Episode Spotlight: Margaret’s Marriage

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

“Margaret’s Marriage” (#120, 5×24)
Originally Broadcast: Tuesday, March 15th, 1977
Written by Everett Greenbaum & Jim Fritzell
Directed by Gene Reynolds

Capsule Summary: Frank inadvertently pushes Margaret to ask Donald to set a date for their marriage and the whole camp pulls together to celebrate the impending nuptials.

Like every episode of M*A*S*H involving a cast change, it’s difficult to disassociate “Margaret’s Marriage” from its larger role in the series–in this case being the final episode in which Frank Burns (and Larry Linville) appear. It also plays an important part in the continuing evolution of Margaret Houlihan. Plus, there are some fans who might consider it a turning point for the series, marking the end of the two-year transitional period between seasons 1-3 and 6-11.

Ignoring all that, how does it rate as an episode? As a season finale? Personally, I think the story is solid, if basic, that unfolds almost too quickly. The first scene opens abruptly, with Frank complaining about Margaret’s eight-month engagement. He refuses to drop the matter, which results in Margaret placing a call to Donald and sets the stage for the eventual wedding.

Donald’s bachelor party is amusing, in large part due to Father Mulcahy’s continued use of the word “jocularity” while under the (limited) influence of alcohol. Is this only the second example of Mulcahy being drunk after “Alcoholics Unanimous” in Season 3? And if all the doctors were at the bachelor party, who was taking care of patients in Post-Op?

The lengthy basketball scene feels a little unnecessary and, unfortunately, makes the 4077th feel very small by involving the entire main cast (minus Frank and Margaret) as well as one random nurse. The wedding ceremony itself also feels quite small, in part because it was clearly shot at the studio. There are maybe 12-15 people in the audience. Even assuming a few nurses and other staff had to stay on duty, there should have been far more people in attendance. Other episodes feature meal scenes in the Mess Tent involving more people.

Frank serving as Donald’s best man is intentionally ridiculous. Clearly, Donald either has no idea that his wife-to-be had a lengthy relationship with Frank or he’s a cruel, cruel man who relishes the opportunity to force Frank to stand by his side while Margaret gets married. Beeson Carroll’s version of Donald is so much better than Mike Henry’s in “The M*A*S*H Olympics,” although the writers can probably deserve some of the blame for big dumb Donald in that episode.

It’s remarkable how little Hawkeye and B.J. contribute to this episode other than putting Donald in a cast. It’s hard to believe that Donald or Margaret would actually believe he actually broke his leg at his bachelor party. I’ve never broken a bone but I assume it’s quite painful. Not to mention a body cast for a broken leg is overkill and, more importantly, if his leg was really broken how could he be standing on it at the wedding?

Apparently when this episode aired in syndication, the tag scene was usually edited out, making Frank’s poignant “Bye, Margaret” the final shot. It’s a painful moment for Frank but one beautifully acted by Linville. It’s also the perfect ending for the character. The tag scene is awful by comparison and uncomfortable. Frank, Hawkeye, B.J., and Colonel Potter get worked up thinking about Margaret and Donald enjoying their wedding night? Yuck.

Frank is terrified of Donald.

I’m not sure exactly when Larry Linville announced he was leaving M*A*S*H. He may not have revealed his decision until after filming ended on Season 5, which would explain why he didn’t receive any sort of send-off during the season finale. In The Complete Book of M*A*S*H, Gene Reynolds says he may or may not have been aware that Linville wanted to leave after Season 5. Ken Levine has revealed that the writers wanted to give Frank Burns a proper farewell but Linville declined:

We were even going to do a special one-hour episode. But Larry didn’t want to do it. He was going through a bitter divorce at the time that took up all of his time and effort. We tried for months to get him to reconsider (appearing in our show, not reconciling with his wife).

I don’t recall what we had planned exactly, but it was a great way to transition Frank out and Charles in. You MASH fans would have liked it. I’m just glad we didn’t write the script.

Linville briefly mentions not wanting to return for a farewell episode at the start of Season 6 in The Complete Book of M*A*S*H. He explains that he left the series when his contract was up because he felt he “had done everything possible with the character.” The studio thought it was a negotiating tactic but he meant it when he said he was leaving. Linville felt the relationship between Frank and Margaret was integral to the series, so Season 5 must have been tough for him to get through. “After Gelbart left, it was easier to run Frank into a scene, dump on him, get a laugh, and run him out the door.”

