ATTENTION, ALL HANDS! CAUTION: UNMARKED SPOILERS AHEAD!
Although M*A*S*H originally started off as a comedy, it sought to remind the viewers that War Is Hell and affected everybody involved in ways that people wouldn't dare think of. From the wounded and dying soldiers having to fight to the physical and mental strains placed on the people trying to save both soldiers and civilians to the problems created by the long distances between their loved ones, it is a shocking reminder of just how horribly people can be affected by the actions and decisions of those who will never have to look them in the eye.
- The letter written by the wife of the titular "Cowboy" wherein she pleads for his forgiveness for having been tempted to cheat on him, even though she ultimately didn't. Cowboy's Sanity Slippage while waiting for said letter and the look of utter relief on his face, including some Manly Tears, also count.
- Its five seconds, but especially in the context of Hawkeyes trauma of Never Got to Say Goodbye and Trappers repression, Dear Dad has Hawkeye have to go help a pinned down infantry corporal and he tells Trapper in case I dont see you Merry Christmas. Trapper reassures that just tell him when he comes back, but his face falls worried when Hawkeye goes.
- Henry's speech to Hawkeye in "Sometimes You Hear the Bullet". It becomes infinitely harder to stomach when you learn of Henry's eventual fate...Henry: Pierce, is there anything I can do to help?Hawkeye: It's the first time I cried since I came to this crummy place. I don't understand that.Henry: Well, Gillis was your friend. I mean, it's only natural that you'd, uh, you know.Hawkeye: Henry, I know why I'm crying now. Tommy was my friend, and I watched him die, and I'm crying. I've watched guys die almost every day. Why didn't I ever cry for them?Henry: Because you're a doctor.Hawkeye: What the hell does that mean?Henry: I don't know. If I had the answer, I'd be at the Mayo Clinic. Does this place look like the Mayo Clinic? Look, all I know is what they taught me at command school: There are certain rules about a war. And Rule #1 is young men die. And rule number two is, doctors can't change rule number one.
- Especially heartbreaking in hindsight is Henry's storyline in "Showtime". It was pretty sad anyway, coupled with a Heartwarming Moment when Radar gives him a Korean child to hold because he can't hold his own, but after "Abyssinia, Henry"? It's an effort just to keep it together.
- "Dr. Pierce and Dr. Hyde":
- Hawkeye's so exhausted, he's telling chopper pilots not to go up anymore because they always bring mangled kids back down with them and he's so ridiculously vulnerable that you just want to hold him and say it will all be okay.
- Late at night while it's raining, Hawkeye heads to Radar to send a telegram to President Truman (to find out who's responsible for the war). In particular, when he sings "I'll Be Home for Christmas", increasingly near tears... and Radar is just stunned.
- Trapper, at the end of the "Kim" episode. A little boy who is believed to be a war orphan is treated at and taken care of by the camp. Trapper begins to bond with the boy and ultimately decides to adopt him. After a major scare where the boy wanders into a minefield and is brought out safely, the boy's mother arrives and is reunited with him, leaving Trapper heartbroken.
- "Dear Dad... Three" sets the stage where any scene when they watch home movies sent to them by their families becomes one, especially that one clip where Blake's wife gets the little neighborhood kids to line up with a sign that says, "Miss you." (Hawkeye: "Henry, if you don't give the command to cry, I will.")
- Another one that's bad on its own but even worse in hindsight is Henry's call to his family in "Henry In Love", where he tells his son that he has to be the man of the house, just until he gets back from Korea. Poor kid...
- "O.R." has an early one for Frank. He's talking with Trapper and mentions that during his childhood no one was allowed to talk at the table, not even hum, without getting a punch in the throat. Trapper's stunned and says that's horrible. Frank then goes on to say that he thinks that's why he became a snitch, it was someone to talk to. He may be an unlikeable guy, but with a childhood like that, it's not surprising he ended up the way he was.
- "There Is Nothing Like a Nurse" - Even Frank's home movie is a tearjerker. The movie is that of his wedding to Louise and it's sad at just how pathetic it looks: there are hardly any guests (and a lot of empty chairs), Frank's boutonniere won't stay in place, he gets a fly strip stuck to his face while cutting the cake, nobody besides him looks happy (and even his smiles seem forced due to how much fail is going into the wedding), and, to top it off, his wife emasculates him by refusing to let him drive the honeymoon car. You may not feel sorry for Frank often, but when you do, you see just how bad his life really is.
- "Abyssinia Henry" ends with one of the most famous tearjerker lines from the show: "I have a message... Lieutenant Colonel... Henry Blake's plane... was shot down... over the Sea of Japan. It spun in... there were no survivors."
- The absolutely poleaxed look on Radar's face when he comes into the room, by itself, is enough to have audiences cringing, mentally pleading for him not to recite the halting line above.
- Particularly shocking as he was on his way home - and more so again when you remember that his son was born while he was in Korea and they never got to see one another.
- That was also a case of Enforced Method Acting, as none of the cast were told of Blake's death until shortly before that scene was filmed. Radar's choked voice as he reads the dispatch isn't an act. There's a double meaning behind the grief. McLean Stevenson (Henry) was something of a father figure for the cast, as well as an advocate for their needs as actors with the studio (which did not always treat the cast as well as it should). In a documentary that aired several years ago, several actors and production staffers told the story of how after Stevenson left the cast, the order came down in the form of a "studio note" to kill the character, so the actor could never come back to the show. The implied message came through to the remaining cast loud and clear. Thus why this moment is the Trope Namer for McLeaned.
- Producer Larry Gelbart tells it slightly differently. When Stevenson wanted to leave, Gelbart said, "Fellow showrunner Gene (Reynolds) and I thought we should use the departure of the character in some meaningful fashion and that MASH was not about everybody having a good time. MASH was not about happy endings." Video here.
