Wednesday, March 07, 2007

DAY 7: Smash Along With Eddie

March 7,2007
19:27 hours.

“Edwina” - Airdate: December 24, 1972
PLOT: Lt. Edwina Ferguson confesses to Lt. Cutler that she is a 28-year-old virgin. The nurses of the 4077th organize to withhold their affections until someone agrees to date the accident-prone Edwina. Capt. Pierce draws the short straw, and prepares for the most harrowing romantic evening ever committed network television.
-Standard-issue insults.
-This plot has little or nothing to do with the war.

“Edwina” is kind of screwed from the start, since it asks us to generate sympathy for a character we’ve never seen before, right from the first scene, in which Edwina freaks out at her own birthday party and runs out of the mess tent. She’s a potentially interesting character (more dimensional than Maj. Houlihan at this point), and Arlene Golonka who plays Edwina is an appealing, funny actress, but she gets shipped out at the end of the episode, undoing any good work of the story. Why does M*A*S*Hhave such a focused disinterest in a well-rounded nurse character? It keeps generating opportunities to get to know the nursing staff – Cutler, Dish, Ginger, ANY of the nurse’s we’ve met so far would be more interesting than, say, Klinger at this point - and ditching them. It’s not just a symptom of M*A*S*Hfinding its feet, either. By the end of the show, Houlihan will become more than a cardboard villain, but it’s pretty much a bust for female characters in the ensemble.

All that said… “Edwina” is pretty funny, and if not for the major transgressions above, it would be a model of form. Each act is a satisfying self-contained comedy premise worthy of its own episode, and they flow naturally, logically into each other: the nurses organizing a 4077th Lysastrata, then Hawkeye suiting up for his date, and finally the big night with Edwina. “Edwina” is sexist, glib about a story where the men are assigned to bone a woman they’re afraid of, and every character comes off as a horny jerk. Edwina wants to lose her virginity (or yeah, yeah, she really needs a friend. Barf.) The men are just a khaki mess of sexual frustration. In clever counterpoint, Frank and Margaret are the only ones getting any, and in a gross/weird/great scene sit in the mess tent watching Hawkeye flirt with Edwina, which simultaneously infuriates them and gets them hot.

As for the big slapstick date scene, Edwina’s single-handed piece-by-piece demolition of both the Swamp and Pierce’s body is well-staged, and uses the set and props inventively, and I like that no one wants to date Edwina because she’s destructive, not some unpleasant personality flaw. However, as with Loretta Swit, Alan Alda is too good a naturalistic actor, and when he screams in pain it’s always more disturbing than funny. Check out the far more successful nearly pantomimed scene of Radar and Trapper helping Hawkeye getting drunk and dressed for his date.

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