Discuss: Which Main Character Had the Most Unfulfilled Potential?


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: Which main character had the most unfulfilled potential?

A Character Who Left? A Character Who Stayed?

Last week’s discussion topic asked readers which character that departed the 4077th they missed the most. Thinking about Trapper and Henry and Frank (and to a lesser extent Radar) got me thinking about what could’ve happened to these characters had they stuck around. We only got three seasons with Trapper and Henry, the fewest of any characters. Frank was around for five seasons and Radar for the better part of seven seasons.

So, today we’re discussing which main character had the most unfulfilled potential. It doesn’t have to be one of the four characters who left the 4077th. It could be anyone, even Hawkeye. But it does have to be a main character (so I can reuse this topic for supporting characters in the future).

Obviously, many fans will immediately point to Trapper and Henry because, as I mentioned, they were only on M*A*S*H for three seasons. These two characters had the least amount of time to evolve and change. (Back in May, we discussed which character grew the most on M*A*S*H. Nobody said Trapper or Henry.)

For me, it has to be Trapper. Maybe that’s because I’m such a fan of Wayne Rogers or because the character had so few opportunities to stand out. That’s not to say Henry was a well-rounded character by the end of Season 3 but he was definitely better defined than Trapper.

Hit the comments with your thoughts.

6 Replies to “Discuss: Which Main Character Had the Most Unfulfilled Potential?”

  1. Definitely agree on Trapper. While Henry as you pointed out wasn’t super well-rounded either, I feel like we had progressed far enough with him to really see how far his character could go and where he could end up.

    With Trapper though, we don’t really get that. We get glimpses of it with what happens in Radar’s Report, and with Kim, and with him wanting to see his daughters in Mail Call, etc. so we know there is so much more they could do with his character, but all we really get through his entire run is Hawkeye’s funny sidekick.

    Honestly though, despite some major differences between Trapper and BJ, I think in a way BJ is kind of an extension of Trapper, and in some ways we can kind of assume that Trapper would have taken a vaguely similar path. Season 4 BJ for example is definitely very Trapper-ish.

  2. My choice will be quite controversial, but I think that Frank had the most wasted potential. He clearly had to be a competent surgeon in order to be assigned to a M*A*S*H unit. I have a friend who’s mother served as a nurse during the Korean War and she made it VERY clear that these surgeons were the absolute best of the best. In her words, the army first identified the top 1% of all surgeons, and then weeded out the chaff until the top 1% of that group was identified.

    I wish Frank had been given more storylines where he could actually demonstrate his abilities and not just be one step removed from Jack the Ripper. It would have made his character much more three-dimensional to have him be consulted from time to time on surgical issues and demonstrate that he could be just as competent as any of the other surgeons (at least in some areas) In reality, a surgeon as incompetent as Frank was portrayed would never have made the first cut to go to Korea. He was such a fantastic actor, that I believe Larry Linville could have pulled it off with distinction.

    1. Had there been any chance of Frank being anything more than just a punching bag for jokes from Hawkeye and others in the name of comedy, than I would agree with you, but that is just simply not what his role was for.

      It’s really too bad too because as I’ve stated multiple times here, I have a real soft spot for Frank and actually like him as a character. The few glimpses we got of him not being a craphead are great, and it truly makes me happy in the rare scene such as Frank dishing on Margaret being old in the mess tent and having a genuine laugh with BJ and Hawkeye. It’s really too bad we couldn’t have gotten more of that, but at the end of the day, that’s just not what the character was for.

      That being said, writers would easily change that by writing for and expanding the role, but I think Larry saw that it was pretty clear that was not going to happen. Very likely part of the reason for his departure.

    2. I agree with this analysis. Frank was there just to be the butt of Hawkeye’s and Trapper’s jokes. He was a character like Captain Binghampton in McHale’s Navy or Colonel Klink in Hogan’s Heroes–someone who was supposed to be the foil to show brilliant the protagonists are. Except that Penguinphysics makes a valid point–Frank would not be in that position were he not a very competent surgeon. This is a pretty common trope in TV, and I’ve specifically seen it called out on other shows. Once that I can specifically recall is the Star Trek TNG episode Hollow Pursuits (which introduced Reg Barclay). Geordi, Riker, and Wesley are criticizing Barclay to Captain Picard, who counters with, “And yet he’s made the same committment to Starfleet that we all have.” And there are several times in Stargate SG-1 where someone, usually Samantha Carter, will mention that a character wouldn’t be in Stargate Command were they not extremely competent or even brilliant. Specifically, she says this about a young officer being considered for placement on an SG team, and twice about Doctor Felger (who’s admittedly a more comedic character).

      So yes, I’d have liked to see Frank advance beyond being a punching bag or a medical Colonel Klink. He could still have been just as gung-ho and a pinhead (a term we used when I was at Norwich for someone who overly embraced minor military matters), and still been a decent medical man.

  3. It seems easy to try to answer “Trapper” to this question. But, really, he’d be the character who was “most underutilized”, rather than had the “most unfulfilled potential.” Trapper was so underutilized — primarily just there to set up bigger punchlines for Hawkeye or to laugh at Hawkeye’s better comments — that it’s difficult to say what exactly his potential actually was. We may have actually seen close to all that Trapper was capable of in the series.

    So I’ll have to go with the response that was inspired by Thaddeus: Oh, yes, the character with the most unfulfilled potential was definitely, definitely Igor! There was a lot that could’ve been delved into with that character. Yeah, Igor could’ve been pretty interesting if he was written into a lot more scenes and given a lot more dialog. He never disappointed whenever he was given a line. (In “Office” terms, he was sort … somewhat … kind of … in a way … the “Creed” of “M*A*S*H”.)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.