Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Here's to Hot Lips

Lt. Linda Nugent (Peggy Lee Brennan): Do you dance, Radar?

Radar (Gary Burghoff): Uh, no. Football knee.

Lt. Linda Nugent: Oh, you played football?

Radar: Not much, I had a bad knee.

Hot Lips Houlihan (Loretta Swit) was a pioneer among women's TV characters.

There had been other women in American television who were positive, assertive role models by 1979, but I can't think of any (other than women in TV movies) who had to overcome as much as Margaret Houlihan.

By the time the episode that made its debut 35 years ago tonight was aired, M*A*S*H was in its seventh season. Just think of all Hot Lips had been through in that time. She had had an affair with a married man, then she had married an officer, from whom she had just become officially divorced.

As a coping mechanism, Hot Lips threw herself into her work, devising a new triage system for her nursing staff and annoying Col. Potter (Harry Morgan) with the details of her plan. Hot Lips told Potter that she was determined to "go as far in this man's Army as any woman can go." Talk about gung–ho. It was a bit much for Potter.

For validation, she invited a general (Walter Brooke) to come and review her crew in action.

Meanwhile, Radar (Gary Burghoff) struggled to get the attention of a new nurse (Peggy Lee Brennan) with whom he was smitten. He turned to ladies' man Hawkeye (Alan Alda) for help.

Mostly, though, the episode was about Hot Lips and her attempt to elevate herself after the psychological beating she had taken over the failure of her marriage — a commendable objective, to be sure. But her effort to build a new and improved Margaret nearly got derailed by the general who came to review her new triage system.

The general, you see, had been acquainted with the old Hot Lips and had ideas of his own for her future.

He wanted to promote Hot Lips and take her back with him to his base, where she could be his mistress — a high–ranking mistress but a mistress all the same.

He didn't realize she was a different woman — at least, not at first. He soon found out.

Hot Lips was unaware of his ulterior motive when she greeted him at the compound, but it became clear enough to her in due course.

And she wasn't willing to go along with it. The general stormed angrily out of Margaret's tent when she turned him down. When he had gone, she held up her glass in a silent toast to herself and said, "Here's to me."

I see no such role models for young girls on 21st–century TV. More's the pity.