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The Hawkeye Scene In MASH That Went Too Far

Before "Squid Game" binge-watchers, rabid "Yellowjackets" theorists, or even weekly "Lost" devotees, there were "M*A*S*H" super-fans. The wildly popular series was as much a TV show as a cultural phenomenon. Over the course of its 11 season run from 1972 to 1983, "M*A*S*H" attracted unprecedented numbers of viewers who tuned in to watch the sharp ensemble cast and the deft combination of humor and drama. A spin-off of Robert Altman's 1970 film of the same name, the series followed the doctors and staff members of a U.S. Army hospital during the Korean War. 

"M*A*S*H" secured its place in the annals of TV history with its renowned series finale, "Goodbye, Farewell and Amen." The two-and-a-half-hour episode drew 105.97 million viewers, making it the most-watched television broadcast of all time when the episode first aired in 1983, a feat that wasn't surpassed until Super Bowl XLIV in 2010 (via USA Today). "Goodbye, Farewell and Amen" showcases the ability "M*A*S*H" had to handily offset the horrors of war with a light, comedic touch. Even for diehard fans of the series, however, some scenes are almost too devastating to watch. Nowhere is this more evident than in the signature scene of series protagonist Hawkeye (Alan Alda) in the finale.

Hawkeye's finale breakdown stills shocks audiences today

In the "M*A*S*H" series finale, the usually wisecracking Hawkeye experiences a breakdown. While talking to psychiatrist Sidney Freedman (Allan Arbus), Hawkeye recalls ushering refugees out of Korea on a bus. In a flashback, Hawkeye frantically tries to quiet the passengers for fear of being discovered by the North Korea patrol, including a woman who must smother her squawking chicken to death. It is then that the anguished Hawkeye remembers that it was actually her baby. "Why did you make me remember that," he seethes, teary-eyed.

In response to the r/AskReddit question, "What is a scene from a TV show that really disturbed you?" u/BilboMontague1 highlighted this heart-wrenching repressed memory that Hawkeye finally verbalizes.

Other Redditors chimed in to agree. "I oddly think about this scene multiple times a year. And I'm not even a MASH fan," said u/wdjbat. "I watched it as a kid. It still haunts me today at 46," added u/teeerex. Others replied with anecdotes from friends and family, comparing their own experiences as refugees to Alda's devastating portrayal of repressed trauma. Still, many viewers commend the bus scene, in particular, for capturing the show's balance of tone. As Redditor u/Lady_Penrhyn1 put it, "MASH might be viewed on the outside as a comedy. But it never, EVER glosses over the tragedy and futility and horror of war."

If the bus scene is still unsettling "M*A*S*H" fans nearly forty years later, it's nice to know that at least Alan Alda -– who starred in, co-wrote, and directed "Goodbye, Farewell and Amen" –- can appreciate a joke about it. In a 2009 episode of "30 Rock," guest-star Alda makes a crack about his crushing "M*A*S*H" monologue, quipping, "A guy crying about a chicken and a baby? I thought this was a comedy show."