Today, we look at how the Season 1 episode of M*A*S*H, “Sometimes You Hear the Bullet,” struck the ideal balance for the series between silly and serious.
This is “All the Best Things,” a spotlight on the best TV episodes, movies, albums, etc.
This is a Year of Great TV Episodes, where every day this year, we’ll take a look at great TV episodes. Note that I’m not talking about “Very Special Episodes” or episodes built around gimmicks, but just “normal” episodes of TV shows that are notable only because of how good they are.
M*A*S*H is such a famous sitcom that I think we all know what the deal is with the series. It followed a group of hospital personnel in a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital during the Korean War and their lives dealing with the constant combat surgeries they have to perform, and due to that setup, the show tended to get more and more serious over the course of its run.
However, the IDEAL concept for the show was to try to balance the darkness with some humor, and an early episode that achieved that balance well was Season 1’s “Sometimes Your Hear the Bullet.”
The title comes from Tommy (James Callahan), an old friend of Hawkeye’s (Alan Alda) who is part of an infantry unit. A reporter back home, he plans to write a book about his war experience. He plans on titling it You Never Hear the Bullet, mocking the old Hollywood stereotype of soldiers hearing the bullet that kills them right before it kills them. Well, sure enough, he is killed, but not before he tells his old friend that he DID hear the bullet, just like in the movies. Hawkeye jokes that Sometimes You Hear the Bullet is a better title anyways, but when his friend then dies, Hawkeye loses it, and cries for the first time in the series.
His commanding officer, Lt. Henry Blake (McLean Stevenson) comforts Hawkeye, and delivers one of the best quotes from the series, “There are certain rules about a war. Rule Number One is: Young men die. And Rule Number Two is: Doctors can’t change Rule Number One.”
However, what Hawkeye CAN change is to report an underage soldier (Ron Howard) who joined the army using his older brother’s ID to impress his ex-girlfriend and get him sent back home. The teenager berates Hawkeye, telling him he will hate him for the rest of his life. Hawkeye accepts it, telling him that hopefully he hates him for a long, happy life. However, the teen changes his mind after Hawkeye gives him the Purple Heart that Frank Burns (Larry Linville) received after injuring himself while messing around with Major Margaret Houlihan (Loretta Swit) and callously still put in for (since he was technically “serving” at the time the injury occurred).
Larr Linville said this was his favorite episode of the series, citing specifically the balance between comedy and horror, and Alan Alda also offered it up as precisely the sort of thing that he wanted to do with the show. The episode’s writer, Carl Kleinschmitt, was nominated for a Writers Guild Award for the episode. The episode was directed by longtime TV director, William Wiard.
For a show that got SO heavy at times, this extreme heaviness (Hawkeye CRYING) mixed with the antics of Frank and Margaret and Ron Howard’s plot really was a nice balance.
Okay, if I’m going to have 355 more of these, I could use suggestions, so feel free to email me at email@example.com!