Sometimes You Hear the Bullet
|"Sometimes You Hear the Bullet"|
Episode 17 (17th overall)
|Directed by||William Wiard|
|Written by||Carl Kleinschmitt|
|Original air date||January 28, 1973|
"Sometimes You Hear the Bullet" is episode #17 of the first season of the TV series M*A*S*H, originally airing on January 28, 1973. This is the first episode in which the medical staff failed to save a wounded soldier, and one of the first episodes of the series showing a member of the hospital staff truly affected by death.
Frank Burns throws his back out while dancing with Hot Lips in her tent. While recuperating in Post-Op, he puts himself in for the Purple Heart. Margaret justifies it by claiming that since the injury was sustained at a front-line unit (due to a "slip in the mud on the way to the shower"), technically that makes it battle-connected.
Hawkeye's old friend Tommy Gillis (James T. Callahan) appears at the 4077th. A reporter in civilian life, he is a combat soldier working on a book about life on the front lines called "You Never Hear the Bullet." The book is intended to show how death in battle can be sudden and not surrounded by any prior drama, unlike how it is often depicted in the movies. Tommy leaves for his unit just as wounded arrive at the compound. While operating on a Marine with appendicitis (played by Ron Howard, best known for The Andy Griffith Show & later Happy Days), the doctors remark on how young he looks. Later, recovering in the hospital ward, the Marine asks Hawkeye how soon he can get back to the front and boasts about killing enemy soldiers. Hawkeye discovers that the Marine is in fact only 15 years old, having used his older brother's ID to enlist and go to Korea to win back his ex-girlfriend. Hawkeye gives the Marine some sage advice about women, but ultimately lets him decide for himself whether he wants to go back to the States or stay in Korea.
Later in the episode, Tommy himself shows up as a casualty on the operating table, having been shot by the enemy on the front lines. Just before being anesthetized, he weakly tells Hawkeye that he in fact had heard a bullet just before being hit, just like in the movies. Hawkeye, close to tears, suggests that "Sometimes You Hear the Bullet" is a better title anyway, and tries frantically to save Tommy's life. Unfortunately, Tommy dies on the table and Henry Blake orders Hawkeye to move away and help Trapper.
Hawkeye is later seen crying for his friend, but wonders why he never cried for any of the other men he has seen die while in Korea. Henry consoles him by remarking "There are certain rules about a war. Rule Number One is: Young men die. And Rule Number Two is: Doctors can't change Rule Number One." Not wanting to see another young man die needlessly, Hawkeye immediately reports the underage Marine to Major Houlihan and the MPs, sending him back to America and safety. While initially furious, the young man forgives him when Hawkeye presents him with a medal — the Purple Heart that Frank was to be awarded (but was not entitled to).
This episode contains the strongest antiwar message in the first season of M*A*S*H. Although network bosses discouraged the show's writers and producers from creating episodes with controversial content, this episode, combining drama and comedy, was well received. Alan Alda cited "Sometimes You Hear the Bullet" as an example of the sort of television he wanted to do, mixing dark and light, and Larry Linville called it the finest example of what the show could accomplish. The script for this episode was nominated for a Writers Guild Award.
This episode also portrays Henry Blake in a more thoughtful and serious vein than in any prior episode - ordering Hawkeye to stop operating on his dying friend, and later counseling and consoling Hawkeye as he wept.
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