…and how much is the prophet shaping the future to fit the prophecy?

Prediction: within a month of this film (which looks badass) being released, there will be scads of blog posts and articles from people who watch this and then read the book, where they will discover that wherever the word “crusade” was used in this movie, the word “jihad” was used in the book.

The two words mean basically the same thing: “holy war.” It’s just that historically, holy wars associated with Christianity have been called “crusades” and holy wars associated with Islam have been called “jihad”.

I get why this change was made: to avoid association with terrorists who consider themselves jihadists.

But what’s gonna end up happening, I bet, is that there’s gonna be a lot more attention paid to the nomenclature used for holy wars in the Dune universe than there would have been if they’d just kept calling it “jihad.”

Which is probably good for marketing… no such thing as bad publicity and all.

Spoiler Alert (I Guess)

You know that song at the end of “Breaking Bad,” the one that plays while Walt’s lying on the ground at the end?

That’s by a group called Badfinger, and oddly enough, their real-world experience in the music industry was quite similar to what happened to Walt in the Breaking Bad backstory:

Walt was in some chemistry startup called “Gray Matter” with a couple of his friends from college (grad school?), a man and a woman, and it’s never really made clear what happened exactly, but Walt was romantically involved with the woman, who ended up hooking up with the other dude, and Walt accepted a buyout of I think $5k or something like that…

And then Gray Matter took off, and the other 2 became billionaires off of the company Walt helped found, while Walt struggled to make ends meet as a chemistry teacher.

I don’t know if this played into the song choice at the end… but Badfinger had a similar experience in the music industry. Long story short, they had hit records and made millions of dollars for record company crooks, meanwhile they were living on 7 pounds 10 a week (guessing that’s about $25-$30 American nowadays; not much money at all) and having to borrow shoes for gigs.

By the way, I watched that documentary after seeing the episode of Peep Show where Sophie Breaks up with Jeff, and Jeff comes over to get his stuff, and Sophie and Mark see Jeff crying in Sophie’s room, listening to the Badfinger song “Without You” as performed by Harry Nilsson.

This is the song, I couldn’t find a clip of Jeff crying:

…which is a shame, because it’s an hilarious scene. Which might sound strange if you aren’t familiar with Peep Show.

You… aren’t familiar with Peep Show? 😐

MEs5Qt2aPnK8

MORE X-FILES NONSENSE

I dunno why, but the song “Bleeding Love” popped into my head yesterday, so I found the chords on the internet and figured out the vocal melody.

And I thought it would be cool if I played it while video-ing my TV as I was watching Season 8, Episode 2 of “The X-Files,” an episode I had never seen before.

And the part of the vocal melody that corresponds to “you cut me open and I/keep bleeding, I keep keep bleeding love” ended up coming at just the right time.

I didn’t plan it that way, it just came out that way.

THE DOGGETT AND PONY SHOW

Alright, so I’ve been watching/re-watching “The X-Files” on Hulu off and on for the past few months.

“Watching/re-watching” because I think I had seen roughly half of the episodes already… maybe more like a third of them.

In case you don’t know, “The X-Files” consists of basically 2 types of episodes. One type of episode is “Monster Of The Week”. In these episodes, Mulder and Scully investigate some weird creature, or ghost, or alien, or whatever, and the story is resolved (more or less) in that self-contained episode. “Self-contained” because in the next episode, they would be going after some other monster, and the previous episode’s monster (or whatever) wouldn’t be mentioned.

Some of the more memorable “monsters of the week” came back from time to time, but most of them were one-offs.

That’s one type of X-Files episode. The other type are called “mytharc” episodes.

“Mytharc” is a term the show’s staff actually used (if Google is to be believed, “TRUST NO ONE” 🙂 ), and the word is a combination of “mythology” and “story arc.”

Which means, these episodes aren’t self-contained, they’re one long story. The X-Files mytharc was about the government covering up alien abductions, Mulder and Scully’s backstories, and so on.

As an aside, several years ago I got bored and decided to watch all the mytharc episodes up to I think season 5… because that’s all the seasons the local video rental place (since closed) had to rent.

I remember reading back then that many hardcore X-Files fans preferred “monster of the week” episodes. Regarding that, I can say with 100% certainty that if you only watch the mytharc episodes, you miss out on a lot (and I do mean a LOT) of what makes the X-Files a great show.

Actually my personal favorite X-Files episode – “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space”; the episode where Jesse Ventura and Alex Trebek make appearances as Men In Black – isn’t considered a mytharc episode, at least it wasn’t the last time I checked.

I am digressing like hell here, but if you’ve tried to get into The X-Files and couldn’t, watch that episode. Season 3, episode 20… it is (in my opinion) the quintessential X-Files episode. I didn’t really get the humor in the series until I saw that episode, and anyways it’s a good episode. 🙂

But getting back to the point, there are recurring characters in mytharc episodes, and one of them is the strong-jawed fellow you see in the picture.

alien_bounty_hunter

Well, it’s the same actor at least… there are several of these guys in the show. They are shape-shifting alien bounty hunters (the picture below is what they look like by default, I guess), and the only way to kill them is to stab (or shoot) them in the back of the neck. The dagger thing in the second pic is their weapon of choice, and they use it to kill various aliens disguised as humans, as well as probably a few humans, I honestly don’t remember. But anyways, when you stab (or shoot) one of these guys in the back of the neck, green stuff starts bubbling out, and they melt into a pile of green goop, basically.

x-files2

Early in the series, when these guys (or other aliens like them) get killed, the green goop is accompanied by a toxic gas that kills humans.
But later…

I am currently watching Season 8 for the first time. And in episode 2, Scully kills one of these guys by shooting him in the back of the neck. In the scene, she is down on the floor after a struggle, and she fires a single shot that pierces his neck, he falls to the floor a few feet away from her, and he turns into a pile of green goop, as expected.

But… there’s no poison gas. And my question to any other X-Files fans who may be on my friends list is… where’s the poison gas?

I have looked online for an explanation of this, but all I can find regarding season 8 are general reviews that talk about how bad it is. “Doggett and pony show” and whatnot. But nobody explained why Scully didn’t even bother to hold her breath when the toxic green goop started bubbling out of the alien’s neck when she shot him.

Maybe I missed something in an earlier episode that explained that (I did fall asleep watching some episodes, and sometimes I was half-watching, half-doing other stuff)… or maybe it was just lazy screenwriting.

Does anybody know?

YOUR THAI BRIDE IS NOT THE PROBLEM, YOU CLOYING, MELLIFLUOUS WANK

So I still haven’t finished my “Twin Peaks” blog post (and no, I’m not bothering with a hyperlink, it should be easy for you to find if you want to read it), and in lieu of finishing that right now, I am going to write another “Movies/TV” post about a short documentary I watched last night on Hulu.

How I ended up subscribing to Hulu is its own (boring) blog post; suffice it to say the local cable provider cut Comedy Central from its lineup a couple years back, and I have been suffering South Park withdrawals ever since.

When I find myself with nothing else to do, I sometimes get online and binge-watch South Park. Other times, I just hit the “watch a random episode” button at southpark.cc.com and see what pops up.

Anyways, last night, I was on the South Park website, perusing seasons I have not seen every episode of, and I noticed that a great many episodes were only available on Hulu, and that I had to pay $7.99 a month to see them. And long story short, after determining that every episode of The X-Files is also available on Hulu for 8 bucks a month, well, I went ahead and Paypal-ed my way right on through.

(I opted against the $11.99 a month deal that eliminated all ads, because four bucks is four bucks, and sometimes those ads are kinda entertaining, plus they give you a chance to go grab a Coke or a beer or what have you.)

Hulu also claimed to have a whole bunch of awesome movies, so I began perusing them. I didn’t see much of anything I wanted to watch, but I am sort of a snob when it comes to movies and I have never pretended otherwise. I am probably the least fun person in the world to go to the movies with, as I think I have mentioned here on this blog before, and anyways none of the movies caught my attention. I figured “hey, I can watch South Park and X-Files for 8 bucks a month and cancel whenever, so I’m happy.”

