Episode Spotlight: Bless You, Hawkeye

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

“Bless You, Hawkeye” (#211, 9×17)
Originally Broadcast: Monday, March 16th, 1981
Written by Dan Wilcox & Thad Mumford
Directed by Nell Cox

Capsule Summary: Sidney Freedman is called in when Hawkeye starts sneezing and can’t stop.

I’m expecting a strong reaction in the comments section to this episode. I get the impression a lot of fans hate it. Yet there are many fans who consider it a solid episode. At the moment, it enjoys a 7.6/10 rating at TV.com and a similiar 7.3/10 at the Internet Movie Database.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I’ve never heard someone sneeze the way Hawkeye does in this episode. It doesn’t sound like a sneeze, to be honest, which of course it isn’t. Alan Alda is doing his best to fake a sneeze but I’m not sure it’s something you can fake.

Hawkeye’s sneezes start with a forceful inhalation before stopping abruptly. There’s no balance, no follow-through. They sound unnatural to me, which is why each and every sneeze pulls me out of the episode. If only the writers had come up with some other way for Hawkeye’s repressed memory to manifest itself. Cut out the absurd sneezes, and the episode improves dramatically.

When Hawkeye stumbles into Colonel Potter’s office and declares “I’m going to die,” I believe him. He looks awful. The sneezing has been joined by furious and scratching. After Sidney Freedman arrives, Hawkeye repeats his prediction that he’s going to die:

Hawkeye: “Sidney, I’m scared.”
Sidney: “It’s certainly understandable.”
Hawkeye: “I’m gonna die.”

I may criticize his sneezing, but Alan Alda does a superb job selling Hawkeye’s terror and his sense of helplessness. Sidney suspects Hawkeye will figure out what’s wrong with him when he’s ready–and he’s right. A horrific childhood memory eventually resurfaces. When Hawkeye was seven, he was fishing with his beloved older cousin Billy and Billy pushed him into the water. Hawkeye almost drowned. He nearly died. Unable to handle the betrayal, young Hawkeye altered the memory so he wouldn’t remember Billy pushing him, only Billy saving his life.

Contrast Hawkeye’s fear of what’s happening to him earlier in the episode with his hysterical wailing as he remembers his childhood trauma, remembers being pushed by Billy. It’s too much, too melodramatic. The wailing is particularly painful. That said, I have no idea how I’d react if I suddenly remembered my cousin trying to kill me when I was a child. Perhaps I shouldn’t judge Hawkeye too harshly for his histrionics.

“Bless You, Hawkeye” isn’t a favorite episode but I don’t loathe it the way some do. It’s greatest failing isn’t fake sneezing or overwrought emotion, but repeating a storyline used earlier in the series. “Hawk’s Nightmare” from Season 5 is nearly identical. Rather than sneezing and scratching, it features nightmares and sleepwalking. In both episodes, Sidney arrives at the 4077th to help Hawkeye. In both episodes, Hawkeye is dealing with a psychological issue relating to his childhood.

Still from the M*A*S*H episode Bless You, Hawkeye showing Hawkeye

Hawkeye is convinced he’s going to die.

This is the first of three episodes directed by Nell Cox. The others are “Heroes” from Season 10 and “Run for the Money” from Season 11. She directed more episodes than any other woman. In fact, she’s the only woman to direct more than a single episode.

If for some reason you’d like to watch a supercut of every single one of Hawkeye’s sneezes from this episode, here‘s a link to a YouTube video. Enjoy.

It looks like B.J. is playing pyramid solitaire in the Swamp right before Hawkeye starts tossing things out the door.

Colonel Potter makes a Judge Crater reference in relation to missing keys to the lab. Crater famously disappeared in 1930. His disappearance remains unsolved to this day.

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13 Replies to “Bless You, Hawkeye Voted Least Favorite Episode from Season 9”

  1. Season 9 had only one decent episode, and that’s “No Sweat.” Other than that, all the other episodes of Season 9 are bad.

    1. I’d have to say I’m on the other end of the spectrum. “A War for All Seasons” is my favorite episode of the entire season.

      1. I agree, that was a great one, and probably David Ogden Stiers’ best comedic performance on the show.

  2. I voted for Bless You, Hawkeye. If there was an episode I had to pick that I would skip watching, it’d be this one. Alan Alda’s sneezing and eventual breakdown is waaaay over the top for me. Perhaps if he would’ve toned it down, it might have been easier for me to watch, imho.

  3. I voted for “The Life You Save” because IMO, Charles became too morbid after his near-death experience. The other storylines just weren’t that good especially Hawkeye’s obsession with getting French toast made the way he remembered.

  4. Agree with BDOR that “No Sweat” is by far the best episode of Season 9. “Cementing Relationships” is a great episode though, why were there so many votes for it? The whole camp coming together, mixing some cement and putting in a new floor. The Italian guy thing’s a bit annoying but the OR Floor story line is strong enough alone for me.

    Anyways I voted for Father’s Day just because I new Bless You, Hawkeye would win (lose?) anyways. That attitude Margaret has throughout most of the series is in full throttle here. Granted she has a bit of a reason, but I just dislike her so much by this point that I don’t give her a pass for it.

  5. I chose ‘The Foresight Saga’ because the story and characters are so saccharine sweet that it makes me yearn for more world-weary and cynical stories like Barney the Dinosaur. The happy-go-lucky attitude and horrifically bad acting from the kid playing Park-Suck (pun intended) was just too much to bear. This is one of the few episodes that I will just skip because I am always afraid of diabetic shock after watching something so insufferably sweet.

    1. Not only this, but the episode is super disappointing because it’s the first time they used something like a letter or phone call from a previous character, but they end up ruining it with a stupid episode.

      They also never mention Radar again, or if Park-Sun makes it there and is helpful. If you count the spin-off’s though, like After Mash and WALTER, he clearly didn’t help the farm too much though hah.

  6. I believe I voted for “Bottoms Up.” Outside of Hawkeye and Charles getting even with BJ, neither of the stories really worked for me. Other weaker episodes this season were “No Sweat” (I usually like weather-based episodes, but something about this one felt really off to me), and maybe “The Foresight Saga” (I didn’t hate it, but it could have been better). I will admit, I can easily understand people voting for “Bless You, Hawkeye,” what with the sneezes and it being an admittedly weaker version of “Hawk’s Nightmares,” but I’m biased due to my love for Sidney episodes, and his relationship with Hawkeye.

    But overall, I thought this was a very strong season. Easily the best of the last four (though I still enjoyed those other seasons), and about on par with the show at its peak IMO.

  7. S9 is the first season where it felt the show was starting to run on fumes. The creative teams still produced well-structured episodes with fine concepts and moments, but somehow less robust than they once were. For instance, everyone acts so petty and selfish, a trope the show would lean too heavily on in the last two seasons, in the midst of Charles’ psychological breakdown in ‘The Life You Save.

    ‘Taking the Fifth’ was my pick for this season. I don’t hate it but I singled it out because it frustrated me for how listless and bland it was. (Even the worst MASH episodes are memorable in some way.) The Foresight Saga comes in a close second for everyone described as above.

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