Is it out of character for Radar to have a tattoo?
M*A*S*H writers gave Radar a tattoo, then regretted and quietly removed it in a later episode.
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"What's that?" Henry Blake asks Radar in the third-season M*A*S*H episode "Check-Up." Radar is getting a routine check-up and there's an awkward scene made out of how uncomfortable he is removing his shirt. Once the shirt comes off, that's when we see an unlikely character choice for innocent, child-like Radar O'Reilly: He's got a tattoo.
"That's my new tattoo," Radar explains. "It's an anchor." Henry protests that Radar isn't in the Navy and the tattoo doesn't suit him. Radar admits he wanted a red cross, but it cost "a buck-fifty." His anchor tattoo was only 50 cents, he says.
You might wonder at this point if this is a real tattoo, but the scene goes on to assure you, it is. Henry scolds Radar that getting that tattoo was "very unsanitary." Then Radar says, "Well I washed my hands first, sir."
He then goofs off a little, flexing his bicep by wiggling his arm at Henry Blake. It seems they want us to see this tattoo as a funny minor detail you'd never guess about one of the show's most earnest characters.
But then in the sixth season, the notion of whether or not Radar is the sort of person who would get tattoos is brought up again. In fact, the entire episode "Images" is centered on Radar wanting to get a tattoo to change his image a little bit as the camp's resident nice guy.
Radar ponders this idea after seeing a patient come in, covered with tattoos. He visits the patient and tells him he's thinking about getting a tattoo after seeing all of the patient's body art, mostly pretty ladies, ferocious felines and fearsome snakes.
The patient insists that Radar not tattoo himself, that he find an artist.
"Smartest move you can make," he tells Radar, before saying he can give "a half a dozen reasons for getting tattooed." He begins to list them: looking tough, feeling great, and grabbing attention of ladies. Radar stops him because he is clearly already sold on the idea.
Later on, the comedy continues in a similar tone to the scene we saw three seasons before where Radar hated taking off his shirt. Well, this time, his tattoo is not on his arm, but on his backside. It's Potter directing Radar to drop his pants, as Hawkeye and B.J. watch. They're all similarly worried as Henry Blake was that Radar's new tattoo might be infected.
His choice in tattoo is not a misfit picture of an anchor, but something much more perfectly Radar: a tiny teddy bear.
Only Radar immediately reveals that he was "afraid of that dirty needle," and he had the artist draw it on instead. It's just ink and will come off, he assures them.
So which is it? Was Radar the sort of person in season three who would get a random tattoo on a lark or is he the guy from season six who wants to look tough but instead chickens out and reveals his inner softness?