One look at the script for this episode probably reaffirmed Linville’s decision to leave the series. Frank was reduced to little more than a clown who gets chased out of the mess tent and pinned to the ground then laughs hysterically after realizing he isn’t going to get beaten to a pulp. Frank later drunkenly screams “Stop laughing without me!” at Donald’s bachelor party and then passes out. It’s not pretty. It couldn’t have been easy for Linville.

Interestingly, “Margaret’s Marriage” wasn’t the final episode produced for Season 5, so it doesn’t technically feature Linville’s final work on M*A*S*H. There were five other episodes produced after it: “38 Across,” “Hanky Panky,” “Hepatitis,” “Movie Tonight,” and “Post Op.” Assuming, of course, that the episodes were actually filmed in the order they were produced, which has never been confirmed as far as I know.

Larry Linville wasn’t the only one to leave M*A*S*H after Season 5. Gene Reynolds stepped down as executive producer but remained with the series as a creative consultant for the rest of its run. Also leaving were producers Allan Katz and Don Reo.

Lynne Marie Stewart makes her fifth and finale guest appearance on M*A*S*H this episode. She’s at Margaret’s bridal shower alongside Kellye Nakahara, Patricia Stevens, Judy Farrell, and an uncredited Gwen Farrell.

Kellye can be seen sitting next to Klinger in the audience at the wedding. Igor is there, too.

Speaking of nurses, according to TV.com, Odessa Cleveland is in this episode. I don’t remember seeing her.

25 Comments

  • Crabapple Cove says:

    I may be in the minority (especially considering the show ran for 6 more highly rated seasons), but I did not like the way the show evolved — particularly with how Margaret and Frank changed. Houlihan seemed to go from ‘passionate regular army nurse’ (with hungry eyes for nearly all generals) to alternatively sensitive/emotional Margaret (Dr. Jekyl) versus ranting/screaming Maj. Houlihan (Mr. Hyde). To my memory there must be a dozen scenes (at least) in seasons 6-11 that involve Margaret playing both her Jekyl & Hyde versions with Col. Potter to get what she wants in a given situation. It always seems infantile to me with Potter playing the doting father giving in to his unruly ‘child’. I found it demeaning to both of the characters, yet the writers used this over and over again.

    As for Frank, I agree with your assessment of how he was treated by the writers in Season 4 & 5. It is hard to imagine his character becoming any more complex had Linville wanted to continue on. Linville does play his final scene very well and says a great deal with his simple “Goodbye, Margaret”. It was not only the end of his character, but he had just lost his only friend in Korea (and perhaps his only friend in the world).

    • jgf says:

      “…alternatively sensitive/emotional Margaret (Dr. Jekyl) versus ranting/screaming Maj. Houlihan (Mr. Hyde)…”

      An excellent assessment.

      I think the most egregious example of this is when Potter has to go to Seoul for a conference and Margaret is frantic to get a pass to go to Tokyo to “be with Donald”. Potter says “No passes, we need everybody here. I’ll be back in a couple of days”. Margaret alternates between shrieking and yelling, all but cursing out Potter, and practically groveling in front of him, but he is adamant – no passes. No sooner has Potter left the compound than Margaret storms into the duty hut yelling at Radar to get her a line to Tokyo. When Radar calmly tells her “Sorry, ma’am, no personal calls. Colonel’s orders”, she becomes even more shrill and orders him to get the line. (This same Margaret who was vocal in trying to charge Hawkeye/Trapper/BJ with mutiny has just ordered a subordinate to disobey the direct orders of their commanding officer.) Radar tries and finds no one can make any calls for the next two days. Margaret goes ballistic and throws an infantile tantrum, completely trashing the office and kicking Radar. So, what is the punishment for this major who has attempted to incite mutiny, committed vandalism, and assault? She gets her three-day pass. This denouement is so infuriating I cannot watch this episode. (A more fitting end would be for Potter to call her on the carpet – no pass, apologize to Radar, and clean up this office yourself; say one word and this all goes on your record.)

      • Jon says:

        While I agree that Margaret behaved very childishly in this scene, I thought both the scene itself and Radar’s later description of it (“…and then she got mad!”) were very funny.

      • mspence says:

        I wonder if Potter ever regretted his actions after he was sober…usually when he put his foot down he meant it.

      • Doc Funnypants says:

        The episode you’re thinking of is “Last Laugh”. Actually, in this episode, Potter heads to Seoul with Hawkeye looking to exonerate BJ of trumped-up charges leveled by a hard-headed general.

