Fridge: M*A*S*H

Fridge Brilliance
  • The show's exterior shots at least attempted to replicate Korea's mountainous terrain but the vegetation is quite sparse compared to the lush greenness that Korea is known for. This is actually perfect for the setting. Korean War veterans will tell you that so many munitions were spent on the frontline that the terrain was blown bare of any plants and trees and that both sides would intentionally target anything left standing so that neither would have any cover in an advance. It took decades before the trees fully grew back and veterans visiting decades later will marvel at how dramatically Korea's natural terrain (not to mention the urban areas) has changed.
  • Hawkeye always referred to Colonel Potter by his rank or his last name ("Colonel, I need some help here" or "Ah, Colonel Potter, you're just in time for Happy Hour"), while he tended to call Lt. Col. Henry Blake by his given name. At first, I thought it was primarily because Hawkeye and Blake were more friends than officers. Then it hit - Hawkeye also had far more respect for Potter than he had for Blake (probably because Potter didn't put up with much from Hawkeye). The only time Hawkeye called Potter by his given name was when he was going to ask Potter to stay in Korea... and it came out like he was asking a loved one not to leave. I have no doubt that Hawkeye loved Henry Blake, but he respected Potter - and using Potter's rank was his way of showing it.
    • It's not all one-way, either. Potter actually thought of himself as a Colonel first, a doctor second. He'd have told Hawkeye off if he'd gotten too casual with him. Blake was a reluctant commander who preferred not to be reminded of his rank or administrative duties when among his medical colleagues: doctor first, Colonel second (or third, if "drinking buddy" was also applicable).
    • And this dynamic is inverted, naturally, with Frank Burns. Hawkeye et al. clearly didn't routinely address him by his first name from a sense of chummy camaraderie.
      • On that note, they typically call Winchester "Charles" as both a rejection of military protocol and as a way of acknowledging that they view him as an equal. Ironically, Winchester likely takes that as an insult, since his Blue Blood makes him think he's superior to them. Still, he never objects to this (but don't call him "Charlie" or "Chuck").
  • All the characters who disappear without explanation were in a frontline unit in a war zone, with a mine field nearby. In fact, one nurse near the end of the series dies after stepping on a mine while on a walk. These characters could have died, and it was too depressing for the main characters to mention close friends and colleagues dying. The nurse late in the series had only been there about a month, and no one had gotten to know her, and Henry dying was so much of a shock that they couldn't help but think of it.
    • A less depressing alternative is that they were either transferred to another unit or managed to get discharged and sent home. Since the nurses had the highest attrition rate in the show's run, a reasonable theory would be that some got pregnant from the large amount of sex being had at the 4077, while others were able to simply get enough points to be discharged.
      • This explanation might be an excellent case of fridge logic. Under the points system, the Army had a lot of trouble retaining experienced officers because they were naturally the ones who accumulated the most rotation points. This was especially true of Medical Corps officers, and the number of points a nurse needed to be discharged was significantly lower than a surgeon needed.
      • The Points system was never available to doctors, and all medical personnel starting December 1, 1945. By Korea, Points were long gone. The real reason it was difficult to retain officers was that their requirement - 80 - was lower than the enlisted - 85 - and was lowered further after VJ Day. This is partly why it was discontinued.
      • Or, they were disciplined for adultery and/or fraternization (a serious - and strictly enforced - offense, then and today, punishable by the UCMJ under Article 134), and were dishonorably discharged.
      • Since Hawkeye makes reference to an increase in points in one episode, MASH seems to take place in a universe where the point system was maintained for draftees, despite being discontinued in Real Life. The other ideas all seem to hold water.
      • A discarded early plotline had Hawkeye impregnating two nurses and trying to avoid marrying either one.
    • Even leaving aside points, it's Fridge Brilliance because it's the military, and people come and go for lots of reasons, and it's usually nothing to make a big deal of like Henry's going home.
    • Rewatching the early seasons, there are a lot of nurses that cycle through the camp on short stays (usually long enough for Hawkeye to attempt to bed them, then leave). Aside from that, many nurses' request transfers after a short time (this was back before Margaret's famous "cup of coffee" speech when she routinely treated the nurses like they were nothing to her, coupled with Frank's infamous mistreatment of the nurses [he once put a nurse on report for giving him the instrument he had requested]). Henry even complains that one batch of transfer requests had three nurses simultaneously requesting to leave.
  • Edward Winter, known for portraying Colonel Samuel Flagg, first appeared as a Captain Halloran, an officer with the CID in the episode Deal Me Out, where he played poker with Sidney Freedman. When Colonel Flagg later met Sidney Freedman in the episode "Quo Vadis, Captain Chandler" he remarked that they once played poker together.