Still, having all those movies and TV shows available to me, regardless of the fact that 99% of them didn’t appeal to me, well, it inspired my wanderlust, at least within the confines of Hulu.com. I mean I didn’t actually get up off my fat ass and “wander” anywhere; I just felt compelled to explore my options.

So I moved on to the “documentary” section. And again, meh, but again, unlimited South Park and X-Files for 8 bucks, so no big deal.

And nestled in between a bunch of crap UFO documentaries and assorted documentaries that looked fake as all hell…

I found an hour-long documentary called “My Thai Bride” that looked mildly interesting, if only for the fact that it seemed to be based on real life, as opposed to Bigfoot or some crap.

Here’s the imdb page for it. I don’t feel like typing out <a href… and all that crap on the “text” page just to create a link nobody’s going to click anyway, so anyways here it is, take it or leave it:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2090573/

This movie is about a British fellow named Ted. Ted used to make a living by traveling from Britain to Thailand, buying a bunch of cheap but well-made knockoff clothing, then taking it back to Britain to sell at inflated prices.

That this practice is probably illegal (or at least would be here in the USA, if he were selling, say, fake Polo shirts as if they were legit Polo shirts or something, copyright infringement and whatnot) was never mentioned.

Nonetheless, this is how Ted made his living, and more power to him, I say.

Ted had been married and divorced in Britain. And he lamented that in Britain, he had a hard time meeting women, because women wanted younger men with money and blah blah blah cry me a river. Nonetheless, I won’t deny that I sympathized with Ted at this point in the film. I mean, yeah, it gets tougher to meet women who want to date you the older you get, but whatever, Ted, suck it up.

And to Ted’s credit, well, he kinda did… in a way.

He talked about how in Thailand, there were tons of beautiful women everywhere who wanted to hang out with him. He held no illusions about these women — “bar girls” — I mean he knew that they (at least most of them) only wanted him for his money, and so on and so forth.

But I mean think about a guy like Ted (look at his picture): he’s not all that handsome, he’s not some sort of hotshot businessman… but in Thailand, women were just hanging all over him.

And yeah, sure, “gross, that’s gross, Ted’s gross, and Michael, you’re gross for sympathizing with that gross, gross man,” but anyways the “cloying, mellifluous wank” mentioned in the title of this post is Ted himself, so I’m gonna give him what he’s got coming here in a minute.

Here’s another link about this movie, by the way: http://www.mythaibridefilm.com/story/

Anyways, Ted meets a bar girl named Tip, and he finds that he likes her. Like he really likes her, like as a person, not just as a “bar girl” or “prostitute” or whatever.

And if you thought I was going to give Ted a hard time about this part of the story, well, no, no I wasn’t. Bar girls and prostitutes and sex workers of all types are people, too, and I have no issue whatsoever with Ted or any other person falling in love with one of them. Put simply it isn’t my business who anybody falls in love with, and love is love is love is love and so on.

(And you’ve seen “Pretty Woman,” damn you, don’t act like you haven’t. 🙂 )

Ted and Tip started hanging around a lot, and they more or less moved in together. Ted talked about how he would leave money lying out in the room when he would leave, and when he came back it would still be there. Which given the circumstances, well, I guess that showed him that Tip liked him  too, maybe.

Anyways, after knowing each other about a month, Ted and Tip got married.

Before I go on, I need to back up and talk about Tip a little. I don’t remember specifics, but Tip grew up dirt poor. And she had worked in factories for next to nothing, and she had a child to support, and the only way she had to make any money was to move to Bangkok and be a bar girl.

So she tells about that, and friends she met who helped her out, and all of them didn’t make any bones about why they were bar girls: they needed money, foreign men had money, and they could make a lot of money being nice to foreign men.

Which, yes, I agree, it’s terrible that they don’t have any other way to make a living. Yes, everything about the whole situation is gross and awful and terrible… but if I were a pretty young Thai woman with absolutely no other way to make a living, well, I’d probably put on some tight pants and go flirt with foreigners, too.

I’m not judging Tip or any of the Thai bar girls featured in the film. Please don’t think I am. In fact, from where I was sitting — right here where I am now typing, actually, right here on my fat ass in front of my computer — Tip was by far the most sympathetic character in the film.

So Ted and Tip got married. And since Tip seemed to be better at managing money than Ted, and since he felt like he could trust her with his money, he ended up letting her manage his money.

She made pretty good use of his money, I’d say: they moved to the village in northern Thailand where she grew up and built a pig farm. Good, practical use: a pig farm could provide them with enough money to live and with food to eat. If we’re talking about using funds accrued from hawking knockoff Polo shirts and whatnot, well, “steady stream of income and sustenance that doesn’t require international travel or violating any copyright laws” sounds pretty gosh-darn sensible.

But Ted didn’t see it like that. And before I really give Ted the business, I will also say that the film featured a few other foreign (read: “white”) dudes who had been in Thailand for quite a long time. These fellows also had homes in Thailand and (presumably) Thai wives, and they noted that lots of people (read: “white men”) moved to Thailand with what seemed like a lot of money, and they lived like kings… until the money ran out.

One of these fellows said his house in Thailand cost about $20 grand to build, but it would be worth about $300 grand in the US or anywhere in the west.

Another fellow (or maybe the same fellow, I don’t remember) said that it was impossible for a foreigner to own land in Thailand, so everything was always in the wife’s name, in cases where white dudes marry Thai women and build houses over there and whatnot.

A local myth or legend of some kind was also mentioned: this legend was about a beautiful queen who ruled over part of Thailand, and anyways an invading group of male soldiers came into her kingdom, intending to rape and pillage and take the place over.

This queen instructed her female subjects to throw a big party for the invaders, to offer them wine and food and what have you, and to make them feel at home and welcome, and whatever the proper name is for the feeling lonely men get when women hang all over them.

So, that’s what the women in the kingdom (“queendom”?) did… and after all the invading soldiers were asleep, worn out from the wine, food, and what have you…

The women killed every blasted one of them. With their own swords. While they slept.

And that legend or myth or whatever was brought up as a parallel to the whole “bar girl” situation, I think. The bar girls were who were telling about the legend.

And yeah, I am sure there are true stories of lonely white dudes getting legitimately ripped off and screwed over by Thai women…

But I don’t really think our Ted is one of those fellows.

I sincerely think Ted is a cloying, mellifluous wank who didn’t realize how good he had it, honestly.

Toward the end of the film, Ted tells about how Tip just wouldn’t pay him any attention, leading up to when he decided to leave her.

Ted tells, in his cloying li’ul accent, how towards the end of their marriage, Tip would get up at like six in the morning every day to go feed the pigs.

Tip would spend all day tending to pigs, doing chores, running the farm…

…meanwhile Ted’s “laid about,” not doing anything…

…and toward the end of their marriage — if you can believe it, folks — Tip was so busy feeding pigs and cleaning the house and doing farm chores that she didn’t even have time to bring poor Ted a beer.

Poor Ted! His wife’s up at six, busy all day running the farm…

And Ted had to get up off his fat arse and get his own beer, when he sat around the house all day doing *literally* nothing whatsoever.

Ted gives this as a reason why he had to leave Tip.

No, I’m not joking.

The film goes back and forth between Ted’s point of view and Tip’s, and Tip mentions that all of her family and neighbors had begun to wonder why Ted didn’t help her with anything whatsoever, or even work at all…

Meanwhile Ted’s talking about how Tip became “distant” from him, because she was worried too much about running the farm!

So anyways, this film was interesting to watch, but the whole “my Thai wife stole my money and ruined my life” angle Ted tries to foist on everyone is bullshit. Complete and utter bullshit.

You didn’t want to be a pig farmer, Ted?

WHY’D YOU BUILD A PIG FARM?

You wanted a wife, instead of patronizing every bar girl that’s nice to you?

