A subtle and profound episode that I think most will gloss over when talking about this show. I have seen every episode of this show more times then I can count by now and for so long, this episode's profound nature went completely under my radar until just recently. -
Much of the episode maintains the comedic nature of the early seasons, but the darker tone of danger and possible death for Colonel Blake mostly is so subtle that it never arises to any pertinent level if one is casually viewing the episode. The same is true for the much more subtle story that surrounds Cowboy, the man denied leave home by Henry. We are not told until the end of the episode who is attempting to harm or kill Henry... but it eventually ties back into his denial of Cowboy's request. The nature of the attempts on Henry's wellbeing are stark enough on deeper reflection of this episode, but the true emotional impact is not realised until the climactic chopper scene where Cowboy and Henry confront one another.
It is here that Hawkeye and Trapper are given a letter that tells everyone why Cowboy is so upset and unbalanced. And in true brilliant subtlety, they couch the profound moment with some tense black humour and sly frantic tones. As the letter is read it is revealed that Cowboy is suffering an emotional breakdown from the pressures of not only the war, but the nagging anxiety that he is losing the love of his life because of it. The frantic tone that Hawkeye is reading in, brilliantly melds the nature of the tense uncertainty... let's not forget the riffs on Dear John and Reno... only to reveal a surprising declaration of love and commitment from Cowboy's lover. While that is touching in and of itself, the reaction by Cowboy (brilliant portrayal and direction by the actor and director) with the near manic relief stricken gaze to the sky is what finally hit me this last viewing. That moment perfectly captured one of those true moments in war where a man is driven to near insanity to somehow survive... though this time with his family life still intact.
After so many years, moments like these surprise me in this show. It isn't in your face. It isn't standing on any grand ideological podium screaming to be seen... it is a simple little moment brilliantly capturing the dark aspects of war on screen. It doesn't need the blood or a hammer... it just is there and when the moment finally hits you it is all the more powerful. And to think this was one of those episodes I used to only casually watch... shame on me.