Episode Spotlight: Inga


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

“Inga” (#160, 7×16)
Originally Broadcast: Monday, January 8th, 1979
Written by Alan Alda
Directed by Alan Alda

Capsule Summary: Hawkeye is eagerly anticipating the arrival of a visiting Swedish doctor but his excitement turns to frustration when she shows him up in the O.R.

For a show set in the early 1950s that went off the air more than three decades ago, very little about M*A*S*H feels dated. Some of the cultural references from the 1950s might not make sense today and some the hairstyles seen in the latter seasons are as equally out place now as they would have been in the 1950s, but by and large the episodes have stood the test of time.

“Inga” is one exception. It aired less than three months before the original March 22nd, 1979 deadline for states to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment and is very obviously a product of its time. Viewers then would have watched it through a lens very different than those watching just five or ten years later, let alone more than three decades later in 2013.

Today, watching Hawkeye and Charles get so worked up over being upstaged by a strong-willed, intelligent doctor who just so happens to be a woman seems laughable. Was it equally laughable to viewers back in 1979? Or was that the point, that 1950s-era sexism had no place in 1979 America? If there’s anyone reading this who saw “Inga” when it originally aired on CBS please hit the comments with your thoughts.

There’s a fundamental problem with this episode entirely separate from its archaic take on gender roles. Hawkeye’s dual realization that his male ego is far more fragile than he thought and that he may not view women as equally as he thought came a few seasons too late. Had this episode aired during the second or third season, when Hawkeye was at the height of his womanizing, perhaps it would have made more of an impact.

Inga and Hawkeye in the VIP quarters

Inga and Hawkeye

Likewise, Margaret confronting Hawkeye about the way he treats women is a case of too little, too late. The show had been on the air for seven seasons and only now she had a problem with him? Her comment about replacing his “fabulous lips” with “a soggy piece of liver” was a nice touch, though. I have to believe Alda included that line as a call back to Hawkeye’s famous “river of liver” speech from “Adam’s Ribs” during Season Three.

The highlight of the episode has to be Klinger’s interaction with Inga, in which she offers to help him finally become a woman:

Klinger: “To tell you the truth, I don’t belong here. If two doctors will sign a form, I’ll be able to go home. And so far, I’ve got all but both of them.”
Inga: “You know, I may be able to help you.”
Klinger: “Oh, you can? You mean it?”
Inga: “Yeah, well, I have a colleague in Copenhagen who does sex-change operations.”
Klinger: “Yeah? What’s that?”
Inga: “Well, you would finally be transformed into a woman. It’s very sophisticated surgery, but, uh, it’s possible.”
Klinger: “You mean, somebody– You mean, take a knife and– and–“
Inga: “Yeah.”
Klinger: “They’re crazier than I am!”

Mariette Hartley does a fine job portraying Inga, giving the character just the right mix of confidence and anxiety. To my uneducated ear, her Swedish accent seems spot on.

Radar does not appear in this episode.

29 Replies to “Episode Spotlight: Inga”

  1. To me, this episode is a prime example of the Alan Alda effect. It seems that as he gained more control of the series production over the years, that he sought to make it a vehicle for popularizing his politically correct view of the world.

    I never liked this episode when it was new, and I agree that it has not aged well. Probably in my bottom 10 list of M*A*S*H episodes.

    1. MASH does this all the time, when Alda is in charge or not. Remember how it’s always anti-war, anti-racism? Even in the earlier seasons? How often Frank’s bigotry was the butt of jokes? This is nothing new for MASH. It’s what made the show so revolutionary and so great.

  2. I do not like this episode. Like RJ mentioned, the world was a different place in the 50s and even the 70s but listening to Hawkeye’s and Charles’ reasoning that they were somehow better than Inga just because they were male made me want to gag.

    Despite all the moralizing and equal sexes debate going on in this episode, I HATE it. I like Mariette Hartley and she was great but this is, like Crabapple Cove, one of the bottom 10 episodes of the show for me.

    1. Their sexist reasoning was supposed to make you gag! That was the whole point! They were in no way supposed to be relatable or true, it was supposed to be funny because of how wrong and sexist they were being.

  3. Count me it too, I really dislike this episode, probably the worst one of Season Seven, and one of the worst of the entire series.

    And yet, the ironic thing is that this episode actually won an Emmy.

  4. Not a great episode, but Charles has a funny line when he makes it a point to say how ‘lumpy’ Swedish women get, based on his maid. But, there was no chemistry between Hawkeye and Inga – everything seemed forced.