  • BDOR says:

    In the BIOGRAPHY special, Mike Farrell also weighed in Larry’s decision to leave, saying that Larry felt that Frank had become more and more pathological as the series progressed, and felt that it wasn’t even funny to make fun of someone who was genuinely crazy. Even Loretta Swit said she felt that Margaret’s relationship with Frank should have come to an end, because it was clear that she truly didn’t really respect him as doctor (nor did anyone else for that matter), and that she deserved better.

    It should also be worth noting that in THE COMPLETE BOOK OF M*A*S*H, Gene mentions that he intended for Margaret to remain married, since it was such an important step in the development and evolution of the character, and that he wasn’t happy when it turned out Penobscott was a lying cheat himself and they eventually divorced.

    And didn’t Hawkeye and B.J. convince Donald that he broke both of his legs, hence why they put him in a body cast?

    And yes, the tag is really icky. It also features some really awkward dialogue as well:
    FRANK: You guys don’t have to sit up with me like i’m a baby or anything.
    POTTER: You’re entitled to a little sympathy, considering the circumstances.
    B.J.: After all, you just lost a close friend.
    FRANK: Oh, I don’t feel bad. I’m really very happy for Margaret.
    HAWKEYE: That’s good, Frank. That’s healthy.
    FRANK: I just wish she would have been a little more careful. I hate to see a girl, only been in the army eleven years, run off and marry the second real man she ever met.

    Even in Larry didn’t return for a proper farewell at the beginning of Season 6, I still feel his departure was handled a lot better than Trapper’s: having Frank make calls to the 4077th (first to Potter to explain everything, then to Hawkeye and B.J. to get his final farewell and last laugh) made it feel like he was still there in spirit, which was really rather clever.

    I think the Odessa Cleveland credit is a mistake by someone’s part who mistook her for Gwen Farrell: on IMDb, there’s a number of episodes that credit Odessa appearing, even though her last episode was in Season 3.

    One other interesting little note is this was the last episode to feature a laugh track mixed in by Northridge Electronics: mixer Carroll Pratt had been supplying M*A*S*H’s laugh track from the beginning, but inbetween the 1976-77 and 77-78 TV seasons, he spun off into his own audience reaction company (Sound One), with a newer, looser-sounding laugh track, which explains why M*A*S*H gained a new laugh track that differed significantly starting in Season 6.

    • RJ says:

      I’m pretty sure Donald was told he only broke one leg. Or at least that’s what B.J. drunkenly suggests they tell him.

    • Joe says:

      I never noticed any difference in the laugh track.

      • BDOR says:

        You have an have an ear for laugh tracks, which I slowly developed over years of watching classic sitcoms from the 50s up to the 90s. I used to didn’t notice a difference either until I began taping episodes, and ended up with Season 6 and Season 2 episodes on the same tape – then I could hear the difference in the more subdued and lowkey laughter of Season 6 compared to the more boisterous and hearty laughter of Season 2.

  • Mike M. says:

    The TV version of Frank Burns has always been my favorite thing about the franchise (though I really enjoy Alan Alda. Especially his books.) and I’ve always been disappointed in his final appearance. I really think that character could have used a final episode. Maybe one that could’ve shown some genuine growth in the character and leave the remaining cast second guessing what they’ve always assumed they knew about the man, and the audience feeling better about his ultimate fate. Like with Radar.

    Wait! What if he had pulled a Henry Blake and died?! Boy, that would have been a weird episode!

    • Amy says:

      They slipped a few zingers in from Frank that gave us a very, very brief look at the man he could’ve been if they didn’t have him cast as th “villain/puppy begging after Margaret”

      My absolute fav Frank one liner that I thought really showed he DID have real feelings and it DID HURT him deeply to be so disliked, especially when Margaret became engaged and wouldn’t stop clapping her mouth about Penobscot (seemingly only to irritate frank), was when Hawkeye, BJ, Margaret and Frank were in the mess hall.

      Frank mentioned something about dating one of the new younger nurses. Margaret (who really should’ve had nothing to say with a new engagement), mouthed off saying the nurse was “a bit young for Frank”.
      Frank, rather than whining and quivering, IMMEDIATELY shot back “well I thought a little youth would be nice for a change!”

      Of course Margaret got huffy and storms out but Frank, finally acting like “one of the guys” looked at Hawkeye and BJ, giggled and said “I really think I got her with that one!!”

