Why MASH’s “Dreams” Became The Show’s Most Divisive Episode

MASH season 8 episode "Dreams" explores the troubled dreams of the main characters, but despite being a unique episode its far from a fan favorite.

“Dreams” is one of the most creative episodes of MASH, but it’s also arguably the most divisive. MASH might have been a sitcom, but it was clear from its first season – and the decision to drop the laugh track during surgery scenes – that it was taking the subject seriously. Over time, it became more of a dramedy, where the stress and trauma of the war itself would weigh on its protagonists. The death of Henry Blake on MASH was another key step in the show’s development, as this marked one of the first times a network series killed off a recurring, well-liked character.

Later, “Hawkeye” Pierce himself Alan Alda took a more creative hand in shaping the tone of MASH during later seasons. For some, Alda’s input resulted in a less enjoyable, more self-serious show, but he was behind some of the best episodes too. This includes the most purely experimental episode “Dreams,” a season 8 outing revolving around the understandably troubled dreamscapes of the main characters. “Dreams” is about as close as MASH ever came to a horror episode, and proved it was still willing to take chances late into its run, but it’s become a divisive outing since it first aired.

MASH’s Disturbing “Dreams” Concept Made It Divisive

loretta swit as hot lips in mash dreams

For context, MASH’s “Dreams” sees the 4077th being swamped by a seemingly endless wave of wounded soldiers. Hawkeye, B.J., Houlihan and the others end up taking short naps whenever they can, which often result in bizarre or disturbing dreams. For Margaret, she dreams of getting married, only for her nuptial bed to be overflowing with dying soldiers, while her dress is stained with their blood. Hawkeye imagines losing his arms and then being unable to operate on a dying young girl. While the executions of the dreams are theatrical and over the top, the episode does a good job conveying the mental toll MASH’s leads are under.

By the end, it’s made clear they treated 211 soldiers in the space of 33 hours. MASH’s “Dreams” is full of memorable imagery, but by design, it’s not a particularly funny story either. As Alda himself pointed out to his castmates during a reunion episode of his Clear+Vivid podcast, “Dreams” has become one of MASH’s least-liked episodes for its break from formula and lack of humor. Whereas other experimental episodes like “The Interview” reserved acclaim for their break from the standard format, “Dreams” is considered more of an interesting effort than an enjoyable one.

“Dreams” Is One Of Alan Alda’s Favorite Episodes

That said, “Dreams” is an episode with plenty of defenders too. Alda labeled “Dreams” one of his favorite MASH episodes when talking to CNN in 2005. Of course, Alda also co-wrote “Dreams” with James Jay Rubinfier and directed it, so he has an emotional connection to it. Sometimes the show managed the balance of humor and pathos with ease, and sometimes – like with “Dreams” – the scale tipped too hard to drama for some. Regardless, it’s still a powerful story from MASH’s later years.

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