Thursday, February 11, 2010

"Totally Television": M*A*S*H

Here at All Saints' in Littleton, we are exploring the intersection of popular culture, religion, and ethics in four television shows.

When I talk about intersection, I'm not looking necessarily for direct correlation between the Christian scriptures and the script: i.e. trying to claim that the show is written to mirror the Bible or directly uphold the teaching of the church. Instead, I am interested in what the television shows say about ethical choices, living in community, relating with one another, and finding ways to live with the consequences. The worthwhile television shows not only speak to our current culture, but also raise up life's questions: both as individuals and as community.

So I'm writing MY reflections on the episodes, with the hope that not only those who attended will add their reflections, but others who know the show and episodes will do so as well.

War of Nerves
Season 6, Episode 4

Psychologist Sydney Freedman, a frequent visitor to the 4077, arrives on a bus with wounded, sporting a superficial head injury (foreshadowing alert). He had been to the front to see a young man, Tom, who had been returned to his unit after a traumatic episode where he saw his buddy soldiers killed. Colonel Potter asks Sydney to see "some of the loonier" members of the camp who are losing their grips on things.

Sydney sees Margaret and Charles individually, who both insist that they are fine, but that the other person is "crazy and infatuated with me." Margaret's transition is underway as one focused on the surface and superficial, to a warm, caring, more complete person. Charles, in only his fifth episode, is a question mark at this point of the series: highly qualified, arrogant, and easily unlikable. The person he really is beneath the surface, however, has yet to be revealed. Both Margaret and Charles are obsessed with appearance, and keep people at an arm's length in the process.

Klinger and Radar both come to see Sydney for different reasons: they are each worried that they really are going crazy. Klinger, continuously trying to get a section eight discharge with women's clothes and outrageous behavior, is for once worried that he's losing it. Sydney is able to bring out of him that the motivation for his actions is his reasonable fear of death: both his and the people around him. It's a great scene: comedically and for its honesty.

Radar also is worried he's going crazy. The focus is on his teddy bear. "Sometimes I talk to it." "Does it ever talk back?" Sydney quips. Sydney suggests that the security Radar gets from his bear is reasonable in the midst of blood, guts and war, and when this is all over and he finally goes home, Radar likely won't need the bear anymore. "Won't need him anymore???" Radar wonders. A scene about innocence, loss, growing up, and finding oneself (as an individual and as a nation...thanks Barbara!!!).

Going on at the same time is the recovery of Tom. BJ and Hawkeye have him on the mend, and he is smiling and cheery with them. BJ and Hawkeye tell the good news to Sydney, who then goes in to see Tom. When he sees Sydney, his anger erupts: he is furious with Sydney, and blames him for everything.

The time comes for Tom to be sent home. BJ and Hawkeye are able to talk him into talking with Sydney again. Tom agrees, and they rush Sydney over. Tom says that he understands Sydney meant well, but insists that he has caused him great harm, and he will never forgive him for it. As the ambulance drives away, Sydney says: "Well, he may do alright. It’s very possible that getting his anger out on me is the best thing for him. (PAUSE) On the other hand, I’ll never know." Regret and frustration lurk behind Sydney's mild manner.

There is one more 4077 member to visit Sydney: Father Mulcahy.

Fr. Mulcahy: Well, I…I…I’ve come about a friend….

Sydney: I see. What’s his problem?

Fr. Mulcahy: Things aren’t going so well for him, and he’s feeling a little low.

Sydney: Who’s your friend, Father.

Fr. Mulcahy: You.

Sydney: [laughs]

Fr. Mulcahy: I wonder if a good antidote might be to think of all the successes you’ve had. I would think you’ve had a few, no?

Sydney: Sure. I’ve sent dozens of kids back to the front and they’re fine now.

Fr. Mulcahy: It hurts to think you might lose even one though, doesn’t it.

Sydney: See, when Pierce or Hunnicutt lose one, he’s out of his misery but when I lose one, I’ve lost a mind.

Fr. Mulcahy: When I lose one, I’ve lost a soul. Well, I guess it’s all in how you look at it.

This dialogue creates a look of shocked realization in Sydney. He knows that he's supposed to brush off a case that fails, but he's struggling to do so, and part of his burden is the guilt in thinking he's failed with the stakes much higher than everyone else's. Fr. Mulcahy gentle "it's all in how you look at it," brings Sydney out of isolation and self-condemnation: showing him the hard but necessary road forward. Fr. Mulcahy invites Sydney to treat himself to the "medicine" that he has prescribed: the bonfire the camp has built to not only release tension and anxiety, but also to help reunite the community.

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