Episode Spotlight: Fallen Idol


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

“Fallen Idol” (#122, 6×02)
Originally Broadcast: Tuesday, September 27th, 1977
Written by Alan Alda
Directed by Alan Alda

Capsule Summary: After pushing Radar to take a trip to Seoul, Hawkeye is distraught when Radar is wounded on the way. Radar later criticizes Hawkeye for being hungover during surgery, so Hawkeye yells at him, then feels guilty about it.

This is a polarizing episode. There are those fans who consider it a “classic” M*A*S*H episode. Others think it’s overly dramatic and preachy. Personally, while I don’t hate it, I think it’s a very flawed episode.

For one thing, I don’t find it believable that Radar idolized Hawkeye to such a degree that he would react so strongly to Hawkeye having to step out of surgery to throw up. Radar definitely looked up to Hawkeye, may have considered him something of a role model, but did he put Hawkeye on a pedestal? It’s too naive and childish even for the innocent Radar from the middle years of M*A*S*H (as opposed to the more adult Radar from the first three seasons).

Much more problematic is Hawkeye being too drunk to operate. It’s something that should have happened all the time, to many of the characters, considering how much they drank and how often. But it didn’t. Despite the fact that wounded could arrive at any moment, Hawkeye and Trapper and Henry and B.J. and others drank whenever they wanted. Until “Fallen Idol” it was never a problem.

(In Season 3’s “The Consultant,” Dr. Borelli was too drunk to operate but he knew he had to be in surgery and chose to get drunk because he couldn’t handle the stress of a MASH unit.)

According to Michael Hirsh (producer of the 1981 documentary “Making M*A*S*H”), Alan Alda wrote “Fallen Idol” because he always wondered what would happen if casualties arrived while one of the doctors was drunk. Here’s what Hirsh posted to the alt.tv.mash newsgroup in April 1997:

Jonathan Robbins write: “This actually leads me to a question I’ve always had: the MASH unit was never sure when casualties would arrive in camp. They could come at any time. And yet, quite often, all the doctors would be on drinking binges at the same time. What would happen if a load of wounded arrived while everyone was loaded at Rosie’s Bar? Weren’t they all endangering patients every single time they got drunk?”

I think there are too [sic] answers to this:

#1 — The drinking and then going into surgery without prior notice was a cheat for television. In the “real” Army/war, it’s unlikely that sort of thing would happen on a regular basis.

#2 — Early in the sixth season, which was just after the departure of Gene Reynolds, Alan Alda wrote and directed an episode titled “Fallen Idol.” It’s where Hawkeye is too drunk or hung over to operate, and when Radar nails him for it, Hawkeye gets PO’d at Radar. Alan said that this particular episode was his answer to the observation Jonathan makes. He, too, had always wondered about it, and he put his musings into “Fallen Idol.” The episode won the comedy writing Emmy for that season.

As a standalone, one-off story about a doctor whose too hungover to make it through surgery, “Fallen Idol” works well enough. Doctors probably shouldn’t drink too much if they don’t know when they’ll be called upon to save lives. But after five seasons of drinking and hangovers without serious repercussions, an episode like this feels wrong. Within the M*A*S*H universe, the doctors could drink themselves silly and never endanger patients. That’s just how it was.

Then “Fallen Idol” comes along and suddenly its not okay for Hawkeye to stay up late drinking and suddenly he can’t just shake off his hangover and operate skillfully. Later episodes like “Period of Adjustment” and “Bottoms Up” dealt with alcohol more seriously than the early seasons, but I can’t recall another instance in which one of the doctors was too drunk to operate. That makes “Fallen Idol” really stand out. It’s too bad, because it is a story worth telling, just one that doesn’t fit within the world of M*A*S*H. But maybe that’s just me.