- In the same episode, Henry's goodbye hug to Radar: "You behave yourself, or I'm gonna come back here and kick your butt." As a viewer, you're still drying your eyes from that when the final O.R. scene begins. Made all the better when you know that Radar saluting Henry was ad-libbed by Gary Burghoff, whereas Henry embracing Radar was ad-libbed by McLean Stevenson (who later said of that moment, "You can't write emotion").
- While Gelbart and Reynolds defended the decision to ultimately kill Blake, the manner in which it was done deeply upset the cast, especially Stevenson, who was just off stage when his character's death was announced without his prior knowledge. It not only ruined the season's wrap party, but permanently fractured Stevenson's relationship with Gelbart and Reynolds. After Stevenson's death in 1996, they said that they regretted how it was done, and that it was nothing personal, saying "We wish we could say that 'We didn't mean it, Mac.'"
- Other varations on the story suggest that Stevenson did know, and told Burghoff "You'll win an Emmy for that".
- Made even worse when you think about what the reaction might have been at home from Mrs. Blake and his children when they learn that their father/husband was killed while on his way home.
- Anything involving Henry and his family back home is almost unbearable to watch once you've learned the character's ultimate fate. In his last episode, he's in the middle of discussing homecoming plans with his wife when the phone connection is prematurely cut off, a scene that in retrospect is one of the show's saddest moments in its own right.
- In "Welcome to Korea", B.J. gets his first experience with combat medicine, as he, Hawkeye, and Radar meet a platoon just before it takes heavy shelling. Hawkeye turns a soldier face-up to examine him:B.J.: [horrified] He's twelve years old!Hawkeye: [turns soldier back over] He'll never make thirteen.
- In "The Late Captain Pierce", after Hawkeye realizes that his dad has been informed of his "death" and there's a communications blackout so he can't contact him to say it was a paperwork error, he has a breakdown and gives up on everything, going so far as to find a morgue bus and try to desert as a corpse. B.J. tracks him down to convince him to come back, and as they talk the sound of approaching choppers suddenly comes up.Hawkeye: Wounded.B.J.: Klinger says a lot.Hawkeye: I don't care. I really don't. They'll keep coming whether I'm here or not. Trapper went home; they're still coming. Henry got killed and they're still coming. Wherever they come from... they'll never run out.
- This episode also hammers the point home how every other time a character is on the phone with a loved one back home is one when Hawkeye finally gets to tell his dad that yes, he is still alive, and his dad breaks down in tears of joy. Most of the conversation comes across as a very real chat about nothing in particular, and it's still one of the most amazing bits of television ever.
- "Quo Vadis, Captain Chandler", in which the eponymous Captain Chandler has fallen into a trauma-induced belief that he is Jesus Christ. Especially this little scene:Sidney Freedman: Tell me, does God answer all prayers?Chandler: Yes. [through tears] Sometimes the answer is "No."
- Some of what Sidney says to the surgical staff later on about him is almost as bad. We find out that Chandler flew fifty-seven bombing missions, and he finally couldn't take the knowledge of how much death he was causing anymore.Sidney: Finally something inside this kid from Idaho said, "Enough! You're Christ! You're not a killer! The next bomb you drop, you drop on yourself!"
- It's subtle, but think about Sidney's conclusion: "I think with a lot of the right kind of help we'll be able to turn him back into Arnold Chandler. We'll never be able to turn him back into a fighting tool, and it's my professional advice that we don't try." This implies that while they can get him somewhat back to normal, they won't be able to restore him to his original state — a man who could fly fifty-seven bombing missions before his mind broke under the guilt.
- Some of what Sidney says to the surgical staff later on about him is almost as bad. We find out that Chandler flew fifty-seven bombing missions, and he finally couldn't take the knowledge of how much death he was causing anymore.
- "Mail Call... Again" - Radar sobbing after seeing his mother mouth "I love you" on a silent home movie sent to him, then tearfully mouths back, "Mommy".
- Another for Radar, in "Some 38th Parallels": After he alerts B.J. that one patient's IV drip has fallen out, B.J. credits Radar for saving the guy's life. Radar begins to feel the satisfaction of saving someone's life and even begins to befriend and bond with the man, but he ends up dying of his injuries anyway. Radar's still in complete and utter shock up through the end of The Tag. This conversation outside the O.R. sums up whole the situation:Radar: Gee, I hope I don't cry.B.J.: It's no sin, Radar.Radar: When was the last time you felt like crying, sir?B.J.: What time is it?
- Hell, even Frank Burns has a moment. It happens near the end of "Margaret's Engagement" where he loses his mind and everyone (except Margaret) is giving him a break. But then Radar gets Frank's mother on the phone:Frank: Well, nobody likes me here, you know? As usual. I don't want to talk about it. Well, you see I had this friend, and this friend just, um, pretended to like me. You know, the way Dad used to?
- The real kicker? There is no indication that she tries to correct him on this, meaning that even his mother acknowledges that Frank's father only pretended to like him.
- Sidney gets one himself in "Dear Sigmund". Every other time that Sidney is onscreen, he's either working hard and helping someone piece their psyche back together or taking some time off to play poker with the staff of the 4077th, and constantly maintains dry, sardonic composure. But when he tells Hawkeye and B.J. about how amongst a torrent of GIs who had cracked under the pressure, one particular soldier that he thought he'd saved who was hearing voices pushing him towards suicide "listened to the voices," it feels like a punch in the gut to find out that this man was just as vulnerable as the staff of the 4077th.
- Being another "Hawkeye has a breakdown" episode, "Hawk's Nightmare". Especially when he security clings to Radar's teddy bear like a scared child.
