"B.J. Hunnicutt ... Clean cut, family, even temperament ... In spite of that I really like the guy."
[~Hawkeye, about B.J. (The Interview)]
"I'm a temporarily misassigned civilian."
Captain B.J. Hunnicutt is a character in the M*A*S*H TV series. At the beginning of Season 4 he replaced Trapper John at the 4077th, shortly before Henry Blake's replacement, Colonel Potter, arrived as the new commander. B.J. becomes the second main character (after Klinger, and before Potter and Winchester) to not appear in either the 1968 novel or the 1970 film.
"Welcome to Korea"
After returning from R&R in Tokyo, Hawkeye is informed by Radar that Trapper John had gotten his discharge and was on his way to Kimpo Air Field in Seoul to fly home. Disobeying Major Burns' order to stay in camp, Hawkeye hitches a ride with Radar (who is on his way to Kimpo) to see Trapper one last time, but missed him by just ten minutes. While angry over missing Trapper, Hawkeye met his replacement in the person of one Captain B.J. Hunnicutt.
They get acquainted over drinks at the Kimpo Officers Club. Hawkeye tells B.J. about Trapper, whom he is replacing, and then about Henry and Frank, the latter of whom Hawkeye reveals to B.J. that everyone in camp calls "Ferret Face". B.J. then tells about how he got drafted during residency in Sausalito while his wife Peg was eight months pregnant. After five weeks of army training at Fort Sam Houston, Peg has their daughter Erin, and while they're out dining at the Top of the Mark (Peg's first night out since giving birth), B.J. gets orders to ship out in two days, and, "next thing I know, here I am" (in Korea).
After a harrowing ride back to camp (including being fired on by snipers while changing a flat tire, unsuccessfully trying to prevent two girls from being forced by their father to sweep a minefield, and getting shelled while passing a squadron on patrol- all of this after stealing a general's jeep after their own was stolen), Hawkeye, Radar and B.J. stop at Rosie's Bar and get plastered. When they finally arrive back in camp, Hawkeye introduces Frank to B.J., who drunkenly salutes and greets Frank saying, "What say, Ferret Face?"
B.J. got his doctorate from Stanford University medical school, becoming a fourth generation doctor in his family. He lives in the San Francisco suburb of Mill Valley, California with his wife Peg and their infant daughter Erin.
Comparison to Trapper John
The character of B.J. was originally intended as a continuation of the departed Trapper John, with many of the latter's habits and mannerisms initially being retained through B.J.:
- In Season 2's 5 O'Clock Charlie, Hawkeye and Trapper are shown waiting in Hawaiian shirts and lounge chairs waiting for the inept enemy to fly over the camp
- Later, at the beginning and the end of Season 5's Bug Out, Hawkeye and B.J. are watching the enlisted dig latrines, with B.J. wearing a Hawaiian shirt similar to Trapper John's.
- In Movie Tonight, B.J. and Hawkeye sing a made-up verse for the song "Army Life" about how they "work on soldiers through the day, and nurses through the night", which is more consistent with Trapper John's attitude toward marriage than B.J.'s relationship with his wife. (This was three episodes after Hanky Panky aired)
Eventually, B.J. became more of a straight man to Hawkeye's antics. While Hawkeye tends to fly strictly by his gut emotions (often at the expense of his better judgment), B.J. is more reasoned and mature. Although he shared most of Hawkeye's assessment of the Army, the war, and regulation in general, B.J. tended to be more passive, preferring to be a quieter voice of reason. Despite generally empathizing with the man who became his best friend, he often suggests alternate, less confrontational solutions to problems and will occasionally outright refuse to participate in one of Hawkeye's schemes when it violates his own principles.
One personality trait that B.J. and Trapper John share is their penchant for tomfoolery in the form of pranks and practical jokes, except that B.J.'s are considerably more brilliant- and devious. In Bottoms Up, after he stages a prank with Hawkeye during which Charles loses his pants in the OR (for which Hawkeye was blamed), B.J. secretly manipulates things to where Charles again gets victimized (again losing his pants) while Hawkeye is vilified by the others and B.J. sits back watching the fun. But after an observation from Klinger, Hawkeye gets wise and convinces Charles to help him get revenge on B.J.
In The Joker is Wild, B.J., evoking the spirit of Trapper John, makes a bet with Hawkeye that he can pull pranks on the entire staff within 24 hours. Hawkeye is convinced that B.J. will fail, but his nerves are made raw after the others seemingly are pranked one-by-one. In the end, Hawkeye thinks he has won until the others all point out to him that he never actually saw any of them get pranked; B.J. then reveals that the real target of the joke was Hawkeye himself, brilliantly proclaiming that "the greatest joke of all was the joke that never came".
