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.

15 Comments

  • Crabapple Cove says:

    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.

  • Seoul City Sue says:

    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.

  • 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.

  • hrflyer says:

    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.

  • Benjamin says:

    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.

    • 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.

      • Amy says:

        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.

  • Larry P. says:

    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.

  • Doc Funnypants says:

    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.

  • 007 says:

    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.

    • 007 says:

      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.

      • Maggie Hoolihan says:

        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.

  • mspence says:

    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.

  • Maggie Hoolihan says:

    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.

    • Maggie Hoolihan says:

      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.

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