- "Margaret's Marriage":
- Another Frank moment comes in his very last episode, when they're all getting drunk at the Bachelor Party: "Stop laughing without me!" He just sounds so pitiful and desperate that you can't help but feel bad for the poor, ferret-faced man.
- His scene at the end of the episode. After Margaret flies off for her honeymoon, he just stands there alone on the chopper pad and quietly says goodbye to her. The only moment in which he was afforded any dignity on the show.Frank: Goodbye, Margaret...
- Frank's off-screen mental breakdown during "Fade In, Fade Out". He continued to get worse after Margaret got married and Potter sent him away for some R&R in the city. He gets himself plastered beyond the limit of his senses and accosts several women, including a brigadier general's wife, because they all look like Margaret. Frank is then taken to a hospital to sober up, where he continues to fall apart and do outlandish things until the army is finally convinced he needs to go home and slaps a Section 8 on him- genuinely obtaining which Klinger has desperately been trying to nail through faking insanity. Fortunately, the last we hear of Frank is a very nice silver lining. Someone felt sorry for him and he managed to land a promotion into Lieutenant Colonel, meaning he now bears the actual rank of a commanding officer and is on par with Henry, something he wanted all along. And after his unit whooped and hollered about his departure, he called them up one last time to rub it into their faces!
- From "War of Nerves," Sidney shows up wounded, having been doing a follow-up on the front lines with a hysterical paralysis case who he had sent back to the front (and was also wounded). The wounded man seems calm around the other doctors, but is utterly furious with Sidney, holding him responsible for sending him back to the front and getting him seriously wounded (sending such cases back is essential to their treatment, so they don't spend the rest of their lives paralyzed for real). As the man's loaded into an ambulance and evacuated, Sidney admits that the man hating him might actually help him move past the trauma, but he can't be sure. He talks about it later with Father Mulcahy, who winds up playing therapist to Sidney.Sidney: When Pierce and Hunnicutt lose one, he's out of his misery. When I lose one, I've lost a mind.Mulcahy: When I lose one, I've lost a soul. I guess it all depends on your point of view.
- The main plot of "The Grim Reaper" involves tension (and eventually a physical confrontation) between Hawkeye and a colonel from headquarters that specializes in predicting casualty rates who takes a little too much enjoyment in his work. When the man turns up as a casualty, he and Hawkeye finally have a reasonable discussion where the man lampshades Hawkeye's tendency to joke under pressure. It winds up showing just how ragged the war is running both of them.Hawkeye: I just spent the last forty-eight hours digging pieces of Hill 403 out of kids whose biggest worry a week ago was how to cover a hickey. Joking about it is the only way of opening my mouth without screaming.
Col. Bloodworth: I know. I spent the last forty-eight hours watching you.
Hawkeye: Wasn't pretty, was it.
Col. Bloodworth: No, it wasn't. That hill back there, and that screaming - now, I'm used to screaming, but not from me. And on the ambulance bus, the kid next to me died. I heard the rattle. Thought I was next. I'll never forget.
Hawkeye: None of us will.
- In "Peace on Us", there is a scene with Margaret and Hawkeye, where she's found out that Donald's run out on her and Hawkeye is pissed because they've changed the point system again. He asks her what she's going to do and she angrily says she'll get a divorce. But then it starts to sink in and she says it a second time while starting to cry.
- Then when Hawkeye tries to comfort her:Margaret: It's my fault. Look at the place I picked to have a marriage.
- Doubled when Hawkeye immediately drops his rant when she starts crying, decides he's had enough, and charges all the way to the peace talks to try and get them to end the war.
- Then when Hawkeye tries to comfort her:
- "Our Finest Hour" has a particularly sad bit for a clip show. At one point, the interviewer asks the group what they'll remember from Korea. While everyone else has some things, like Houlihan remembering the nurses, Mulcahey remembering the orphans, Radar's memory is the day Henry left, with everything that it includes.
- "The Billfold Syndrome" - A soldier came to the 4077th with absolutely no memory of who he was or where he was at all, not even his name. Under hypnosis, it was revealed that he lost it because his younger brother had been killed in action and he felt responsible because he promised his mother he'd look out for him. The hypnosis scene is an all-time weeper. "Oh, Stevie...no, No..."
- Looking at Hawkeye, B.J., and Sidney at that moment when they find out what happened to the medic, you see a moment where they all look at each other in horror. You can tell that they briefly wonder whether making this poor kid remember was the right thing to do.
- "Dear Sis", the season 7 Christmas Episode (and Father Mulcahy's "Letter Episode"). From the Heartwarming ending (and then the truck with the wounded comes in...) from when Winchester saw his childhood winter hat to when everyone is singing "Dona Nobis Pacem", along with moments earlier in the episode of Margaret barely keeping it together in the scene at the colonel's office and Mulcahy crying because he feels so guilty at punching the jackass soldier... one of the show's most emotional episodes.
- "B.J. Papa San" has B.J. so invested in a Korean family, and is constantly helping them so he can have a replacement for Peg and Erin, but they flee the village to escape shelling, and he feels like he's lost both families thanks to the Army.
- "Preventive Medicine" is one of the darker episodes of the show, with B.J. and Hawkeye having a screaming fight over whether or not to perform a medically unnecessary operation to get a reckless colonel off the line. Hawkeye does it, compromising his morals as a surgeon, and then it turns out to be all for nothing. It shows how far the war has driven them that Hawkeye - a man who refused to shoot at the enemy even in his own self-defense - was willing to do that when B.J. warns him that he'll hate himself for the rest of his life if he goes through with it.Hawkeye: I hate me, and I hate you, and I hate this whole life here! And if I can keep that maniac off the line with a simple appendectomy, I'll be able to hate myself with a clear conscience!