    • Particularly good, as when he first appears as Colonel Flagg, a G2 officer shows up investigating him and tells Hawkeye and Trapper John that Flagg had previously infiltrated the CID.
      • And now I note the brilliance of the character's name - Samuel Flagg, as in Uncle Sam.
  • In the episode "Margaret's Engagement", Houlihan compares her new fiance to Frank Burns thusly, and I didn't catch the Getting Crap Past the Radar of that last example until several years later:
    Margaret: "I'll always have a soft spot for a real patriot. But when I can have Adonis, why bother with Pinocchio? When I can have hewn oak, why do I need stucco? When I can have knockwurst, why settle for a..."
    Hawkeye: "...a cocktail frank?"
  • Margaret mentions her father was dead, yet he shows up alive and well later on in the series. Maybe she meant he was dead to her in the metaphorical sense, since their relationship was rather distant when he shows up.
    • Eh, YMMV. He was distant, but she showed nothing but affection for him. She always speaks of him fondly, throughout the series.
  • Why did Trapper and BJ get discharged before Hawkeye? The MASH universe maintains the points system used in World War II (in Real Life this system was discontinued long before the Korean War). Under that system, married men received extra points from the get-go (and men with children got even more) so as to allow them to return to their families sooner while still fulfilling their draft obligations. Also, BJ was shown to have gotten at least one medal during his time at the 4077. Awards were often worth discharge points, especially one as prestigious as the one that BJ got.
  • Frank was right about Donald. Not in a 100% specific sense, but he did tell Margaret that Donald might not be on the level. Sure enough, look at the end result of that marriage...
    • He wasn't the only one. When Margaret shows Potter a picture of him, he asks who the girl in the picture is.
    Margaret: I think she's his cousin.
    Potter: Huh, close family.
  • When BJ strays, he nearly writes his wife and confesses until Hawkeye talks him into simply acknowledging his mistake and not letting it harm his wife. Why does Hawkeye get so vehement in the process? Because Hawkeye has seen the damage that hurting your significant other can cause, as we find out that his long-term girlfriend (whom he acknowledged as the only woman he ever really loved) left him because he was so involved with his work.
  • The episode "Comrades In Arms (Part I)" opens with Hawkeye and B.J. singing opera (badly), which leads to this exchange:
    Charles: Do you realize you are both singing entirely different operas and they are both out of tune?
    Hawkeye: Well, don't blame me. I didn't write this stuff.
    • Here's the Brilliance - the screen credit less than fifteen seconds prior was Written By Alan Alda. So he did write it!
  • In "Bless You Hawkeye," Potter's idea that Hawkeye's illness is psychological seems like a strange intuitive leap, until you consider two things. One, Potter been a doctor a long time, and he might have seen something like it happen before. Two, there's Hawkeye's sudden conviction that he was going to die. His symptoms were serious, but not so bad that he should think he was dying. And sure enough, it goes back to a childhood trauma in which he almost died. So him saying he was going to die was a symptom.
  • In his second appearance, Klinger goes to kill Frank with a grenade until Father Mulcahy talks him out of it. In a later episode, after Klinger steals the coveted long johns that were really Hawkeye's but were in Margaret's possession, he confesses the theft to Mulcahy and hands them over without taking time to wear them. No doubt Mulcahy had earned Klinger's trust from the previous grenade situation.

Fridge Horror
  • In "The Novocaine Mutiny", Frank says that he's aware that the hearing he brought against Hawkeye will result in Hawkeye's death "or worse", which is followed by a joke about wanting virginity. So Frank, who has entries in Unintentionally Sympathetic, was willing to see Hawkeye raped? Huh.
    • It was BJ and Hawkeye that were making the rape joke:
    Frank: I understand okay. Death...or worse.
    Hawkeye (to B.J.): Besides my life, Frank wants my virginity.
    B.J.: We all do.
    Hawkeye: If only I'd known.
    • On the other hand, knowing how gung-ho Frank is, he might just mean a dishonorable discharge, which to him would be a Fate Worse Than Death.
      • Whatever he meant by "or worse", he certainly wasn't bothered by the idea of having Hawkeye hanged to death either.
  • Sitting between Fridge Horror and Fridge Brilliance; remembering events like "The Novocaine Mutiny" may be why, in season 5's "The Colonel's Horse", Hawkeye suggests that Colonel Potter should have Frank, who has recently been even worse than usual due to Margaret's engagement, "stood up and shot."
