Episode Spotlight: Bottle Fatigue

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

“Bottle Fatigue” (#185, 8×16)
Originally Broadcast: Monday, January 7th, 1980
Written by Thad Mumford & Dan Wilcox
Directed by Burt Metcalfe

Capsule Summary: Disturbed by a high bar tab, Hawkeye decides to give up drinking for a week. Charles, meanwhile, is infuriated to learn that his sister is engaged to an Italian.

For the first time since I started my Episode Spotlight feature back in January 2013, two back-to-back episodes have been randomly selected. Last week I reviewed “Yessir, That’s Our Baby” (Season 8, Episode #185) and today I’m reviewing “Bottle Fatigue” (Season 8, Episode #186).

My main criticism of this episode is that characters are too over-the-top. I don’t know if it’s overacting or what but Hawkeye and Charles especially come off as exaggerated caricatures throughout the episode. B.J. does as well but to a lesser extent. And because Hawkeye and Charles each had a storyline, that meant a lot of hysterical arguing and overblown yelling.

With Hawkeye’s sobriety A story there is at least the understanding that he wasn’t acting like himself and that he was dealing with at least some of the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. There’s no excuse or explanation for Charles acting so hysterical other than a need to emphasize the emotion and turmoil of his telegram to Honoria at the end of the episode.

With few exceptions (this episode, “Alcoholics Unanimous” in Season 3, and later “Bottoms Up” in Season 9), M*A*S*H never really explored the impact of constant alcohol consumption on an surgical unit. Glossed over for the most part was the fact that none of the characters should have been drinking as often and heavily as they were because they could be called into surgery at any moment.

It’s questionable just how much of an alcoholic Hawkeye was supposed to be and thus how severe his withdrawal should have been. For the most part he just seemed overly excitable and energetic (and annoying). I’m not a drinker and I don’t personally know anyone who struggles with alcoholism, so I don’t know how realistic Hawkeye’s behavior is. The one thing that rang false for me was his vastly improved sense of smell. Forget for a moment that a sober Hawkeye probably wouldn’t have had any interest in examining the noxious odors of the oft-maligned mess hall. Does alcohol really significantly dull one’s sense of smell?

Charles being a bigot wasn’t the issue with his B story. That fit with his character and background. Nor was it his urgent desire to get in touch with Honoria to try to talk her out of marrying an Italian. It wasn’t so much his basic reaction to the news but his unrealistic behavior afterwards that bothered me: running round in his nightgown, screaming at the top of his lungs, flailing his arms in the air hysterically, his face turning a particular shade of umber.

It’s a credit to the talent of David Ogden Stiers that despite all this, Charles never quite comes across as hammy, although he certainly straddles the line at times. It’s also worth noting that Hawkeye and B.J. aren’t too involved in confronting the bigot that is Winchester, C.E. Three. That’s left to Klinger, Colonel Potter, and Father Mulcahy.

Charles apologizes to Honoria for his narrowness of mind

Is Charles the only character other than Radar and Klinger who is seen talking to Sparky?

Notice that none of the characters have any blood on their surgical gowns when they walk into the Officer’s Club. Their latest sting in surgery couldn’t have been that rough.

Hawkeye’s singing when he walked into the Swamp after showering was not half bad but his rendition of “Hush, Little Baby” wasn’t that great. Chalk it up to fear for his life.

Charles calling bourbon “the Grape Nehi of alcoholic beverages” was a nice callback to Radar’s drink of choice.

Shelley Long, who played Nurse Mendenhall, would later go on to star in Cheers on NBC from 1982 to 1987. She hosted “Memories of M*A*S*H” for CBS in November 1991.

13 Comments

  • Larry P. says:

    Not a huge fan of this episode. Both Hawkeye and Charles come off a little TOO irritating for my tastes, and the Hawkeye storyline occasionally hits “preachy,” particularly his scene alone with Shelley Long, which I find borderline cringeworthy.