- Radar's departure at the end of "Good Bye, Radar", as he has to say his rushed and confused farewells to the others as a load of wounded comes pouring in just as they're planning to get his going-away party underway. In particular, the scene where Hawkeye — who has to go to the O.R. before being able to say anything — glances up while operating, sees Radar peering through the window, shoots him an agonized look, and then fires him a salute.
- Earlier in the episode, Radar is packing away his personal effects when he comes upon a familiar item:Radar: [to Klinger] It's my very own personal-type thermometer. Colonel Blake gave it to me just before he... [falls silent]
- Radar giving Klinger his clipboard.Klinger: [choking up] That did it. I'll make you proud of me.
- Col. Potter choking back tears as he says goodbye.Potter: Not exactly how I wanted to say goodbye, Radar.
Radar: Me neither, sir.
Potter: [voice audibly breaking] Godspeed, son. [They embrace, while the camera focuses on Potter's utterly heartbroken expression]
- Interestingly, Potter's facial expressions and body language in that scene almost perfectly mirror Radar's own reactions when saying goodbye to Col. Blake five seasons earlier, making the scene both a Tear Jerker and a beautifully subtle Continuity Nod.
- In The Tag, Hawkeye, B.J. and Potter return to the Swamp and find Radar's beloved teddy bear lying on Hawkeye's cot — indicating that Radar has left not only the 4077th, but his childhood behind forever. And to reflect the mood, the snippet of the theme that accompanies the usual freeze-frame ending is not cheery and upbeat, but very sad and forlorn.Hawkeye: [quietly] Goodbye, Radar.
- Earlier in the episode, Radar is packing away his personal effects when he comes upon a familiar item:
- In "Period of Adjustment", watching B.J. completely come apart knowing that the first man his little girl called "Daddy" wasn't him. His anguished, sobbing breakdown while talking to Hawkeye hits hard:B.J.: Radar's home, Hawk. I should be glad for him. But I'm not! I'm so torn up with envy, I almost hate him! And I feel the same way about Trapper, and I never even met him! But he built that still with you, and he... and he's home, too!
Hawkeye: You'll go home. One day we'll all go home.
B.J.: I've been gone so long, Hawkeye. A lifetime. Erin's lifetime! Even if I go home tomorrow, I'll never—never—get that back!
- The entire situation in "Life Time." The surgeons have 20 minutes to replace a soldier's damaged aorta before he either dies or becomes paralyzed due to loss of circulation to his spinal cord. Another one on his deathbed can provide it if he passes away on time. The two moments that embody the trope the most are when the buddy of the dying soldier begs to be with him in his final moments and the despair on Hawkeye's face after the procedure and finding out they were 3 1/2 minutes overnote .
Mulcahy: Dear Lord, I've never asked you this before and I don't know what you'll think of me for asking it...but if you're going to take him anyway, please take him quickly so we can save the other one...
- Mulcahy's prayer in that episode is of note, as you can see the pain in his face for what he must ask:
- The Mood Whiplash at the end of the heavily-comedic "Dear Uncle Abdul," wherein Father Mulcahy had been trying to write a war ditty. The final piece ends up being a sobering reminder that War Is Hell and there is no reason to glorify it in any way. The episode concludes with Hawkeye acknowledging it with a quiet, "Amen..."
- The ending to the episode "Yessir, That's Our Baby". A Korean-American infant girl is abandoned at the camp. The unit quickly adores her but learns as well that because she is of mixed race there is nothing but a grim future ahead of her in Korea. So they attempt to find a new safe placement for the child in the U.S. but for all their effort everything falls through and they must leave the baby at a monastery, a place that will give her a safe but narrow future. Hawkeye's final comment to the baby is a tear bringer.Hawkeye: You brought a little light to a dark and dismal place. And youll never know what you meant to a group of tired people stuck in a very strange time. Be happy.
- The note left with the baby, halting English written in a hand that Charles and Hawkeye have to work together to decipher, is worth a few tissues too. In full: "This is my baby. She is good baby. Strong. Beautiful. Father American GI. Gone now. Baby American too. Please, doctors, care for her. I cannot, but I love her."
- The note is even sadder when you realize that the mother had probably hoped that the 4077 staff would be in position to get the child placement in the U.S. so that she wouldn't have to be left at a monastery, and after you've seen all the effort the characters went through to try and spare her that very fate.
- Subtly sad is that of all the 4077 staff, Father Mulcahy is the one unmoved by her plight, because he's already seen it dozens of times — and also what happens to mixed race children if they don't find refuge.note
- The main plot of "Heal Thyself", in which a front-line doctor replacing the incapacitated Potter and Winchester breaks down due to all the wounded. Just the helpless look he gives Dr. Pierce and that soft, unassuming voice◊: "The blood won't come off..." It gets worse when B.J. mentions that Newsome (the surgeon in question) was "as strong as any of us," easily engaging in the off-the-cuff humor that Pierce and Hunnicutt always shared — especially under duress. Then Pierce points out that that's what scares him: the fact that any of them could easily end up in that same spot once they hit their breaking point...
- "Old Soldiers" was designed to flush out tear ducts, and it does the job well. It's very hard to listen to a tough old man crying and not join in.Potter: Here's to you, boys. To Ryan, who died in W.W.I, the war to end all wars. To Gianelli, who died in the war after that. To Stein, the joker of the crowd. And to Gresky, my best friend who just passed away in Tokyo. You were the friends of my youth. My comrades through thick and thin and everything in between. I drink to your memories. I loved you fellows... one and all.
