Every Monday, I spotlight a random episode of M*A*S*H, providing a brief review and asking readers to offer their thoughts.
“George” (#46, 2×22)
Originally Broadcast: Tuesday, February 16th, 1974
Written by Regier and Markowitz
Directed by Gene Reynolds
Capsule Summary: Frank plots to get a dishonorable discharge for a thrice-wounded soldier wants to go back to his unit despite being attacked by his fellow soldiers for being a homosexual.
Given the subject matter of this episode it’s only natural to wonder how exactly Larry Gelbart & Co. managed to get it on the air. In the early 1970s, with few exceptions, homosexuality didn’t have much of a place on television in the United States. There definitely weren’t a lot of positive portrayals of homosexuality. As James H. Wittebols points out in Watching M*A*S*H, Watching America, M*A*S*H during its first year on the air featured what he terms “mainstream” homophobia: jokes about homosexuality and instances in which homosexuality was used as a threat or as evidence of mental instability.
Wittebols also points out that it is unlikely a real 1950s-era MASH unit would have dealt with a homosexual soldier as decently as this episode did. Instead, “George” was a reflection of the changing attitude towards homosexuality in the media and society in general. Asked in December 2004 if 20th Century-Fox or CBS had problems with the episode, Larry Gelbart posted this response to the alt.tv.mash newsgroup:
Not from Fox. Fox was not interested in content (merely cost). But CBS was exteremely [sic] nervous about this epsidode [sic]. The subject was more to be avoided than confronted in those days. The network demanded certain changes and it was a challenge to place them while maintaining the integrity if the idea.
I wish we knew what changes CBS insisted on. Does anyone have access to an early script for the episode? Father Mulcahy’s football game and Hawkeye’s weak throwing arm don’t add much to the episode. I wonder if cuts had to be made to the script and these were added to the episode to pad it to length.It’s interesting to note that Private Weston doesn’t have much of a role in the episode. He’s really nothing more than a plot point to pit homophobic Frank against Hawkeye and Trapper. We don’t know anything about him other than the fact that he has been wounded three times and drank too much and talked too much while on leave, leading to his assault. In an August 2002 post to the alt.tv.mash Newsgroup, Gelbart suggested that “George” may have been the first time television attempted to deal with gay bashing.
It’s a little surprising that Margaret didn’t seem to care at all about Weston, although she was certainly surprised.
The plan hatched by Hawkeye and Trapper to keep Frank from sending his letter doesn’t make any sense. It’s plausible they could fake a fight to convince Frank that Trapper was on his side. It’s less believable that they knew they would be able to get Frank to let slip a big secret that they could use to blackmail him. Furthermore, why would Frank even worry about them telling people he bought the answers to his medical exams? They had no proof and he could simply deny having ever said anything.
During surgery at the start of the episode, Hawkeye and Frank share a brief but actual moment of professional cooperation. Hawkeye’s insult about the two going into partnership together was uncalled for.
Why exactly is Radar giving Colonel Blake his physical and not one of the doctors?
This was the first of three episodes written by the writing team of John W. Regier and Gary Markotwitz (credited as Regier and Markowitz). The others are “Payday” (Season 3) and “Some 38th Parallels” (Season 4). Markowitz would later write a fourth episode on his own and contribute the story to a fifth.
Although the title of this episode is “George” and Richard Ely is credited simply as George, his character is only referred to as Private Weston or just Weston, never George.
George Simmons is included in the closing credits for playing a character named Simmons. I’m assuming Simmons is the unnamed soldier in Post-Op with his face wrapped in bandages.
Klinger does not appear in this episode.