There’s a lot of yelling in this episode and a lot of angry speeches. Some of them are better than others. Hawkeye blowing up at Radar feels out of character but I actually like what he says. He didn’t ask for Radar (and potentially others at the 4077th) to consider him above reproach. He’s human. He makes mistakes. I also like Radar telling Hawkeye to go to hell. I don’t like Father Mulcahy, Colonel Potter, and Margaret storming into the Swamp to berate Hawkeye. For one thing, it’s repetitive. And just how did they all hear so quickly that Hawkeye yelled at Radar? I’m surprised Klinger didn’t show up and start hitting Hawkeye with one of his handbags.

Charles doesn’t make much of an impact. It’s too bad this episode didn’t take place while Frank was around. I bet his reaction to Radar being wounded and Hawkeye being hungover in the OR and the ensuing yelling would’ve been hilarious.

A rare serious salute from Hawkeye.

How come nobody else reacts when Hawkeye yells “B.J., it’s Radar!” in pre-op? Nurse Kellye is standing right there and doesn’t seem bothered at all to see Radar laid out on a gurney.

Why is Colonel Potter confused about what Radar was doing out in a jeep? Unless Radar forged a pass to Seoul and stole the jeep, shouldn’t Colonel Potter have known what was going on?

Radar digs out his Purple Heart while packing up in “Good-Bye, Radar (Part 2)” and mentions how Hawkeye saluted him. He tells Klinger, “Hawkeye’s never saluted anybody!”

Hawkeye calls Radar “Andy” at the beginning of the episode (“What’s the trouble, Andy?”) which I believe is a reference to the Andy Hardy movies starring Mickey Rooney.

On a very shallow note, I don’t blame Radar for standing around talking to himself after seeing a pretty nurse wearing just a towel.

28 Replies to “Episode Spotlight: Fallen Idol”

  1. With this being a Radar episode, you’d probably assume this is a favorite of mine. Not so much. Once again, there’s really not much more that I can add that RJ hasn’t already mentioned (though one minor correction: Hawkeye told Radar to go to hell, Radar told Hawkeye to, “Crawl back into your bottle of booze and pickle yourself!”).

    There is one thing that isn’t mentioned in this review that I think should be noted: yes, Hawkeye was drunk and hungover, hendering his ability to perform surgery the next day, but the circumstances were different this time around: he was eaten up with guilt about getting Radar wounded in the first place, and that probably played a bigger factor in his condition that anything. Previous times where he boozed his brains out was in a carefree manner to escape the war; this time, he even admits, “Everytime I thought of Radar’s body lying open there I socked another shot into my stomach, because I didn’t have anyone else’s stomach to sock.” There’s a trope called “My God, What Have I Done?” Hawkeye seems to be really playing it up in this episode – I think he was almost sort of half-kidding when he suggested Radar go out in a jeep to Seoul to find a girl to fool around with — then Radar comes back on a stretch, wounded, and saw just what a life-threatening mistake that was.

    Other than that, as for others hearing about what happened so quickly, hasn’t that been touched on before in passing? I remember even Sidney once commenting it was hard to keep a secret at the 4077th.

    1. Well, to be almost precise, Hawkeye tells Radar “the hell with [many things, among them the teddy bear] and while we’re at it, the hell with you! […]”
      Later when Hawkeye tries to apologise, Radar says “the hell with me huh? The hell with you, how ’bout that?”

      Or sometihng like that 🙂

      1. That’s pretty close, Istvan. According to an online script I found, the meat of the “hell” exchanges is as follows:

        (First encounter) Hawkeye: “The hell with your Iowa naiveté and the hell with your hero worship and your teddy bear and while you’re at it, the hell with you!”

        (Second encounter) Hawkeye: “Radar, I’d like to apologize.”
        Radar: “Oh, yeah? Well, you can just forget it. Just forget it! Hell with me, huh? The hell with you! How ’bout that?”

        Personally, I’ve always liked this episode very much. I’m glad that the show was willing to do something different, such as putting beloved characters at odds with each other. Plus, it’s always nice to see Hawkeye cut down to size.