- "Dreams" has a lot of Nightmare Fuel, but Winchester's dream starts off with him confidently pulling tricks dressed as a magician. Then the patient starts choking, and all Winchester can do is impotent magic with an anguished look on his face while the man dies.
- Winchester gets quite a few of these, most likely put in to help differentiate his character from that of Frank Burns, the guy he replaced. Among the most memorable is the plot in "Morale Victory" in which he convinces the concert pianist that his piano skill is not gone just because one of his hands is immobile. One of his best lines ever comes in the coda: "Each of us must dance to his own tune."Charles: I can play the notes, but I cannot make the music.
- In "Letters", Hawkeye has a teacher friend send letters from her fourth-grade class. Several of these generate Tearjerker moments.
- Margaret's letter comes from a kid who got to know the staff of a hospital he had to stay at (tonsillectomy). He asks the letter's recipient if they ever really get to know the patients as well. Margaret has a flashback to a patient who was in really good spirits and talking about things back home. She finds out that the soldier's liver is gone. This is on top of knowing the man has a severed spine and lying to him about why he has no feeling in his legs. After Hawkeye and B.J. tell her he probably only has a matter of hours left, Margaret returns to the soldier's bedside and continues to talk with him as if nothing's happening. Margaret's final words seals just how much it affected her.
- Charles manages to garner a little sympathy for himself. His patronizing remarks and pompous attitude to the whole idea comes to an end with one letter from a girl who sent along a bright red maple leaf. Being from New England himself, Charles is so moved by the gesture (although he tries to hide it from the other Swamp Rats) that he sets aside his tape recorder, picks up his pen, and begins writing a very heartfelt response.Charles: [dreamily, holding the leaf] Autumn in New England... Dear Virginia: It is with indescribable joy that I accept your gift. It is indeed testimony to the beauty that exists in all creation, but perhaps nowhere more than in a young girl's heart.
- Hawkeye spends the entire episode struggling with how to respond to one little boy who angrily declared he hates all doctors because his brother was killed in the line of duty after initially being wounded, treated, and returned to the lines. It isn't until he saves the life of a little girl caught in mortar fire and hearing the missionary who brought her in pray to God to thank Him for the presence of someone who can help her that he realizes what needs to be said.Hawkeye: Dear Ronnie, it's not a good idea to let the love you have for your brother turn into hate. Hate makes war, and war is what killed him. I understand how you feel. Sometimes I hate myself for being here. But sometimes in the midst of all this insanity, the smallest thing can make my being here seem worthwhile. Maybe the best answer I have for you is that you look for good wherever you can find it.
- Margaret thinking her father is disappointed with her in "Father's Day", and cries that she's been disappointing him her whole life.
- An unshot (but script available) season nine episode called Peace Is Hell has Margaret crying (after spending the time being a Drill Sergeant Nasty) that as awful as the war experience has been, its all she has while the others get to go home and shes so bad at endings.
- "Death Takes a Holiday" - The Christmas episode where Hawkeye, B.J., and Margaret are desperately trying to save a mortally wounded soldier all day Christmas day, then just trying to keep him alive long enough so that he won't die on Christmas, and not break down. The man finally dies about an hour before midnight, but the doctors turn the clock forward so the time of death will be 12:01, December 26, so that for the man's children, Christmas won't have to be the day their daddy died. It's beyond heartbreaking, especially when one thinks of all the men and women who did die on Christmas, whether in Vietnam, Korea, or any other war, and how painful that loss would be for their families. The scene with the doctors and Margaret silently looking at the pictures of the soldier's children and the letter from his wife just rips your heart out and stomps on it.
- There's a subplot to this episode, as well, in which Charles secretly tries to continue a family tradition of donating candy to a local orphanage anonymously. He finds out, later, that the head of the orphanage has sold the candy on the black market. When he confronts the man, however, he learns the truth: he sold it in order to have money to buy basic food for the children. The look on Winchester's face when he realizes this is absolutely heartbreaking.
- "A War for All Seasons" - Compare Col. Potter's speech when he welcomes 1951 to when he welcomes 1952. The words are the same, but any and all optimism is gone and the prospect of having to endure another full year in Korea has broken his spirit.
- Potter's storyline in "Old Soldiers", culminating in his toast to his buddies who have passed on at the end of the episode. Perhaps the most striking thing is the sight of Winchester moved to tears.
- In "Depressing News," the unit gets a massive shipment of tongue depressors.
- When B.J. laughs it off as a simple snafu, Hawkeye's awareness of the larger implications behind it (and his disgust and weariness with the same) come bubbling out:Hawkeye: Snafu, phooey. We wouldn't have this supply if they didn't think there would be a demand. Tongue depressors, doctors, soldiers... we're all the same. [grabs a depressor] Trapper John goes. No problem, there's plenty more where he came from. [tosses it and grabs another] B.J. Hunnicutt. Same size, same shape. [grabs two more] Frank Burns out, Winchester in. Only a hair's difference. [grabs another] Henry Blake... [snaps it in two] Rest in peace, Henry. Incoming, Sherman Potter. My God. Hasn't this elimination tournament gone on long enough? Do they have to stock up so that it can last another five years?
- After laughing at seeing the tongue depressors for the first time, B.J. jokes that they have enough to last five years. He and Hawkeye then immediately stop laughing and realize the horror of it.note
- B.J.s reaction to Hawkeye calling him same size same shape as Trapper. Hawkeyes just depressed-venting and Innocently Insensitive, but B.J. looks crushed for a second.
