Sometimes to hear me talk, you’d think that Star Trek is the only TV franchise I watch. Which, is not really the case. While Trek is certainly one of my favorites and one of the things that has had an enormous effect on my development, it is far from the only one. Other Treks I Have Taken, will be a recurring series within Deep Treks talking about those shows that have also had a significant impact on my life, and how they compare and contrast to Trek.
The first one is about a show that ran for eleven seasons and in its heyday had a following every bit as rabid as the one that Star Trek has enjoyed. That show is M.A.S.H.
For Those Who Have Never Seen It
MASH is set during the Korean War at a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital near the front lines. It is based on a book and movie of the same name, but quickly came to deviate from both. While the show tended much more towards the comedic and towards traditional episode structure in the beginning, it always blended wry, sarcastic, dark humor with brooding drama. As time went on it became even more dark and nuanced with many episodes having a “day in the life” kind of feel. The action while plot driven in the first few seasons transitioned to being much more character driven as time went on.
Some of the main characters included:
Benjamin “Hawkeye” Pierce: The conscience of the show. A man who is almost as dedicated doctor as he is a hedonist. While compassionate to a fault, Hawkeye is not without his flaws most of which he prefers to view as part of his charm.
Colonel Henry Blake: Colonel Blake, is the living embodiment of The Peter Principle. A man who is comfortable in the operating room, but a bungler when he tries to run the 4077th MASH.
Corporal Walter “Radar” O’Reilly: Blake’s company clerk. The fact that Blake hasn’t been courtmartialed for gross incompetence is due almost entirely to the efficiency with which Radar manages the affairs of the camp. His nickname comes from his eerie presience and extremely sensitive hearing.
Major Frank Burns: My mother taught me that if you can’t say nice about someone don’t say anything at all.
Seriously though Frank is churlish, childish, and incompetent. Sadly his characterization is so one note that it is not until his departure from the show that it is able to really soar to the heights it is capable of.
Major Margaret “Hot Lips” Houlihan: In the beginning Margaret is portrayed quite frankly as a shrew. While more than competent at her job, the insinuation is that her “easy” camaraderie with men of greater rank has as much to do with her rise through the ranks as any skills she may have. Later on the character is redeemed and given a much stronger and more nuanced presentation.
“Trapper” John McIntyre: The “Ethel” to Hawkeye’s “Lucy”. “Trap” is a bit more dark and cynical than Hawkeye, which is really saying something.
Father Francis Mulcahy: The camp chaplain, Father Mulcahy is a good and gentle man who is determined to do more than simply sit on his hands and pray.
In later seasons three new characters are added for various reasons.
Colonel Sherman Potter: A career soldier, he lied about his age to enlist in the cavalry in World War One. He is as adept at dealing with Army bureaucracy as he in the operating room.
B.J. Hunnicut: Hawkeye’s new tent-mate after Trapper John is sent home. While he is often keen to play Tonto to Hawkeye’s Lone Ranger, he is a much more positive person and not afraid to speak up when his views are at odds with Hawkeye’s.
Major Charles Emerson Winchester the Third: Charles is one of the most gifted doctors of his generation. A fact that he is happy to share with anyone who will sit still to listen. While at times he can be obnoxious and condescending he does actually care about his patients, unlike Major Burns whom he replaces.
So It’s Like Star Trek How?
Much like Trek at its best MASH is a show that believes that all people deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. Also it believes that war is one of the stupidest ways to solve problems ever invented by the human race. Many of Hawkeye’s rants about right and wrong would remind one of the speeches Kirk is famous for, and much of Hawkeye’s sly sarcastic comments would sound fairly apropos coming out of McCoy’s mouth.
Unfortunately MASH is like Trek in another way, in that it has to be understood as a product of its time. As a result some of the ways that it treats women characters and persons of color can come off as shockingly unenlightened even making allowances for it being set in the ’50’s. One of the best examples of the worst of MASH has to do with a rotating cast of nurses. While there are a few who are developed into fairly rich characters for second and third tier supporting characters, there are a great many times that a generic “Nurse” character is used called either Nurse Able or Nurse Baker, and usually played by a different actress. Male characters no matter how low ranked or briefly seen are always given unique names, but not the Ables and Bakers, giving the message that the show sees women characters as interchangeable. Not a terribly progressive message and something that a show even in the ’70’s should have realized and put a stop to.
Some Key Differences Between MASH And Trek
Trek in all its incarnations had a tendency to eventually wrap things up in a neat little package with a bow on it. Even DS9 ended much more cleanly than one might have expected. MASH on the other hand tended to have episodes end with one or more of the plots during the episode either not fully resolved, or in some cases, not resolved at all.
To give one example, in an episode a recurring character Dr. Sidney Freedman, a psychiatrist is dealing with the rage of a wounded soldier that he had helped to recover mentally enough to return to the front. By the time the episode ends the character leaves the hospital still angry and hating Sidney. There is no sudden moment of rapprochement, no happy hug at the end. Just an angry young man, and a sad man who despite having done his best to do his duty as both a doctor and a member of the army is left feeling shaken to his core.
Which Trek Is MASH Most Like?
In many ways because of the time period when it was made, MASH is very like The Original Series. But when really the Trek that MASH is the most like in my opinion is Deep Space Nine. Starting with the fact that neither the Niners nor the MASHers can just pull up stakes and move on, and ending with the fact that both shows revel in the messiness and moral ambiguity that is part of life in complicated and difficult situations.
Which Trek Is MASH Least Like?
That would have to be The Next Generation. With TNG’s sometimes blind optimism in the perfectibility of humanity and its almost total lack of meaningful interpersonal conflict among the characters I don’t think that either cast of characters would find they have much in common.
Does Trek Even Know MASH Exists?
Well why don’t you ask Keith DeCandido that question? He has gone on record on more than one occasion talking about the fact that MASH was part of the inspiration and influence for his Star Trek: SCE series, and the similarities for anyone who is a fan of MASH are obvious, from the firm but caring veteran officer in command of the ship Captain Gold, to the talented but obnoxious Mor glasch Tev, who comes aboard after a major shake up in the series.
How Did MASH Change You?
MASH left me with the message that just because someone is in authority doesn’t mean they are worthy of respect. Stupidity is stupidity and simply outranking you doesn’t make someone not stupid. I also learned that war is one of the most useless ways to accomplish pretty much anything ever invented. Unless your goal is get large numbers of people killed for no good reason, in which case it’s pretty fucking effective.
Ultimately if you like well written television MASH is well worth your time. Almost the entire series, except for the finale can be found on Netflix streaming.
Roy was drafted into Trek and MASH fandom and is currently slogging through rewatches of both looking forward to the day that he has enough points to be rotated back stateside and can return to a quiet life of watching episodes of Gilligan’s Island and The Brady Bunch.
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