Episode Spotlight: Comrades in Arms, Part 1

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

“Comrades in Arms (Part I)” (#132, 6×12)
Originally Broadcast: Tuesday, December 6th, 1977
Written by Alan Alda
Directed by Burt Metcalfe & Alan Alda

Capsule Summary: Hawkeye and Margaret are sent to the 8063rd to demonstrate a specialized surgery and wind up behind enemy due to shelling.

This was the first of three two-part episodes of M*A*S*H, meaning it originally aired on CBS as two half-hour episodes on two consecutive weeks rather than an hour-long special later split in two for syndication.

Both this episode and “Comrades in Arms, Part II” were jointly directed by Alan Alda and Burt Metcalfe. I wonder how that worked. I have a feeling I’ve read an explanation somewhere — could it be that they each directed one episode but because it was a two-part episode were credited for both — but can’t remember where.

The arterial transplant surgery that Colonel Potter asks Hawkeye to demonstrate at the 8063rd was taught to him by Dr. Borelli in “The Consultant” from Season Three. It could have been any random surgery but instead was a callback to an earlier episode, providing a little continuity for the series.

Likewise, the minor subplot to the episode involving Charles and his continuing quest for a transfer away from the 4077th was a running storyline throughout Season Six (and beyond). Although the phone call with the general who mistakes Charles for Klinger was amusing, I have to wonder exactly what Charles hoped to accomplish talking to a random general.

An Anxious Colonel Potter

A nice moment comes when Hawkeye and Margaret first take shelter in the abandoned building. Margaret is at first impressed by Hawkeye’s knowledge of forward observers, registration points and benchmarks (learned, he claims, by watching the fictional Abbott and Costello Meet Hitler) but then a moment later accuses him of knowing “absolutely nothing about soldiering” when he decides to go out into the open to treat the wounded soldier.

Colonel Potter refers to Hawkeye as Skeezix when they’re going through the supplies to be traded at the 8063rd for penicillin. Skeezix is a character from the comic strip “Gasoline Alley.”

Radar does not appear in this episode and Father Mulcahy has just one brief scene at the end, worrying about Hawkeye and Margaret.

10 Comments

  • Seoul City Sue says:

    When I watched this episode for the very first time, the final scene made my jaw drop. Hawkeye and Margaret…….it was unthinkable!!! On subsequent views, you see that all their previous interactions were leading to this one moment and what a moment it was!! Added to that, the revelation that Margaret was having the hots for Hawkeye even through all the disdain and through the relationship with Frank was another shocker.

    If you watch the opening credits very carefully, the order of the names of Alan and Burt switch for the 2 episodes indicating that they did indeed direct one episode each and were credited for both.

    Good episode in, what I consider, a nearly flawless season of the show.

  • I almost alway skip over this and part two; don’t really care for them.

  • doc funnypants says:

    A decent episode if you can get past the realization that Donald didn’t care for Margaret as much as she did. If it was filmed in front of a live audience, they would’ve been shocked when Hawkeye and Margaret passionately kissed during the bombing. IMO, these two are the last people I’d expect to spend the night together.

  • jgf says:

    These two episodes are among the few I never watch because they serve no purpose. In a rather heavy handed manner our noses are rubbed in a contrived attraction between Hawkeye and Margaret, beyond the already expressed professional respect they have for each other. This would have made more sense with Trapper, since Margaret had expressed attraction towards him.

    So now there are two options: ensuing episodes/seasons build on this, which I think would have been a major mistake; or ignore this, which is what basically happened, so the episodes are useless.

    But there is one exchange that always makes me laugh. Margaret asks the idiotic question, “What do we tell Donald?”, then becomes furious when Hawkeye responds, “What do you usually tell him?”.

  • Daniel says:

    Just noticed something interesting in this episode. Maybe not a “goof”, but editing hiccup.

    When Hawk and Marg find the hut, after he says the North Korean is dead, a shell hits the building or right by it. If you watch closely, both of them flinch BEFORE the shell hits. I replayed it several times, it’s close, but they both start moving before the noise.

    I didn’t mind the episode, but it seemed out of place, since their interaction went back to exactly how it was before in subsequent episodes.

    • kevin4077 says:

      A shockwave is a propagating disturbance that travels faster than soundwaves in a particular medium.

      Your comment made me dig deep, because a show like MASH in it’s later seasons shouldn’t make a mistake like that.

      I think the shockwave theory further highlights the brilliance of everyone involved with this historic piece of television history.

      Thanks for poking my brain!

  • Latrinogram says:

    I’ve always had mixed feelings about this 2-parter. I can believe that Hawkeye and Margaret would get it on at some point; but the whole thing seems rather contrived (especially their awkward kiss while the hut was being bombed). On the other hand, the scenes back at the 4077th were good. Potter and BJ’s concern about the missing couple was believable . Also, Charles’ conversation with the general was amusing (it reminds me of an earlier scene where Frank was on the phone with someone who mistook him for a homosexual; I don’t remember what episode that was from).
    To be continued on the Part 2 page…

  • Latrinogram says:

    That’s the one. Thanks!

  • Maggie Hoolihan says:

    I loved this episode. Margaret really showed a side of herself that was vulnerable and real. I got the chills when she said in an anguished voice, “I mean nothing to him!” That realization of knowing that your entire marriage was a sham. Oh she’d had some suspicions about him before, but to have to confirmed in such a stark and brutal way? Heart-rending. I always expected her and Hawkeye to have some kind of tryst and it was gratifying they did. It was like seeing Sam and Diane get together or Maddie and David. It wasn’t ever going to be anything but a one time thing but it was pleasant to watch and I’m sure it helped Margaret somehow to have gotten back at Donald in some way. As cold as that sounds. Granted, I always thought Margaret’s crazy obsessive love for a guy she spent a week with was a little bit over the top for an experienced woman of a certain age. But if this experience with Hawkeye helped her see that life can go on after a betrayal, then all to the good.

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