- When B.J. laughs it off as a simple snafu, Hawkeye's awareness of the larger implications behind it (and his disgust and weariness with the same) come bubbling out:
- From episode 17 of season 9, "Bless You, Hawkeye", watching Hawkeye as Sidney Freedman (who can somehow cause more Tear Jerkers than any other character) digs into his childhood and brings out the realization that Hawkeye's best friend pushed him off a boat when he was seven. Hawkeye falls apart fairly regularly, but seeing him wail and cry in the bed is heartrending. Later, Hawkeye is amazed that in the middle of a war, it was something that happened when he was a very young boy that broke him.Hawkeye: Here we are in the middle of all this shooting, and I get laid up because of something that happened to me when I was seven.
Sidney: Oh sure, it's the little battlefields, a pond, the bedrooms, the school yard, that leave the biggest scars.
- Hawkeye's almost desperate, wide-eyed "and he was fooling around..." auto defence of Billy when he starts to realise what happened.
- The fact that Billy told Hawkeye after pulling him back out of the water, that it was his fault for being clumsy and hed be dead if it werent for Billy. Baby Hawkeye thanked him, and still has a Guilt Complex twenty years on.
- Father Mulcahy's sermon in "Blood Brothers", comparing the selflessness of Patrick Swayze's character in the face of learning he has a terminal disease to Mulcahy's own selfish desires in wanting everything to be perfect in the hopes of gaining acknowledgement from a visiting cardinal. By the end of the sermon he's using "I" instead of "he" to identify himself in the sermon and on the verge of tears.
- And then Cardinal Reardon gets up, hugs Mulcahy and gives him a pat on the back, and tells him that he's "a tough act to follow".
- Now even more painful considering what happened to the real Patrick Swayze...
- The update on how Radar is doing in "The Foresight Saga" shows how things have only gotten worse since he left when he writes to the camp after arriving home to talk about how successful he is at the farm - only for a phone call to Iowa to reveal that the crops are failing and he has to take a second job in the general store. The camp arranges for a young Korean farmer to join him as hired help, but it's of little use. By the time of the pilot for the unsuccessful After Show W*A*L*T*E*R, the farm has been sold off, Radar's mom is living with his aunt, his wife left him on their honeymoon, and he's contemplating suicide before his cousin gets him a job at the St. Louis Police Department.
- Charles's Heroic BSoD storyline in "The Life You Save", where he's desperate to know what it's like to die. All of it, damnit. Watching the usually supremely aloof Winchester shed a single tear while clutching the hand of a dying soldier and begging him, like a small child, to describe what he's feeling, all because he never got over his brother's death when he was a child was absolutely heartbreaking. Worse, because he never confides in any of the other staff members, far from being sympathetic, they just get angrier and angrier at his increasingly eccentric actions. The climactic scene also marks a Crowning Moment of Acting for David Ogden Stiers.
- In "That's Show Biz", Hawkeye has to brush off the affections of an ingenue USO performer whose life he saved with an appendectomy. He doesn't use the standard ethical or moral excuse, but tells her that with all he's seen, he can't be innocent like her ever again and that he would drag her down.
- "Follies of the Living - Concerns of the Dead" is one long Tearjerker, which is from the perspective of a dead GI named Weston only Klinger can see (because he's sick). The final kicker is during The Stinger, when Klinger asks what happened to Weston. There is also an All Are Equal in Death in which Weston, other American GIs, North Korean soldiers, and civilians Go into the Light.
- "Pressure Points" has a visiting doctor flown in to explain the newly invented phosphorus-tipped bullet and how to deal with the grotesque burning damage it leaves in the body. Pierce and Hunnicutt lay on the jokes, much to Houlihan's consternation, but to their surprise it's Potter who blows his top at them, but the end of his tirade lets on that there's more than just frustration at their wisecracking:Potter: Now you tell me this — if people can invent new and better ways of killing each other, why can't someone invent a way to end this... stupid war?!
- Potter himself is practically in tears at this point. The man is tired, angry, and at the end of his rope, and he just wants out.
- The root cause of that outburst, and the rest of Potter's OOC behavior that episode, is that he and Hawkeye each had a patient who were near-identical in wounds and surgical complexity, and Hawkeye's patient pulled through with flying colors, but Potter's patient had to be operated on again due to some shrapnel he missed. This creates incredible angst, as he fears he's losing his touch and won't be able to practice surgery ever again. The story he tells Sidney of how he was inspired to go into medicine is also quite moving, as well.
- It gets worse when you remember that for many of the others of the 4077th, this is the first time they've seen the horrors of war. For Potter, it's his third. And it just. Keeps. Getting. Worse.
- Hawkeye's phone call with his Dad at the end of "Sons and Bowlers". He's saying "I love you. I love you. I'll be home as soon as I can," with this really choked up, happy-tears voice.
- In that episode, Hawkeye's dad was receiving a very delicate surgery that, if unsuccessful, could've been fatal, causing Hawkeye to fret about the possibility that his dad wouldn't live to see him return home. Of course, his father pulled through.
- Hell, the series by this point has shown that any time Hawkeye's dad comes up for more than a few moments, you can tell just how badly Hawkeye misses him and how close the poor guy is to coming unglued.
- Then there's Charles, who rarely opens up (Hawkeye: Charles, you never told me anything like this before. Charles: Actually, Hawkeye... Ive never told you anything before.):Charles: When I see the warmth, the closeness, the fun of your relationship... My fathers a good man. He always wanted what was best for me. But where I have a father, you have a dad.
- Hawkeye has running trauma with Never Got to Say Goodbye throughout the series, but in this episode he talks about his mom was dying when he was ten, and his dad kept making him fancier breakfasts: a bowl of cereal when she first became unwell, and bacon and eggs when she was hospitalized, but he kept downplaying the seriousness of her condition each time. By the time he was making French Toast, she was gone. Also a tearjerker on Father Pierces side, his wife was dying and its only been a few years since his son nearly drowned, fair enough that he treats Hawkeye a little fragile.
