Death Takes a Holiday
With me still being sans Television, I can only guess that todays Christmas specials are no where near as emotional as this episode from M*A*S*H's Season 9 special, 'Death Takes a Holiday'. I decided to watch it today out of the blue, having completely forgotten the storyline of this specific episode.
First off, I am hard pressed to find a series today which can really bring up and discuss such a wide variety of topics that run deep within our human fabric. Sure M*A*S*H has its corny parts, but many episodes teach very good life lessons. I believe that all young people should be exposed to M*A*S*H, and perhaps it would help with the rampant greed and carelessness that the younger generations seem to have today.
Regardless, in this episode BJ Hunnicutt (Mike Farrell) basically sets the scene of what I believe to be the primary plot line in the episode. He talks about how his son back home in the is just old enough now, where BJ could lift him up to place the angel on top of the tree. And dwells on the fact that he is here in Korea, seemingly a million miles away, missing yet another Christmas with his young family.
As the camp gets ready for a Christmas party, a lone jeep pulls up to the camp. The driver found a lone soldier at the side of the road with a gunshot wound to the head. Nurse Houlihan (Loretta Swit) BJ and Hawkeye (Alan Alda) quietly take the patient into the medical facility and begin to preform triage. They quickly figure out that the bullet severed the patients lower brain stem, and he is on death's doorstep.
Houlihan looks through the patients pockets and finds a photograph with a note from the young mans family. The note says "To the best husband and daddy in the world, come home soon, we love you." signed by his wife, son and daughter. BJ looks at the photo and sighs. He reaches for the oxygen mask, and places it on the young mans face, asking Houlihan to set up two units of plasma. Hawkeye looks at BJ and questions him, stating that it is a waste of time, the man is going to die, might as well just let it happen. BJ rebuts, saying, "If we can delay it long enough, these kids won't have to think of Christmas as the day their daddy died."
Some time passes, all three of them still tending to the patient, keeping him alive. Sherman Potter (Harry Morgan) comes in dressed as Santa, and frowns at the sight, suggesting that he was hoping that someone had left the light on in the room by accident. He comes over and checks the patients vitals after getting mixed replies regarding the patients condition. Potter asks BJ (who said the patient was doing alright) why he said the patient was going to be alright. BJ responds saying that "The Christmas wreath should be green, not black; he dies on Christmas, they have to live with it." Potter understands, but points out that midnight is several hours away, and the chances of the patient making it that long are slim. BJ, Hawkeye and Houlihan all agree that the patient is in good hands, and they will do their best to try to get the patient to pull through past midnight. Potter simply looks at them and says simply, "If you three don't take the cake... Should anyone ask, I'll tell them you are working on a special Christmas present for some kids back home" as he turns and exits the room.
Potter continues his role as Santa for the party with the rest of the camp, but stops by and taps Father Mulcahy (William Christopher) on the shoulder, telling him he should pay a visit to the medical facility. Mulcahy barges in on the trio who are fighting desperately to keep the patient alive. With over two hours left to go before midnight, the patient is growing more and more unstable by the minute. Mulcahy can see this and attempts to administer the last rights, but BJ prevents him from doing so, swearing that the patient will make it.
11:25 PM rolls around and Houlihan looses the patients pulse. BJ wants to inject the patient with adrenaline to get his heart going again to make it the next 35 minutes. But Hawkeye says "No! It's over, let him rest...".
The three of them sigh as Mulcahy blesses the body. Houlihan says "It never fails to astonish me. You're alive. You're dead. No drums, no flashing lights, no fanfare. You're just dead." They sigh again, and she says "I'll get the death certificate." Hawkeye walks over to the clock in the room and opens the cover. Without a word he moves the minute hand clockwise past midnight and stops at 12:05. He looks at the rest of them and says in a very bleak voice "Look he made it. Time of death, twelve oh five, December twenty-sixth." Houlihan whispers that that is falsifying records, then Mulcahy says that Christmas is a day of birth. Houlihan says "That'll be a first for me" (likely referring to falsifying records). And Hawkeye says bleakly that "War is full of firsts." BJ completes the sentence by saying "... and lasts." Hawkeye opens the door to the sound of caroling and the scene fades.
I mean sure, its better when you watch it. And I am sure I tend to let myself dive deeper into the story, and I am not ashamed as a man to say that I did tear up.
I have seen enough death in my life... I understand how important a human life is. It is easy when you don't know the person. When you do not let yourself know the person. When you don't try to imagine the family and loved ones that the person will be leaving behind. Few people out there actually have no one in their lives. Everyone has someone who cares for them.
I am sure most of those kids who were basically saying 'fuck you mom, you didn't get me an iPod for Christmas' would be totally heartbroken if mom got in a car crash and died today.
But people don't really think about life as being that precious anymore. Society has conditioned us to think like robots. Video games (which I am an avid fan of) have conditioned our youth to becomes so desensitized to the concept of death, but really make no efforts to link death to remorse or suffering or any other emotional tie. There is no real emotional tie in most video games to really enforce that. Same thing with most shows out there today. Sure, shows like Walking Dead may have hinted at those emotions and feelings surrounding death. But few pop-culture shows ever really faced the problem head on as M*A*S*H did.
While the shows politically and socially oriented content seem to be slightly dated, much of the content still has a valid place in our society. It would be interesting to see a modern version of the show. But asking for that would likely cause some big name producer to ruin it by making it seem like a reality show, with cameras bouncing all over the place, and jumpy, fast cuts. Stories like this are better told using classic film techniques. It seems that is yet another art which has fallen by the wayside these days... sigh.