Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Analysis of a Letter

"As you pointed out, Sigmund, there's a link between anger and wit. Anger turned inward is depression. Anger turned sideways is Hawkeye."

Sidney (Allan Arbus)

In the episode of M*A*S*H that first aired on this night in 1976, "Dear Sigmund," Dr. Sidney Freedman (Allan Arbus) was making one of his frequent visits to the 4077th. There really were times during the series when Sidney seemed to be a glutton for punishment.

But there was a method to his madness. He believed "there's something special" about the unit — a healing quality — so, when he went there one night to play poker, he wound up staying for weeks trying to resolve problems he was having with a case that had turned out badly. After working with a patient for a long time — and believing they were on the verge of a breakthrough — Freedman's patient "listened to the voices" in his head that had been telling him to end his life.

It was a "Richard Cory" kind of tale. At least it struck me that way. I don't know if Sidney's patient was wealthy or not; I only know he had been having problems and was seeking psychiatric help.

Anyway, in a letter Sidney was writing to Sigmund Freud, he referred to the compound as a "kind of spa," reporting that "the waters are pretty good here." (I presume that would only be if they were mixed with some of Hawkeye's and B.J.'s homemade hooch.)

Speaking of Hawkeye (Alan Alda), Freedman wrote about how Hawkeye had made the rounds in post–op one day "with a personality that had split 2 for 1" — and a pair of diver's flippers on his feet.

Most of Sidney's letter dealt with different ways the M*A*S*H folks found to occupy themselves during their down time — one of which was the poker game. By far the thing that occupied most people's thoughts and actions was a wave of practical jokes that had been sweeping the compound. No one knew who the practical jokester was or who might be his next victim.

The viewer always knew when the jokester had struck, though. One time a bench in the mess hall tipped over when someone sat at the end of it. Another time Col. Potter (Harry Morgan) got black rings around his eyes after using binoculars.

The joker turned out to be B.J. (Mike Farrell). Sidney found out when he discovered B.J. filling a hole in the ground with water. Frank Burns (Larry Linville) had been digging the holes to be prepared for air raids.

"As loud as you can," B.J. said to Sidney after enlisting his help in the practical joke, "shout 'Air raid!'" Which he did — and Frank came running out of the tent and dove into the hole, not realizing it was full of water.

On what was apparently a very cold first day of spring, the folks in the compound gathered outside for a brief ceremonial unveiling of a cherry blossom they had been trying to grow. They quickly covered it up and returned it to a makeshift greenhouse where it had been kept — and apparently would remain until springlike weather arrived to rejuvenate the frozen earth.

Sidney felt rejuvenated enough by that point to leave, observing as he did that happiness is "like springtime at M*A*S*H. If you can't see it or find it, you just go ahead and make it."

Which is pretty good advice.