‘Hey, Doc’

M*A*S*H: A writer’s view. #6 in the series.


We have arrived at the fourth season of M*A*S*H. The show has weathered the first storm of cast changes with its audience more or less intact, though the tone is subtly changing. The war is still a horrible and inhuman calamity, beyond the power of any of the characters to prevent or affect; but we can no longer say the same of the Army.

Hitherto, the spirit of the armed forces has been represented by the duo of Frank Burns and ‘Hot Lips’ Houlihan, not so much characters as caricatures, and their futile quest to turn a parcel of draftee doctors into GIs. They were the Enemy, with a capital E; the North Koreans and Chinese were merely a disaster, usually offscreen. But now Colonel Potter, the career man, is in charge, and third on the bill: he is one of Us, and that means that the Regular Army, in toto and categorically, can no longer quite be regarded as Them.

There will be plenty more stories about military stupidity, wrongheaded regulations, gung-ho but incompetent officers; but the emphasis changes. These things that continue to afflict the 4077th are diseases of the military; we begin to lose the sense that the military, as such, is the disease. In this, the show is changing with the times. The Vietnam War reached its final catastrophe in 1975: North Vietnamese troops entered Saigon on April 30, just six weeks after ‘Abyssinia, Henry’ was broadcast. M*A*S*H, the film, was a thinly veiled protest against that war; the TV series continued in the same vein. But there was no longer a war to protest against; if the show had gone on that way, it would have become a museum piece.

As it was, M*A*S*H lost a considerable chunk of its audience. Many fans of the show stopped watching in outrage after Henry Blake was killed; the show dropped out of the top ten in the Nielsen ratings the following season, though not out of the top twenty. But the new characters, Potter and Hunnicutt, quickly won over the remaining viewers, and the fourth season produced a new flowering of technical excellence.

This was the last year with Larry Gelbart and Gene Reynolds in charge (now credited as co-producers). They continued to refresh the pool of writing talent, in part, by tapping their long-time connections in the industry. One of the new writers was Rick Mittleman, who received his first and, alas, only M*A*S*H credit for an episode called ‘Hey, Doc’.

As a TV writer, Mittleman was a quadruple threat: capable, durable, versatile, and prolific. He was one of the many talents discovered or promoted by the inimitable Red Skelton, for whom he was a staff writer in 1962–63. After that, in a career spanning more than thirty years, he wrote for shows ranging from The Flintstones to Murder, She Wrote. ‘Hey, Doc’ is representative of Mittleman’s best work. It is also one of the funniest episodes of M*A*S*H, and in my own opinion, the most perfect in structure.

‘Hey, Doc’ has an extraordinarily complex and ambitious story. Eleven important characters and five major plot lines are fitted into twenty-five minutes of film. By this time, it was routine for M*A*S*H episodes to feature multiple plots; but seldom so well integrated, and never so many. Every one of the five plots is necessary; they all contribute to the brilliant climax, which has some claim to be regarded as the funniest scene ever filmed on the M*A*S*H set in the Malibu hills. In ‘Deal Me Out’, the three major plot lines had little effect on one another; they intersected chiefly in the comings and goings of the characters at the all-night poker game. What Mittleman did with this script is on another level entirely.

You don’t get through five plots in a half-hour TV episode without strict economy. There is hardly a wasted frame of film in ‘Hey, Doc’, and some of Mittleman’s techniques for speeding the pace deserve study.

To begin with, he establishes all eleven of his characters (the seven series regulars, plus Father Mulcahy and three guest stars) with such clarity that they can be instantly recognized, and their roles understood, even by persons who have never seen an episode of M*A*S*H. Generally he accomplishes this by introducing each character with a quick, well-polished joke, an appropriate technique for a comedy. I give the complete dramatis personae, along with the key bit of dialogue that sets up each one, in order of occurrence.

1. Father Mulcahy (William Christopher). The episode begins with yet another poker game at the 4077th. Mulcahy is one of six players, and almost the first speaker in the script:

          B. J. HUNNICUTT
That’s two dollars.

          FATHER MULCAHY
I don’t think I’ve got a prayer.

          HAWKEYE
Three Hail Marys beats two of a kind, Father.

For those tuning in for the first time, we already see that Mulcahy is a Catholic priest, an Army chaplain (since he is in uniform), but not above a little gambling and fraternizing with the troops.

2. Staff Sgt. Kimball (Bruce Kirby). Another of the poker players.

          RADAR
Um, I ain’t got two dollars. Will youse guys accept a two-day pass?

          KIMBALL
     (taking the pass and adding it to the pot)
Put it in. Paper’s paper.

