Discuss: A Romance Between Charles and Margaret

Monday M*A*S*H Discussions offers fans the opportunity to offer their opinions on a wide variety of topics relating to M*A*S*H. Please share your thoughts and ideas in the comments section. My hope is these discussion posts will continue to elicit comments in the weeks and months after they’re initially published. Have a suggestion about something you think might be worth discussing? Let me know and maybe it will become my next Monday M*A*S*H Discussion topic.

Today’s topic is: A romance between Charles and Margaret.

First Frank, Then Charles?

During Season 6 episodes, many M*A*S*H fans (myself included) see hints of a potential romance between Margaret Houlihan and Charles Emerson Winchester, III. In both “Images” or “The Light That Failed,” for example, there are scenes in which a foundation for a romantic relationship seems to be laid. I’ve never come across actual confirmation that the writers were, in fact, planning to have Margaret and Charles fall for one another. If they did want to go down that road, they changed their minds. I can’t think of any hints at a romance after Season 6.

Margaret, of course, was married to Donald Penobscott when Charles transferred to the 4077th. Would it have been out of character for Margaret to have an affair with Charles? She had a long affair with Frank, who was married the entire time. It didn’t usually bother her but would it bother her to cheat on her husband? Of course, he cheated on her, and she found that out early in Season 6 (“In Love and War”). It wasn’t until “Hot Lips Is Back in Town” during Season 7 that she officially divorced Donald.

What about Charles? Would an affair with Margaret fit his character?

Hit the comments with your thoughts.

16 Comments

  • penguinphysics says:

    Absolutely, unequivocally, and unambiguously, *NO*. This was tried in the beginning of season 6 (owning to the fact that the writing staff didn’t have a good handle on Charles’ character yet.) The results were uniformly poor because, while they are both fine actors, they had no *romantic* chemistry at all. Their comedic and (in particular) dramatic chemistry was consistently outstanding, but this rarely translates into romantic chemistry.

    In addition, I think it would have been a horrible mistake EVEN IF they had the requisite chemistry because maintaining Margaret’s status as the resident sexpot/sex-object and shrew/harpy would have negated any possibility of character growth on her part (or would have, at least, reduced it to a gradual crawl) As the series progressed, her character was able to move forward (while never completely shedding the harpy persona.)

    Seeing that in the first seasons, her character description was Frank’s puppeteer and everybody’s nagging shrew, this was a waste of several years of a character who could have been a tremendous asset to the show (especially since she was the only character who was associated with the army since birth, giving her a unique perspective that could have been great fodder for multiple stories.)

  • BDOR says:

    There are a few other specific examples from Season 6 that hint that the writers were trying to bring Margaret and Charles together.

    In “The Winchester Tapes,” Charles describes Margaret as, “part seductress and part Atilla the Hun,” detailing their encounter in the scrub room where Margaret apparently had something in her eye that he was checking for – she keeps moving in closer to him, remarking on his small pores, and Mulcahy walks in, seemingly embarrassed he interrupted something, which causes Charles to sweat (or “prespire”), despite Margaret assuring him nothing’s going on because she’s a married woman.

    In “War of Nerves,” when both Margaret and Charles are sent to see Sidney, both of them deny being attracted to the other in a way that a teenager would deny having a crush on someone else, while at the same time are convinced the other is attracted to them. Margaret’s denial makes it sound like he’s attracted to him because he’s so wealthy and she finds wealth attractive; Charles also seems to think that it’s obvious he’s an attractive man and can understand why Margaret would have such intense interest in him.

    In “Tea and Empathy,” Margaret gushes about Charles’s surgical skills throughout the episode – even telling a casualty in triage that he’s lucky to be seen by Charles, who he otherwise wouldn’t even be able to afford to even just look at him back in the States. Later, we see the two of them strolling through the Compound discussing culture – Margaret attempts to demonstrate her yoga to Charles, but she loses her balance and he catches her, which causes the sleeve of his fatigue shirt to get caught on her clusters, causing her to freak out in case anyone takes a picture of their “passionate embrace” to send to Donald.

    I think, if I’m not mistaken, the writers initially figured as long as Charles was replacing Frank as a character, surgeon, and bunky of Hawkeye and B.J. that he was also meant to replace him as Margaret’s love interest as well, and I believe Gene Reynolds was picking up on this and shot it down because, as Penguin pointed out, it defeated the purpose of the growth of Margaret’s character now being a married woman. And I can also agree with Penguin that while Margaret’s romantic chemistry with Frank was funny and played for laughs, any attempted romantic chemistry between her and Charles felt awkward and unnecessary.

    • Ferret Face says:

      “Margaret’s denial makes it sound like he’s attracted to him because he’s so wealthy and she finds wealth attractive; Charles also seems to think that it’s obvious he’s an attractive man and can understand why Margaret would have such intense interest in him.”

