Discuss: Imagine an Episode With Only Frank


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: Imagine an episode with only Frank.

The Interrogation of Major Frank Burns

We’re in the fifth week of our “Imagine an Episode with Only…” journey. We’ve already imagined episodes with only Margaret, Colonel Potter, Trapper, and Father Mulcahy. Today, let’s share our ideas for an episode featuring Frank. He doesn’t have to be literally the only character but he should be the primary focus and any other characters probably shouldn’t be speaking English. That’s how “Hawkeye” worked and we’re trying to think of similiar experimental episodes for the rest of the characters.

I had a lot of trouble coming up with ideas for an episode with only Frank in it. Why? Because nobody wants to watch an episode of M*A*S*H that’s little more than 25 minutes of Frank whining. The only possible scenario I can think of is an episode in which Frank has been captured by either the North Koreans or the Chinese and is being interrogated. Let’s be kind and assume Frank initially refuses to provide any information other than his name, rank, and serial number.

It doesn’t take long before Frank begins blabbering. Maybe an unseen voice will ask questions for Frank to answer. Or maybe he’ll hear questions the audience doesn’t hear and respond to them. He’ll alternate between trying to please his captors by making himself sound important and downplaying his rank and ability in the hopes of being released.

To be honest, I’m not convinced an episode like the one I’m describing would’ve work very well. Larry Linville was a talented actor but I’m not sure he could’ve pulled off 25 minutes of Frank groveling.

Hit the comments with your thoughts.

8 Replies to “Discuss: Imagine an Episode With Only Frank”

  1. Frank is definitely one of those characters who can only be tolerated in moderation, so I agree, an entire 25-26 minute episode focused primarily on him would have been almost as bad as a 25-26 minute episode focused primarily on Hawkeye monologuing like a maniac.

    The only thing I can imagine for Frank is, perhaps, a HOME ALONE- type scenario: say Hawkeye and B.J. have some kind of temporary duty at an aid station, or another MASH unit, leaving Frank all alone in the Swamp; he’s delighted at first to be rid of those two darnfoolskis, but because he’s gotten so used to them bugging him and picking him day in and day out, he actually starts to feel lonely without them, and actually begins going crazy from having nobody to torment him.

    1. Actually, another scenario I can think of is this: Frank mentions in “The Interview” he was thinking about writing a book about his experiences at the 4077th . . . perhaps a Frank episode could be him sitting in the Swamp by himself, typing away at his typewriter, either embellishing greatly some of his experiences, or even completely fabricating some of them, just to make himself seem like a proud, brave hero in Korea.

      But then again, that’d be too similar to “The Novocaine Mutiny.”

  2. I can’t stand Frank’s self delusion and whinning either. I struggle to think of Frank as ever being open and honest about himself, or being likeable.

    Nevertheless, I still have a couple of ideas:

    First scenario – Frank is required to have a session with Sidney Freeman, and Sidney puts him under hypnosis. It is one way to get a more genuine version of Frank and reveal more about his true self and his past.

    Second scenario – perhaps for more comedy, Frank is hauled before a section 8 board for evaluation. We would not see the board. The camera would just be focused on Frank responding to various crazy things he’s done during the show. This could also provide a way for Frank to be more open and honest about himself and his past.

  3. We actually know a lot more about Frank than it seems on the surface, and so I will take the contrarian view and say that an episode of Frank alone could be very interesting. I think it is important to utilize the facts as we know them…
    * Frank is a husband, father, and son. We’ve heard him talk to his wife, seen her on film. We’ve seen a picture of his mother and, if I’m not mistaken, either heard a letter to or from her.
    * Margaret is not the only affair he’s had – there’s a reference to an affair with his receptionist.
    * He didn’t do well in medical school
    * He belongs to a country club
    * He doesn’t have many friends, either in the 4077th or at home
    * Based on his behavior with Margaret, especially when she got engaged, he is very jealous.

    So with all of that – and I know I’m leaving a lot out – I think a good writer could use the facts as to what we know to construct a good story, one that stays consistent with both the factual and the emotional and yet deepens all. An episode where we have a new understanding – perhaps we learn more about how or why he is a major… what makes him so unhappy (and have an unhappy marriage)… what his life was like before Korea… perhaps he was with a different unit before the 4077th and he wasn’t liked and transferred.

    1. I think one thing we could have gotten some more information on was his kids: he mentions them in passing so few times, and Margaret mentions specifically on one occasion that he has three daughters (his oldest about the same age as Nancy Sue Parker, who was in her early 20s), but we never knew their names, or really anything about them, unlike everyone else’s children (and, in Potter’s case, grandchildren).

  4. Although I think a Frank-only episode would be difficult to execute, one scenario that I think might work would be set in Season 6 or later. Frank would be back in the States and we could learn out about his post-war life. Perhaps he is writing a memoir of his time in Korea (in one of the early season episodes after briefly serving as CO during Henry’s absence, Frank makes a point of keeping all records for his memoir. What should he title the memoir? How about “A Saint in Surgical Garb: My Life in Korea”). Frank could provide a Burns-eye version of his time in Korea. This might work for an episode and could also shed light on if Frank’s marriage survived (doubtful) and whether he remained a surgeon or not. Perhaps general practice would have served him (and his patients) more effectively.

    I don’t see any way that such an episode could have happened though. The network suits would not have wanted to re-visit a former character, I doubt Larry Linville would agree to play the role again, and the tone of the series had changed so much that a Burns episode would have felt very odd.

  5. Frank is driving back alone from R&R in Tokyo. Along the way, he encounters a severely wounded North Korean soldier. We all know that Hawkeye, Trapper, BJ, et al would immediately stop and render aid, but Frank being Frank merely laughs superiorly and motors on without helping. Later back at camp, a young girl and her family wanders through. She is friendly to Frank, and he bonds with her. Later in the episode, he discovers that she is the daughter of the North Korean soldier, who has died from the wounds that Frank could have treated. He breaks down at the end of the episode, berating himself for not helping.

  6. I don’t think the character was ever allowed to develop enough to where he could sustain a whole episode like that. Maybe a B-story in a larger episode, but not a whole episode. Throughout the entire first five seasons, Frank was little more than a foil for the protagonists. So I don’t see how he could stand on his own. Even Margaret and Charles developed more that he did.

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