  • Whenever Hawkeye replaces Frank's gun with a toy or a gun shaped lighter, he immediately pulls the trigger when unholstering it, thinking it is a real gun. We all know Frank failed gun safety and Rule of Funny notwithstanding, he's pointing it at someone every time. In Five O'Clock Charlie, when he 'arrests' Henry and Pierce for sabotaging his AA gun, he points the toy popgun at Trapper and pulls the trigger, if only done for the 'bang' flag to pop out. When he builds a small sandbag bunker in the Swamp and is woken up in the middle of the night, he points the lighter in Hawkeye and BJ's direction. Again, this was done so the lighter would light, but still. In either time, had he had a real gun and done that, he would have shot Pierce in the face
    • In fairness, a real loaded pistol is heavier than a lighter/toy gun. It's possible that Burns pulled the trigger after realizing he'd been pranked. Then again, this is Frank we're talking about....
      • When Margaret went missing (she actually helped a Korean mother give birth and Klinger didn't tell anyone), Burns shoots Hunnicutt in the leg while trying to lower the hammer of his pistol (even though the gun couldn't have been loaded since he doesn't rack the slide after inserting a magazine in an empty pistol). Another instance is his cleaning an unstripped and potentially loaded weapon.
      • And then there's the time (in "Love and Marriage") he accidentally shoots out the light while the others are playing poker. They yell at him to stop waving it around, and he smugly dismisses their concerns right before setting it off. And in "The Gun," he steals a wounded colonel's gun, and while trying to return it, shoots himself. He's clearly a menace who should never ever be allowed to handle a gun, so it's not hard to imagine that he would have pulled the trigger those other times if the toys had been real guns.
  • In the pilot, while trying to think of ways to raise money for Ho Jon's tuition at Hawkeye's alma mater, Hawkeye suggests selling Spearchucker Jones. Spearchucker was the only black doctor. He then disappears five episodes later with no explanation. So, did Hawkeye really sell Spearchucker into slavery?
    • In reality, it was a double-dose of research failure. They cast the role of Spearchucker based on the character from the movie, then were informed that there were no black surgeons in Korea. After cutting the role from the series, they were informed that there actually were a few black surgeons in Korea.
  • Hawkeye and Trapper John accidentally caused Henry's death by convincing him to return to command of the 4077th. Had they not done so, he would have completed his military service in Tokyo and never been on the plane he died in.
    • A later episode has Hawkeye point out that Henry is getting arthritis due to his age - a medical discharge for Henry, his ticket out - but Henry objects, saying he could do more good at the 4077th. It's questionable whether he would have been discharged at his post in Tokyo, but had he taken Hawkeye's advice there, he would have been home long before then.
  • Hawkeye probably caused Wendell to be sent to prison. Wendell confessed to identity theft - he stole his brother's identification to enlist and Hawkeye reveals this to the MPs and has Wendell put under guard. Hawkeye then gives him the Purple Heart stolen from Frank, putting Wendell in possession of stolen property that Frank and Margret would certainly report, worsening Wendell's situation as he would also have no explanation as to why he has a Purple Heart when his record would show he was hospitalised for appendicitis, an ineligible non-combat caused wound.

Fridge Logic
  • If one of the camp's four doctors was hopelessly incompetent, how did they have a 97% survival rate?
    • I believe Hawkeye would say that Frank is responsible for the other 3%.
      • But given the volume of patients they regularly had, and only had four doctors, they could not have such a high success rate if one of those doctors, who shared in about 25% of the load, was totally incompetent, and killed more patients than he saved.
      • Not all the doctors perform surgery all the time. One has to man triage, for example.
      • But not every time. Throughout Frank's stay, all four doctors are shown in the OR at once the majority of the time, with Frank rarely doing triage.
      • Not all wartime injuries are life-threatening. They probably had a lot of lesser injuries and illnesses to treat, that would account for most of that 97%; we just don't see these less-serious cases very often because they're less dramatic than the life-or-death ones.
      • Henry, in an early episode, tells Frank that Pierce is a better surgeon "when the heat is on." Most likely, Frank is a qualified surgeon in his own right (before he got Flanderized, at least) but he can't keep his cool when he has to hurry, like when they are overwhelmed with patients. As long as he can take his time and go by the book, Frank will have a successful operation, but drops the ball when having to do 'meatball surgery'.
      • In at least one episode, someone states that Frank handles the simpler operations, so he gets less chances to screw up.
    • He may be incompetent but not lethally so. So he can perform the needed work but not to the standard of the others, so he may leave excessive scarring, maybe nick an organ or mess something up while working ina way that negatively impacts the patient in a way that doesn't kill them.
