Every Monday, I spotlight a random episode of M*A*S*H, providing a brief review and asking readers to offer their thoughts.
“Hawkeye” (#90, 4×18)
Originally Broadcast: Tuesday, January 13th, 1976
Written by Larry Gelbart & Simon Muntner
Directed by Larry Gelbart
Capsule Summary: While returning from an aid station, Hawkeye gets in an accident and sustains a concussion. To stay awake, he talks to a Korean family until help arrives from the 4077th.
I’m not sure I’d call “Hawkeye” a controversial episode. A polarizing one, perhaps. There are five reviews at the Internet Movie Database. Four are positive (three 9-star reviews and a single 8-star review) while one is negative (a 1-star review). Of the eight reviews at TV.com, five are positive (all 10/10) and three are negative (1.5/10, 1.7/10, and 2.5/10).
Those who despise the episode like to call it an ego trip on the part of Alan Alda. But he didn’t write the episode or come up with the idea for it. I’d like to think even those M*A*S*H fans who don’t like “Hawkeye” can admit it’s an interesting writing experiment from Larry Gelbart and Simon Munter and features an impressive performance from Alda. Personally, while I truly appreciate the experiment and the performance, I don’t think “Hawkeye” has much rewatchability. It’s an episode you watch once and don’t revisit for a decade or so.
In terms of story, there’s really not much to discuss. Hawkeye basically rambles for 20+ minutes. He discusses medical school, watching musicals in Boston, growing up in Maine, the wonder and mystery of babies, and the complex human thumb.
Not surprisingly, Hawkeye talks about women a lot: Lefty the waitress from Sol and Sol’s Delicatessen; Eloise McKay from the eighth grade; and strippers Ann Corio, Margie Hart, and Polly O’Day. Two were real-life burlesque dancers. Polly O’Day and her parrot were made up for the episode.
If I had to pick a favorite part of the episode, I’d probably go with Hawkeye’s ode to the human thumb.
Larry Gelbart discussed “Hawkeye” several times at the alt.tv.mash Usenet group:
August 4th, 1999
The reason for doing it was because it represented a terrific writing and
acting challenge – and by Season 4, the challenges were getting tougher and tougher.
August 4th, 1999
>Were you pleased with the results?
Yes, I was. And Alda was very helpful in terms of the script, as well.
January 19th, 2003
> I know you and Simon Muntner wrote this ep but I always wondered how much, if any, input Alda had here.
A good deal.
January 20th, 2003
>It’s a half hour Hawkeye fest. I don’t know of any other episode that features only one major character throughout. Had to be Alda’s idea.
Turth [sic] is, it was not his idea at all.
But he contributed several bits and ideas to the script.
That’s what I meant when he some input in the show.
September 20th, 2003
> LG, what were you thinking with this one? Was it an experiment gone wrong?
Only for those who think that’s so. While there’s many an episode in the first four seasons that I think were complete or partial misses, l can’t say I feel that way about this one.
It’s not a question anyone being right or wrong here, it’s all a matter of personal taste – or distaste if that’s the case.
I’ll stop, before this becomes a one-man show, as well.
With two exceptions, the actors and actresses playing the Korean family in this episode made other appearances on M*A*S*H. Philip Ahn (The Father) was later in “Exorcism” during Season 5 and “Change Day” during Season 6. Shizuko Hoshi (The Mother) originated the role of Rosie in “Mad Dogs and Servicemen” during Season 3. She was later in “B.J. Papa San” during Season 7 and “Private Finance” during Season 8. June Kim (The Pregnant Woman) guest starred in “The Abduction of Margaret Houlihan” and “Souvenirs” during Season 5 and “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen” during Season 11. Susan Sakimoto (The Oldest Child) also guest starred in “The Abduction of Margaret Houlihan” during Season 5.
Jeff Osaka and Jayleen Sun (The Younger Children) have no other acting credits according to the Internet Movie Database but Sun later worked as stunt woman on several films between 1988 and 1995.
“Hawkeye” received two Emmy nominations: Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography for Entertainment Programming for a Series (William K. Jurgensen) and Outstanding Writing in a Comedy Series (Larry Gelbart, Simon Muntner). It lost both. Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography went to Baretta for “Keep Your Eye on the Sparrow” while Outstanding Writing in a Comedy Series went to The Mary Tyler Moore Show for “Chuckles Bites the Dust.”
Hawkeye is the only main character to appear in this episode.