In the sixth season of M*A*S*H, a two-part episode called “Comrade in Arms” arrived that finally saw Margaret Houlihan and Hawkeye Pierce lock lips.
In prior seasons, these two characters had bickered so often, you might think this kiss was one of those times that M*A*S*H really shocked fans with a twist that came out of nowhere.
But perhaps because of that tension between them and Hawkeye’s wolfish nature, to many fans of the show, this moment could perhaps have been the most predictable scene on the whole show.
Because by the sixth season, M*A*S*H writers had discovered just how much Margaret’s romances drew audiences in.
Earlier in 1977, they decided to break up Margaret’s relationship with Frank Burns, and on the day they released the episode that introduced the new man Margaret set her eyes on, the show’s ratings shot to the top of the weekly Nielsen charts.
Writers saw that millions of fans were eager to find out who Margaret would marry. Why wouldn’t M*A*S*H writers capitalize on that intrigue by delivering a scene that they knew many fans also wanted to see: Hawkeye and Margaret in a passionate kiss?
Swit told the Tampa Bay Times in 1975 that an early episode where Hawkeye and Margaret fell asleep sharing a blanket had laid the groundwork for the kiss in “Comrade in Arms.”
She said that moment showed audiences there was potential for the two to move beyond their combative relationship.
“You can’t be hostile when together you’ve spent 24 hours patching human bodies and shielding wounds from dust with your own body and seeing men die,” Swit said of that episode’s role shifting Hawkeye and Margaret into more plausible romantic interests.
Of course, Swit said these evolutions of relationships were supposed to keep the audience guessing, not necessarily create a build-up to a kiss.
“We try different combinations of relationships so that you, the audience, won’t expect a given reaction,” Swit said.
M*A*S*H producer Gene Reynolds told United Press International in 1977 that the decision to evolve the way characters relate on M*A*S*H was intentionally trying to change the existing formula of what made hit TV shows.
“We like to turn characters around. In the situation comedy of yore, relationships never changed,” Reynolds said. “That’s been a thing about television for years – the roles never changed. Matt Dillon did not marry Kitty. They were sweethearts for 17 years – if they really were sweethearts. Characters in kind of fixed roles went on for an awful long time. Now I think it is progress and wisdom to see a certain amount of change in the relationships.”
While many critics considered Margaret’s relationship with Frank ludicrous, once Burns was out of the picture, the critics all claimed to see right through how writers were steering Margaret into Hawkeye’s arms.
Did you see the kiss in “Comrade in Arms” coming? What do you think was M*A*S*H’s most predictable moment?