      The true, friendly, “atta boy” laughter he received from Hawkeye and BJ is about the only laugh that I can remember being WITH him and not AT HIM.
      It was absolutely one of the very few times I cheered for Frank and saw him as a lonely man (albeit married), just wanting to fit in.

  • Father Angus says:

    I also think that the way Frank went out was a bit of an anticlimax, however as Larry Linville didn’t give much notice, (this is my understanding) this was the best they could do.
    Overall, the episode isn’t that bad, but it is definitely not an episode that I watch regularly!

  • Doc Funnypants says:

    What puzzles me about this episode is when Donald confronts Frank about Margaret and then asks Frank to be his best man. The puzzling part is when Donald tells Frank that it’s Frank’s fault that Donald is there. Donald should’ve worded that sentence differently, in my opinion.

    • Latrinogram says:

      Yeah, that was a very sitcom-ish sequence. Donald says things that could be misinterpreted and acts unnecessarily menacing, so Frank thinks Donald is going to kick his arse. And then of course, the opposite is the case. It gives Burns one last opportunity to act like a sniveling worm.

      In spite of that scene, Beeson Carroll was a much better Donald than the wooden Mike Henry from “M*A*S*H Olympics”.

  • Tank Stoner says:

    In the fall of 1977, Gene went to work on another show that was groundbreaking in it’s own right, ‘Lou Grant’.

  • Lady you ARE a Piece of Cornbread says:

    I liked two Radar moments – when Radar passed Donald the basketball, and later when he apologized to God for interrupting the marriage ceremony.

  • Latrinogram says:

    I had forgotten about that tag scene. It is very creepy. The final scene of the episode and Frank’s final scene should have been him standing on the chopper pad and saying goodbye sadly.

  • Steve G says:

    The entire program was “intentionally ridiculous” that was the point of M*A*S*H. It wasn’t a soap opera. It was a comedy. That’s why the priest drank alcohol, occasionally punched out unruly patients and won every raffle they had. That’s why the original commanding officer was a bumbling idiot. Every other episode ALL of the doctors drank and played poker. Who was in the Post Op then ? Why would a colonel send out his two best doctors to defuse a bomb, like in the episode Army Navy ? Why would a colonel send his 2 best surgeons 50 miles behind enemy lines to exchange prisoners. Yes wounded prisoners, but you wouldn’t send surgeons, you’d send medics. How long would Klinger really last in a military outfit ? How long would Hawkeye last being insubordinate to every officer that ever came on the program, that outranked him ? Would a Dr Pierce or Hunnicutt in real life, really smuggle a N Korean pow patient out of post op, and then back in, because that pow claims to be a surgeon ? The entire program requires that the viewer take a giant leap of faith out of reality, to enjoy it. What’s intentionally ridiculous is trying to pick apart M*A*S*H episodes and find fault with them, as though they’re meant to be realistic in the first place. M*A*S*H digressed in season 5 and became more “soap opera’ish” but it’s still not intended to be anything more than an ridiculous, outlandish comedy.

  • mspence says:

    I never liked Margaret’s relationship with Donald and I guess the viewers agreed because their marriage seemed even shorter than their engagement. Frank at least actually had feelings for Margaret unlike Penobscott, and it was a sad moment to see Fran’s final goodbye.

  • TF says:

    This episode was a disappoint for me…a more realistic one would be Henry Blake arriving home…and it was Houlihan who was in the transport plane that was shot down…of course that would have really made Major Burns go over the edge to insanity …Burns being dragged away in a straightjacket screaming after Margaret…of course that would have had to make Burns a sympathic charcther….instead of the mean, greedy, bullying coward he usually was..but Blake had to be shot down….Houlihan was a more “Popular” Character who couldn’t be killed off….

  • Teacher in Tejas says:

    Years ago I saw some comments by Linville and he said that with Margaret gone, Frank was all alone, and, as pointed out above, he had become nothing but a punching bag, the guy who walks on stage to get the pie in the face. Margaret was his ally, with her married off, the character had nowhere else to go.

  • Zach says:

    I have to say that in my opinion in the tag scene, I don’t think that Hawkeye, B.J. and Potter were all worked up over Margaret getting action on her honeymoon. I honestly felt that they were keeping Frank company. They felt bad for him on some level, and yet still messed with him a little when they were wondering out loud. I took away that there was a bit of compassion for him being displayed. I do think it’s an unnecessary scene too, because that shot the ends with him saying “‘bye Margaret” was a great final shot of Frank Burns.

