Episode Spotlight: Margaret’s Engagement

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 Engagement” (#98, 05×02)
Originally Broadcast: Tuesday, September 28th, 1976
Written by Gary Markowitz
Directed by Alan Alda

Capsule Summary: Margaret calls from Tokyo with great big news but refuses to tell anyone what is until she’s back at the 4077th: she’s engaged. Frank reacts badly to the news.

This episode brought some big changes to M*A*S*H. Margaret and Frank’s on-again, off-again relationship was off for good once she got engaged to Donald Penobscott. It wasn’t just their physical relationship that was over. No longer would the two team up against Hawkeye and B.J. or be the butt of their jokes. More importantly, the engagement really began her the transition from Hot Lips to Margaret, which was hinted at as far back as “Hot Lips and Empty Arms” during Season 2.

I wish there was a little more tension at the start of the episode as those back at the 4077th wondered what it was Margaret had to tell them. B.J. hopes for news about peace talks while Frank thinks he’s getting a promotion. But there’s no real sense of urgency for her to return, no worry about what she may have to say. Perhaps that’s because she was drunk when she called.

Larry Linville does a superb job in this episode. There are so many wonderful scenes: Frank congratulating Margaret on her engagement and tearing down the mess tent doors; Frank telling Radar he did a good job and then offering him a job; Frank pulling the grenade pin out with his teeth and struggling to put it back in; Frank on the phone with his mommy.

I wish Frank hadn’t fallen to pieces in Margaret’s tent, because he’s just too pathetic cowering on her bed after she hits him. That scene wasn’t necessary. We know Frank lusted after Margaret. We know he was obsessed with her. It did include the following exchange, which is both hilarious and insightful:

Margaret: “Let me go! I’m an engaged person!”
Frank: “Now we can cheat together!”

Frank talking on the phone with his mother is likewise insightful but also painful:

Oh, I’m fine, Mom. No, I’m not. Well, nobody likes me here, you know, as usual. I don’t want to talk about it. Well, you see, I had this friend and this friend, um, well, just pretended to like me, you know? The way Dad used to.

He then starts crying, although thankfully we don’t see it on screen. Exhausted, he falls asleep and is carried back to the Swamp by Hawkeye and B.J.

Margaret is oblivious throughout the episode, first at the tepid reaction to her engagement and later at how she’s hurting Frank by constantly talking about Donald. When Hawkeye calls her on it, she reveals her true feelings about Frank. Frank gets the last laugh, though, with a dig at her age.

Still from the M*A*S*H episode Margaret's Engagement showing Frank and B.J. in the Mess Tent
Frank shares a laugh with B.J. and Hawkeye.

Permanently splitting up Margaret and Frank meant everyone at the 4077th was now united in their dislike of Frank. Margaret was his only ally, his only confidante, and his only friend. He became an increasingly pathetic character. It’s no wonder Larry Linville decided to leave the series after Season 5.

Could Frank have grown and evolved? I don’t think so. Him becoming friends with Hawkeye wouldn’t be realistic. Aside from the occasional moment of kindness, Hawkeye at best pitied Frank and at worst despised him. There wasn’t much room for Frank to grow at the 4077th. Frank likewise couldn’t become a better surgeon, because that wouldn’t be realistic. He couldn’t start hanging out with enlisted personnel, because that wouldn’t be realistic. There just wasn’t much room for growth.

Is the picture that Margaret shows Colonel Potter of Donald with another woman–his cousin, Margaret thinks–a bit of foreshadowing? Did he really give his fiancee a picture of him with another woman?

Frank eventually does his get promotion to Lieutenant Colonel, as revealed in “Fade Out, Fade In” at the start of Season 6.

Klinger and Father Mulcahy do not appear in this episode.

13 Comments

  • BDOR says:

    I have to admit, starting with this episode, Margaret was so annoying this season . . . Frank summed it up in one episode where he snaps, “Oh, Donald Penobscott! Donald Penobscott! I get so sick of hearing about him!” It’s true: Margaret just kept on rambling on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on about Penobscott any chance she got, and even just bringing him up for the sake of talking about him . . . that’s something teenage girls do when they get their first serious boyfriends – it’s annoying and unnecessary. Like her verse in “Movie Tonight”?

    As for Frank, he was quite a sight in this episode. I have to say though, some of his moments were really unintentionally funny: biting off the safety pin of the grenade (followed by the audience’s startled “woooooooOOAAHH!”), his phonecall with his mommy and falling asleep wanting to hear about Winnie the Pooh. But I really love the actual genuine moment he had with Hawkeye and B.J. at the end, where the three of them actually share a laugh at Margaret’s expense.

    And I agree, I too found the bit with the photo of Donald with another woman a bit foreshadowing as well. That may have been unintentional though. Gene Reynolds actually wanted Margaret and Penobscott to stay married (her getting married was his idea after all), and as I understand, he wasn’t pleased at all about her eventual divorce after he left the series.

    And this episode has a very unusual cut in syndication: the scene where Frank stabs Margaret’s finger in O.R. followed by Hawkeye tending to her wound in Post-Op is completely cut, which makes the sight of Margaret’s finger being bandaged later a bit confusing. Then again, a similar thing happened with “The Ringbanger”: syndication cut the scene in Henry’s tent where he’s trimming his hair, and accidentally slices his ear when Frank barges in and startles him, which also makes it confusing when we see his ear bandaged later.