    2. Agreed. I also couldn’t help screaming throughout the episode, “mind your own business!” For people like Radar and Klinger to judge Hawkeye who had done so much for morale, saving lives, and helped both of them personally, it seemed that they were being way too harsh with him. He can’t make a mistake? And even if he did, medical matters are really not their business. He’s not superman. Radar in particular really irritated because he’s laying there recuperating and alive because of surgery Hawkeye had done on him. Very ungrateful. The lack of understanding for someone who claims to have ESP was astounding. Radar should have realized that someone as sensitive as Hawkeye would feel guilty over his injury and drink his sorrows away. Potter got way too mad about it too which was also out of character. Generally he’s pretty forgiving but he kept going at Hawkeye and wouldn’t let up even after he knew the reason. I know Alan Alda wrote the episode but it certainly had it’s issues.

      1. Also I got the sense that Radar went and complained about Hawkeye to anyone who would listen which really bothered me. It takes a special type of childishness to talk to everyone except the person you have a problem with. Just seems like he was proving Hawkeye’s point about him being a naive little baby. If Radar confided in Mulcahy, I highly doubt he would go and tell everyone since he believed very strongly in keeping confidences. That means it was likely Radar who was flapping his gums. Hawkeye was yelling though so maybe someone overheard. On the positive side, Alan Alda was really on his game here. Probably one of his better scenes in the show was his fight with Radar. Very authentic.

  2. You know, I really like this episode, but there’s no doubt that it has some flaws:

    1) Remember earlier in the series when Radar told everyone that a Korean baby was his, and much of the reason for that had to do with him liking that everyone thought he “did it”? Hawkeye’s response to him there was basically “don’t rush it, you will.” That seems COMPLETELY at odds with the Hawkeye here, who tells Radar to go to Seoul and get it over with. Just seems like a total flip-flop to me.

    2) Radar’s reaction to Hawkeye having to leave surgery IS too childlike. Radar was (after the first season, anyway) shy and naive, but I don’t know, his initial reaction here almost comes off as borderline dense. I can understand Potter getting angry with Hawkeye, for obvious reasons, but Radar’s reaction is just too over the top for me.

    All that said, there ARE some powerful, wonderfully dramatic moments here. Hawkeye’s building blow-up to Radar is powerful (though, even after all these years, still a little uncomfortable for me to watch). And then, Radar’s blowing up at Hawkeye later is just as good.

    The scene in Rosie’s where they make amends is fantastic, and of course, the salute.

    So, this is a solid, good, sometimes-tough episode for me, though I definitely have to overlook some things about it.

  3. Actually, Hawkeye said “Body” in that line and not “Stomach”. Sorry to nit-pick.

    The scene at Rosie’s where Hawkeye and Radar try to converse was obviously uncomfortable for me to watch because it seemed apparent that neither one wanted to break the ice.

  4. Not a bad episode but definitely not one of my favorites. By this stage of the series Hawkeye and Radar knew each other too well for their reactions here to be believable. In fact, all involved seem out of character; as someone else noted, this would be a good standalone episode, taken out of context of the rest of the series.

    In their conversation at the end, Hawkeye admits his drunken binge was due to guilt over feeling responsible for getting Radar injured, and Radar responds, “That wasn’t your fault”. Had that conversation occurred when Hawkeye first visited Radar in post-op, none of the ensuing dramatics would have occurred …and there would only be half an episode.

  5. I feel like I understand something Alan Alda was trying to say, in “Fallen Idol.” I’ve had an experience at work with a supervisor, someone whom I held in high esteem. He seemed, to me, to be a man who had risen above a dark and difficult past, to become honorable, kind and caring. And, he has done this, but, of late, I’ve realized he does not always take the high road, and I’m reminded that we are all just human beings trying to make it from one day to the next. I wanted to find someone in this world who was beyond reproach. I didn’t want my idol to be a normal mortal man. Oh, and about the show, Alan Alda must have been under a lot of pressure to deliver great performances every show. He must have received a lot of critism when someone thought he fell short. Some of his own struggles as an actor, and as a man, may have contributed to this story.

  6. I always wondered about that aspect. M.A.S.H. Is back on Sundance channel and I was watching an episode where B.J. pours himself a martini. Hawkeye enters the tent and is informed by B.J. that wounded will be there in ten minutes. He then downs the drink in one gulp.