WHY’D YOU TREAT YOUR WIFE LIKE A SERVANT?

I have to admit, being that I have lived most of my life in rural Arkansas, the idea of running a pig farm (or any type of farm) with a wife holds a certain amount of appeal for me. It’s honest work, you’re outside a lot, you’re not sitting on your ever-widening ass typing on a computer…

And it might not appeal to everyone. And it honestly might not appeal to me, after a week or two.

But I like to think I would have sorted all of that out before I built my own pig farm, if you understand what I mean.

Ted ended up having to bum money from Tip to get a ticket back to Britain.

And he’s supposed to be who I, the viewer, sympathize with in this film.

RIGHT.

“WHAT DO YOU FEAR MOST IN THE WORLD?” — SERENDIPITY AND “TWIN PEAKS”

Hello everyone, I know it’s been quite a while since I’ve posted anything to this blog — and even longer since I’ve posted anything related to anything other than politics…

Which on that front, well, what can I say? The guy that Back To The Future Part 2 alternate timeline dystopian 1985 Biff Tannen was presumably modeled after is now our president-elect. The guy that killed Marty McFly’s dad in alternate timeline 1985 is going to be sitting in the Oval Office for four years.

Can’t say that I’m happy about that.

But hey, it is what it is, and I can’t just make like a tree and quit the internet just because I’m honestly scared shitless for the future of the United States and civilization as we know it.

I gotta keep on keepin’ on.

So that’s what I’m doing. And this blog is not and was never intended to be solely a political or news-related blog, it’s a blog featuring the various and sundry things that rattle around in my brain long enough to warrant my typing them out and sharing them with all of you awesome folks out there in internet land.

And somewhat serendipitously — the serendipitousness of which I speak will be revealed near the end of this post — I happened to purchase a Twin Peaks Definitive Gold Box Edition DVD set off of eBay in the weeks leading up to when the guy that tried to rape Marty McFly’s mom on multiple occasions got elected president of the country with the largest nuclear arsenal on the planet.

I didn’t pay full price for my Twin Peaks DVD set, at least not the price Walmart is asking for it on the link provided. Mine was slightly used, but it’s in great condition, and I enjoyed watching the pilot (including the alternate international ending) and both seasons immensely, and I will probably watch them all again at some point.

Yes, Twin Peaks really is that good of a show.

I also purchased a copy of the feature film/prequel “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me” on eBay — also used, also cheaper than retail — and watched it after I finished season 2 of Twin Peaks. And it’s interesting to watch, but I honestly think that the nudity and profanity featured in it took something intangible away from the Twin Peaks universe. A big part of what’s so addictive about Twin Peaks is that the viewer is made aware that there’s something less than wholesome going on under the lily-white surface of the small logging town of Twin Peaks, but what those less-than-wholesome goings-on actually are is never completely revealed in explicit terms in the TV series itself.

And hey, don’t get me twisted here: I’m no prude. To people who only know me through my blog or through social media, I may come across that way sometimes, but to anyone who knows me personally, well, you can ask them yourself. I prefer to leave that aspect of myself to the real world, and while that dynamic does sort of mirror the dynamic of Twin Peaks — the whole “dark underbelly vs. prim and proper facade” thing, I mean — I prefer to maintain that dynamic rather than carelessly blend the two together.

In a roundabout way, what I am saying is that if Showtime’s Twin Peaks Season 3 features lots of boobies and four-letter words, it’s going to be fundamentally different than the first two seasons.

It’s not that I don’t like looking at boobies, or that I wince whenever someone says “fuck,” it’s just that “Fire Walk With Me” sacrificed something essential about Twin Peaks by including lots of boobies and cusswords.

If that doesn’t make sense to you, I don’t know how to explain it any better.

Anyways, moving on:

I don’t want this to be a completely political post, but a major plot element in Twin Peaks — incidentally, one that is only fully revealed in “Fire Walk With Me” — quite serendipitiously coincides with something rather disgusting about our new president-elect.

And yes, it’s more disgusting than when Biff Tannen got manure dumped in his convertible, and some of it got in his mouth.

But for me to explain this any further, I am going to have to spoil certain things for you, the reader. And if you haven’t seen the first two seasons of Twin Peaks or “Fire Walk With Me,” well, I don’t want to spoil anything for you. This spoiler is pretty major, and it affects the way the viewer empathizes with certain characters, and as Twin Peaks is by far more character-driven than plot-driven, well, the way the viewer feels about the show’s many characters as the show progresses is important.

So, before I get into that, I want to briefly discuss the visual aspect of Twin Peaks. Articles and even books have been written about this, and they reference all sorts of symbolism and mythology, and knowing that David Lynch obsesses over every little detail of every shot of every film he’s ever done — he didn’t direct every episode of Twin Peaks, by the way, but the obsessiveness is still there when other directors stepped in — all these articles and books are definitely worth checking out, if you’re a fan of the show.

I’m going to take a much more superficial approach and just talk about — and show you — how good-looking most of the actors in the show are. This is both to provide people who don’t want me to spoil a big part of Twin Peaks for them an opportunity to navigate away from this page before they accidentally read my spoiler and also to just have an excuse to post pictures of good-looking people to my blog.

Anyways, here we go with the “avoiding the spoiler/look at the pretty people” section of this post:

That’s Laura Palmer. Her dead body is found in the pilot, wrapped in plastic next to a big log, after the tide receded and left it — left her — on the muddy gravel bank. This still frame is from a home movie that Laura was in, one that the local sheriff’s department and the FBI examine, following the discovery of her body. Laura’s murder is the central plot theme of the entire series. It’s worth noting that even though Laura appears multiple times throughout the series in home movies, photographs, dream sequences, etc., she only appears as her living, breathing self in “Fire Walk With Me.” She’s pretty, isn’t she?

That’s Special Agent Dale Cooper of the FBI. He is investigating Laura’s murder. He’s quite eccentric, and his methods of investigation are anything but conventional. He loves a good cup of strong black coffee, and he does his best to maintain a cheerful disposition throughout the series, no matter how unpleasant the situation. And just in case you were wondering, I, the author of this blog, am heterosexual, but look at that guy and tell me he isn’t handsome. Go on, do it.

That’s Audrey Horne, teenage daughter of Benjamin Horne, a wealthy real estate developer in Twin Peaks and owner of the Great Northern Hotel, where Agent Cooper stays during his investigation. (TO BE CONTINUED…)

Bobby

Shelley

Leo

Josie

Harry

Donna

James

Annie

(et alia)

“The Host” 아니죠. “괴물” 맞습니다!

Since at this point in this election cycle I am sick to death of politics – the whole “Hillary vs. Bernie” thing has gotten me into a seemingly endless pissy mood, so I don’t have anything humorous to offer, either – and since I am not feeling especially philosophical, I will write today briefly about one of my favorite movies, the 2006 Korean monster film “The Host,” directed by Bong Joon-Ho.

I like this film for a variety of reasons, and perhaps the most significant reason is simple nostalgia. I was living in Gimpo, South Korea in 2006 when this movie was released, and I think I watched it in the theater, but if not I at least watched it while I was living in Korea.

The majority of the film is set in or near Yeouido, an area in Seoul on the northern side of the Han River. From Gimpo, it was about a 20-30 minute bus ride (depending on traffic) to Songjeong Station on the purple subway line. From there, Yeouido is just a few subway stops away. I went there quite a few times during my time in Korea, and it’s a pretty peaceful place to visit.

The main characters in the film are Pak Hee-bong, an older Korean man who owns a snack stand in Yeouido, and his family: his oldest son Gang-du, who helps him at the snack stand, his daughter Nam-joo, who is a competitive archer, his younger son Nam-il, who is an unemployed college graduate and budding alcoholic, and his granddaughter (Gang-du’s daughter) Hyun-seo, a seventh grader.