  5. Just have to say that I agree with O’Reilly with his statement, I am equally amazed that this got an Emmy Award in 1979. Although, that may be a hint to solving it, maybe people back then thought that it was a groundbreaking episode and was a truly realistic, well, maybe. But, the point still stands, just goes to show how much society and people’s opinions for that matter can change in less then forty years.

    1. Well, the 70s was the height of the Feminist Movement, wasn’t it? And of course, Alan Alda himself was a strong supporter or women’s rights, so I guess, yeah, probably at the time, the episode was considered groundbreaking or something, I don’t know.

      1. This episode, possibly considered “groundbreaking at the time” is ABSOLUTELY nothing but Alda’s grandstanding based on event happening when the episode aired.

        Really, think about other similar situations throughout the series.
        1) Hawkeye didn’t like to be shown up by ANYONE in the OR and constantly announced his position as ” hied surgeon”.
        2) the nurses in camp are consistently lauded and trusted so much they are assigned triage duties. Don’t know how many medical folks reading this but triage is VERY critical and whomever is holding that position is basically deciding who lives and who doesn’t.
        3) when the was a cash shortage in camp, NO ONE said a word about women’s rights or equality when Margaret called Penobscot to ASK PERMISSION for some of HER money as she was sending him ALL of her pay, (a LTC making more $).

        There’s really a lot of situations in many episodes that can be seen as either showing what the 50s held for women or getting a “dig” in on how women, even in war, were subservient.

        The INGA episode simply took all the guesswork out of any messages they were trying to convey and shoved it in our faces.

        Obviously add me to the list of dislikes. When I want to relax and watch a well loved show, I do NOT want it to be a continuation of the evening news.

      2. This series was also written during protests of the Vietnam war. It brought so many political ideas of the time into the show itself, which is part of what made it so great. The show already constantly addresses racism, war, and homophobia.

      3. Sorry I’m tacking this on here, but it won’t let me directly reply to Amy’s post, and I need to say this. The entire show is constantly bringing in critiques. It’s anti-war, homophobia, racism, etc. so why is this a problem now? It’s not Alda’s grandstanding, it’s what the show has always done. It’s one of the reasons that made the show so great.

        To address your points:
        1) Yes. This is true. It’s shown as one of Hawkeye’s greatest and most obvious flaws. That’s why it’s completely in character for him to act out against being shown up by Inga. Margaret, who is constantly fighting for her right as a woman, just finds this as a time to be able to call Hawkeye out on his sexism. More on that later.
        2) Yes, exactly! The show shows a great respect amongst its characters for women. That’s why when it puts Hawkeye and Charles in a plausible situation in which they’re acting in a sexist manner, the show calls them out! However this is the first time that instead of a woman working side by side with a man, she shoves him out of the way. That’s the sexism underlying Hawkeye’s natural sense of competitiveness. It’s also shown that it’s more than just him being competitive when he is against Inga’s “leading.” Yes, he was competitive, but he’s also sexist. That’s why they call him out on it. That’s why he actively tries to learn not to do that. Charles is written as a complex character, but he’s still the more morally incorrect of the main characters. Why? Because in this situation, Hawkeye, the main character who’s shown to be a good person despite his flaws, tries to learn from this. Charles just seethes and brushes it off. It’s a lesson from the show.
        3) This show does a great job of mixing accurate 1950s portrayal of women while still maintaining a respectful lens. Donald is actively shown as the BAD guy for doing this to her! Yes she has to ask permission, because that’s the way that the 50s worked, but the show NEVER goes “oh well he’s fine though!” They actively portray him as the antagonist for doing this. Frank, being sexist, is actively portrayed as the antagonist, and as wrong, for the way that he acts. Even in the early seasons, Margaret goes along with his sexist views, until she changes! She goes through a character arc where she stands up for herself more, and doesn’t put up with sexist crap as much anymore. This episode is nothing new and out of place for MASH.

        As to your final comment, about wanting to relax when you watch a classic, this is what made me have to respond to this, somehow. You’re watching the wrong show if you want purely light fluff comedy, bud. MASH started the drama / comedy genre mix. Was “Sometimes you Hear the Bullet” too dramatic / real for you? What about “The Interview” or ALL the anti-war, anti-sexism episodes? What about that anti-homophobia episodes? Did you have a problem with those? And most of those, the two I mentioned by name specifically, are all real, sad, downer, intensely political episodes. Inga was actually kept very light and funny! Yes they called Hawkeye out on his sexism, but they did it in an entertaining, hilarious way. The fact that you have a problem with this episode specifically just shows your innate sexism.

