Discuss: Which Character Grew the Most?


After a long break while I reviewed every episode of AfterMASH, Monday M*A*S*H Discussions have returned. These weekly posts give 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.

007 suggested today’s topic: Which character on grew the most over the course of the series?

Margaret, Klinger, Or…?

I think most fans, when asked to consider which character on M*A*S*H grew the most, will immediately think of either Margaret or Klinger. You may not appreciate how either of these characters changed but there’s no denying they both grew dramatically as the show progressed. Hot Lips became Margaret while Section 8 Klinger became company clerk Klinger. None of the other characters evolved nearly as much, with the possible exception of Hawkeye.

Let’s be honest, Hawkeye from Season 1 bears little resemblance to Hawkeye from Season 11. Again, you may not like how Hawkeye changed but you can’t deny he did.

Of the three, I think Margaret grew the most. She was always a dedicated nurse, even if it wasn’t as obvious during the early seasons because she spent so much time either fooling around with Frank or trying to get Hawkeye and Trapper in trouble. As her relationship with Frank cooled off, “Hot Lips” became “Margaret” and established her own identity. She wasn’t just Frank’s mistress or his partner in the fight to enforce proper military rules and regulations. It took time–and a marriage and divorce–for her to grow into her own.

Unlike Margaret, Klinger changed practically overnight when Radar left. Was it a big change? Yes, it was, but there wasn’t the same amount of growth, in my opinion. Klinger changed because of outside influences: he became company clerk and suddenly had a lot of responsibility. Margaret changed because of outside influences, too, like Frank leaving and later her marriage falling apart, but I think she also wanted to change and grow as a person.

Hit the comments with your thoughts.

8 Replies to “Discuss: Which Character Grew the Most?”

  1. I’d say Margaret. To watch the “Hot Lips” of earlier seasons and then compare her to “Margaret” of later years, they’re like two different people. The adherence to strict military discipline, while maybe not ever TOTALLY gone, was drastically downplayed by the end. The character changed so much that by later seasons it almost seemed impossible that she’d ever show interest in someone like Frank in the first place! Never mind getting involved with a soldier like Scully, or participating in a war of April Fools gags with Hawkeye, BJ and Winchester, and so on and so forth.

    I also keep thinking back to “Are You Now, Margaret?” I can only imagine the Hot Lips of earlier seasons being all too ready to turn in a suspected communist, in contrast to the hesitation Margaret shows in the episode. And there are plenty of other Hot Lips/Margaret examples, too.

    Still, she was always mean to Radar/Klinger, something she apologizes to Klinger for at the very end, so that was sort of a constant. Speaking of Klinger…

    While I do think he changed over the course of the series, namely with the role of company clerk (and the “no more women’s clothes”thing), he was always still sort of a wheeler-and-dealer, “has an angle,”lovable goofball type. So, while he changed, especially in the constant trying to get of Korea attempts, I don’t think it was as drastic (or as a gradual) as Margaret.

    As for Hawkeye, I’d argue that his changes were more due to the show as a whole around him rather than the character himself. While the aspect was greatly downplayed, he was still a womanizer in later seasons, but because of the direction M*A*S*H had grown in, those later examples come off more out-of-character, not to mention kinda painful to watch. Still, the wisecracking, drinking, irreverent-to-combat-the-war aspects of the character never really left – though I do think he was a BIT quicker to get angry or become sullen than he was earlier on.

    Still, that can easily be attributed to just being tired of the war, not that he was ever exactly enamored by it in the first place, of course.

    Also, while I’d never argue that he changed the most, I do want to point out the changes in Potter over the years. Sure, he was always “regular army,” but over the course of the series, he seemed, to me, to evolve into more of a more grumpy, quick-to-yell commanding officer than the relatively-easygoing, homespun one he was in his initial seasons. Compare his earlier reaction to an old friend that caused casualties with his ineptitude to his later one. Very similar situations handled very differently by Potter, particularly in regards to how he initially takes the news. Honestly, while not exact, he seemed to become – somewhat- more like the person Hawkeye & BJ feared he’d be when first taking command!

    1. I agree with a lot of what you said, including your choice of Margaret being the most changed. I know some people don’t really care for the way she developed (understandably so – there are times she annoyed me), but overall I really liked her progression over the seasons. As far as her relationships go, I think that going from the weaselly Frank, to the cheating Donald, and finally her brief fling with Hawkeye really put things into perspective for her. Kind of like a “three strikes” kind of thing. The first time, the blame could be seen as mostly Frank’s fault. The second time would be much harder to reason away, and make her start to question herself a bit more. And then when she started to do the same thing with Hawkeye, over-idolizing him when they got together only to be burned once again, that was pretty much the breaking point IMO. Then she had to start re-evaluating herself, and figure out how to change in order to not go through the same patterns again and again. After that, she had sex with the reporter, but that was more to get over her failed relationship with Donald, and then she let him go. And then finally the Scully arc was about solidifying those changes, seeing how much she’d be willing to bend her old values without giving up everything she was and wanted to be. And of course there were other changes as well. She slowly allowed herself to get closer to other people, letting herself loosen up a bit, while still maintaining her professionalism.