I have purchased snacks and beer from stands like the one Hee-bong owns. Yeouido is a really nice place to hang out with your friends, or to go on a cheap date, or for that matter to go by yourself to relax or to read. Those steps you see in the movie, the ones that go down from the mostly flat, grassy park area down to the Han River? I have walked down those steps, or at least I have walked down steps like that in Yeouido. There are many sets of those steps that run along the riverbank. And anyways, I have sat at the bottom of these steps, down by the river, and read. I believe the book I read most of down by the Han River was “The Te of Piglet,” by Benjamin Hoff, a sequel to his more well-known book “The Tao of Pooh.”

But I am digressing, as usual.

What I want the reader to take away from my digression is that Yeouido is a very peaceful, relaxed sort of place. Families go there for picnics and that sort of thing. Sitting in the park in Yeouido and looking across the Han River, it’s easy to forget that roughly half of metropolitan Seoul is directly behind you. The bustling streets and subway stations you just went through to get here seem far away, something that you might run into way over there on the southern side of the Han River, but nothing that would ever bother you here in Yeouido. (As long as you don’t turn around, ha ha.)

But this idyllic area is the setting for most of “The Host.” And before I get too far into who and what “The Host” is, I first want to note that the Korean title of this movie is “Gwoemul” (괴물), and despite what the English subtitles on the DVD may try to tell you, “괴물”does not literally translate to “The Host,” it literally translates to “monster.”

The “monster” in the film is a gigantic (big enough to swallow a fully grown human whole) mutant fish monster thing that looks suspiciously like a big version of some sort of canned oyster or something that Gang-du eats about halfway through the film. If anyone knows what those things are called, I would appreciate it if they told me; I had to return “The Host” to the video store before I started writing this, so I can’t go back and look now.

This giant, multi-tailed, frog-footed, people-eating fish monster thing appears one day in Yeouido, first hanging bat-like from the underside of a bridge, then dropping down into the Han River, then rampaging around Yeouido eating people.

Where did this monster come from? The film’s opening scene gives the viewer an idea:

The film opens in a laboratory in Yongsan Garrison. Yongsan is the American military base in Seoul, in case you didn’t know. There are two scientists, one Korean, one American, and the American scientist outranks the Korean scientist. The American scientist laments that the lab is quite dusty, smearing dust on a bottle with his gloved finger. The American instructs the Korean (who, I think importantly, is not especially fluent in English) to dump all the contents of all the bottles down the drain. How this is supposed to get rid of the dust in the lab is a mystery; nonetheless the Korean scientist objects, in broken English, because dumping chemicals down the drain would cause the Han River to be polluted. The American scientist tells the Korean scientist “The Han River is very broad. Let’s be broad-minded about this.” After that, the American scientist leaves, and the Korean scientist is shown wearing a gas mask, dumping bottle after bottle of toxic chemicals down the drain, as a white fume cloud rises up out of the sink. If I’m not mistaken, the Korean scientist smudges the dust on the bottle he’s pouring, perhaps thinking “this lab is still gonna be pretty flipping dusty after I dump all these bottles out,” and a panning shot shows a couple hundred empty bottles on a table behind him.

The film then cuts to two Korean fishermen standing about knee-deep in the Han River, fishing. One of them captures a strange-looking fish of some sort which is never shown up close to the viewer. The man catches it in a little cup, shows it to his friend, then drops it, cup and all, after the thing he caught tried to bite his finger. He scrambles in the water for a second, upset, but he recovers the cup. It initially seems like maybe he was scrambling to catch the strange creature again, but he’s just scrambling for the cup: it was a gift from his daughter.

The next scene is of two younger Korean businessmen running toward an older Korean businessman who is about to commit suicide by jumping off of a bridge spanning the Han River. Why he is committing suicide is never mentioned, but he does manage to jump off of the bridge to his death before they reach him.

This man’s suicide is mentioned on television, inside the Pak family snack stand. Hyun-seo has just gotten home from school, and she and her father are watching her aunt Nam-joo in an archery competition. A news blurb mentions that the businessman’s body was found in the river…but that it had been bitten in half. Neither Hyun-seo nor Gang-du seem to pay any mind to this detail.

Gang-du is called away by his father because of a complaint from a customer: it seems that this customer was sold a dried o-jing-eo (squid) by Gang-du, one that had nine legs instead of the usual ten. An earlier scene showed Gang-du heating up an o-jing-eo on a burner, pulling off one of its legs and sticking it in his mouth as he did so. Hee-bong tells Gang-du that the legs are the most delicious part of an o-jing-eo, and that customers expect to get what they pay for, and stop eating the customers’ food. He hands Gang-du another o-jing-eo on a tray with three cans of beer and tells him to take it to the customers who ordered the o-jing-eo Gang-du ate part of, and to give all of it to them “service,” which in a Korean snack stand/restaurant sense means “free.”

That’s right, “free.” This is something else that makes me nostalgic for Korea: restaurants will often give customers little freebies now and then, especially regulars. I and the party I was in were often the recipient of a free bottle of Coke, or Pepsi, or Chilsung Cider (kinda like 7-Up), or beer…or maybe a bowl of rice, or an extra helping of something. And get this: tipping is not allowed. Don’t get me wrong, I tip my waiter or waitress here. I am not a cheap-ass, despite being (seemingly) perpetually broke-ass. And I usually round up with my tips. Fifteen percent is usually my minimum. But I can’t help but miss the “service.” And yeah, that’s what they say when they bring you an extra Pepsi or whatever, “service.” It’s written in Korean “서비스,” which reads “seo-bi-suh” phonetically.

Also, since I am waxing nostalgic, I would like to say that my mouth is watering for some good dried o-jing-eo right now. In all honesty, when I first got to Korea, walking past stands and carts and whatnot on the sidewalk selling o-jing-eo was kind of unpleasant. It has a very fishy sort of smell, and unless you’ve smelled it, you don’t really know what it smells like, and there’s no way for me to describe it to you. It’s a very strong smell, especially if you’re not used to it. And I don’t mean to denigrate Korea or Koreans or anything like that by saying so (admittedly I am a bit of a Korea-phile), but the smell actually made me gag before I got used to it. I had to hold my breath when I would walk past carts or whatever that sold it. But after a while, I found that wasn’t the case, and a while after that, some Korean friends got me to try some of it…and I have to say, it’s really good stuff. Of course there are variations in quality, but good o-jing-eo is just about the best thing in the world to nibble on when you’re drinking beer, or for that matter whenever you want to snack on something. It’s sort of like a fishier version of beef jerky, and it’s really good stuff, despite the aroma.

Where was I? Oh yeah: Gang-du takes the tray to the customers, who don’t pay any attention to him. They are looking at something hanging from the bridge, something that drops down into the river and swims underwater toward them. Gang-du tosses a can of beer at it, and which gets swallowed whole, and several other people (there’s one Pakistani guy I think in the crowd, but the rest are Korean) throw trash into the Han River, hoping to get the attention of the thing underwater.

Despite my being an anti-litterbug sort of person, I really like this scene. I think it sort of ties in to the opening scene where the American scientist tells the Korean scientist to dump all the toxic chemicals down the drain. The film seems to be saying “sure, Americans have helped to pollute the Han River, but we Koreans have done our fair share, also.”

I forgot to mention that the opening scene was based off of something that actually happened in 2000: a Korean mortician working for the U.S. military in Seoul dumped a whole bunch of formaldehyde down the drain. Maybe the “scientists” in the opening scene were supposed to be morticians, I dunno. At any rate something like that did actually happen.

The reason I think it was significant that the Korean scientist/mortician/whatever in the opening scene couldn’t speak English all that well is because it allows for a certain amount of ambiguity in where the blame lay: maybe the Korean scientist in the film misunderstood the American one.

