“I Hate a Mystery” - Airdate: November26, 1972
PLOT: When valuable personal effects are stolen all over camp, Col. Blake investigates the crime wave. Hawkeye becomes persona non grata after the hot merch turns up in his foot locker… and he mounts another investigation to clear his name.
FRANK BURNS ABUSE:
-Picture frame around Frank’s photo of his mother stolen.
-Hawkeye threatens to punch him.
-Disturbing, completely unfunny scene of Houlihan shrieking in horror over her missing hair brushes.
RARE, USELESS TIMELINE CLUE: Hawkeye says it’s “Tuesday, 1951”.
I don’t hate a mystery, so be warned that I’ve got to spoil the ending of the episode. Don’t proceed if, well, you care.
As a sitcom mystery episode, “I Hate a Mystery” doesn’t hold up to, say, any of The Simpsons’ “Crusty Gets Busted”, early Sideshow Bob episodes or “Who Shot Mr. Burns?” It doesn’t have proper clues, investigation, no “suspects” but Hawkeye until the last scene, and the reveal of the culprit and motive is a gyp. Hawkeye invents an elaborate bluff and catches Ho-John, who was swiping stuff to raise money to bribe boarder guards and smuggle his family into South Korea. It’s unsatisfying because Ho-John’s motive is unguessable and has never been mentioned before, and since he’s not a suspect in Pierce’s eyes, Ho-John has no reason to be gathered with the others. He’s only there to get busted.
The episode is still funny, despite narrative deficiencies and tending to slip into the M*A*S*H crutch of multiple sight gag montages. We visit the ensemble in various vignettes as they discover their property has been burgled. This is a neat device that lets us see what is most important to each character. Whatever “I Hate a Mystery”’s shortcomings, it’s a keeper just for a cozy nighttime tent scene of Henry and Leslie. He presents her with a stuffed, mounted fish, which she apparently caught… and she loves it! Their relationship is always treated as a joke, but I find it sweet and a little sad that Henry has a more fulfilling, compatible lover in his mistress than in his wife.
There is a very strong idea in “I Hate a Mystery”, which gets cursory exploration, but doesn’t play out to the end. Hawkeye discovers that all the booty has been stashed in his footlocker, but because of his reputation, nobody believes that he’s been framed. He can’t get a date, the PA announcer makes fun of him, and everyone shuns him. His reputation for what? Being funny and a great surgeon? As a nurse tells him, everyone knows that when he’s not in the operating room, all that motivates Pierce is his own pleasure drive. A reality that Pierce is going to have to face is that though he thinks his flaws are harmless and adorable, and his womanizing, drinking, flippancy, and self-righteousness don’t hurt anyone, he can’t choose how others perceive him. It’s perfectly reasonable that the rest of the camp would believe Hawkeye’s destructive pranks, abuse of people he doesn’t like, and, uh, occasional theft of government property indicates his general character. Frank Burns sums it up nicely, at the beginning of the episode (always a good trick, putting key ideas in the mouth of a character we don’t take seriously), when he tells Hawk “You’re a vice-ridden degenerate, Pierce. I don’t think you even have a heart”. Pierce can shrug this off coming from Frank, and in usual human being style, doesn’t see anything wrong with how he acts until it bites him in the ass.
Also: Introduction of Radar’s teddy bear!