  • Amy says:

    Ok, this is a bit later than other posts but have been mesmerized by a M*A*S*H marithon.

    Others were discussing the changes dynamics of Hot Lios Houlihan. Yes, she continued her “nails on a chalkboard” screeching, quite a bit at Col Potter (who in real life would’ve knocked her down a couple of pegs and taken rank!)

    One of the biggest, complete opposite “Margaret” moment I can recall (because it just seemed soooo fake and trying to just “fit” neatly into the 1950s genre” was when Margaret was on the phone with the total waste of space Donald Penopscott…..and she was ASKING his permission to BORROW some of her OWN money.
    I think it was the cash exchange episode where officers were paid last due to a shortage but can’t state that with certainty.

    However, the 1st 5 seasons ALL we hear is how gung ho, born into the Army, do it by the book, career army nurse who NEVER left anything get the best of her, Margaret was.
    The SECOND she said “I do”, every bit of her, her strength, her “self” disappeared and she was no longer the strong head nurse who could handle anything
    She was simply Mrs. Penobscot, which is the polar opposite of the character we had grown to love as the strong woman who could keep things running without issue.

    She even stated on the call that “I send you every check”!!
    HUH?? Not like Penobscot was in the states buying their house and setting up home.
    He was active duty AND outranked (and was paid more) than her. WHY did he need all of her pay and WHY did she think that was ok for a woman who had done so much on her own.

    Before any remarks, I’m not pulling the feminist card..AT ALL.
    I’m simply saying the took a HUGE u-turn with a character who was a huge staple to the dynamics of the show and ruined her until she finally dumped the worthless Penobscot.
    Unfortunately, even after her divorce, she never reached the same level of “Hot Lips” attitude that was lost during her marriage.

    • Doc Funnypants says:

      The episode you’re thinking of is “The Merchant of Korea”. I agree completely with you about Margaret becoming a polar opposite of herself after marrying that idiot Donald Penobscott.

  • Maggie Hoolihan says:

    I found it very sad what they did to Frank the fifth season. He absolutely could have evolved as a character. They could have killed off his wife which would have forced him to come to terms with his life and himself. He would have had her money and his own freedom which may have forced him to relax a bit.

    MASH seemed to have a habit of not treating their actors very well. Except Alan Alda of course. What they did to Wayne Rogers, even after he complained that he was at the end of his rope was unnecessary. What they did to McClean who only wanted more screen time but didn’t ever get it. And finally what they did to Larry who could have been more than just the army ignoramus. He did show his sensitive side through the whole Margaret split thing and those were the scenes that actually brought me to tears. Nobody is without some feelings beyond what they show the world. They absolutely could have exploited this in Frank. Instead, they took away his only friend on the show and left him with little choice but to leave or else be satisfied with playing a caricature of a man with nothing more to do but be the butt of the jokes. It got sad once he was unable to fight back because he had no allies anywhere. They came off as bullies. It got so bad that even Hawkeye and BJ stopped even calling him by his first name. He became just “Burns” which further dehumanized him and separated him from the others. It was a shoddy way to treat an actor who had given so much to the show.

    I’ve said before that Margaret’s marriage was and is a complete waste of time. She barely knew him and neither did we except to hear of his dalliances with other women. However, his presence was felt everywhere in the way Margaret became more shrill and the absence of Frank. Both very unpleasant occurrences.

    I never liked Charles as a substitute for Frank. He’s too self-righteous and narcissistic which makes him very annoying, not in a good way. The accent Stiers puts on is very obviously phony which bothered me. Also, I don’t find the character very funny either which may have been another reason the show became primarily a drama rather than a comedy. It’s a shame too because if you look at pictures of the actual MASH unit it was based on, they are goofing around, dressing up in funny costumes, and pulling practical jokes. In fact the real MASH staff seem to be having way more fun than the TV characters were having despite actually being in a real war!

    I’m sad to see the last of the great original cast go in Frank/Larry. That final “Bye Margaret” is an upper cut right in the feelings every time. Once Frank, Henry, and Trapper left, it drained the fun out of the show. The later seasons are still absolutely watchable but it seems like it’s a totally different show. Almost like seasons 6-11 are a dramatic spinoff of the original MASH sitcom. MASH writers seemed to come and go so the tone of the show also changed. The show is a great example of why they needed to keep notes about characters and previous storylines so new writers would know how to write for each character. Instead we had lots of inexplicable changes in little details, main characters becoming almost cartoon versions of themselves, and horrible continuity errors throughout.

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