A love note to M*A*S*H's most memorable last lines
Spelling out Goodbye in rocks wasn't the only time the show hit the right end note.
In the second season of M*A*S*H, an episode called "Crisis" pushed the cast to new extremes during a harsh winter without proper supplies or fuel to heat the camp.
Throughout the episode, the cast gets creative in their quest to find warmth, including hunting socks and burning furniture. The final scene finds Henry Blake sitting in a barren room where he delivers a line into the phone while laughing about his dire circumstances, a line that arguably could only have worked on M*A*S*H.
"I’m talking to you from deep inside a real big empty," actor McLean Stevenson said, as if verbally throwing his hands up in lunacy-driven defeat.
At least one M*A*S*H fan site considers the humor of "Crisis" and its final line quite seriously, writing that it "may very well have the best last line of any episode of M*A*S*H."
Rifling through forums, the fan site confirmed that M*A*S*H co-creator Larry Gelbart had especially fond feelings about the writing on this comedy-driven episode.
"I had a particularly good time writing this one," Gelbert said. "Sometimes you get on a roll, and I think we had a pretty good one going throughout the second season."
He also at one point pointed to "Crisis" as "one of those scripts that was just a joy to develop, to write and to help come to life."
M*A*S*H was a show that took last lines seriously. Whether it was the last line spoken by memorable characters or the end notes to an episode, the show never disappointed when it came to saying goodbye.
For example, when the character Sidney Freedman makes his last appearance, his last line on the series was carefully selected by episode writer Alan Alda to bring back his most memorable line on the show, "Ladies and gentleman, take my advice. Pull down your pants and slide on the ice."
And when Larry Linville decided to leave M*A*S*H, the show made a point of having the last two words fall out of Frank Burns' mouth be a poignant, complicated, infuriating, "Goodbye, Margaret."
Similarly, the decision to end the entire series not with a spoken word, but with "Goodbye" spelled out in rocks after Hawkeye sputters "What?" during the final episode "Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen" remains one of the most iconic end notes of all time on TV.
What are your favorite last lines from memorable episodes or recurring characters of the series?
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"It's too big a world to be in competition with everybody else. The only guy I have to get better than is who I am right now." (Hepatitis, season 5)
I think about that line a lot.
These aren't last lines, but memorable for me and sometimes heartwrenching: Colonel Blake's statement about war (not sure what episode) , "Rule #1, Young men die. Rule #2, Doctors can't change Rule #1."
On a happier note, I loved Hawkeye's line in the April Fool episode, "Beer's on you Colonel!"
And from that same episode, Colonel Potter's, "You just HAD to put STUPID at the top of your list of things to do today!!" Harry Morgan's facial expression was priceless. That was one of my all time favorite episodes (I have too many to mention here).
When the group sang "Dona Nobis Pacem" at the end of a Chistmas episode, it was so touching that it brought tears to my eyes. And as they finished singing, you could clearly hear Harry Morgan's bass harmony - lovely. I ADORED his Colonel Potter character; he often reminded me of my dad. Morgan could do comedy too, like the time Hawkeye & BJ got him drunk and are walking with him as he stumbles along and falls flat on his face. They pick him up, he asks, "Did I fall down", they say "Nope", and he says "I didn't think so". The lines aren't particularly funny, but when you put them together with Morgan's delivery and stumble bum actions, they are a stitch! He had excellent timing.
Lastly, there was the wildly wacky Colonel Flagg character - he was hysterically funny. Edward Winter created a superb character.
The 2nd part of the Finale was in essence the actors saying goodbye to one another in addition to the characters saying GB. Margaret to Potter, “You’re a dear sweet man…” - also gets to me every time, too.
Margaret to the nurses: "Did you ever offer me a lousy cup of coffee?"
Charles to Hawkeye: "Where I have a father, you have a dad." AND "My father and I have been 10,000 miles apart in the same room."
Potter to Hawkeye: "The only person you have to be better than is who you are right now."
Hawkeye to Frank: "(A hero) is somebody who's tired enough and cold enough and hungry enough not to give a damn. I don't give a damn."
Most cringeworthy? Any time Klinger said something like "my feet are like wings" or when he ordered "a case of scotch and two dozen baklava." I know many people of Middle Eastern descent and they cringe, too. But the number one line has to be "don't let the bastard win." I don't remember ever hearing Hawkeye say that again.
I agree with you, especially the Charles’ lines. Sadly I’m sure there are many people who can relate to either one or both.
“Henry, You Have No Idea What It’s Like Sharing A Tent With A Guy Who Thinks He’s All Twelve Disciples!”
Going against the grain, and Focus Groups would disagree too. IMO, there doesn't need to be “last lines” or hard emphasis on a “final” episode. MASH being the exception because it did owe its viewers a lot! That show had drug them through virtual-emotional hell. However MASH had an almost anthology feel to it (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthology_series) meaning to present a different story weekly, with different combinations of characters & guest stars, and how it grouped its themes.
But for the classic TV series that we watch normally, what’s the point of final shows. The characters in our imaginations keep on running. So those “last lines” and finales are ego-centric to the writers. Their opportunity to the take a Final Bow. And they do work hard enough for it, no worries.