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: Was breaking up Margaret and Frank a mistake?
It Was Larry Gelbart’s Idea
Before Larry Gelbart departed M*A*S*H after Season 4, he offered one piece of advice to those remaining with the show: have Margaret get married. He discussed his reasoning for breaking up Margaret and Frank several times at the alt.tv.mash newsgroup:
My one suggestion when I left the series was to have Hot Lips marry someone, so that her character and Frank’s could go in new and different directions.
(September 12th, 2000)
I suggested breaking up the Hot Lips/Frank affair because I thought it would a challenge to the writers and the actors to seek new areas to explore — and possibly help Frank develop beyond merely being an ND (Nerd Doctor).
(September 13th, 2000)
My parting – and only – suggestion to Gene Reynolds (upon leaving the show after Year Four) was to have Hot Lips get married, thereby giving her character and Frank Burns’ a whole new set of dynamics.
(January 21st, 2002)
(“If I’d any more ideas,” Gelbart joked in an April 2004 post , “I probably wouldn’t have left.”)
Gene Reynolds and the M*A*S*H writers listened and had Margaret get engaged in “Margaret’s Engagement” early on during Season 5. The on-again, off-again relationship between Margaret and Frank was finally off for good. At the end of Season 5, Margaret marries Donald Penobscott. Frank takes it hard and, after a brief mental breakdown, winds up promoted and transferred stateside. Poor Margaret doesn’t have the happy marriage she wanted, however.
This is a difficult question to answer. There are many aspects to ending Margaret and Frank’s lengthy affair. On the one hand, it allowed Margaret to grow as a person and no longer rely on Frank for so much of her identity. Her evolution from Hot Lips to Margaret began long before she ended things with Frank, but her engagement truly freed her.
On the other hand, without Margaret, Frank became little more than a punching bag for Hawkeye and B.J. Ending the Margaret-Frank relationship likely played a big role in Larry Linville’s decision to leave M*A*S*H at the end of Season 5. Of course, it’s impossible to say whether Linville would’ve stayed past the end of his five-year contract had Margaret and Frank’s relationship continued.
There’s also the question of whether or not the Margaret and Frank affair could have continued. It took her a long time to admit to herself Frank was never going to leave his wife for her. She was only ever going to be his mistress and only while the two were stationed together at the 4077th. How much longer could their relationship last?
Personally, I don’t think it was a mistake to break up Margaret and Frank. The relationship had run its course. It was growing stale. Keeping the characters together, without any changes to their dynamic, wouldn’t have worked. But I wish the writers had come up with something more for Frank to do during Season 5. Larry Gelbart thought breaking up Margaret and Frank would allow both characters to “go in new and different directions.” Margaret did, but Frank didn’t.
Hit the comments with your thoughts.