  • Edmund says:

    I always wondered why Margaret didn’t worry about how Frank would react when she told me she was engaged. She said she thought he would be thrilled. Wouldn’t she have to realize that it would be a jolt to him if they hadn’t already broken up before which Frank doesn’t appear to think that they did, in his mind the relationship is still going on.

    • Tank Stoner says:

      There never was a true relationship between them, just an extramarital affair In the end he proved her right anyway

    • Amy says:

      It should’ve crossed Margaret’s mind that yes, Frank would probably lose it for a while…..BUT…..I still think there was a part of Margaret that thought “oh well, what’s good for the goose….” because Frank was a married man after all.

      She didn’t have to be so “in his face” about all of the details of her trios with her betrothed in Franks presence. To me, that played as her just digging her nails in.

      In the end though, WHY shouldn’t she have found someone and hoped for a life of her own?
      Frank made it very clear he would never leave his wife and referred to her quite frequently to Margaret, even DURING their (ill timed) trysts.

      When frank thought he was going to be a millionaire, he still belittled both his wife and Margaret by refusing to divorce his wife yet all the while “setting Margaret up in her own apartment close to his office for lunchtime fun as well as allotting her a whole $25 a WEEK in spending money!

      Can’t expect one party to have the batter, the cake, the frosting and the crumbs while the other party’s sits starving!

  • jgf says:

    “Could Frank have grown and evolved? I don’t think so.”

    I tend to disagree. In one of my favorite Frank Burns episodes (don’t recall the title) he plays practical jokes on Hawkeye throughout, even giggling to himself at one point as Hawkeye looks around perplexedly. At the end Hawkeye gets revenge by dropping the latrine walls while Frank is on the throne; Frank lowers his newspaper, looks around, moving just his eyes, at all the people laughing and yelling then, with no further reaction, raises the paper again.

    Had they played up this aspect of Frank, along with is unabashed avarice and hypocrisy, he could have become a standalone character. Never becoming really close to anyone, taking advantage of any situation, using anyone for his own benefit, but having a sense of humor.

    Instead they made him a buffoon, completely inept and sniveling – Frank walks in, everyone ridicules him, Frank walks out. So Linville walked out. I don’t blame him.

    As for this episode, I agree with those commenting that it was the start of a string of episodes in which we all became sick and tired of the incessant “Donald Penobscot Donald Penobscot Donald Penobscot”. I’ve seen junior high girls with their first crush who didn’t act so immature; I expected a scene showing Margaret writing over and over in a notebook, “Mrs. Donald Penobscot, Margaret Penobscot…” and drawing little hearts with “DP+MH” in them.

    Frank’s joke at the end about age is hilarious, especially since shared with Hawkeye and BJ, and I think further supports my contention that he could have continued as a character.

    • BDOR says:

      Interestingly enough, Gene Reynolds actually wanted Frank to stay. Oh, and the episode you mentioned is the Season 1 finale, “Showtime.”

  • Doc Funnypants says:

    Entertaining, but at times obnoxious.

    I don’t know whether to laugh at Frank or feel sorry for him, considering what torture Margaret put him through. She really acted equal parts lovesick teenager and shallow social climber.

    Margaret: With Donald, I can keep my career and have everything a woman needs: a home, children, a washer-dryer.

    That really makes her sound materialistic and shallow as does this line “I could never marry anyone who didn’t outrank me.”

    • Amy says:

      “She CANT keep her career, a home, a washer and dryer” when she was sending every cent of every (paltry) paycheck to the irritatingly useless Penobscot. Cash change episode perhaps?

      Just floored me that someone who had been portrayed as such a beacon of strength would even think to do that. Wonder what her high ranking daddy would’ve thought.
      Also wonder if Penobscot gave any of those pay checks back upon the end of their brief and boring marriage

    • Amy says:

      She does sound materialistic stating she couldn’t marey anyone who didn’t outrank her however, looking back, that’s a precursor to the sitcoms, series, movies and even real life marital issues some 70 years after the story line of the movie and some 40+ years after the show.

      I know I’ve heard more than one show/movie/interview, etc wherein the female says it’s always a problem when the woman makes more money than the man.

      Not agreeing with it, just thought it pointed out another aspect of the show that was revolutionary for that time but is mainstream today.

  • mspence says:

    If they had shown the sad part of Frank earlier in the series, he might have been more than a one-dimensional character…as it is, he was at his most sympathetic in this episode, whereas Margaret really came off as annoying and shallow. She seemed to have a whirlwind romance and marriage with Penobscott, who turned out to be a total jerk later on, so maybe in that way Frank got his revenge.

  • Real Fagnan says:

    I love the scene with Margaret after just arriving back in camp – when she’s showing off her cheap, diminutive diamond engagement ring to BJ & Hawkeye- their comments are priceless! Margaret ” oh they’re rich but they don’t like to flaunt it” BJ” they’re succeeding!” or “listen, who wants a pushy ring!” ( Hawkeye?) could anyone flesh this scene out- it’s been years so the dialogue retention’s a bit fuzzy!

    • Lady, You ARE a Piece of Cornbread says: says:

      Hawkeye: “Uhoh,(Frank) took his gun and his toothpaste.”
      BJ: “Shooting his mouth off again!”

  • Lady, You ARE a Piece of Cornbread says:

    Tonight on Me-TV was the first time I saw the scene of Frank inviting Radar to Fort Wayne. I guess it’s edited out of the “normal” syndicated prints.

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