Kimball is a no-nonsense guy who doesn’t let the rules get in the way of the game. In the next few lines, we learn that he is on his way out of the Army:

          B. J.
We’re certainly going to miss you around here, Sergeant.

          HAWKEYE
A lot of our hopes and cash will leave with you.

          KIMBALL
Yeah, well, I put in my time. Thirty years’ worth.

          HAWKEYE
At least four of which were devoted to official Army business.

3. Hawkeye Pierce (Alan Alda). A decidedly non-GI doctor, unshaven, wearing a crimson dressing gown. So far (as we see above) he has opened his mouth three times and let out three wisecracks. This will do to go on with.

4. B. J. Hunnicutt (Mike Farrell). Another doctor, quieter than Hawkeye, more pleasant and personable. He has a sense of humour, but unlike Hawkeye’s, it is not weaponized.

5. Frank Burns (Larry Linville). A poor excuse for a surgeon, and the official camp snot. His character is established (in absentia) by a third-party description, which is not a bad way, especially for an unsympathetic character:

          HAWKEYE
Major Burns do something thoughtful? He sends his kids collect birthday cards.

6. Corporal ‘Radar’ O’Reilly (Gary Burghoff) and 7. Corporal Max Klinger (Jamie Farr). The company clerk and the company crazy. Both are present at the poker game (Klinger in drag, as usual), but they don’t say much until the following scene, when they are taking showers in adjoining stalls:

          RADAR
It’s been getting too muggy for me lately, boy.

          KLINGER
Even the weather stinks in the Army.

          RADAR
You know I read somewhere that General MacArthur don’t even sweat? Can you imagine? He just don’t sweat at all!

          KLINGER
He probably has some private do it for him.

Klinger’s contempt for the Army shines hot and clear. Radar’s character, however, is shown better by another one-liner later on. He is crawling around Col. Potter’s office on his hands and knees, ducking the sniper fire coming in the window, but gamely trying to do his job by reaching another unit on the phone:

          RADAR
Hello? Hello?… Yeah, can you speak up a little bit? Somebody’s trying to kill me!

8. Lieutenant Chivers (Ted Hamilton). The commander of a British patrol, sent to suppress snipers in the area. Posh, urbane, with a dry wit that helps him build easy rapport with noncombatants.

          CHIVERS
My lads are trying to clean up the area. Snipers rather like giving you chaps in medical a knocking about. Demoralizes the troops.

          HAWKEYE
Makes us feel a bit dreary as well.

          CHIVERS
     (smiling)
Ah, it’s a rotten war, all right. Still, it’s the only one we’ve got.

9. Colonel Sherman Potter (Harry Morgan). The commanding officer, old Army man, savvy doctor, ex-cavalryman.

          HAWKEYE
Colonel Potter, Lieutenant Chivers.

          CHIVERS
Sir!

          POTTER
     (glancing at CHIVERS’ foot on the examining table)
Ingrown toenail, eh?

          B. J.
Pretty fast, Colonel.

          POTTER
This is my third war. I’ve seen more British toes than I have American fannies.

10. Colonel Griswald (Frank Marth). The third guest star, a tank commander. He makes a perfunctory visit to one of his wounded men as a cover for his real purpose: to seek treatment for a social disease.

          MARGARET HOULIHAN
Your man would be right here, Colonel.… Sergeant Moretti.

          GRISWALD
     (sitting between the hospital beds, talking to the wrong patient)
Glad to see you again, Moretti. They taking good care of you?

          MARGARET
Oh, no, excuse me, Colonel… This is Private Mumford. This is Sergeant Moretti.

          GRISWALD
What?

          MARGARET
This is Sergeant Moretti.

          GRISWALD
Oh!
     (to Moretti, who is in a body cast and unable to answer)
You get well now, boy. Your buddies miss you. I miss you. The outfit’s not the same without you.

 

11. Major Margaret ‘Hot Lips’ Houlihan (Loretta Swit). The chief nurse, who is having an affair with Frank Burns, but has eyes for anyone sufficiently manly holding the rank of lieutenant colonel or above – much to Frank’s chagrin. Unlike the others, Margaret’s character is not established with a joke as such, but with a bit of starry-eyed flirtation, heavy on the Freudian innuendo. This, however, is sufficiently funny in its own way:

          GRISWALD
Well, his tank is waiting whenever he’s ready.

          MARGARET
Oh, it must be very exciting, riding around in one of those massive machines with that big cannon, just going through everything in front of you.

