The SmarK DVD Rant for MASH: The Eleventh Season

The SmarK DVD Rant for MASH – The Eleventh Season

“And so, and so, and so, and so, and so, and so, and so.”

The Show

By the end of its run, MASH had served 11 years in a war that had only lasted for 3 in real life, so you certainly couldn’t deny that it was time to say goodbye to the crew of the 4077th. However, looking back at the final season of the show some 20-odd years after watching it for the first time as a kid, it struck me how, unlike other shows to stretch out as long as this one, there was never any noticeable quality drop as the years wore on. Yes, the tone changed drastically, as the show shifted from a comedy to a drama and kind of wavered in between those two genres, but the writing was still strong and the acting was as impeccable as ever. In fact, what really surprised me was just how funny the final season actually was, filled with less of the heavy-handed Alan Alda touch that seemed to drag the earlier final seasons into a more depressing territory of war-weariness and being centered on the Hawkeye character almost exclusively.

Sure, the Hawkeye As God theory is in full-force here, as he romances nurses, saves lives, and even dresses up as Superman in a wholly apropos Halloween episode, but at the same time this was a year where he got as good as he gave. The premiere episode, “Hey, Look Me Over” shows that he can be aware of his own egocentricity, and “Who Knew?” shows that he can regret his constant womanizing, especially when a one-night stand winds up dead the next morning. And in the funniest episode of the season, “The Joker Is Wild,” Hawkeye actually becomes the target of a pranking BJ, driving him into paranoia about everyone’s motives and ending with a humiliating admission of who the master prankster really is. Another hilarious episode, “The Moon Is Not Blue,” sees an obsessed Hawkeye and BJ trying desperately to get an “adult” film shown at the camp during a heatwave, as they peddle placebos and fast-talk their way through brass. The irony (and payoff for the episode) is that “The Moon Is Blue,” which is the movie he was attempting to get, is about as tame as anything produced by Hollywood at that time, except it uses the word “virgin” for the first time.

But of course, this is all secondary to the real reason to buy this set, “Goodbye Farewell and Amen,” the two-hour finale to the show that set the stage for every series finale on television to follow. Written and promoted more like an event than a TV show, it was the highest-rated episode of any TV series, ever, and had almost half the country tuned in to it, something that will never be duplicated in an age of 500 channels. It’s also just as good as it’s hyped up to be, featuring a leisurely and satisfying farewell to each of the characters on the show, with everyone getting their few minutes to wrap up their lives in Korea. Primarily, the show focuses on Hawkeye, locked in an insane asylum due to war stress after witnessing a Korean mother smothering her own baby, which is likely the most intense payoff you’ll ever see in a purported sitcom. Hawkeye’s journey back to sanity is the focus of the episode, as he comes to grips with how much the unit and BJ mean to him with the war winding down. Another major plotline sees Major Winchester accidentally befriending a group of Chinese musicians while suffering from diarrhea, turning them into an unlikely personal orchestra before the war delivers the inevitable ending to the story that always seems to occur. His experiences with the group and his feud with Margaret over his appointment to a major post in the US really help to show the truly decent side of his character and again provide a satisfying conclusion to his character arc. And of course it wouldn’t be a finale without all the things that fans had wanted to see for a long time: One final “bug out”, a wedding between Klinger and Korean girl Soon-Lee, Hawkeye and Margaret giving in to years of tension and engaging in an unspoken kiss while everyone else rolls their eyes in the background, and of course the owners of the famous road signs reclaiming them as they head for home. Beautifully written, and obviously acted by people who were really friends both on and off-stage, it’s truly the greatest episode of a series filled with great episodes, and the best finale of any series on TV, ever.

The three-disc final season of MASH contains the following episodes:

Disc 1: Hey, Look Me Over, Trick or Treatment, Foreign Affairs, The Joker is Wild, Who Knew?, Bombshells, Settling Debts, The Moon is Not Blue

Disc 2: Run For the Money, U.N., the Night and the Music, Strange Bedfellows, Say No More, Friends and Enemies, Give and Take

Disc 3: Goodbye, Farewell and Amen

The Video

Since we’re getting closer to the modern era, the video is much improved over the early years of the show, which is either due to a clean-up job by FOX or simply a higher-quality film stock in the later years of the show. I’d bet on the latter. It’s pretty much up to broadcast quality for a show today, which makes for a big improvement over the grainy and worn-out episodes in syndication now.

The Audio

English Dolby stereo, an upgrade over the previous seasons’ mono soundtrack at least, available with or without laugh track. It’s a million times better without it, and almost makes it a totally different show. I don’t know how we watched it before, in fact.

The Extras

Nothing. Even more annoying when FOX has decided to release the ENTIRE series in a giant box set, complete with two whole extra discs of content, years after people like myself had already started buying the season sets from the beginning. Thanks a lot, guys.

The Ratings

The Show: *****
The Video: ***
The Audio: **
The Extras: N/A

The Pulse:

Really, the whole reason to get this set is the finale, but the episodes leading up to it are just as worthy of another watch as well. Yeah, it got preachy and heavy-handed in later years, but it’s still one of the greatest shows ever produced and will likely never be matched as a ratings phenomenon, and this is well worth a place in any TV collector’s collection.

Highly recommended.

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