  6. I wish I wasn’t a few days late, because I’ve been waiting for this episode to come around (for all the wrong reasons).

    “Inga” is pretty much my least favorite episode of the entire series. The idea of a woman doctor in the male-dominated 1950’s isn’t bad at all, but man, the episode beats you over the head with the “women are just as capable as men” idea. Margaret telling Hawkeye off outside the mess tent and then everyone cheering is positively cringeworthy, as is Winchester’s sputtering of “That…that…WOMAN!” after being shown up by Inga. The preachiness levels are at near-Quincy, M.E. capacity, and as much as I like Quincy, I don’t ever want to be reminded of it while watching M*A*S*H.

    I know the episode was produced in a different time and a different atmosphere, and it’s clear Alan Alda, an admitted feminist, played a big part in making it happen, but M*A*S*H was too good, too clever, to stoop to these lows. When people claim M*A*S*H became uber-preachy in the last few seasons, I have a feeling they’re thinking of episodes like this.

    1. And MASH doesn’t hit you over the head with any other political messages? Like anti-war? Or that episode that specifically fights homophobia? Or basically every episode with Frank Burns in it, for five seasons, calling him out on being a sexist, racist, xenophobic, homophobic, everything -phobic -ist? This is not new to MASH, and I think in no way is not clever or good, or “stooping.” It’s an interesting, fun, and genuine way to address sexism in the 50s, the 70s when it was written, and so on. They kept the episode mostly light, with constant jokes and wonderful MASH-esque humor, while still driving a specific point home, which is what every MASH episode does! That was one of the characteristics of the show that made it so popular!

      Also, the part of Charles yelling “that… woman!” is supposed to make you cringe! That’s the whole point! It’s like when Frank acts extremely racist and you’re supposed to dislike him and cringe. That’s what they were doing with Charles’ and Hawkeye’s behavior, but suddenly it’s a problem because it concerns women?

      1. This is actually addressed to Amy, I couldn’t figure out how to put my response directly under hers. I was in the Navy attached to a fleet hospital, it is like a very big mash. It had a 500 beds that is bigger than most hospitals. I was an environmental health officer. I made sure everything was clean. Kinds like a health inspector. Amazing as this sounds, I was part of the triage team and I had known clue what was going on most of the time. All the patients loved me because I gave everyone morphine for there pain. Other than that, I don’t think I gave the best triage to the wounded. But that was part of my job. So an ER or OR nurse would have been a God send to them.

  7. This episode, in spite of winning an Emmy, just didn’t appeal to me. Hawkeye and his awkward flirting with Inga just seemed out of place at the point of the series.

  8. Gotta join the club here. Don’t like this episode at all. Whether it aired in the 70’s or today, or even in the 20’s, seeing Charles and Hawkeye act like such chauvinistic jerks just makes me mad.

    While it is a bit late for Margaret to speak up, she’s totally right.

    Not much else to say about this episode. Terrible episode from the first season that I consider to be bad in the series.

    1. Actually I lied, one more thing to add.

      Hawkeye act’s like that, and both him and her realize it…but of course she falls into his arms anyways (until he does it again).

      Completely unrealistic that a woman would go after Hawkeye after the way he acted, but the show has committed this fault multiple times over the course of the show. The show makes it out that all women just turn to jelly around him regardless of what a total ass he is to them.

      1. Yes! I thought the worst thing about this episode was that Inga came after Hawkeye anyway even after she rejected him the first time. Maybe that was Alan’s ego making him write that but it’s what killed the entire episode for me. Would have had more depth and more for Alda to deal with as an actor if she wasn’t ever interested in him. Instead she reinforced his point about women only being sex objects to him.

  9. In hindsight, this is an out of character episode for Hawkeye, who seemed past his womanizing ways at this point in the series. The episode was meant to show 1950s sexism from a 1970s perspective, and doesn’t quite work because of that.

    I liked the scene where Margaret called out Hawkeye on his behavior. As for Inga still falling for Hawkeye, well, even strong women fall for jerks-see Margaret and Penobscott, Donald-either for security or because they really want a relationship with a guy they think they might be able to change.

