The reason for Lt. Henry Blake’s tragic death in the MASH season 3 finale summarizes the show’s core message about wars. Played by McLean Stevenson, Blake was 4077’s commanding officer during the groundbreaking dramedy’s first several years. While not as respected or capable as Col. Sherman Potter, Blake was a fair and good-hearted doctor who was liked by his subordinates despite his inadequacies. So, when news of his death was delivered by a stunned Radar O’Reilly to a busy operating room at the mobile hospital, it was heartbreaking, to say the least.
Given the nature of MASH, injuries, deaths, and other tragedies were normal plot lines. In fact, the medical show leaned on it frequently, having its best moments when it doesn’t shy away from these difficult topics. In fact, being able to balance silly humor with the horrors of the war is arguably what made MASH one of the most popular shows ever. Still, the death of Henry Blake is unique not just because it was so unexpected, but also because of how the show executed it. His demise is largely deemed as the turning point of the show from being good to great.
MASH Killed Henry Blake To Show The True Horrors Of War
Despite MASH‘s success, leaving the show was actually Stevenson’s idea, as the actor reportedly didn’t particularly like playing a supporting role to Alan Alda’s wisecracking Captain Hawkeye Pierce, who was clearly becoming the show’s lead star. Instead of just sending off the character, however, creators Larry Gelbart and Gene Reynolds revealed in the 1997 Archive of American Television interview that they wanted to do something drastic and meaningful with his send-off. Hence, Blake was killed after his “plane was shot down over the Sea of Japan. It spun in. There were no survivors,” highlighting the horrors of war.
Admittedly, it was a tragic way to write out the character, heavier than Wayne Rogers’ John Trapper’s MASH departure. The show received countless fan complaints about Blake’s final fate, but the creators stood by their decision, and they were right to do so, as it re-emphasizes the ugly truth about war. Despite the show’s comedy, it inherently deals with a serious matter, with its storytelling used to antagonize the controversial Vietnam War (despite the series tackling the Korean War). The fact that Blake wasn’t even killed in combat and was already on his way home effectively makes it more heartbreaking.
Blake’s Death Was A Turning Point For MASH
Henry Blake’s death in MASH was a critical moment for the show for a couple of reasons. For starters, he was the first main character to leave the series, followed by Trapper and Frank Burns. More than kick-starting a series of big MASH exits, however, Blake’s death almost served as a litmus test for viewers’ response to the show leaning on a more realistic depiction of war. Granted that MASH had some emotional moments before losing Blake, it was only after his demise that it further explored death, destruction, and all the other horrors of war which made it the iconic show that it eventually became.