      And I agree with you on Hawkeye as well. For the most part, he’s still very much the same, though he learns certain lessons along the way. However, where he does change is his growing pessimism and instability throughout the seasons. I’d say the two biggest events that push him in this direction are the death of his friend in “Sometimes You Hear the Bullet,” and even more prominently Henry’s death. With Henry, he was free. He was going home. But the war still took that freedom from him. I think that, as bad as he knew the war was before then, he took it a lot more personally after that. You can see this clearly in “The Late Captain Pierce.”

      BJ: “Wounded. Klinger says a lot.”
      Hawkeye: “I don’t care. I really don’t. They’ll keep coming whether I’m here or not. Trapper went home, they’re still coming. Henry got killed and they’re still coming. Wherever they come from, they’ll never run out.”

      One other character I’m tempted to mention is Charles. Though part of that is less him changing, and more our view of him that changes. Though there are definitely episodes where his views are changed in certain ways (like when he’s forced to admit flaws in his character, and when realized his chocolate donation doesn’t mean much if the orphans don’t have actual meals), and while he definitely keeps his distance right up to the end, he does allow himself to get a bit closer with people he initially hated being stuck with, even sticking up for them when the situation requires it.

      1. Charles definitely grew too. He went from more of a “talented antagonist” to something resembling a friend – though always with some distance. It’s tough to see the Charles of “Sons and Bowlers” as the same Charles of season six. He evolved in a way that Frank just never could, or would.

  2. Most of the character experienced growth (and even lack thereof) in some way or form.

    – Hawkeye’s habits of boozing his brains out and chasing nurses is toned down considerably as the series progresses (supposedly to reflect Alan Alda’s support for the growing Feminism Movement of the 70s)
    – Henry even begins to show signs of growth in his last season, as we have moments where he takes his position as Commanding Officer seriously, and even shows a little backbone (i.e. “Aid Station”)
    – Yes, Margaret perhaps grew the most over the course of the series: going from a strict, by-the-book, hardened, rigid Army nurse, with zero tolerance for lack of discipline and military-correctness, to showing that even she too could let her hair down and be one of the boys, and even engaging in occasional hi-jinks herself.
    – And yes, we can agree that Klinger went from being the dress-wearing funny guy to the bland and un-funny guy when he became Company Clerk, but we have a meta explanation for this: Jamie Farr was sparing his kids further torment from peers who were bullying them because their dad was a “transvestite.”
    – Father Mulcahy was a really complex character who often went back and forth between feeling like he’s completely useless in camp, and that nobody seeks him out for guidance or comfort, and feeling like he’s very important and that people’s lives depend on him being there and doing his job as an army chaplain.

    Then, we have two specific examples of just the reverse:
    – Frank ends up being a Flanderized version of himself, as his lack of surgical skills, and his weasely personality become more prominent as the seasons go by, to the point that it ends up making him a very flat, one-dimensional character.
    – Radar starts out as a worldly little sneak who wasn’t above concocting schemes with Hawkeye and Trapper behind Henry’s back, then regresses into an innocent and naive little farm boy who’s confused about the ways of the world.

  3. IMO, Margaret changed the most over the course of the series. She went from Frank’s henchwoman/lover to Donald’s discarded wife and eventually a combination of Susan B. Anthony and Betty Friedan. Along the way she had dalliances with any male officer who outranked her. Of course, this attitude was contra-indicated by her constant infantile tantrums(i.e. attacking Radar in “Last Laugh”).

  4. Has to be Margaret and Klinger! They evolved to be among the most beloved characters. Originally sources of ridicule, both became iconic sources of love and respect of all fans!

  5. Margaret definitely changed the most. She developed into a very dynamic character over the seasons and by season eight, she was mostly on her way. I think her marriage has a lot to do with it but also the vacuum that Frank left. When Frank left, she was no longer part of that duo, she was her own character instead of a supporting character to Frank. She became more thoughtful of her actions overall and learned to really live with those around her instead of trying to force everyone into the role she envisioned for them. She became humorous, witty, much more confident, and secure in who she was as a military officer, solider, nurse, friend, and most importantly, a woman. I have spent the last several weeks watching every episode of MASH and while I despised her behavior and attitudes in the first few seasons, I have really grown to like Margaret as she has developed. Initially she was a glorified bimbo, now in season eight and beyond, she is an amazing woman that I would have been proud to serve with. As a female veteran myself, this is not an easy thing for a woman to accomplish, but she did. I have been very pleasantly surprised by her character development throughout as I have never watched mash in order, only as reruns that hopped around chronologically Watching the episodes in order makes her progress undeniable.

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