      For me, this is the only way for me to even vaguely accept this failed attempt at a romance. She’s attracted to him for his money and power, and he just likes being the center of attention. But after Margaret starts to grow as a person, and after dealing with Frank’s and Donald’s B.S., she wants to follow her heart, and doesn’t want to be with someone who doesn’t value her. And Charles is Charles, and decides she’s not good enough for him, and stops pursuing her.

      But either way, I agree with everyone saying it was a terrible idea from the beginning, and I’m glad they dropped it when they did.

      • Jon says:

        Another potential matchup between the two of them, which I have not seen mentioned yet, was in “The Grim Reaper”. A subplot of this episode had Charles getting together with Margaret for pheasant, which came in a can. It appeared that Charles was interested romantically in Margaret, but the pheasant was rotten, making both of them sick and ruining their chances together. It always seemed strange to me that he’d even approach Margaret in such a way, given that she was married at the time.

      • BDOR says:

        I can’t believe I forgot about that! That was one of my favorite moments. . . .

        MARGARET: Is this the way this pheasant’s supposed to taste? It tastes funny.
        CHARLES: Oh Margaret, I assure you, this is the way a pheasant is supposed to taste. It is, after all, a game bird.
        MARGARET: Well, I’m game too1

  • Doug says:

    The only worse idea for a romantic relationship was Worf and Deanna Troi on Star Trek The Next Generation!

    Margaret seems to be quite the flirt. In earlier seasons, she was attracted to Trapper, as well as Buzz from The Ringbanger. The was already talking about a long-term relationship with Hawkeye in Comrades In Arms. There was Scully, the press guy, and the Swedish doctor. And Hawkeye’s great quote from Are You, Margaret…, “She’d dated most of the generals in the Pacific. It doesn’t make her a West Pointer.”

    In short, throwing her together with Charles was unnecessary and would have damaged the character. She was shown moving away from her Hot Lips rep, but there were still some elements. Besides, it would have robbed the writers of the opportunity for Charles to really show some depth in the episode with the French Red Cross lady, specifically how his family would never have accepted her and her bohemian ways.

    • 007 says:

      Funny I thought the same thing when I first read this article about Worf and Troi. I agree it was a bit stupid to throw that in so late in the series and in the first movie, and then almost as bad, we got no resolution to it whatsoever. Worf just transfers to DS9 and falls for Jadzia, and then Riker’s back with Troi in Insurrection and Nemesis.

      • Doug says:

        Worf and Jadzia work as a couple because she’s as tough as he is, and is very knowledgeable about Klingon culture. Deanna wasn’t as tough, and was little more than eye candy for most of TNG. Her getting back together with Riker, her Imzadi, makes sense. I just saw First Contact last night, and even then there were hints that they were going to end up back together.

        Margaret and Charles was only slightly less stupid than Worf and Deanna…and not by much!

  • Crabapple Cove says:

    …the only thing more untenable than a Margaret-Charles relationship would have been a Margaret-Hawkeye relationship… ….oh wait….

    • 007 says:

      Yes that whole stint in Comrades in Arms is ridiculously stupid. I get being in that situation can bring out emotions and what not in people, but then to have her all dog eyed for him afterwards, terrible. Margaret really got mistreated by the writers for pretty much the entire run of the show.

      • BDOR says:

        “Comrade in Arms” are a pair of really, really poor episodes, I tend to skip them altogether.

      • Jon says:

        I remember Ken Levine mentioning in his blog that he tried to discourage Alan Alda from writing that 2-part episode, since it would permanently alter Hawkeye & Margaret’s relationship. Alda said he’d write it so that it would go that way, but it did, and Hawkeye could no longer flirt with Margaret afterward.

  • Andrea says:

    I agree with what other people have said. I don’t think a romance would have worked between the two characters because Loretta and David didn’t quite have that chemistry (thought did work well together in other ways) and it actually put me off Charles as a character initially. I came to love him of course because of David’s top notch acting.

    I also think a platonic friendship between male and female characters is more interesting anyway.

  • 007 says:

    Agree with what everyone else is saying here. I also think it would be pretty out of character of Charles to fall for Margaret. It makes absolutely no sense for him to be interested in her, other than her being the only female in the camp who’s equal to him in rank and position. Almost everything about Margaret’s character is completely opposite of the type of woman Charles would be attracted to.

    Charles is attracted to sophistication, intelligence, class, culture, & wealth. While Margaret displayed some of those qualities to a very small degree, it really wasn’t her qualities at all. The woman is Mr and Mrs. Who made much more sense for Charles.

    • BDOR says:

      That’s true – Charles even made it clear when he expressed understanding of Penobscott’s mother blackballing Margaret from the D.A.R. “Margaret, people like we Winchesters, and the Penobscotts, have to be on guard maintain the integrity of . . . how shall I say this? The ‘breed’.”

      • Doc Funnypants says:

        That line was from “Mail Call Three”. As for the topic at hand, I feel a romance between Charles and Margaret would never have worked because they were polar opposites personality-wise. He was upper crust, she was down-to-earth. Besides, she was married when Winchester arrived at the 4077th and viewers didn’t want the role involving Margaret to be flipped.

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