      • Not to mention that we rarely hear about what happens to the casualties once they've left the camp, but there's no reason that the doctors couldn't have gotten word from the 121st Evac that one of their patients didn't make it. Who's to say that several of Frank's patients don't croak at the evac hospital?
    • The series is never entirely clear on whether Frank is wasting his true talent as a butcher or if he is fairly competent surgeon, though still nowhere near as good as the others, and they are just making fun of that fact. We really only have their word for Frank being terrible. He easily gets stressed and snaps at the nurses when he gets flustered and asks for the wrong instrument. He prioritizes American soldiers over all others, no matter the severity of the injuries, due to a strict interpretation of guidelines and on at least one occasion he nearly cut out the last kidney of a patient because he didn't look at the X-ray. But the camp still has a very high survival-rate, so he must at least be keeping his patients alive.
      • If we take the book as canon, Frank chose not to do a surgical residency, going straight into private practice with his father, who wasn't a qualified surgeon either, because he wanted to start raking in the money right away. Residency is an extremely important learning experience for surgeons, and I sure wouldn't let anyone perform surgery on me who skipped that step. This backstory is hinted at in "Chief Surgeon Who?" as well.
      • There are also references to Frank being just plain careless, quite apart from his skill level. For example, he removes part of a man's large intestine without exteriorizing it, simply to save time. Later in the episode, it comes up that a previous patient of his got peritonitis after he used the same shortcut. He shows no remorse. The perceived lack of skill may be a lack of interest in his patients' well-being.
    • Their success is probably due as much to a superior nursing and support staff, as to the surgeons.
  • One story has Potter and Klinger bartering with a Canadian unit for curare, an anesthetic banned by US officials. The unit they dealt with was the Princess Patricia's Light Infantry, an Alberta regiment. So what was an infantry regiment doing with surgical anesthetic? There were two Canadian medical units in Korea at the time, the No. 25 Canadian Field Ambulance and No. 37 Field Ambulance, yet the writers chose the most prolific Canadian infantry regiment.
    • They probably just wanted to use a unit name that Americans might recognize, but it also suggests a possible bit of fridge horror: since in the real world, curare was a weapon long before it was a medicine, and an infantry regiment would have no medical reason to keep a supply of a powerful paralytic, were the Canadian Forces involved in secret chemical warfare?
      • The episode (as do many others others) illustrates that anything of value could be put on the trading block between units. It's entirely plausible that the Canadian unit had taken in the curare in a previous trade, knowing it had high value to a medical unit.
      • The irony being that Charles almost kills a patient with curare early on, but is the first to tout its effectiveness in trained hands like theirs.
      • Which brings on even more Fridge Logic, since Charles would have likely studied everything he could about curare so he could avoid that mistake again in the future, meaning he'd be likely to know more about it than the others.
      • While Charles did mishandle the curare, the error was mistaking it for morphine when he was trying to relieve severe pain in a post-surgical patient rather than in how he used it for its intended purpose. (While he erred in not properly verifying the label of the drug he was about to administer, someone also made an equally serious error in putting a vial of a drug only useful in surgery in the ready drugs tray of the post-op ward. Such a drug should only be out for use in pre-op or the OR itself.)
      • That raises the question of why it was there to be misplaced in the first place. The US Army never approved its use to begin with (which makes the comment in the other episode that high command banned its use inaccurate).
      • It seemed out of character for Charles to not look at the label first, given the extremely high standards to which he holds himself. Sure, in meatball surgery there might not be time and you'd have to trust that the nurse or tech was giving you the right thing, but this was post-op. If he couldn't see, he'd take the bottle over to the light. His reaction to having screwed up was also more Frank-like. Since this was an early Charles episode, maybe they weren't sure of his character, so they had him do a Frank-like thing.
  • How was the jeweler in "Patient 4077" able to reproduce Margaret's ring, down to the size and the font and type of the engraving, that she only notices it's a fake because it says "Over Hill Over Dale, Our Love Will Ever Fail", if he's never seen it?
    • It was implied that Donald had bought her a cheap ring of the same design to give to her, and a ring size is easy enough to find out about a person (especially if Margaret had filed any sort of lost property paperwork). As for the font, it was probably wrong as well, given how quickly her eye was drawn to the inscription after Klinger gave the fake to her. A change in font, especially on a ring you didn't have very long, can be written off as a trick of memory, but the dropped letter was the giveaway.
    • Possibly Penobscott, fake romantic that he is, used a common, unoriginal font. Conceivably, the jeweler could have chosen the same one by coincidence.
