M*A*S*H Episode Review: "Hot Lips and Empty Arms"

by StevenHelmer

A review of the season 2 television episode that first aired in December 1973.

Synopsis: Margaret (Loretta Swit) re-evaluates her life and, after breaking up with Frank Burns (Larry Linville), decides to ask for a transfer out of the 4077th. However, after she goes on a drinking binge following her decision, her nursing career is put in jeopardy because wounded soldiers are on their way and she's in no condition to assist.


I had an opportunity to watch this season 2 episode a couple days ago, while my wife and oldest daughter were at skating practice. It was one I had seen in the past but had not watched in a long time and, because of that, I did find I looked forward to seeing it again.

Unfortunately, as I began to watch this episode, I was immediately reminded of something important, it's just not an episode I'm a huge fan of.

As I think I've mentioned in the past, of all the various characters M*A*S*H introduced us to over the decade or so it was on the air, my favorite is Margaret Houlihan. This is because she is the one character who gradually grew throughout the series and turned into someone with quite a bit of depth. As a result of this, I now find I'm just not a fan of episodes that make her the primary butt of the jokes, especially in the earlier seasons.

To be fair, this episode at least makes an attempt to let her show some independence from Frank. She realizes he has no interest in a long-term romance and, given her history with him and the rest of the camp, a clean break really did make a lot of sense, especially since it's not like the doctors showed her the respect she deserved.

The problem is the episode then went out of its way to humiliate her character. The camp made no secret about being happy she was leaving which, in turn, led to her drinking. And, if that wasn't bad enough, she continually embarrassed herself further while drunk.

In fact, I'm still somewhat confused about why, exactly, she ultimately decides not to follow through with the transfer. If she was unhappy before, I find it hard to believe she was going to be any less miserable following her incident. And, even though Hawkeye (Alan Alda) and Trapper (Wayne Rogers) helped her sober up, it's not as though they then made any effort to change their ways and make her feel more at home. That, in itself, says something because they were the main reason she wanted to leave in the first place.

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Final Opinion

As I said, I'm just not a fan of this episode. Houlihan has good reasons for wanting to leave, is embarrassed even further and stays? That's just not a plot that really works for me. She's a great character and deserved more respect than that.

My Grade: D

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Updated: 09/09/2016, StevenHelmer
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