- In "Hey Look Me Over", Nurse Kellye, sitting up with a patient who is terminal, comforts him by indulging his belief that she is his girlfriend back home, and in his dying moments they plan a picnic date and talk about the plans they had for a life together.
- A private in the episode "Trick Or Treatment" won't eat, and the story behind it can make you ache for the poor guy. After a hellish assault by Chinese troops against his unit, their commanding officer gets an early Thanksgiving dinner sent down, and the guy ate and went back for seconds...only for his friends, who stayed in their foxhole and were still eating, to get killed in an artillery burst. His sobbing as he talks about how surprised they all looked, and how he would have been dead too if he hadn't been such a pig, makes it hard to listen to, and is a drastic shift from the light-hearted ghost stories being told in the OR.
- "Foreign Affairs" - Winchester meets his soul mate, a woman he quickly, desperately loves, and at the end realizes that he can't bring himself to accept her because her values clash with his family's. And yet he still loves her...
- After hearing Millie had feelings for him in Who Knew, Hawkeye veers as he often does sharply into self loathing, essentially Slut-Shaming himself for having casual relationships and angry that hes such a Sad Clown.
- The B-Plot of "Bombshells" has B.J. being being forced to leave a wounded soldier behind to presumably get killed by the enemy. He tries to track him down to no success, and the chopper pilot puts him in for a Medal of Dishonor thanks to his attempt to save the man. B.J. talks with disgust about how he and Hawkeye hold themselves above the Army because they have to clean up their mess.B.J.: I hope you can keep it up. The minute I cut that rope, they made me a soldier.
- "Friends and Enemies" - Woody, an old dear friend of Colonel Potter, comes to the 4077th as part of the wounded and the soldiers with him complain to Hawkeye that he assumed authority over them to take a hill that their officially assigned commander told them to avoid. Potter needs a great deal of convincing, but he realizes that Woody seriously abused his authority as an Armchair Military officer who had no business giving combat commands in the field and the soldier who paid the price for that incompetence has no confidence that the officer will be held to account. As such, Potter tries to tell Woody as diplomatically as possible that he will be reported to his superiors for that abuse of authority. To that Woody, showing himself a selfishly immature jerk for being made to face consequences for his actions, storms off renouncing Potter as a friend despite Potter's pleas about old times. With that loss, Potter comforts himself with valuing the true blue friends he has, like Hawkeye.Hawkeye: [seeing Potter after fighting with Woody] You look like...
Potter: A man who just lost his best friend?
- "Give And Take" features a wounded private who is literally in the next bed to the critically injured soldier that he shot because the man tried to steal his boots because his own feet were freezing. When the man dies, the private is visibly shaken, and at the end of the episode Potter tries to comfort him.Pvt. Kurland: My boots, all he wanted was my lousy boots...
- "Say No More" - The 4077 treats the son of a two-star general and Hawkeye has to deliver the bad news when he doesn't make it. The general tells a heartwarming story of the moments he was most proud of his boy while growing up and they share a toast. Immediately after, the general has to get back on the phone and, short of stopping the war - something beyond his power - do his damnedest to keep other fathers from losing their kids. Also the Call-Back to "Bombshells", as like B.J. said, getting angry and fed up and self-righteous over generals is something clearly out of Hawkeye's efforts at this point, and he just looks exhausted the whole episode.
- The end of the penultimate episode, "As Time Goes By". Margaret is putting together a time capsule to commemorate the 4077's presence in Korea. After expressing resistance for the whole episode, B.J. and Hawkeye come through at the end.Hawkeye: [hands over a teddy bear] This belonged to Radar; he left it for me. Let it stand for all the soldiers who came over as boys, and left as men.
B.J.: [hands over a fishing lure] Here, I fished with this a few times. Hawkeye told me it belonged to Colonel Blake. Let it stand for all the men who never came home.
- "Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen" - Forget a kleenex, you're going to need an IV for the dehydration from crying.
- One of the big ones is The Reveal of what got Hawkeye sent to the crazy house before the beginning of the final episode: that a Korean woman killed a chicken she was holding because Hawkeye was hissing at her to keep it quiet so they wouldn't be caught by nearby enemy soldiers. It is then revealed that it wasn't a chicken but a baby. Hawkeye replaced the baby with a chicken in his memory because he couldn't deal with the truth.Hawkeye: Oh my God! Oh my God! It was a baby! She smothered her own baby! ...You son of a bitch, why did you make me remember that?
- According to the actors in one of the "making of" documentaries, this was Truth in Television many times over. Alan Alda said he had heard of this happening in two different wars, and the cast and crew had spoken to many people who had either witnessed such a thing or knew about it happening.
- The contorted expression of anguish on Hawkeye's face as he cries "Oh my god, oh my God!" is what makes it really hard to watch.
- M*A*S*H gave the FCC the middle finger, not caring about using the word "bitch" in that context.
- A near-tearjerker is the look on Hawkeye's face when he gets back to the camp and finds out that B.J. left in the same way Trapper did - no note, no goodbye, and while he was gone. Thankfully B.J. comes back, but the look of devastation on Hawkeye's face... He also asks Margaret in the OR if it's the war or him that stinks, Trapper's non-goodbye seemingly still making him insecure that he's not lovable.
- B.J. visiting the institution thinking this might be the last time they get to see each other, and tentatively asking if there's anything that should be said, knowing full well that in Hawkeye's state he can't say that he's leaving, but also knowing how much it's going to hurt when Hawkeye finds out the truth.
- And speaking of Hawkeye and B.J., their conversation in the tent where Hawkeye acknowledges that they will probably never see each other again after the war. B.J. tries to mutter something about staying in touch or getting together, but he can't even look at his friend. Even if they do see each other again after the war, the relationship that they have with each other now will effectively be gone.