  10. Don’t like this episode much either for obvious reasons. Couple things I noticed. In the 50s, like it or not women were expected to be back in the kitchen after WW2 ended. Many were happy to do it but others weren’t able to forget their war service and went into careers. Fair enough. Great. The mentalities of most men were quite a bit different than today. I really don’t believe that most of the men in camp would be against Hawkeye for his biases about women. In fact quite the opposite. I know what Alda was going for here but in a show that prides itself on realism, what an obvious blunder. Potter certainly would have old fashioned ideas about women and that doesn’t make him a bad guy, just a product of his times. BJ is full of it once again when he says that him and Peg have an equal partnership. He brings up her free-thinking independence in buying that land when she had to call him in Korea to basically ask permission and get the money. Really sounds equal. I’m addition, he flipped out when she tried to fix the broken plumbing by herself. That’s HIS job although he’s shown that he has no clue how to use a wrench properly. Like it or not, there are male/female roles. I doubt Leave it to Beaver or I Love Lucy would have been so popular if they weren’t somewhat accurate reflections of the 50s. In fact, Lucy’s entire shtick and what made her so funny was the she was bucking the traditional roles. The idea that Hawkeye was the only one who felt that way is ludicrous and just untrue. Although there were female doctors in the US in the 50s, they were nowhere near as prevalent as today. It certainly makes sense that Hawkeye night feel a bit put upon when a female doctor muscles her way into his surgery when his only experience working with women in surgery is to ask them for instruments. Change isn’t easy for many people. That’s what makes us human. Also his reaction when Inga comes to his tent and kisses him was ridiculous. He commented about her making the first move when the alternative would have had Hawkeye coming off as rapey if he tried again with her after she already rejected him. I think they have to sacrifice certain things and dumb things down to make it a half hour show and it shows sometimes. I think Alda missed the mark here but not necessarily because of the feminism angle. More so because he had himself as the only one with traditional ideas about women.

    1. Other thing I forgot to mention was that silly dance metaphor at the end. “The only way this is going to work is if you let me lead.” Hawkeye struggles with it several times until he laughs hysterically when he finally gets it. Gimme a break.

      The reality is that men and women ARE different. Yes they’re equal of course, but men do tend to be physically stronger while women are gentler and perhaps more emotional. (I’m a woman by the way) If you read any sexual philosophy you’ll find that the very nature of sex is such that men tend to dominate naturally. I won’t go into the gory details but give it some thought and you’ll get the reasons why. Look at the animal kingdom and you’ll see the same. Women have their strengths and men theirs. The idea of a woman leading a dance made for a very unnatural and ungraceful dance between Hawkeye and Inga. There’s no need for her to try to force herself to be more masculine. She’s a doctor and has more than proven herself. I’m rambling but this episode had a lot wrong with it.

      1. This comes off as very sexist. She never tries to “be more masculine,” she even says herself that she doesn’t enjoy scaring people away. That her father trained her as a doctor, with no gender implied, to be analytical and put the patient first. He didn’t train her to be masculine. Also, please go google videos of women lifting weights and going to the gym. “Oh, but those are only very few women who train very hard to become as strong as men.” Try googling Brie Larson, a typically “petite” “feminine” woman, lifting 400 lbs with her hips.

    2. The part of his tent wasn’t ridiculous. You don’t see him flirting with her a second time, or giving off any assertive vibes, because he’s very clearly subdued and apologetic / awkward around her now. The whole point is that this time, she tries to come onto him, because otherwise he had stopped trying entirely after she rejected him, and then showed him up in OR. When he makes the comment about her being very assertive, he’s not saying “oh well you can be assertive but I can’t?” he’s just showing the typical sexist ideas of back then (and still now) that a woman is expected to be submissive. And then instantly and continually regrets making that comment.

