… Margaret and Donald are not… uh… they’re not…
    MARGARET: What he’s trying not to say Colonel that Donald and I are… not…
    POTTER: I think I get it now.

    HOWEVER, we actually have this information earlier in the episode that would actually make it possible that the baby would be Donald’s:

    MARGARET: Well… I was with Donald about six weeks ago in Tokyo… and I’m… I’m pretty sure that I’m… pregnant…

    Not to mention when she realizes having a baby would end her army career, we have this as well:

    MARGARET: This is all Donald’s fault!
    HAWKEYE: Well, I wouldn’t put it all on Donald, I’m sure you were there at the time.

    I’m not an expert on women’s health, but doesn’t it take at least three weeks for a woman to start experiencing pregnancy symptoms? Not to mention, prior to the marriage, Margaret had been engaged to Donald for eight months, and appeared to stop having anything to do with Frank or other men… so yeah, I’m sure had Margaret really been pregnant, Donald would have been the father.

    I think the problem was, like Margaret said, was that she and Donald were simply having problems with their marriage, and she’s right, in a troubled relationship, having a baby isn’t going to solve any of those problems, it’s just going to add to them, and that’s probably why she didn’t want to say anything to him, or anybody else who might call him up to congratulate him.

  6. Or could she have thought it possibly could have been Hawkeye’s, from the night they spent together in Comrades in Arms?

    1. I agree with you. I always thought that was what she meant. And did Hawkeye think so to? Which would explain him being so happy about it.

  7. Funny in this episode Margret is sitting in potters office with hawk eye and radar discussing the use of radars rabbit for a pregnancy test for Margret while Margret is having a drink of gin with col potter lol

    1. This was one of my big issues with the show. She believes shes pregnant and yet her (a head nurse) and three doctors don’t even bat an eye at a woman believed to be pregnant having a drink! Might as well have handed her a cigar while they were at it. Did they not think drinking while pregnant was an issue in the early 50s or something?

      1. Lmao but actually though. They literally didn’t know alcohol and smoking were bad for pregnant women until the mid to late 70’s.

  8. I noticed some lines from Lt. Martinson last time I saw this episode that I never had noticed in previous viewings. The problem wasn’t that he was cowardly or anti-war but rather that he believed himself to be incompetent as an officer. He mentioned that a sergeant in his command was dead because of his inability to lead properly, and he didn’t want to cost any other soldiers their lives. Hearing him say this gives me a bit more empathy, or at least sympathy, for him. I wonder if I hadn’t heard him say this before because the lines were cut in syndication. I probably last saw this on Me-TV, which airs its shows almost intact, compared to Nick/TV Land & syndication.

  9. Couple very funny things in this episode. “I think I’m pregnant. Colonel.” “Here Margaret, have a drink!” (To be fair, in the 50s drinking in moderation early in the pregnancy wasn’t as taboo as it is today, but still). The other very funny thing is when Colonel Potter said that Klinger would have been 11 when he conceived a 19 year old child. That would make him 30 at that moment which made me roar with laughter. Jamie Farr didn’t look 30 even when he was 30. He’s clearly the oldest looking cast member except Harry Morgan. In reality, he’s older than Alda, Farrell, Burghoff, Stiers, and Swit. Only William Christopher is older than him by a couple years. Why on Earth they would try to pass him off as a 30 year old man I’ll never know but it sure was funny.

    1. One other very funny thing I forgot to mention was the Associate Art History Professor scandalized at the thought of getting a bad mark on his record saying he had mental problems. Then he immediately pulls a gun and tries to force his way out the door and back home. I realize he was upset but he didn’t seem crazy, just guilt ridden over his men dying. Did he really think holding people at gunpoint was going to be any better for his “permanent record?” Again another good laugh.

      Also, he says he was Yale class of 48 where he spent 4 years. Then he joined ROTC. It takes way longer than 4 years to become an associate professor. I should know. I’m an assistant professor (pretty much the lowest ranking full-time professor) and it took me almost 8 years of school to get there. MASH always has lots of silly mistakes that see unintentionally funny which is another of the 1001 reasons I love the show so much.

  10. While I generally like this episode, there’s one thing about it that’s always confused me a little. When B.J. suggests to Martinson that he goes to Tokyo for psychiatric observation, Martinson almost immediately shoots the suggestion down saying that he already knows they’ll just diagnose him with “neurotic tendencies, severe paranoia, manic-depressive” (all of which seems very accurate considering his behaviour throughout the episode) and he doesn’t want that on his record. However, the speed and the certainty with which he says this at least implies that he’s already been diagnosed as such at some point in the past…in which case, what on earth is he even doing in the army, let alone being placed in a leadership position? Granted I don’t know anything about how the US military works even now let alone by 1950s standards but I would have thought that a neurotic paranoid manic-depressive would be among the last people you’d want to send into combat…

  11. I suppose they really couldn’t make this an abortion episode, but seriously, I always thought it should have been, and that would – if they could have got it past the censors – have been a terrific episode. Never mind the patient at gun-point:

    Margaret’s need for an abortion is so clear – if pregnancy confirmed, she’d end up back in the US with no military career, a broken marriage, Donald probably refusing to pay child support (he’d claim the baby probably wasn’t his) and serious obstacles in the way of even her nursing career. Margaret wants a covert pregnancy test so that if she is pregnant, she can go to Seoul or Tokyo and have an abortion. (Safe enough, even performed illegally, once antibiotics were available, and Margaret would certainly have had the contacts to find out where she could get an abortion from a qualified medical provider.)

    And while Charles and Hawkeye and BJ might all get into a fuzzy wotsit arguing with themselves about whether Margaret should have an abortion, I’m certain Colonel Potter’s reaction would have been “If you think that’s what’s best, I’m writing you a pass, take care of yourself”,

    1. I never gave any thought about Margaret possibly wanting an abortion. Of course, with the Supreme Court striking down Roe vs Wade, the episode seems ahead of its time.
      Hawkeye’s hemming and hawing about why Margaret’s possible pregnancy could be problematic is understandable.

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