Episode Spotlight: House Arrest

10 Comments

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

“House Arrest” (#66, 3×18)
Originally Broadcast: Tuesday, February 4th, 1975
Written by Jim Fritzell & Everett Greenbaum
Directed by Hy Averback

Capsule Summary: Hawkeye is placed under house arrest after punching Frank. Meanwhile, Margaret worries about an inspection from the most important nurse in the Army.

I find myself somewhat conflicted about this episode. On the one hand, there are some hilarious bits of dialogue and even some physical comedy involving doorways. Yet the main plot doesn’t make a lot of sense and the episode contains an unfortunate rape joke, which doesn’t fit well with the overall tone of the series.

Some would argue that punching Frank was very out-of-character for a self-proclaimed pacifist like Hawkeye, if not hypocritical. I would argue that it actually isn’t out-of-character. From the very start of the series, Hawkeye was depicted as a flawed character. A womanizer and borderline alcoholic passionate about women, booze, saving lives and vehemently opposed to war and incompetence. His emotions run hot and sometimes get the better of him. This wasn’t the only time Hawkeye became physically violent.

Still, it made no sense for Hawkeye to assault Frank for really no reason whatsoever. All Frank did was snap a towel at him in a misguided attempt to protect Margaret’s honor. Punching Frank was disproportionate response that drew me out of the episode, a definite problem considering it was an integral part of the A story. If Hawkeye had instead snapped his towel at Frank — an eye for an eye, so to speak — and Frank pressed charges, that would have been far more believable and still allowed the episode to unfold.

That said, if you ignore the punch and just go with it the episode has some really funny lines:

Frank: “I better see a doctor. Is there anybody who isn’t mad at me?”

Colonel Blake: “Look, Frank, we’re all a bundle of nerves. Heck, I yell at Radar all the time.”
Radar: “I know you love me, sir.”

Colonel Blake: “Klinger, it’s 4 in the afternoon and you’re still in a housecoat? Put on a dress. You never know who might be coming around.”

Hawkeye getting to eat the church buffalo is also pretty funny. And of course the famous scene in which Frank teases Hawkeye about being able to leave the Swamp only for Hawkeye to do the same thing when the tables are turned.

Frank can step out, Frank can step in

The B story involving Margaret’s inspection is relatively dull, although really it only serves to push the A story forward. Her being nervous about the inspection leads to Hawkeye punching Frank and the inspector herself, Colonel Reese, leads ultimately to Hawkeye being freed and Frank placed under house arrest.

Colonel Reese is a funny character to be sure but a twisted one. Accusing Frank of rape is no laughing matter, even if the episode plays it for laughs and it is never mentioned again. Hawkeye and Trapper joking about the rape is uncomfortable. You can write it off as the two of them knowing full well that Frank would never actually assault a woman, so they see no reason to take it seriously, but it still does not sit well with me.

Reportedly Larry Gelbart later stated he regretted the rape joke, but I have not found an actual source for that.

Radar’s C story doesn’t get much screen time but is a good one. Note that while Hawkeye never seems to care that he is under house arrest or worries about being charged with assault, he is sincere in his response to Radar buying lifts. He cares about Radar.

In the opening scene in the O.R. there is a PA announcement that mentions an “acting camp librarian” who has received 100 copies of Rumpelstiltskin.

10 Replies to “Episode Spotlight: House Arrest”

  1. I love the C storyline as well. I always found it believable that Radar, an avid comic book reader, would be a sucker for the types of ads that ran in comic books. This topic was employed many times with his character: high school diploma by mail, correspondence writing school, door to door shoe sales, and, in this episode, platform shoes.

    The contrast between his efficiency as a company clerk and his personal lack of self-confidence was well used throughout the series.

  2. Mary Wickes was simply hilarious. The way she delivers her lines especially when she’s coming onto Frank was lolworthy.

    Particular standout lines for me in this episode were:
    Trapper: I said watch out for that bar of soap, look out for that bar of soap everybody.
    Radar: And then blammo
    Henry: Make that socko.

    Trapper finishing off other people’s food was also a recurring character theme. He did the same thing to Henry’s food in ‘Cowboy.’

    Good episode. I was very young when I watched this episode for the first time so the whole rape thing didn’t really strike me as odd. When I watch it now, it does seem a little out of place especially when:

    Trapper: I’ve never been to a rape before
    Hawkeye: Maybe for your next birthday.

    That was just not right……all in all, a solid episode. Love Mary Wickes and always found her funny in whatever she appeared in.

  3. Just watched this episode the other night, one of my favorites that I just never get tired of (though I agree the rape “birthday” joke is pretty wrong; was that kind of gag EVER acceptable?). I don’t really have a problem with Hawkeye punching Frank. I guess it can be seen as out of character, but as RJ says, he became physically violent more than once. It seems more out of character when compared to later-seasons Hawkeye than it does early-seasons Hawkeye to me. At any rate, Frank doing that wimpy little towel snap and then Hawkeye calmly drying his hands and then decking him never fails to bust me up.

    Lotsa funny lines in this one. I love the Col. Blake “Put on a dress!” quote, but Klinger’s snappy “Yes, sir!” response is the icing on the cake. Also, “That kinda talk tightens my colon!” has become a favorite Frank quote of mine.

    Aside from the uncomfortable rape joke, great episode!

  4. I agree with Larry about the punch; the way Alda plays it makes me laugh every time.

    A very funny episode slightly marred by an unfortunate rape joke.

  5. Hawkeye was in various episodes held back from hiting other people, so I do not think this was out of character at all. And he did play it very well.

  6. I’m of the opinion that some topics are simply inappropriate for a sitcom to deal with. Even though it was played for laughs, rape is in no way funny. I especially hated when Margaret changed her story about Frank getting hurt. In the United States, if you lie about anything, you will face serious consequences.

  7. I always deemed Hawkeye’s response inappropriate simply because it was a considered move. Had Frank snapped hm with the towel and he instantly spun around and hit him that would would have been a reflexive move; instead, after being snapped, Hawkeye calmly finishes drying his hands, puts down the towel, slowly turns, pauses, then hits Frank. No longer reaction but aggression.

  8. For my daughter’s 23rd birthday I had sneakers printed with “I can step in, I can step out,” on high tops. I grew up watching it and shared it with my girls who got a big kick out of the series as well.

    I’m going to have her video the opening of the shoes, because I want to see her reaction!

  9. I read in “The Complete Book of MASH” about what Col. Reese was planning on doing with Margaret. IIRC, Reese never gave Margaret a lesson in the shortness of human memory as the summary of the episode stated. In fact, there are lots of errors in that book. Another example was from “Father’s Day”, pertaining to “Howitzer Al’s” departure from camp. He didn’t get out of the jeep to embrace Margaret before leaving. There are others but that’s for another time.

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