“Bananas, Crackers and Nuts” - Airdate: November 5, 1972
PLOT: Racked with stress, and Frank in charge of camp, Pierce either starts to crack up completely or is faking it. Rather than grant Pierce a few days leave in Tokyo, Frank calls in psychiatrist Capt. Sherman (Stuart Margolin).
FRANK BURNS ABUSE:
-Story about Pierce and McIntyre tying Frank’s toes to his bed and shouting “fire!” and
-Putting Frank in traction with four casts.
-Pierce tells psychiatrist that he’s gay for Frank.
-Dog in hospital bed
OVERSTATED PRAISE FOR PIERCE: “Pierce has always been a rock!”
“Bananas, Crackers and Nuts” opens on the doctors dragging themselves out of three days without leaving surgery: a new show record!
An original of M*A*S*H is to illustrate how humor in the face of grim war, pranks and joking while surrounded by death and illness are life-affirming, a self-defense for the psyche, essential; not morbid, but vital. Pierce and McIntyre are best equipped against losing themselves to war, because their they combat the rampaging Thanatos drive of war with jocular Eros.
So it’s unpleasant to see Pierce cracking up but continuing to make jokes and act silly, because his defense mechanisms are turning against him. It is arguably more disturbing when Pierce breaks down in unmitigated despair or anger, because his resources have left him completely. Besides, while he’s pushing the envelope, an element of the episode is Hamlet-like blurring between Pierce acting or actually going mad.
The second theme song of M*A*S*H is “My Blue Heaven” which stands in direct contrast to “Suicide is Painless”, and crops up several times in the series, in contexts ironic, joyous, and nostalgic. Both songs romanticize their topic, but “Suicide” is defeatist and “Blue Heaven” is hopeful. Pierce sings “My Blue Heaven” twice in “Bananas, Crackers, and Nuts”, first when he and McIntyre pack their bags for a Tokyo trip that is destined not to happen. The second time, it’s inverted, as Hawkeye deliriously hums the song, sitting in the mess tent in full surgical gear and eats what he insists is a North Korean’s liver. Pierce is primarily putting on a show for Frank and Margaret’s benefit, but they weren’t there to see him and McIntire packing. Pierce has made a private mental connection between the leisure, indulgence and escape of Tokyo and “My Blue Heaven”, and in the mess tent he indulges in a very different pleasure of the flesh, and tries to symbolically eat the war. It’s a comedy bit, but it’s also about Hawkeye’s futile attempt to have his personal antics consume, and internalize the pain around him, rather than buffer against it, or cut through the horror and bullshit of war.
We never find out what Hawkeye was really eating.
This is comedy!
More Points to Ponder:
-The third act is about Hawk, Trap and Radar tricking Capt. Sherman into sexually assaulting Margaret. This is, of course, weird, offensive, and not funny, and even better, it is not the only time M*A*S*H will use this plot.
-An even more frequent M*A*S*H plot? Hawkeye tricks someone into thinking they are insane and/or convinces the rest of the camp someone is insane. This is supposedly the purpose of trying to get the psychiatrist to rape the head nurse: so everyone will think Capt. Sherman is crazy.
Scene to scene, “Bananas, Crackers & Nuts” is funny, but the story is kind of all over the place. It is a challenge to tell a story about an established goofball character reacting to mental strain by acting goofy.