And I don’t mean to appeal to any authority I may or may not have on the subject, but despite what anyone may think, there are in fact many Korean people who speak Korean as their native language and also speak English as fluently (or even more fluently) than many native English speakers. My characterization of this particular Korean scientist not speaking English well is based in my interactions with countless Korean folks of varied English ability. Most Korean folks I knew – even elementary-aged students – spoke English better than this fellow. And maybe that’s significant, maybe it isn’t; at any rate there’s another English-speaking Korean scientist who translates for Gang-du and another American scientist, and the other Korean scientist is perfectly fluent in English. I know it’s only speculation, nonetheless I think there was a reason the particular actor in the opening scene was cast, and also why he enunciated his lines the way he did: to throw a little ambiguity into the mix. Maybe I am all wet, I dunno.

At any rate, following the scene down by the river, where Koreans toss trash into it to taunt the weird fish monster thing under the water, the weird fish monster thing jumps out and starts running around Yeouido eating people.

This particular victim was oblivious to what was happening, because she was listening to classical music on her headphones. It’s a shame GIFs don’t have sound…the effect in the film was quite effective: one second there’s cacophony, the next there’s peaceful music, the next…

I think it’s also significant that during this mayhem, there are only two people who seem to have any interest in anything other than running like hell: our Gang-du, and also a blonde American man. The two of them challenge the monster, but to no avail. The American – the viewer is shown later that he’s a member of the U.S. military – gets his arm ripped off and dies later in the film.

So an American scientist told a Korean scientist who didn’t speak English well to dump toxic chemicals down the drain, which led to a mutated monster jumping out of the Han River several years later and eating people, and one of the heroes that fights the monster is an American. Tell me the ambiguity of blame wasn’t intentional.

There are other scenes later that portray American military people as uncaring toward Koreans, such as the one featuring the Korean scientist who is fluent in English. The American scientist he is translating for acts concerned about Gang-du (who is in custody, about to have several painful tests done on him) when he interviews him, then almost immediately changes his tune to hostile and indifferent, saying Gang-du is delusional, and that the “virus” has infected his brain.

This “virus” is indirectly where the English title “The Host” came from: the river monster is thought to be “the host” of an unknown virus, one that has infected everyone who came in contact with the monster. This virus is mentioned on news reports as the cause of a mysterious rash that many people have started to get.

This rash also has (or at least had at the time the movie came out) a real-life analog in Korea: a rash of unknown origin called “atopi” that affected quite a few people, mostly children. I had students who had it from time to time. Nobody really knew what caused it, but chemicals in processed food like ramyeon (which kids ate tons of, including crunched up and uncooked, which is actually not as gross as it sounds) were thought to be a possible culprit.

That’s a detail of the film that would go right past anyone who has never heard of “atopi.” But it’s another real-life sort of detail that was put in, like the formaldehyde-down-the-drain event, and also something much more easily recognizable that happens toward the end of the film: the U.S. military decides to fight the monster using something called “Agent Yellow.”

Which, yeah, if that doesn’t ring any bells, you obviously don’t know much about the Vietnam War.

Director Bong Joon-ho said that calling the film “anti-American” would be a stretch, and I would agree with him. But it does play off of tensions between American military personnel and Korean people. I don’t think Bong would deny that.

Regrettably, the DVD I watched last night was scratched, so I didn’t get to see the ending of the movie again. I only got about an hour and a half through the approximately two hours of the movie, and I don’t remember exactly how it ends.

Hyun-seo, I forgot to mention, is swallowed by the monster and taken away in the monster’s first appearance. She survives being swallowed and spat back up in the sewer, and she manages to make a call to her father Gang-du to confirm she is still alive. The majority of the film centers around her family trying to find and rescue her. Her family is thwarted by American military as well as Korean people (government and civilian; one of Nam-il’s friends tries to capture him to get reward money) in their rescue attempts, but finally they find out where she is.

But like I said, I don’t remember exactly how the movie ends.

It’s worth watching, at any rate.

 

 

 

THE GREATEST TV SERIES OF ALL TIME, ACCORDING TO ME

One of my earliest memories — one that I may have altered significantly in the 34 years or so since it happened — is of me sitting on the floor of the living room in the trailer house I shared with my mom, my face probably a little too close to the TV, attempting to read the credits of an episode of “M*A*S*H.” I couldn’t really read at that point, but I had been read to a lot, and I could sort of halfway “read” fairy tales and whatnot that my mom and grandparents had already read to me several times.

This is what I have been told, that I surprised the people who read to me by reading ahead in stories I already had heard before. I don’t actually know if that happened before that one day I sat in front of the TV trying to read the credits of M*A*S*H. As I mentioned, I am not a hundred percent sure that this memory even happened the way I remember it happening.

But I am pretty sure I remember trying to read the M*A*S*H credits, what with the yellow Army stenciled lettering and whatnot, and not really being able to decipher anything.

I was only about two, in my defense.

But anyways, getting on with it, the memory I may have manufactured many years later had to do with my biological father. He and my mom had just recently split up.

Before I go any further, I would like for the reader to know that I am not embellishing anything here. I am relating things my mom and others have told me about myself as a toddler, and you are free to believe or disbelieve them as you choose.

But in addition to “reading ahead” at quite an early age, some time around the time I was two or so, I began speaking in more or less complete sentences. Everyone was sort of worried about me, I have been told, because I didn’t really speak at all for the longest time, and then one day I just more or less began conversing in more or less complete sentences.

I would tell my mother, using passable grammar, that my diaper needed to be changed, for example. I don’t really know how common this sort of thing is; I merely mention it to point out that I was speaking at a somewhat advanced level for my age.

This is what I have been told. I obviously have next to no memory of this period in my life. But anyways, this memory has to do with a conversation my mother and I may or may not have gotten into about my father. He worked at a local television station at the time, quite possibly the one I was watching M*A*S*H on that particular day.

And like I said, I don’t really remember clearly, but I think I was trying to convince my mother that my father’s name would appear in the M*A*S*H credits. Which, of course, it didn’t.

I “remembered” this episode many years after the day that it may or may not have actually happened. I had moved back home after spending two years as an ESL teacher in South Korea. At the time, TV Land was showing M*A*S*H reruns most every evening. And due to the fact that it was set in Korea, and that I had all sorts of reasons to think about Korea that I had been putting off thinking about, I became somewhat obsessed with the show. Especially considering that my mom had told me many times growing up that I used to love watching it as a kid.

My liking the show as a kid may or may not be due to the fact that Benjamin Franklin “Hawkeye” Pierce had the same hair color and hair-do that my dad had.

But I am not sure about that. I do know that the “memory” I had about trying to read M*A*S*H credits to find my dad’s name stuck in my head for quite a while after I first “remembered” it. Maybe it really happened the way I remember it happening, maybe it didn’t. I really can’t say for sure.

At any rate, I incorporated the “memory” into a song I wrote, or at least into one lyric.

(Also, Norah Jones is my favorite singer, on the off-chance anyone listens to that song and wonders who I was talking about.)

At any rate, as long as TV Land played M*A*S*H reruns, I kept watching them. I think I saw every episode at least once, and a few episodes more than a few times. All sentimental attachments I have to the show aside, it’s a great show. The dialogue was witty, it managed to be lewd without being vulgar, it had a well-developed cast that viewers actually cared about, and above and beyond all that, it was a perfect illustration of the absurdity of war.

A recurring theme on the show had to do with another absurdity of modern life, one we humans just can’t seem to get past: racism. There was the episode where the racist white soldier Sergeant Condon asked not to be given any “colored blood” in a transfusion. Hawkeye and Trapper resolve to teach this fellow a lesson: while he is sedated, they swab his skin with tincture of iodine, which darkens his skin. The soldier is congratulated by Lieutenant Ginger Bayliss, an African-American nurse who is in on the joke, when she says “They got you down as white…way to go, baby!”

Granted, the show sort of stuck its foot in its mouth with regard to racism a few times. The story told near the end of the aforementioned episode about Dr. Charles Drew has been widely disputed. It is true that Drew was African American, it is true that he improved techniques for blood storage and blood transfusions, and it is also true that he protested the practice of racially segregated blood transfusions, but the story of him actually dying because of segregated hospitals is disputed. At any rate, M*A*S*H addressed an actual historical issue regarding blood transfusions: they were racially segregated by the Red Cross until 1950, despite there being no scientific rationale whatsoever for doing so, and they called attention to Dr. Charles Drew, a pioneer in the field.