  7. Radar’s attitude was of somebody who looked up to Hawkeye sort of as an older brother, and maybe a father figure, after Henry Blake died, so maybe it was like a son finding out his parents weren’t perfect? Hawkeye’s speech about how he wasn’t there to be worshiped was good, but it does seem like Radar should have realized it by then, even if he was disappointed in Hawkeye’s slip-up.

    As for all the drinking, it was “off duty,” but then again they were supposed to be on call all the time, and this certainly wasn’t the first time Hawkeye or BJ showed up in post-op or the OR hung over. And why didn’t BJ let him sleep it off anyway? Wasn’t that just as irresponsible on his own part as Hawkeye’s intoxication was?

    1. BJ did try to let Hawkeye sleep off his hangover but Charles stubbornly refused to be rushed through surgery to allow that.

      Charles’s “Pithy Persiflage” line is really in character for him. Lastly, does anyone know what classical piece Charles was humming at the end of Act I?

  8. “Why is Colonel Potter confused about what Radar was doing out in a jeep? Unless Radar forged a pass to Seoul and stole the jeep, shouldn’t Colonel Potter have known what was going on?”

    Hawkeye told him to make himself out a three day pass,guess on top of everything else Radar was AWOL.

    1. It is interesting to read online forums such as these when fellow devotees discuss episodes that they do not care for or feel are out of place. I would have to rank IN LOVE AND WAR (currently airing on Sundance) near or at the top. Love ‘me and leave ’em Hawkeye falling head over heels over a local and riding in a civilian car – what show is this?!!!

  9. I hate this episode. Other than “Inga” it’s the one episode I refuse to watch. It makes no sense. In an earlier episode Hawkeye tells Radar that he will meet a nice girl and nature will take its course. In this episode he’s encouraging Radar’s debauchery. Then having everyone turn on Hawkeye for getting drunk out of guilt? It’s a little late in the series to go on a temperance journey. Radar’s anger feels out of place, too. He had free will. He didn’t have to take Hawkeye’s poor advice, but then blaming Hawkeye once he did take the advice? Father Mulcahy’s ranting was over the top. Isn’t he supposed to be in the understanding and forgiving business?

    It just feels like everyone’s reactions during this entire episode are forced and it’s embarassing.

    1. Yes! Embarrassing is totally the word for it. Everyone is so hypocritical and Father Mulcahy’s rant was very ridiculous as was Radar. Mulcahy was so mad his face was red and he was moved to violence? Over a personal disagreement between two people that didn’t involve him? None of these people thought about the kind of pressure they were putting on Hawkeye. On the other hand it was Alan Alda who wrote the episode so he probably relished having everyone angry at him so he could run the gamut of emotions. It’s a plum episode for an actor as he went through several strong emotions in 24 minutes. Happy, sad, drunk, angry, sick, contrite. And the Emmy goes to…

    2. Agreed! Plus Margaret Hoolihan, who verbally abuses nearly everyone, including Radar, has zero credibility in yelling at Hawkeye. I blame Alan Alda writing a preachy script. Also find it hard to believe Radar, who’s seen Hawkeye drunk, would give him a lecture about over indulging. I refuse to watch this episode because it’s lousy.

  10. Couple things about this episode. I was extremely glad that after introducing Charles to us in the previous episode, they didn’t feel the need to force him on us in thud episode. Some shows will bring in a new character and shove him down your throat so they can know right away how the audience feels about him. I was happy MASH didn’t do that.

    Also, is the show ever going to stop pretending that Radar is an innocent virgin? Previous seasons he had affairs with nurses and I remember an episode where he went to Tokyo and was brought back by MPs after drunkenly carousing with B girls. Radar seemed to age backwards as has been mentioned before. When Henry was there he smoked cigars, checked out women in the shower, dated women, and drank alcohol relatively easily. With Potter he’s learning how to smoke, trying to lose his virginity, and unused to drinking. It doesn’t fit and makes him come off almost slow or else very dense. Doesn’t make sense. Radar didn’t really need to go pay for a woman because he has already had experiences with women. I do think that the show doesn’t always go in chronological order but since most of his experiences were under Henry’s command, the date of this episode was absolutely after that.