          FRANK
     (cutting in, leading her away from GRISWALD)
Uh, Major, if you’ll walk this way.…

At this point, we are less than ten minutes into the episode: a pretty fair accomplishment for ten minutes. But there is more. All five of the major plot problems have been introduced along the way, leaving fifteen minutes for them all to collide and be resolved. As with ‘Deal Me Out’, I shall refer to the plot elements by letter:

A. Sergeant Kimball, awaiting his discharge, wants to ship home enough Korean memorabilia to decorate a Korean restaurant back in Philadelphia. He can only do that if he travels by sea. He needs three doctors to falsify his medical records, saying that he can’t fly.

B. Snipers are in the area, and at least one is in position to take recurrent pot shots at anything that moves in the compound of the 4077th.

C. Lieutenant Chivers needs treatment for an ingrown toenail – off the record. Having this malady on his service record could seriously damage his career.

D. Colonel Griswald needs treatment for an unspecified venereal disease – also off the record, for the same reasons.

E. Someone has stolen the only microscope from the 4077th’s lab. Replacements are virtually unobtainable, especially through official supply channels.

These five story lines (and eleven characters) perform an intricate dance, and as I have said, every one contributes meaningfully to the riotous conclusion. As with ‘Deal Me Out’, I break the episode down scene by scene, with the plots indicated by their assigned letters.

One of Mittleman’s cleverest techniques is his use of punchlines to all but eliminate transitions between scenes. Instead of building to a natural conclusion, each scene ends with a joke the moment it has done its work for the plot, followed by a quick cut. Each shot after the cut, as normal in television work, begins a bit before the dialogue, to give the viewer time to take in the visuals and identify the characters. Because of these quick cuts, Mittleman makes that dead time perform double duty: the new scene is established while the audience is still laughing at the old one. To mark the use of this technique, I quote the punchline at the end of each scene.

1. (A) The Swamp. Hawkeye, B. J., Radar, Klinger, Father Mulcahy, and Sgt. Kimball are playing an all-night poker game. As the game wraps up, Kimball asks the two surgeons for help falsifying his medical profile:

          KIMBALL
You know, I think, flight-home-wise, I got a little problem, Doc. With my ear. I got chronic adhesive otitis, with Eustooshan [sic] tube dysfunction.

          B. J.
     (laughing)
How do you know that?

          KIMBALL
A lucky guess. And a little research.

          HAWKEYE
How long have you had this disease?

          KIMBALL
I caught it the second I read about it.

Hawkeye and B. J. are willing to help, but the necessary form requires three doctors’ signatures. Col. Potter is ‘hopelessly honest’, and Frank Burns wouldn’t help anybody. The exit line:

          HAWKEYE
We’ll do what we can. By the way, MacArthur wants to know if he can borrow the car Saturday night.

          KIMBALL
Of course!

2. (B) The shower tent. After the game, Radar and Klinger are making small talk while showering. Father Mulcahy comes in, and mentions that there are said to be snipers near the camp.

          RADAR
Just a rumour.

We hear a RIFLE SHOT just outside the tent. MULCAHY takes cover inside RADAR’S shower stall.

          MULCAHY
That ‘rumour’ almost came through the door!

          RADAR
I’ll be out in a minute, Father!

3. (B) Col. Potter’s office. A short scene. Potter is talking on the phone to HQ, asking for help with the snipers.

          POTTER
No, a British patrol will be fine, yeah.
     (beat; listening)
Right, it’ll give me a chance to use my English. Thanks, Barney.
     (hanging up the phone)
Everyone’s a comedian.

3. (B, C) The mess tent. We see Lieutenant Chivers and his men in the chow line. Chivers takes a cup of coffee and joins Hawkeye and B. J. at their table. He asks for their help with a small problem; the Swampmen are happy to oblige.

          HAWKEYE
I’m a lifelong Anglophile. England is still the only place I know where any young man can grow up to be the Queen.

4. (C, E) The lab, doing double duty as an examining room. Chivers explains the gravity of his situation:

          CHIVERS
What you must understand is that British C.O.s are absolutely bonkers on the subject of foot care. An officer neglectful enough to develop an ingrown toenail is in serious trouble.

          HAWKEYE
What can they do, make you turn in your feet?

          CHIVERS
Hold up promotions, deny you leave. The lot.

As a running gag, the doctors talk about the lieutenant’s condition as if it were the kind of disease that would be most likely to land an American officer in equally hot water:

          HAWKEYE
So, in spite of all the training films and lectures, you went out and got yourself an ingrown toenail instead of saving yourself for marriage.