It’s also been argued that the character Oliver Harmon “Spearchucker” Jones is an illustration of racism in the show — not as in “M*A*S*H was against racism” as I am trying to illustrate, but as in “M*A*S*H is itself racist” — and I have to say based on that ugly racial slur of a nickname, I can’t really argue with that point. Jones’ character was, however, an accomplished neurosurgeon, and in the first season, at least, one of the central characters. The show wrote him out, allegedly, because they wanted to focus on Hawkeye and Trapper. I suppose I have to take the internet at its word on that.

It could also be said that many of the Korean characters on the show lacked depth. But there were notable exceptions, such as Sam Pak and Charlie Lee. It’s worth noting, however, that both of the actors who played these characters were actually Japanese, as were a great many other “Korean” characters that appeared on the show.

I don’t know if that represents anything “racist” about the show or not. Most likely, there were more Japanese-American than Korean-American actors available for casting at the time M*A*S*H was being produced. But that’s just a theory I haven’t actually researched at all.

It could definitely be said that M*A*S*H was an illustration of Orientalism, which you can read about from the link provided. I would not argue with anybody who made that case.

As a matter of fact, to insert myself into the narrative again, when I decided to go teach ESL in South Korea, I had no idea whatsoever what to expect. In my mind’s eye, when I was trying to imagine what my apartment would be like, I pictured something roughly equivalent to the inside of one of the tents at the 4077th. I was pleasantly surprised to find that South Korea was much more advanced than what I had been shown as a kid in M*A*S*H, and was actually a good bit more advanced than where I grew up or where I was living before I went there.

I won’t deny the “Orientalism” charge, should anyone make it. That’s there in plain sight, for anyone to see. But I would like to state that I don’t really think it’s possible for a white westerner to write about or make a movie or TV show about any quote-unquote “Oriental” culture (I use that term only to be linguistically consistent) without there being an element of “Orientalism” involved. But in M*A*S*H’s defense, I would argue that the “Orientalism” that arguably exists in M*A*S*H at least attempts to minimize differences and humanize the people being portrayed.

Before I get into examples of that, I would also like to proffer the idea that something similar to the concept of “Orientalism” occurs whenever any culture examines and writes about (or makes movies or TV shows about) any other culture. For example, there is a world of difference between actual culture and society in the UK and the way culture and society in the UK is portrayed on American TV. And vice-versa. When one culture attempts to portray another, there is always going to be a disconnect between reality and what is being portrayed.

And to be sure, when there is not only a language barrier but also a significant cultural difference, well, the disconnect is going to be much wider. At any rate yes, the case could be made that M*A*S*H is an example of “Orientalism,” but I would venture that for what it’s worth, it meant well.

There are several instances of American soldiers using racial slurs against Koreans, and central characters (usually Hawkeye) chiding or otherwise belittling the American soldiers who use those slurs. There are several instances of North Korean and Chinese troops needing medical care at the 4077th, and certain doctors (usually Major Frank Burns) objecting to treating them. And Hawkeye usually sets them right.

And it could be argued that Hawkeye is presented as a “White Savior” in such instances. But I don’t think that accusation really holds much water: Hawkeye doesn’t “lead” any nonwhite people, he simply treats their injuries, just like he would treat anyone else’s. The overall theme of M*A*S*H is that all people are people, war is stupid, and whatever differences there are between cultures can be solved by simply behaving well toward each other.

And getting good and drunk. Remember the episode where all the Greek soldiers celebrated Easter at the 4077th, and everybody got hammered on ouzo and danced all night? Most of the Greek soldiers didn’t speak any English. That was a good episode…

But moving on, and inserting myself back into the narrative again, prior to my re-introduction to M*A*S*H a few years back by way of TV Land, I had remembered hearing and reading many things about how Alan Alda’s Hawkeye character was something of a “feminist icon.” That he was an example of a “sensitive male” if there ever was one. And frankly, it took me quite a while to understand what I think was the rationale behind those characterizations.

I mean, Hawkeye Pierce isn’t exactly a “gentleman” or anything. He is constantly hitting on nurses, chasing after a different one each week, and he gets his face slapped on a pretty regular basis.

I mean, look at the guy:

To be sure, this aspect of the “Hawkeye” character became less and less prevalent as the seasons progressed. He didn’t mention Geisha houses nearly as often, for example, after Trapper left the show. Whether this was a conscious decision to soften Hawkeye’s image, or just a natural reaction by the writers to the introduction of Captain B.J. Hunnicutt to the show is uncertain. Nonetheless Hawkeye kept on propositioning nurses left and right, and getting slapped in the face on a semi-regular basis.

What I didn’t quite understand, as I sat there watching Hawkeye get slapped again and again in episode after episode, is that “feminist” and “sensitive” do not equate to “neutered.” Here’s why I think Hawkeye was something of a feminist hero: it wasn’t because he chased nurses around, it wasn’t because he occasionally said something inappropriate, and it wasn’t because they slapped him.

Why I think Hawkeye was something of a feminist hero is the way he reacted to being slapped. He didn’t slap back (he generally acknowledged that he had the slap coming), and he didn’t hold anything against any nurse who rejected him. He simply took his slap and moved on.

And to be sure, Hawkeye got infatuated with some nurses more than others. And despite his being quite a bit of a cad, he was a cad with principles.

Such as in the episode where Hawkeye spends most of the episode courting Lieutenant Regina Hoffman, but is forced to be late to the date he finally convinced her to have with him because he was helping an American soldier get his marriage to a Korean woman approved. Lieutenant Hoffman is upset, reveals herself to be a bit of a racist…and Hawkeye splits.

I dunno. It’s my favorite TV show of all time. What can I say?

I could sit here and write about it all night, and I may very well come back to it at some point…but the season premiere of “Better Call Saul” is about to come on.

So anyways…thanks for reading!

***

So I decided when I read back over this blog post that it didn’t appear to be finished. It wasn’t what I set out to do when I began writing it, it’s only part of that.

I didn’t get far enough into my own personal impressions regarding the show. In addition to discussing various criticisms of the show – valid criticisms – I wanted to just kinda ramble on about how much I liked this or that episode, or character, or whatever. But at the same time, I don’t want to start a whole series of blog posts about M*A*S*H, and I’d like to leave all the stuff up above regarding racism, Orientalism, etc. just so my personal impressions of various episodes and characters and whatnot can be read as impressions that are aware of the show’s many faults.

Plus, my most recent (and only) viewing of the show that has been more or less in its original broadcast order has only advanced to the beginning of season 4.

I have owned seasons 1 and 2 for a few years now. For whatever reason, my interest in M*A*S*H was renewed a few months ago, and I rewatched all (or maybe most, I can’t remember) of seasons 1 and 2, and I ordered season 3 after that. I watched all of season 3, some episodes more than once, and then I wrote the first part of this blog post.

Now I have season 4 on DVD, and I have watched the first two episodes, the ones that deal with replacement characters coming to the 4077th at the beginning of this season.

In the final episode of season 3, as many M*A*S*H fans are undoubtedly aware, Colonel Henry Blake receives his orders to go home. Henry is of course ecstatic to finally be able to go back home to his wife and daughter, and everyone at the 4077th is simultaneously happy for Henry and sort of sad: he’s a great guy, a great surgeon, and a crappy excuse for a Colonel…at any rate Col. Blake’s departure from the 4077th is bittersweet.

So Col. Blake says goodbye to everyone, everyone says how much they’ll miss him, and he leaves.

Later in the operating room, while everyone is busy doing meatball surgery, Radar receives a call bearing some really bad news, and he informs everyone in the OR that Col. Henry Blake’s plane had been shot down over the Sea of Japan (he was flying to Tokyo to connect with a longer flight home; as a sidenote Koreans generally refer to the “Sea of Japan” as the “East Sea”), that it had spun in, and that there were no survivors.