At the start of the seventh season, B.J. decided to grow a mustache. In Peace On Us, Potter orders the discouraged and disheveled surgeons to shower and shave in the hope that they'll feel a little better, after which B.J., having shaved off his grizzled beard, shows his new mustache to Hawkeye who calls it "cheesy" and "revolting", to which B.J. replies, "I like a little rebellion on my face". When Charles remarks that "Nurse Carvelli has a better looking mustache", B.J. accuses them both of having no taste, and regardless of their comments (even Potter calls the mustache "cheesy"), B.J. decides to keep it for the rest of the series.
As a doctor
B.J. is an excellent doctor, which is noticed even by Frank's replacement, Major Winchester, though he bristles at the fact that B.J. is from California. B.J. also has a solid moral code and holds fast to his Hippocratic Oath; this is displayed in Preventive Medicine after Hawkeye spikes the drink of a bloodthirsty Colonel Lacy to make him medically unfit to lead an unnecessary battle. Hawkeye unexpectedly ups the ante by claiming Lacy has appendicitis and requires surgery (a trick he and Trapper John once used to put Colonel Flagg temporarily out of commission). B.J. strongly objects to this needless surgery calling it mutilation and a violation of his oath, and after a heated argument with him refuses to be a part of Hawkeye's scheme.
As a soldier
B.J. does not consider himself a soldier in any way (in The Interview he calls himself a "temporary misassigned civilian"), but in Bombshells, B.J. is in a helicopter and forced to cut a rope leading down to a wounded soldier he and the pilot were attempting to rescue from an enemy patrol (effectively abandoning him to capture or death). After the pilot puts B.J. in for a Bronze Star for bravery, B.J. reluctantly tells Hawkeye that he can no longer thumb his nose at authority, as the act and the citation have turned him into a soldier. (In fact the Bronze Star is awarded for combat action against the enemy; he would have probably been awarded a US Army Commendation Medal or the US Soldiers Medal).
His full name remained a mystery throughout the series. In the Season 7 episode Lil, when asked what his initials stood for, he answered, "anything you want". But Hawkeye became adamant to know what they actually meant. Despite B.J. maintaining that they stood for nothing at all, Hawkeye went to great lengths to get at the truth, sending telegrams to many of B.J.'s relatives asking them what "B.J." stood for; they unanimously reply that it stood only for "B.J." itself; when Hawkeye rhetorically asks who would name their son "B.J.", he answers that his parents- his mother Bea and father Jay- gave him his quirky moniker, but Hawkeye refuses to accept B.J.'s explanation.
It didn't take long for B.J. to replace the departed Trapper John as Hawkeye's best friend, and they did many things together, including going to Tokyo on R&R (Dear Comrade). But while Hawkeye continued womanizing, B.J. remained strongly devoted to his family back home, although he did have two close calls with infidelity while at the 4077th:
- In Season 5's "Hanky Panky," B.J. unexpectedly comes close to having a one-night stand with nurse Carrie Donovan (who had gotten a 'Dear Jane' letter from her husband). The two are seen kissing passionately on screen, and though we never see how far they actually get, B.J. is subsequently ravaged with guilt. He almost wrote a letter to Peg about it, but Hawkeye stopped him, saying it's all right if he wants to punish himself, but not to punish her; B.J. eventually straightened things out and made peace with Carrie.
- In Season 8's War Co-Respondent (which was written and directed by Mike Farrell), Aggie O'Shea, a very attractive front-line journalist, arrives at the 4077th and becomes infatuated with B.J., and in so doing lays it on the line that she wants to be with him, which garners the attention of everyone else in camp, even the wounded soldiers that Aggie rode into camp with. B.J. goes through the temptation of having an affair with her. but in the end, citing his wife and daughter back home, he tells Aggie that he just cannot go through with it. And while Aggie understands, it doesn't change the way she feels about him, nor vice versa.
While largely unflappable in other regards, B.J.'s forced separation from his family, particularly missing the important moments (his and Peg's anniversary and Erin's first two birthdays) and the imposed neglect of his own domestic responsibilities (basic repair jobs that he would normally handle if he were still at home) were particularly upsetting to him. He also took insults to his familial loyalty very personally. The most prominent example of this was in Period of Adjustment when, soon after Radar went home, B.J. received a letter from Peg in which she tells of meeting Radar in San Francisco; he becomes particularly upset when he reads that Erin ran up to Radar and called him "Daddy"; his anger reaches a level where he destroys the still in the Swamp and punches Hawkeye in the face before storming out. B.J. later apologizes to Hawkeye for hitting "the best friend I ever had", and then breaks down sobbing over the excruciating reality that the first person that Erin called "Daddy" was somebody else, added to which he knows he will never regain the lost time he was supposed to have with Erin. In Oh, How We Danced, Hawkeye and the others tried to ease B.J.'s pain of being away from home during his anniversary; Hawkeye secretly recorded a conversation with B.J. about what he would be doing if he were at home with his family. Peg later incorporated his dialogue into a home movie of herself and Erin that she sent back to Hawkeye.
