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.
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.