Everyone is shocked, but they don’t have any time to be shocked: they have patients to tend to.

I think I read somewhere that the cast wasn’t told about Henry’s fate until they shot the scene where they found out about it. I think I read that, at least…

And this is where season 4 picks up. The beloved Col. Blake is dead, and it’s not clear who will take his place. In the meantime, Major Frank Burns has taken command, and attempted to make the 4077th into more of a “regular Army” sort of unit, with drills and salutes and regulations an whatnot, all of which result in various slapstick jokes and whatnot, jokes that are actually a lot funnier if you turn the laugh track off.

Anyways, at the beginning of the first episode, Hawkeye returns from a drunken Geisha-fest in Tokyo. He went there alone for some reason – I forget if the episode explicitly says why – and his usual partner in crime Trapper stayed back at the 4077th. When Hawkeye returns, Radar tells him that while he was in Tokyo, Trapper also got his orders to go home. Trapper and Radar had tried to call Hawkeye in Tokyo, to tell him the good news, and so Hawkeye and Trapper could meet up or whatever one last time before Trapper left, but Hawkeye had been ignoring phone calls.

Meanwhile, news comes of Trapper’s replacement, Captain B.J. Hunnicutt, and Burns sends Radar off to Kimpo in a jeep to pick him up. In the hopes of catching his best friend Trapper before he leaves, so he can say goodbye, Hawkeye (against Burns’ orders) goes with Radar to Kimpo. Hawkeye drives, and after several misadventures along the way, he and Radar arrive in Kimpo just about ten minutes after Trapper’s plane left. Hawkeye is really upset that he was unable to tell his best friend Trapper goodbye, but just about the time he starts feeling sorry for himself, Captain Hunnicutt appears.

Hawkeye decides they all need a drink, so long story short they go get one (Corporal “Radar” O’Reilly, at Hawkeye’s insistence, wears one of B.J.’s sets of Captain’s bars to get into the Officer’s Club in Kimpo), or maybe more than one, and when they leave their jeep has been stolen.

So, they steal another one, and after an eventful ride home where B.J. is introduced to the wonderful world of mortar fire and war in general, they make it back safely to the 4077th.

And Frank gets blamed for the stolen jeep. It was a general’s jeep.

At the end, as Radar sits outside his office working on his tan, Col. Sherman Potter arrives and announces he will be the new commanding officer of the 4077th.

Now I had seen this hour-long episode before, on TV Land, at least a couple of times. I like it for a number of reasons. One reason is that it gives Hot Lips and Ferret Face a few extra minutes on screen – love them or hate them (hint: you’re supposed to hate them) they’re an integral part of the show, and the writers of  M*A*S*H did well in this episode, with regard to making the best of what was kind of a bad situation, cast-wise: two of the shows main characters, Henry and Trapper, two fan favorites, were now gone. Another reason I like it is the way it introduces B.J. and gives ample reason for he and Hawkeye to be new best buds, essentially replacing Trapper.

It’s a good episode, at any rate, despite Henry and Trapper’s absence. And after I finally got around to reading why they were no longer on the show, this episode and the next one got a little more interesting.

As it turns out, McLean Stevenson (Henry) and Wayne Rogers (Trapper) both felt that the series was focusing too much on Hawkeye and not on them. And to be fair, it did make some changes from the novel and film to the various characters in such a way that favored Hawkeye. For example, in the novel and film, Trapper was a thoracic surgeon, the only one at the 4077th. This expertise gave Trapper the spotlight, so to speak, in situations that called for that expertise in the novel and film.

In the series, Hawkeye was made the thoracic surgeon. In episodes that dealt with that expertise, Hawkeye was made the center of attention, not Trapper.

So after season 3, after getting tired of playing second and third fiddle to Alan Alda’s Hawkeye, Stevenson and Rogers picked up their ball and went home, so to speak.

Not that I can say I blame them. At any rate, I think it’s interesting that in the opening episode of season 4, the plot is centered around how much Hawkeye is going to miss his friend Trapper. Trapper’s departure is used to once again thrust Hawkeye to the forefront.

Not that I can say I blame the writers for writing it that way. The shows other two main stars were gone, what else could they do? And to be fair, it gave Trapper’s character a pretty long farewell, approximately as long as the half-hour episode at the end of season 3.

At any rate they made the best out of a bad situation. And it turned out pretty well, whether Hawkeye lamenting Trapper’s departure was meant to be ironic or not.

And the second episode in season 4, the first one to prominently feature Harry Morgan as Col. Potter (Morgan played a Section 8 general in a season 3 episode, as many M*A*S*H fans probably know), well, I’ll just remind you that two of the show’s stars had complained about not being the center of attention and quit the show before the season started and then tell you about it:

Frank Burns, who has been relishing his newfound authority over the 4077th and has big plans for the unit, is quite upset to learn that he will be replaced as commanding officer. He plays it cool when he is first informed, then in the privacy of Major Houlihan’s tent, he throws a full-on childish temper tantrum, even holding his breath, because he can’t have his way.

After that, and for most of the rest of the episode, Burns is missing.

I can’t presume to know if that was a jab at the actors who left the show…but it kinda seems like it might have been.

I dunno. What do you think?

***

I originally planned on periodically updating this blog post upon the completion of viewing each individual season. If memory serves (I did not review the previous portion of this post before I began typing this afternoon) I was somewhere around season four or five when I last updated this blog post, and I was discussing how the characters Major Frank Burns and Major Margaret Houlihan were presented very well by the actors who portrayed them. “You’re supposed to hate them,” I think I wrote before, following a description of Burns throwing a childish temper tantrum over a plot issue that I don’t quite remember off the top of my head. But as it turned out, I found I would rather continue watching more episodes of M*A*S*H instead of pausing to reflect upon what I had already seen.

As even the most casual M*A*S*H fan knows, Burns left the 4077th (following season five) and was replaced by Major Charles Emerson Winchester III, a wealthy, upper-class, well, snob from Boston who, at least at first, considered his being assigned to a MASH unit to be, well, beneath him.

Burns being sent home to the states was explained, at the beginning of season 6, to be a result of Burns having sort of a nervous breakdown following the marriage of his one-time mistress (Burns was married to a wealthy woman back home the whole time they were consorting together) Major Houlihan to Lieutenant Colonel Donald Penobscot. Burns went to Tokyo in an attempt to regain the affections of his former mistress, and not only did he fail to do so, but he also managed to offend a high-ranking Army officer by jumping into a bath this man was sharing with his wife at a Tokyo bathhouse. Somehow or other, Burns ended up getting sent home following this off-camera episode, and as Colonel Potter was making calls looking for a replacement, one of the people he called in Tokyo just happened to find himself indebted to one Major Charles Emerson Winchester III to the amount of over $600 for losses at cribbage.

(By the way, if my prose seems to be somewhat reserved or stilted or whatever, blame it on the fact that since completing my months-long “project” of viewing all eleven seasons of M*A*S*H in broadcast order, I have begun re-viewing another of my all-time favorite TV series, albeit one I have no sentimental childhood attachment to: the BBC programme “Jeeves and Wooster,” based on the stories of P.G. Wodehouse, starring Stephen Fry as Jeeves and Hugh Laurie as Wooster. There will likely be a blog post regarding esoteric minutae of this show at some point in future, and yes, my use of “programme” instead of “program” and “in future” instead of “in the future” was quite intentional, thanks for noticing.)

So Burns left the 4077th, and he was replaced by Winchester. This seems simple enough – replace one easily dislike-able character with another – but as the show progressed, the change brought about when Winchester arrived was much more profound.

Winchester was a much more well-rounded and, well, realistic sort of character than Burns was. Burns – as much as I loved to hate him – was pretty darn one-dimensional. And as a result of her being almost constantly associated with Burns, Major Houlihan was, at least while Ferret Face was in the picture, quite a one-dimensional character herself.