  11. I don’t often leave comments on these blogs, because even when my opinions differ from the comments and the main post, I accept that opinions can and should be different. It’s never bothered me. I actively enjoy reading the blog posts, whether I always agree or not, because it’s a wonderful way to discuss MASH. I also am not upset by the blog post here. I disagree with parts of it, but that’s okay. What drove me to post my opinion on this rare occasion, is the avert sexism in the comments. Everyone hates this episode, considers it in their bottom 10 of the entirety of Mash, because what? It’s trying too hard to be progressive? That happens in the entire show! Yes, it’s definitely exacerbated once Alda gets more control over the series, and whether you like that or not is your entire opinion, and you’re completely allowed to have it. However, everyone has a problem with this episode the most. Funny how that is, isn’t it? The anti-sexism message is too strong? The entire episode is played out as a light, funny take on calling Hawkeye out on his sexist behavior. It barely gets serious at all, and even when it does it’s mixed in with humor, and nowhere near as serious as other episodes have been. (I’m looking at you, the Interview). It’s too much progressive propaganda? The entire show is anti-war! That’s the whole point! The entire show constantly makes fun of (and whether you agree with it or not is fine) overtly bigoted conservatives (see 4X01, when Frank says “I hope he’s a Republican!” and that’s supposed to be taken as the butt of the joke). Even when Frank leaves, they still call Charles out when he’s conservative to the point of harming others. I think this episode did a wonderful job of letting Hawkeye be called out on his sexist ways, while still keeping it light and funny. At no time do they really call Hawkeye a bad person, because he isn’t! He’s shown to be extremely respectful and caring for women, even in a non-sexual way, throughout the show, alongside his funny “womanizing” ways. It’s fun, though, to see him called out on that part of him too. It’s not like his jokes stop suddenly after this episode, or he becomes a huge downer. He just realizes something new within himself. Mash is constantly bringing in politcal ideas into the form of a sticom, it’s what started that trend, and it’s part of what made it so long lasting! Yes this episode was written around the time of the feminist movement. Guess what! It also was written during an anti-vietnam movement! It’s always been entrenched in relatable politics and social trends. As a final note: my one and only real issue with this episode is that it’s true that Hawkeye is shown throughout the series as being extremely competitive with everyone, and it’s him as a surgeon and a person, not as a man. It’s one of his flaws, and I love that about him, especially when he’s called out on it. He was peeved when Charles came in and showed him up as a doctor, he was peeved when visiting doctors took the spotlight, and he’s been competitive around BJ too. But it’s also true that this is the first time a woman has really been his equal in this regard (yes, the nurses are constantly called capable and fantastic during surgery, which they are, but they’re working alongside the doctors at all times. This is the first time a woman works in a way that butts Hawkeye out, so of course he gets upset. I find it the most natural and expected reaction Hawkeye’s character could have). And yet he goes through moments in episodes where he can still compliment Charles in his medical skill, and so on. Why can’t he do the same with a woman? Why can’t he realize that one of the problems he has with her is that she’s a woman showing him up (which is clearly shown when he gets upset that she takes the lead with initiating sex), on top of her just being a more skilled surgeon, without everyone on here saying this episode is completely out of line? I thought it was a brilliant way to call out Hawkeye’s over competitiveness in a new, fresh, and very much true way. I challenge everyone who thinks so negatively of this episode to really dig deep within themselves why, and I think they’ll find their behavior very similar to what Hawkeye was called out on in this episode.

    1. I don’t see any overt sexism in any of the comments. Nobody seems to hate this episode because it was “too progressive”. I can’t speak for others, only for myself, but based on what I see in the comments most would agree that the reason this episode is so disliked is not because of Inga, but because of Hawkeye and to a slightly lesser extent, Charles.

      Hawkeye has always been a womanizer throughout the entire run of the show, and when he’s finally faced with a woman who challenges him not only intellectually, but professionally, look how he responds? He falls apart into a complete chauvinistic wreck and acts like a complete pig. This is why I hate the episode. I already dislike Hawkeye’s character (yes, strange for a big MASH fan) but this episode makes me almost loathe him.

      It’s also extremely disappointing that Charles, who is one of my favorite characters, also displays a bit of the sexism that Hawkeye does.

      I have no problem with the episode being progressive. I agree with you there, and I think most on this board would as well. The issue we have is that we are NOT sexist, and we hate seeing the characters of the show (especially Charles for me, but Hawkeye for others) being so.

      And one last point, as I called out when I last commented, but what seals the deal for me on this episode is the ending when despite repeated complete sexist, chauvinistic, and pigheaded attitudes towards her, she STILL comes to his tent to pursue him. I get that maybe the show was trying to show that she was the one being assertive, and that’s fine, but she really had to go after Hawkeye, again, after the way he acted? There wasn’t anyone else in the camp she could have been attracted to that didn’t act like a huge jerk around her? In my opinion, that hurts her character a bit, and ruins some of what the show was trying to accomplish. As others have pointed out though, this is just because the episode was written by Alan Alda.

  12. The reason so many people hate this episode is NOT because it was progressive or called certain characters out for their sexism. People hate it because the episode was badly executed. Yes, there had been “progressive” episodes in the early seasons too. But try and compare them to this one, and you will see that while “Inga” beat you on the head with a hammer to give you the message, the earlier episodes were subtle about it. And: They didn’t INSTRUCT you on how to feel. They just told the story, and then let you decide what you would take from it. This episode is a perfect example of why season 6 was the last truly great season.

  13. Yes, Peggy!! The way Hawkeye comes around to seeing he is actually that way, but doesn’t like what he sees (clearly when he sees himself in Charles). So he then works on changing that . . . beginning with one apology, then another, and then by letting Inga teach him a dance, which is easiest done by her leading. It’s only awkward because he doesn’t know it and doesn’t know how to let a woman lead, he learns both.

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