      • The jeweler recognized Penobscot's line as cheesy garbage (recall that he comments "Pee-yew"). It's not all that far-fetched to think he'd then deduce a cheap "meh, whatever" font had been used for the real ring and choose that same font for the fake.
  • Klinger is a deserter. Despite Potter not swearing him in, Klinger did sign a reenlistment contract, and the Army isn't likely to let someone out of it because they signed in the heat of the moment. By staying in Korea, and (assuming After MASH was a thing) later returning to Toledo, he should have been arrested on sight.
    • Couldn't Potter—or even Klinger, himself—simply have "misplaced" the document before it was sent up the line to I-Corps?
    • Not likely. The recruiter had the paperwork with him when he left, so odds are that it was processed even before Klinger's "Corporal Godiva" routine.
    • The episode gives us to understand that the reenlistment wasn't final unless and until Klinger was sworn in, which he wasn't. I don't know if this reflects real life, but that's how it's presented in the show.
    • The contract may have not been regarded as valid, because it's quite clear that Klinger was drunk when he signed it. That plus Potter seeming to know half the US military above the rank of Major, probably got it thrown out without much trouble. If nothing else, Klinger knows clerks at I-Corps who could disappear it.
  • Hawkeye's gray hair in the later seasons is actually a lot more realistic than people may like to think. Hawkeye's hair remains jet black in the first three seasons, then starts to slowly, yet progressively gray more and more with each passing season, till right around Season Eight, where's definitely got a salt and pepper look to it. Now, ignoring the fact that the series ran three times as long as the actual Korean War, let's think of this: war takes a toll on people, not just mentally and emotionally, but physically as well. Three miles from the front, on call almost 24 hours a day, putting up with occasional deluges, mortar fires, and other such catastrophes, it was wearing down on him... not to mention, Hawkeye even lampshaded this idea with his father over his mistaken death certificate: "He just rattles around in that empty house all by himself, sells my things to the Salvation Army, and ages a couple of years for every day he thinks I'm dead." The same could be applied to others as well: B.J. came to Korea with brown hair that was a dirty blonde by the end, Father Mulcahy had bright red hair that too also got blonder and blonder, and Margaret was almost platinum by the end. The war took a physical toll on them as well.
    • William Christopher even pointed this out in a recent interview on how he knew it was time for the series to end: "My hair was turning gray."
  • As far as the series' timeline goes, the first season has to take place in less than nine months, because in the season finale, Henry receives word from home that his wife is about to give birth to another child, to which even Radar remarks, "At least you were home for the important part."
  • In "The Joker is Wild," a big deal is made at the end of how Hawkeye was the only one who got pranked, as the whole staff was in on it. Except the bet was that BJ could prank everyone on the staff, not just Hawkeye. BJ didn't actually prank any of them because they were in on it and faked the entire thing. By their own admission, no actual pranks took place, not even the others allowing themselves to be pranked. So why does everyone say Hawkeye lost the bet?
  • The episode "Rainbow Bridge". The plot is that the 4077th is treating a number of Chinese prisoners, and is somehow contacted by a Chinese field hospital who has in its care some UN troops. The Chinese, not capable of treating the UN troops up to their level of care, want to arrange a prisoner swap at the titular bridge, on the condition that Hawkeye, Trapper, Radar and Frank come unarmed to the swap. When they arrive, they are confronted by numerous Chinese guards carrying submachine guns. When it's revealed that Frank snuck a handgun (a tiny derringer that looks like it could have come out of a box of Cracker Jack, really) the commanding Chinese doctor launches into an anvilicious tirade about US actions ("Is it not enough that your planes harass us day and night? It makes it impossible for me to treat my own people. We make a civilized gesture, and you respond by coming here with a gun ready to shoot us down.") and is about ready to call off the exchange. At which point, Hawkeye browbeats Frank into surrendering the gun and makes an impassioned plea for the exchange to go on as planned. The intended Aesop seems to be "take any proffered olive branch during a war, especially if it saves lives", but it falls apart when you consider the Chinese were flagrantly violating the very conditions they demanded of Hawkeye et. al. by bringing armed men to the rendezvous point. Granted, there was no explicit condition prohibiting this, but it's at least a Double Standard. Not to mention, the Chinese doctor complaining about trying to treat people while being bombed? If you watch the show, you'll see the 4077th in this exact situation frequently. As the Chinese could have been laying a trap and taken Hawkeye and the others prisoner or gunned them down with impunity, it seems more likely that the Accidental Aesop was "You know what? This once, in retrospect, Frank was probably right."