To be completely fair, Burns and Houlihan being more or less cast as “villains” in the first five seasons also contributed to their rivals – Trapper and his replacement B.J., and of course Hawkeye – as well as their superior officers – Colonel Blake and his replacement Colonel Potter – being, themselves, somewhat one-dimensional.

Winchester – while at times being a shallow, whiny, social climbing boor, much like the character he replaced – was not only those things. Winchester was also shown to have some quite admirable qualities: he was charitable from time to time toward the ever-present orphanage Father Francis Mulcahey volunteered at, and when given an opportunity to return to his posh job at Tokyo General if only he’d betray his colleague Major Houlihan, he chose the honorable path and defended her good reputation.

It’s possible for any M*A*S*H fan, no matter how casual, to feel about Winchester much the same way they felt about Burns. But it isn’t nearly as easy to “hate” Winchester as it is to hate Ferret Face. Sure, Winchester possessed many of the very same traits – greed, selfishness, snobbishness, a tendency to brown-nose – that Burns had, but in addition to those undesirable traits, he also possessed other much more admirable traits, and if any M*A*S*H fan out there never noticed these traits before, I would insist that they review the series at their earliest convenience.

And yes, I do own all eleven seasons on DVD, all featuring the “olive drab” cover design…but no, sorry, you can’t borrow them from me. 😉

Winchester’s being simultaneously “easy to hate” as well as “not difficult to begrudgingly like” opened up a veritable Pandora’s box of possibilities for all the other characters. If there’s no easily identifiable “villain” any more, and if the person who replaced the “villain” (please bear in mind that I actually like the Frank Burns character quite a bit from a storytelling sort of perspective, and that my description of him as “villain” amounts to nothing other than laziness and/or limited vocabulary on my part) is actually a pretty sympathetic character, then from whence will conflict arise? If there’s no conflict in any given episode, I mean, then what’s the point?

The answer to this dilemma is, to my view, perhaps the single most relevant reason why M*A*S*H stayed on the air for eleven seasons, why its appeal was not limited to any one demographic, and why the final episode set ratings records, out-performing even the Super Bowl:

The “good guys,” at times, became the “bad guys.”

Captain Benjamin Franklin “Hawkeye” Pierce is the most easily recognizable example of this. Pierce, in the first few seasons, was presented as the hero, as both the show’s comic relief and the show’s moral compass. As mentioned earlier, Pierce’s “morals” regarding nurses and the fairer sex in general were at best questionable, nonetheless it was never assumed – at least not by this viewer – that he was anything but a “good guy.”

But as the seasons wore on, Pierce’s character began to degenerate. To unravel. To become less of a lovable sort of cad, and to become more of – at least at times – a loathsome pest at best, and an unforgivably self-centered and egotistical asshole sonofabitch at worst.

As I have watched somewhere around 150 episodes of M*A*S*H since I last updated this blog post, and as these episodes are at the moment a sort of olive drab blur in my mind, the reader will have to forgive me for not including specific examples of Pierce’s assholery here. But at the same time, the reader should understand that I view this degeneration from “hero” to “something else entirely” as a good thing, at least from a dramatic/storytelling/etc. point of view.

Our heroes, at the end of the day, take their pants off one leg at a time, just like the rest of us. Sometimes they lay down in their beds – or on their standard issue Army cots – and have trouble sleeping, just like the rest of us. Sometimes the pressures they face on a day to day basis prove to be more than they can handle, heroic figures though they are.
Had M*A*S*H continued with the simplistic “good guys/bad guys” dichotomy it employed for the first few seasons, it quite simply would not have been The Greatest TV Series Of All Time, According To Me, or to anyone else. Its shift from this dichotomy to a much more muddled – and therefore much more human – style of character and plot development is, to my view, what makes it so memorable.

Pierce wasn’t the only “good guy” who had asshole moments. Colonel Potter sometimes behaved abominably, as did Captain Hunnicutt. Hunnicutt was, in the majority of episodes he appeared in (a number which constitutes a majority with regard to the entire series) presented as a calm, collected, compassionate, caring family man, someone who sincerely missed his wife and daughter back home in San Francisco. And though he did actually have one dalliance with a nurse, unlike his predecessor Trapper John McIntyre, Hunnicutt felt guilty about that dalliance. And he was never unfaithful to his wife again, despite the lovely and talented journalist and artist Aggie O’Shea doing her level best to entice him into doing so.

To be sure, Hunnicutt was an admirable character, not only because of his skills as a surgeon, not only because of his usual level-headedness and wit, not only because of his unwavering compassion, but also because at times he was the opposite of these things, such as when his wife Peg wrote to tell him that she had taken a job at a restaurant to help pay the bills, and Hunnicutt felt not only embarrassment that his wife had to lower her social status slightly to get by but also helpless agony because he simply was not able to be there with her and their daughter Erin. Hunnicutt’s performance in this particular episode was at least as assholish as Pierce often behaved, and possibly more unforgivable than even Burns (or Winchester) at their worst.

But this performance did not make Hunnicutt a “villain” or for that matter diminish his status as a sympathetic character one iota. Far from it: this performance served to present Hunnicutt not only as a warm, caring, talented surgeon that nobody with any sense of decency could possibly have a bad word to say about but also as a human being, a flawed human being, a human being subject to the same frailties and insecurities and slips into general assholery that the rest of us struggle with.

This is, to my view, the genius of M*A*S*H: its humanity. This is the basic premise of the show, even in the early seasons, when there were clearly defined “good guys” and “bad guys”: humanity.

Imagine yourself – assuming you are not a medical professional who has served in the military; if you are, I salute you, and I hope you’ll comment – as someone who has devoted your life to healing the sick and treating the injured. Imagine that you are passionate about this profession, that all your life you’ve known that this was your calling, and that you have devoted many years to studying this profession and becoming the best medical professional you could possibly be.

Now imagine that you’ve been drafted into military service during wartime. Your skills as a medical professional will be of great practical use on the one hand, and you will have ample opportunity to heal people who have been wounded in combat, or as an indirect result of combat or bombing campaigns or what have you.

But on the other hand, this horrible and inhuman abomination called “war” is for all intents and purposes the polar opposite of everything that motivated you to become a medical professional in the first place: you want to help the injured; the single solitary purpose of war is to inflict injury.

Your purpose as a medical professional is to sustain life on an interpersonal basis, to do everything you can to help whichever individuals you are presented with to stay alive; the inevitable result of war is injury and death on a massive, wholly impersonal scale.

I have never been a soldier, nor am I a medical professional of any sort. And my ruminations upon this subject are purely speculative and spectator-ly, nonetheless I have to imagine that this sort of internal conflict would be hell to try and deal with.

Which may or may not have been a contributing factor toward Benjamin Franklin “Hawkeye” Pierce spending roughly half of the two-hour M*A*S*H finale in a mental hospital, under the care of psychiatrist (and recurring character) Sidney Friedman.

The proximate cause of Hawkeye’s loss of control was a Korean woman on a bus. Most of the main staff of the 4077th, several Korean people, and a dead American soldier were on a bus in a combat zone, and the aforementioned Korean woman at the back of the bus was holding a chicken in her lap. Everyone was told to remain quiet, so as to prevent the bus from being shot at or shelled or bombed or what have you, but the chicken kept clucking. Hawkeye yelled at the woman to make that chicken be quiet, and she put a blanket over its face and inadvertently smothered it.

The bus wasn’t shot at, or shelled, or bombed, or what have you, and everybody (except the dead soldier and the chicken) made it back to the 4077th unscathed.

Which was good…except for the inescapable fact that the chicken wasn’t clucking, it was crying…

…and that it wasn’t a chicken at all, it was a baby.

This by itself – accidentally prompting a mother to accidentally smother her baby – would be enough to send any decent person into a downward spiral of guilt and madness. But in Hawkeye’s case, the madness began many episodes before that.