    The best I can say about this one is that I find it MUCH better than “Bottoms Up,” which is one of my LEAST favorite episodes ever. And neither one of these can touch “Alcoholics Unanimous,” which IMO is a bonafide classic.

  • Joe says:

    CHEERS was on NBC not CBS

  • doc funnypants says:

    Charles: I await with bated garlic breath the announcement of your firstborn:
    To Honoria and Vito”The Big Knife”Machete, a 12 lb.,10 oz. organ grinder.
    Aside from Charles’s narrow-minded letters to Honoria, this was a episode that would make viewers stop and think about how serious drinking excessively can be to the body and the mind.

  • Pat says:

    IN regards to your question about who among the 4077 is seen talking to Sparky on the phone, I think there was one episode in which Hawkeye was trying to reach his father, and when he started his call he talked to Sparky, even calling him by name, starting his call with, “Sparky?”

    I believe it was in the episode Sons and Bowlers.

  • J.A.R. says:

    “Glossed over for the most part was the fact that none of the characters should have been drinking as often and heavily as they were because they could be called into surgery at any moment.”

    I always thought that would make a good episode: the doctors are really tying one on when the unit unexpectedly gets hit with an onslaught of casualties, and a result of their intoxication one of the doctors (probably Hawkeye, for the most ‘dramatic’ impact) screws up and accidentally kills their patient.

    I tend to equate Hawkeye’s boozing with Gregory House’s vicodin addiction. Different reasons for their vice, granted, but same results.

    As for “Bottle Fatigue”, I’ve always liked it. As someone with a bit of an addictive personality myself, Hawk’s line about “I’ll have one when I want it, not when I need it” always hits close to home. Winchester does come across as a bit of an ass in this episode, though.

  • jgf says:

    “Does alcohol really significantly dull one’s sense of smell?”

    It deadens all nerve impulses. Hence blurred vision, slurred speech, staggering, poor coordination, etc.

    There’s little timeline for this episode but it seems Hawkeye is recovering from the effects of alcohol too quickly.

    • Maggie Hoolihan says:

      Not sure about that. Many alcoholics have no symptoms. I have a friend who is a counselor in a rehab and she claims that although they do offer Valium to alcoholics while they’re detoxing, only a very small percentage actually need or want it. Hawkeye was dealing with anxiety and the routine change for sure which is normal for people coming off any substance. But I don’t think he was going through much of anything physically.

  • Doc Funnypants says:

    Hawkeye: Spoken like a true patriot, Charles. Red neck, white sheet, and blue nose.

    Charles: My constant reminder that Darwin was right.

    Potter: You come barreling into your C.O.’s bunkhouse, bellow at him like a berserk buffalo, aggravating his anger and his hangover, all because you want to bug out. How would you like to spend the rest of this war with a bulls-eye on your dome?

    All funny lines from an enjoyable episode.

  • Lady you ARE a Piece of Cornbread says:

    A great Potter-ism I use when asking someone to smell a foodstuff such as milk,comes from this episode I say “Give it the nasal appraisal, if you will…”

    Also…is ‘Boston Charlie’ a reference to anything other than the Walt Kelly Pogo Christmas carol?

  • Teacher in Tejas says:

    Hawkeye’s $37.50 bar tab in 1952 is the equivalent of about $353 in inflation adjusted 2018 dollars. Hardly an outrageous monthly expenditure on booze for a Captain in the US Army, but a decent chunk of the monthly pay check

  • Maggie Hoolihan says:

    Although Hawkeye was very annoying in this episode with the holier than thou attitude toward drinking, I was thinking it was his way of dealing with what may have been cravings for alcohol. Detoxing from drugs and alcohol can cause severe mood swings including depression and anxiety. His behavior was downright manic at times which made sense. The sleeplessness fit with his not having the liquor to calm him enough to be able to sleep.

    As for the episode as a whole, I found it a bit formulaic and therefore boring. I felt like I wanted to forward through some of it. However they fell away when I watched David Stiers’ brilliant piece of acting at the end. Those tears welling up were not glycerine. They were real. He really earned his money this episode

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