    On a separate note, I was happy to see Charles settle in relatively quickly. It was also nice to see him brought down several pegs in the first episode. It never sat well with me that Hawkeye was being painted as a less competent surgeon than Charles. It’s very difficult to root for someone who is so full of himself. Was nice to see that he felt inept at rapidfire meatball surgery. However his surprise at the fact that a warzone might be dangerous showed a naivete and dare I say ignorance of the circumstances of war. He was in Tokyo because of the war and was promoted to Major so had to have gone through some kind of basic training with weapons and communal living in barracks. His reaction to army life seemed a bit much considering what had to have come before he got to Tokyo General. I miss Frank when I watch the first several Winchester eps.

    1. Not to mention that every season we watch Gary Burghoff’s hairline recede a could more inches. No big deal if he were playing someone a little older. But he’s still playing an 18 year old virgin according to this episode and looking like a 45 year old father of three.

  11. The main problem with this episode is it’s about four or five seasons too late.
    And later episodes completely ‘retcon’ the message of this one with the medical staff seen on drunken binges together.
    Is Radar the Benjamin Button of MASH?

  12. I’ve read through the comments here and had a thought.

    Maybe the reason Radar is so disappointed in Hawkeye isn’t the fact that he was hungover while doing surgery. Maybe it was because he was hungover while doing surgery THE SAME SESSION THAT RADAR WAS IN SURGERY. It makes a difference to actually feel like maybe your surgeon could have made a mistake on you and it could have cost you your life.

    Then maybe the reason Hawkeye blew up the way he did is because no one has made a big deal about being hungover in surgery before, until Radar. He was the first to confront Hawkeye about it.

    Maybe? Just a thought.

  13. I don’t get why people are construing Radar’s disappointment in Hawkeye as overly childish for his character, and then making out everybody else’s upbraiding Hawkeye as overly dramatic or whatever you like. Hawkeye made a mistake and there’s no excuse for it; “being human” serves as an explanation, yes, but not as a grounds for dismissing his reproachable behavior as someone who’s supposed to be professional and has other people’s lives in his hands on the regular. “But he’s been doing this since day one.” Well, then it’s about time that he gets knocked down a peg. And it makes all the more sense that he hears it from somebody he’s very fond of to bump up the impact.

    People finding out about Hawkeye’s and Radar’s argument obviously isn’t intended to indicate that Radar is some kind of gum flapper; it’s been established, and is believable nonetheless, that word gets around in the 4077 faster than wildfires. And if Father Mulcahy was SO pissed off that Hawkeye lays into a teenager who has just been injured within inches of his life for expressing disappointment that he fucked up pretty badly, it’s not terribly unbelievable that he would have expedited the camp talk. In any case, maybe Radar was telling people about what happened; if my friend screamed at me and left me crying while I was trying to recuperate from surgery, and people noticed that I was down and asked me what’s wrong, I might also feel tempted to get something off my chest.

    I also saw somebody say that Radar is only salty towards Hawkeye after taking his advice of his own volition, but Radar never implied that he was angry at Hawkeye for getting him hurt. In fact, he says the exact opposite at the end of the episode. What he was angry about was that Hawkeye finally let his vices inhibit his ability to live up to the demands of his vocation. He may have had too many shortly before surgery in episodes previous, but I think the writing makes it pretty clear that he’s never gone quite so overboard, and this time it’s not in the name of empty escapism, it’s because he was punishing himself for getting somebody–nonetheless, somebody he cares deeply for–badly hurt. Injuring people is the opposite of his mission to begin with; throw a surrogate family member into the mix, and he becomes especially tactless.

