Recap / M*A*S*H S1 E17: Sometimes You Hear the Bullet

Henry: Look, all I know is what they taught me at command school. There are certain rules about a war, and rule number one is young men die. And rule number two is, doctors can't change rule number one.

The show's first ever Wham Episode.

The episode begins funnily enough with Frank throwing his back out and getting put in traction. During the time of Frank's recovery, Hawkeye is visited by an old friend from home, Tommy Gillis, a journalist who signed up to fight in the war to get a first-hand account of what life is like at the front and just as much of a wisecracker as Hawkeye is. Tommy tells Hawkeye and Trapper of a book he's writing about his experiences, about how in real life you never seem to hear the bullet. When this gets a bit too much, they settle for another round of drinks when more choppers arrive, indicating Hawkeye and Trapper have to go back to work. Tommy heads back to his outfit.

The episode's third plot starts afterward when Hawkeye discovers a young marine named Walter has been posing as his brother Wendell in order to impress a girl back home. Hawkeye promises not to turn him in as long as Walter takes the time to recover from his surgery. Later on, Hawkeye tries to have a date that evening, but complications arise until the announcement of the arrival of more wounded cancels the date out. Hawkeye goes in to perform surgery again, with little knowledge that he will not be coming out of it as the same man.

On 28 January 1973, the face of M*A*S*H was forever changed with these tropes

  • Amusing Injuries: Frank throwing his back out.
  • As You Know: When talking about his book, Tommy explains how in the movies you always hear the bullet when it strikes and kills a character. Well, in Tommy's experience, that never seems to happen at all in real life.
  • Childhood Friends: Hawkeye crosses paths with Tommy Gillis, someone whom he has known since fifth grade.
  • *Crack!* "Oh, My Back!": Frank Burns throws his back out while dancing with Margaret in her tent.
  • Deadpan Snarker:
    • Hawkeye and Nancy Griffin have a small trade of the romantic sort when Trapper calls the former's name.
      Hawkeye: Are you a ventriloquist?
      Nancy: Mm-mm. It's your roomie.
    • It continues on when Hawkeye responds to Trapper's interruption.
      Hawkeye: I thought you were shooting craps with the chaplain.
      Trapper: Frank had an accident.
      Hawkeye: Give him a mop and tell him to be more careful.
      Trapper: C'mon, give me a hand. I'm serious.
      Hawkeye: [to Nancy] I hate it when he's serious.
    • Frank asks Hawkeye what he's doing in the post-op ward.
      Hawkeye: Well, I have a stethoscope fetish. It's the only place I can wear one without attracting attention.
  • Department of Redundancy Department: Henry, after being asked by Hawkeye if he was to go through with Frank's medal application.
    Henry: Pierce, that's a decision I'll decide when I decide and make my, uh, decision, and that will, uh, decide.
  • Double Take: Henry awards Frank his medal.
    Henry: Frank, here is your Purple Earring.
    [Frank and Margaret give Flat "What." expressions]
    Henry: Earring? What the...
  • Good Old Fisticuffs: Two patients have a fight in the post-op.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: Hawkeye's second response after hearing about a young soldier's death from Tommy. See the Visible Silence entry below for the first.
  • Lampshade Hanging: Hawkeye's reply to Margaret's cover story on what happened to Frank.
    Hawkeye: And were you directing traffic at the time of the incident?
  • Man Hug: Hawkeye and Tommy share one before Hawkeye has to report for surgery and Tommy has to get back to his unit.
  • Manly Tears: Hawkeye is absolutely heartbroken to lose a friend in such a violent manner. Admitting it out loud only leads him to feel more guilty as he has never cried for any of the other patients he lost.
  • Noodle Incident: Hawkeye and Tommy recount to Trapper about the times they had together when they were kids.
  • One Steve Limit: Averted in this episode; while no one knew it at the time, there were at least two young men with the first name of Walter at the 4077.
  • Plot Threads: This episode is notable for having three ongoing plots.
  • Reality Ensues: Frank throws his back out while dancing with Margaret. While it is treated hilariously, it is also treated realistically.
  • Retroactive Recognition: Ron Howard, only a short time away from fame.
  • Rule #1: Invoked by Henry in the page quote above.
  • Running Gag: This is the first time Frank Burns puts in an application for a Purple Heart medal.
  • This Is Unforgivable!: Walter blasts Hawkeye for ratting him out. After losing Tommy,Hawkeye can only smile and talk back with a well-meaning snark.
    Walter: I'm not gonna forgive you for this! Not for the rest of my life!
    Hawkeye: Let's hope it's a long and healthy hate.
  • Title Drop: During the episode's most tragic moment.
  • Twisting the Words: Margaret suggests that Frank's injury of "tripped in the mud on the way to the shower" can be worded as "an injury sustained at a frontline unit". As usual, Hawkeye snarks back.
    Hawkeye: On that basis, we should be handing out awards for social diseases.
  • Visible Silence: The Swamp is quiet after Tommy tells Hawkeye and Trapper about the loss of one of his war buddies.
  • We Are Not Going Through That Again: Hawkeye turns Walter over to Major Houlihan in order to save his life.
  • Wham Shot: Towards the end of the episode, Hawkeye is called to switch over to a newly arrived patient rated with an emergency priority. It's Tommy.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Hawkeye gives himself one when he realises he's never shed tears for any of the patients he's watched die until this point.
  • You Are Better Than You Think You Are: Hawkeye tries telling this to Wendell/Walter.