B.J. is shown to have a passion for motorcycles; he gets to drive one in The Yalu Brick Road. In Blood and Guts he gets another motorcycle from a wounded soldier who wanted nothing more to do with it, but it gets totaled by Clayton Kibbee. In the final episode he gets yet another motorcycle from a group of Chinese POWs and, after painting it yellow, rides it off into the sunset toward home.
In the series finale, while Hawkeye is in psychiatric care for his nervous breakdown, B.J. gets his discharge papers and is overly excited to finally be going home. He briefly visits Hawkeye, but makes no mention of his discharge while there. He has to make some complicated arrangements to get transportation, but finally- and abruptly- he is on his way when Klinger tells Colonel Potter that his discharge orders were rescinded, but Potter pays no attention. Shortly after B.J. leaves, Hawkeye returns, and while Hawkeye is upset over his departure, he is even more so because of the fact that B.J. left in the exact same way as Trapper John: without closure- to wit, going home without leaving so much as a goodbye note. After the camp is forced to bug out due to a major forest fire caused by incendiaries, B.J.'s replacement supposedly arrives in camp, but to everyone's surprise, it is B.J. himself; he explains that he only got as far as Guam (one-third of the way home) before finding out that all flights are canceled, his orders had been rescinded, and that he was ordered to return to the 4077th. He attempts to apologize to Hawkeye for not leaving a note, citing that there just wasn't enough time, and Hawkeye sarcastically responds, "I didn't even know you were gone. I thought you were in the bathroom".
The armistice is finally signed ending the war, but more wounded arrive and then the 4077th is ordered back to its original location. During a break in the deluge, B.J. gets into a discussion with Hawkeye about about many of the things they're not going to miss once they head home, but when their discussion comes around to what they will miss- each other, B.J. tries to reassure him that they will still get to see one another back home, but with each of them living on an opposite coast, Hawkeye doesn't see how and becomes convinced that once they go home they'll never see one another again; B.J., however, refuses to accept that finality.
Once the cease fire takes effect and all the wounded are tended to and shipped out, and after all of the others say their goodbyes and leave the 4077th for the final time, B.J. and Hawkeye swap their own personal reflections of one another with Hawkeye saying, "I'll never be able to shake you. Whenever I see a big pair of feet or a cheesy mustache, I'll think of you." B.J. responds with, "I'll miss you- a lot. I can't imagine what this place would have been like if I hadn't found you here." The two exchange a long brotherly embrace, and Hawkeye boards a chopper while B.J., now wielding his San Francisco sign from the fingerpost, gets back on his motorcycle, but says one last thing to Hawkeye before he rides off:
"I'll see you back in the States. I PROMISE! But just in case, I left you a note!"
Hawkeye can't hear what B.J. said, but motions for the pilot to take off nonetheless. As they get airborne, a smile grows on Hawkeye's face as he sees B.J.'s note, spelled out in rocks on the chopper pad (for Hawkeye, and for the viewing audience):
In essence, B.J. was given the honor of speaking the last word in the series.
- The character is named for the series DP, Bill Jurgensen, but Mike Farrell likes to never answer what B.J. stands for as a joke
- Prior to his joining M*A*S*H, Mike Farrell's then-wife, actress Judy Farrell, appeared on the show in the early seasons playing various nurses. When he joined the show, he had B.J.'s daughter Erin named after his own daughter with Judy.
- B.J. was referred to in passing in the TV hospital drama St. Elsewhere as a one-time drinking buddy of Dr. Craig while he was in Korea. The series writers were fond of inserting such inside jokes from time to time. How this might challenge the authenticity of the whole series (in lieu of St. Elsewhere's final revelation) is never addressed.
- Incorrectly regarded as a goof in the series is him being shown as a Captain. The series is correct in having him be a Captain. Once the degree of MD or DO is conferred on a member of the military they are given the rank of Captain in both the US Air Force and US Army. The rank of Captain is achieved after 7 years of active duty service or a field promotion for officers on the line side (fighting). The rank of Major is attained for members of the AMEDD after serving as a Captain for 6 years.
- During production of M*A*S*H, Mike Farrell met Dr. Hunter "Patch" Adams, who served as a technical consultant on the show. Farrell later produced the biopic Patch Adams, which starred comedian/actor Robin Williams.
- B.J. appears in all but one episode after he was introduced in Season 4, and that was Hawkeye.
- That episode in itself is rather strange because the rest of the cast in absent entirely.
Notes and references
- The Actors from M*A*S*H — On How M*A*S*H Changed Our Lives (February 2019)