- B.J. almost getting home. The plan was a plane to Guam, a boat to Hawaii, then another plane home, but while stuck on Guam waiting for something to get him moving, he gets the message that he has to go back to the 4077 instead of home to his family.
- Winchester's reaction to the Chinese musicians being killed, only one of them was still alive when the jeep found them, and he died on the ride to the 4077th. "Those men weren't soldiers... they were musicians!" The heartbreak in that line, and his subsequent smashing of the record of Mozart's Clarinet Quintet...wow.note
- While the finale was a heartbreaker, the moment where peace is declared is a moment of such pure joy. The look of relief on Winchester's face and the happiness afterwards is incredibly uplifting.
- Pretty much anything after peace is declared, from everyone saying what they will do next to the final scene on the Chopper Pad counts, since it all makes up about the last half hour of the episode and gives you no time to calm down before another wave of tears starts.
- It starts with everyone saying where and what they are going to next, and most of the stories are humorous (such as Rizzo planning on selling frog's legs to French restaurants or B.J. pretending that he was going to leave Peg on the spur of the moment). But then, Bigelow stands up and says that, between World War II and Korea, she's had enough of the army and just wants to go home. Charles then adds that music was always a comfort — now it'll always be a reminder.
- Next is Klinger's wedding, and the goodbyes that follow that. As the wagon that is carrying Klinger and Soon-Li out of camp leaves, it drags everyone's attention to where the camp, the only home many of these people have known for the past three years, is being taken apart. Col. Potter and Klinger's farewell is semi-mirroring Col. Potter's farewell with Radar, seasons earlier.
- A bus shows up for the nurses and corpsmen to leave. Just before everyone gets on the bus, Nurse Kelleye gets the idea to 'take her home sign home.' Cue everyone else running on and taking their respective destinations along with them. It's the last moment of the episode that doesn't warrant tears of sadness.
- Everyone saying goodbye to Father Mulcahy, and he can't hear any of them. Potter even calls him Francis and he can't hear it. Gestures from B.J. are the only clues he has as to what is being said and how he should react.
- Hawkeye and Hot Lips Houlihan sharing one last cathartic kiss before going their separate ways.
- Charles saying "How I wish I could have thrown the axe" when the Swamp finally comes down. He tries to say his farewells in a civil manner, but you can tell he's utterly sick of the war and just wants to get out of there as fast as possible, and the fact that Rizzo presents him with a garbage truck that has gunk on the running boards as the last vehicle he's got and he sees it as an ironic and fitting sendoff instead of protesting is proof of that.
- Potter saying goodbye to Hawkeye and B.J., as all three of them try not to tear up. On top of that, he can't take Sophie with him on the trip home, who was a gift from Radar, so she will be left to someone deserving in Korea, the orphanage, and he chooses to ride her out of camp in lieu of a CO's jeep or an actual vehicle so they also have time to part.
- Heartwarming and tearjerking both, Hawkeye and B.J. send Potter off with a heartfelt salute, something they've never done before, which speaks to their enduring affection and respect for him. Potter tearfully returns the salute and sets off.
- As Hawkeye's helicopter takes off, he sees B.J.'s final message to him, spelled out in white stones: "GOODBYE". Hawkeye looks on with an endearing smile at the fact B.J. finally said what needed to be said, leans back in his seat, and enjoys the ride home, as the main theme swells in a very tender and ballad-like final reprise on the last notes of the song, while the last chopper of the series rides away from camp instead of to it. Then, the credits run at extended length, playing out the entirety of the M*A*S*H* theme from beginning to end.
- Seeing the finale take place in the middle of autumn adds to the sad feeling, because the scenery looks so empty, barren and tired in general, and with the camp all packed up the reality of it all hits you- the story's coming to an end here and now, and the sense of finality is immense. It is time for everything to sleep, and winter is nigh.
- The fact that most of them would never see each other again, ever, is very sad even if the entire reason they were lumped together in the first place (most of them unwillingly) was because of a war. It was especially hard even for people like Winchester to say a final goodbye and leave. Chances are, the majority of them lived out their lives and died without ever knowing what happened to the others, as the technology we have today for instantaneous contact wouldn't come until many decades later.
- Other than the telephone and telegraph. Most likely, those who did stay in touch were using those plus letters and postcards. Given B.J.'s enthusiasm for the idea of reunion parties, he quite likely staged some.
- It's a comforting thought. But even in this day and age, the internet is full of websites of former soldiers trying to find out what became of their friends.
- On the other hand, some soldiers actively avoid seeing them, because of the PTSD they'd inspire.
- A semi-meta example, when David Ogden Stiers passed away, Loretta Swit released a statement recalling when he joined the cast. He was apparently very private, and she would plead with him (albeit in a playful manner) that he couldn't do that. It ended up becoming banter between the two, as she would note "What if I wanted to invite you to a party? I don't even have your phone number." Which he would always counter with a witty remark. Skip ahead to "Goodbye, Farewell and Amen" when their characters are saying goodbye to each other. Charles hands Margaret a book of poems as a farewell gift, when she opens it up, Loretta genuinely tears up. David wrote down his phone number in the book.
- Watch the scene closely: Charles...or rather, David...turns to a specific page in the book.
- One of the big ones is The Reveal of what got Hawkeye sent to the crazy house before the beginning of the final episode: that a Korean woman killed a chicken she was holding because Hawkeye was hissing at her to keep it quiet so they wouldn't be caught by nearby enemy soldiers. It is then revealed that it wasn't a chicken but a baby. Hawkeye replaced the baby with a chicken in his memory because he couldn't deal with the truth.