M.A.S.H. is one of my favorite TV programs. Even 30-years on it quite often never fails to get a laugh or a tear. Not all episodes to be sure but certainly some episodes have weathered the years more than others. More so than this however I’ve found myself specifically drawn to the untold story which is Charles Emerson Winchester III.
M.A.S.H may have started out being the story of Hawkeye Pierce but I think in the end the story was really more about Winchester as a classical hero – albeit one that was never finished. If we compare Winchester to the classical hero – many traits seem to be paralleled in the stories that were told in M.A.S.H.
- He is of noble birth
- He is required to perform extraordinary feats
- He suffers from an overriding fatal flaw
- The suffering of the character is physical
We see throughout the development of the character how much like the classical hero Winchester really is. Certain exploits such at “Morale Victory” shows a compassion in Winchester that on the surface seems to suggest at something more noble deeper inside. However in the same episode we see acedia, pride, and vanity. Albeit not spoken to in a boisterous way – the impression one gets from watching this episode is a certain smugness – almost as if selfless acts such as this represent a tally on a balance sheet.
Other episodes seem to reinforce these ideals with some not so subtle displays of hubris by Winchester. As the character evolves however it seems as if more and more of Winchester’s inner walls break down. “Run for the Money” is another such episode that stands as one where Winchester befriends a soldier who stutters. In so doing, I think we see this progression towards a point when Winchester enters the M.A.S.H. unaware of his fatal flaws to a point at which the true growth of the character can start to take place. As the saying goes it:
“… brings us at last to the moment of truth, wherein the fundamental flaw is ultimately expressed, and the anomaly revealed as both beginning… and end.”
The writers of M.A.S.H. choose to treat the transcendence of Winchester into darkness as an ending in the final episode. The more I look upon it though the more I feel that this was really the beginning.
Think on it this way. In the final episode of M.A.S.H. the character of Winchester is broken. Music, which was always his refuge from having to face the reality of who he was, is no longer a barrier or shield to protect him from his fatal flaw. That anomaly is now laid bare – the road has led him to the gates of his personal hell despite his claims that “my life will go on pretty much as I expected”.
I think what bothers me 30 years on from the airing of this episode is that, while so much time and effort was spent on the character of Hawkeye and his relationship with BJ, that we all missed the ultimate cliff-hanger.
Think on it – Almost all the other characters have grown in some way that resolved by the end of the series. Margret, Hawkeye, BJ, Klinger, Col. Potter. All have grown from the experience in a way that you could clearly see them having become better people for their experiences. Certainly there will be challenges. But all in all, the substance of who they are going to be was forged and set in Korea.
For Winchester however I don’t feel the character was really resolved. Essentially the road through the Korean War was one that took an arrogant, self absorbed, pompous ass and marched him straight up to the gates of his own hell on earth by the final episode. The real development of the story of Winchester I think is really what happens after he leaves Korea.
If we fall back to the essence of the classical hero – we have essentially left Winchester at a point of physical suffering, but not death – and certainly not rebirth. We could, in a way, see the next several years of Winchester’s life living in a purgatory state. Having established a pattern of forgiveness during his Korean years, we could imagine a Winchester who has come to terms some of his inner circles of Hell but not with the treachery of self. The fatal flaw of which – if not resolved, could tip the scales between that of the classical hero verses the fallen angle.
Beyond this, I think at the end of M.A.S.H. we see a Winchester that is only just now starting onto the path of grieving, death, renewal, and restoration as a true hero. Someone who can truly break out of transactional modes of leadership and become a transformative figure on so many levels.
It would be interesting I think to see that journey.
It would be a journey worthy of a Winchester.
— Kevin Feenan