    I’m not going off because I dislike Hawkeye or anything like that; I happen to love the character. I’m just surprised that there’s so much criticism surrounding this episode and it’s all to the tune of “Hawkeye is allowed to make mistakes, Radar was too harsh/ungrateful/childlike/naive” (Honestly I feel like people are so eager to defend Hawkeye out of partiality to the character that they miss the damn point of the episode), and “everybody criticizing Hawkeye was over dramatic and not believable.” Let the grown ass surgeon take responsibility for his actions for once. I don’t get how anybody thinks Radar is reproachable for expressing disappointment in him for behaving like an idiot.

    1. Excellent post Kristopher. I agree with some of what you said, and disagree with some. I do agree that Hawkeye did royally screw up, but where he screwed up is in his job and not being able to operate, NOT in letting other people down. I, btw, think Hawkeye is one of the worst characters in the show. I really don’t like him.

      To me, the way Radar approached it at first, where Hawkeye goes off, was wrong, and this is where I tend to agree with some of the criticisms of the episode. Here is the lines especially that bother me:

      Well, a lot of people don’t look at it like you were sick, Hawkeye.
      A lot of people look up to you here.
      They admire you and they kind of feel like they want to be like you.
      And, gee, when you walk out on an operation well, they kind of feel like you let ’em down.
      And if they can’t depend on you well, they figure, well, maybe there’s no point in depending on anything.

      I don’t like this approach at all from Radar. Turning it from a “you screwed up, do better” speech, to a “you let everybody down” one. That’s wrong IMO. Hawkeye is not there for people to look up to him, or to set an example. He’s there because he has to be, and he just happens to also want to save as many lives as possible. I would have had a very similar response to Radar and told him to go to hell too. Yes I screwed up, the fault is my own, and as a result I didn’t do my job and lives were at stake. That is absolutely true, but “letting people down” is just really a minor consequence of the larger issue here. Being all powty face because you were let down when the real issue is that somebody could have died really makes Radar sound like a self-absorbed little twit…and this coming from someone who loves Radar as a character.

      My other issue is with the plot convenience of having Hawkeye’s drinking effect a surgery for the first and only time during an episode when someone so close to him is hurt. You are right that the show tries to make it clear that he goes a bit overboard, but let’s be real, there are PLENTY of times in the show prior to this where Hawkeye gets basically blackout drunk. Sure most of the time it’s at night, but so was his drinking in this episode. Being in a Mash unit, wounded could come in AT ANY TIME. Look at an episode like the incubator where they all wake up after a completely crazy night of drinking. What if wounded had come in 6-10 hours earlier? They would have all been completely screwed with no hope of operating.

      It just comes across as a bit too much of a plot convenience to me to have it happen here.

      All in all that’s my main reason for not liking the episode. Hawkeye was already feeling very bad about what he did, and Radar had to go and make it much worse by changing the guilt from ” I screwed up at work” to “my subordinates are all sad now”

      it would have been much better IMO if Radar was more pissed at him for screwing up at work, without mentioning how it made Radar feel.

    2. Thanks for that post. And besides, Radar was flat on his back, suffering from inguries, and the trauma of meatball surgery. At worse, Radar’s judgment in listening to Hawkeye and driving out in the middle of a nasty war just to get layed, might be questionable. But, surely some of you have had major operations, and after waking, may have displayed a lack of judgment in communication. I know I did after my kidney transplant. I actually thought the nurses were conspiring against me when they made me walk, while my insides were being held together by stitching.
      So, I can perfectly understand Radar’s comment to Hawkeye, and even more, the outrage of the staff with Hawkeye’s uncalled-for reaction.
      But, of course, I’m not a big fan of Alda’s sanctimony and leftism, to begin with. Why couldn’t he stick to being a comedian, and leaving the preaching to democrats?

  14. At the end, Radar gets a Purple Heart by mail and Hawkeye pins it on. Seems like a Purple Heart would merit an official letter to Potter and a formal ceremony with one of the generals present.

  15. Everyone knowing about Hawkeye’s blowup doesn’t seem too unlikely when you figure he was yelling at the top of his lungs in postop. There had to be several patients and probably a couple of nurses on duty who overheard and told everyone else.

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