They agree to treat the toenail in exchange for two bottles of Scotch. As they prepare to operate, Hawkeye and B. J. notice that the microscope has been stolen. They are duly irate, but B. J. says he might be able to get another one.

Col. Potter comes in to tell Hawkeye that a tank commander wants to see him in post-op. As the two of them leave, B. J. goes to work:

          B. J.
All right, Lieutenant. Stick out your toe and say ‘ah’.

5. (D) Post-op. Col. Griswald pays a visit to the severely wounded Sgt. Moretti, while Frank tries to brag about his surgical work. Margaret is smitten with the colonel, but Frank drags her away.

          HAWKEYE
Goodbye, Colonel. Be sure to drive on both sides of the road.

          GRISWALD
     (looking around nervously)
Oh, Doc, listen… as long as I’m here.…

6. (D) Radar’s office. As Hawkeye and Griswald enter, Radar is on bended knee, proposing to Klinger as part of a rehearsal for the camp talent show. The two corporals clear out, embarrassed:

          KLINGER
I told you we should have gone to my place!

The equally embarrassed colonel tells Hawkeye about his ‘delicate problem’. Hawkeye tells Griswald he was wise to come to a MASH unit. If he had gone to a local physician, he might have been injected with wildroot cream oil instead of penicillin:

          GRISWALD
Hair cream?!

          HAWKEYE
That’s right. It doesn’t cure you, but you wind up with the best-groomed toches in town.

7. (A, E) Sgt. Kimball’s tent. B. J. offers Kimball a deal: he’ll put Kimball on a ship if Kimball will scrounge a new microscope to replace the stolen one.

          KIMBALL
These people are too much! Do you know what I had to go through to steal it for us?

          B. J.
There’s no justice.

          KIMBALL
Where am I gonna get another one? They’re tough!

          B. J.
As tough as carrying a Korean cafe home in two suitcases?

          KIMBALL
You got me by the Eustooshan tubes, ain’t you?

          B. J.
     (laughing)
I hope so.

          KIMBALL
If I find another microscope, you guarantee the boat?

          B. J.
I’ll have the captain back it up to your tent.

8. (D) Another room in the hospital. Hawkeye gives Griswald a shot of penicillin. After making sure that the treatment will not appear in his official records, Griswald thanks Hawkeye.

          HAWKEYE
Colonel, if I never see you with your pants down again, that’ll be thanks enough.

9. (D, B) The compound. As Hawkeye and Griswald leave the hospital, Father Mulcahy joins them. He praises the colonel for the ‘kind and affectionate act’ of visiting Sgt. Moretti. As Griswald gets into his jeep, the sniper starts firing. Several shots ping off the front of the jeep. Hawkeye and Mulcahy dive for cover. Griswald ignores the shots and drives away calmly:

          GRISWALD
Aaahh… civilians!

10. (A) Margaret’s tent. Frank and Margaret are playing gin rummy. Margaret wins, and claims the stakes – three pairs of nylons – which Frank will pay only if he can ‘play shoe salesman’. Frank is jealous: he observes that Margaret found Griswald attractive. (This sets up his motive in the finale, as he tries to prove himself equal to a ‘hot-shot colonel’ from the armoured cavalry.)

Hawkeye and B. J. enter to ask Frank to help them fake Kimball’s medical profile in exchange for a new microscope. Frank, of course, is indignant at the idea:

          FRANK
Fake? Include me out!

          B. J.
Frank, what about the next wounded kid who comes in here that needs a blood count?

          FRANK
I’m sick of hearing about the wounded! What about all the thousands of wonderful guys who are fighting this war without any of the credit or the glory that always goes to those lucky few who just happen to get shot?

Hawkeye loses his temper and tells Frank off. Frank and Margaret order him out.

          HAWKEYE
     (to MARGARET)
You know you’re beautiful when he’s angry?

11. (A, C, B) The compound. B. J. reproves Hawkeye for losing his temper with Frank. Lieutenant Chivers drives up in a jeep with the promised Scotch. Picking up the running gag, the Swampmen give him some postoperative doctor’s orders:

          B. J.
You do understand, of course, that your toe should have nothing to do with any other toes for at least a month.

          CHIVERS
Yes, Doctor.

          HAWKEYE
Also, no liquor for the toe, and don’t wear any spicy socks.

Chivers hands over the Scotch and drives away. With the payment delivered, plot C is now fully resolved; but it has a knock-on effect on the others.

As the doctors head for the Swamp, the sniper starts shooting again. Hawkeye drops the Scotch as they both dive for cover under a truck. The sniper shoots both bottles.

          HAWKEYE
Oh! They were only eight years old, both of them!

12. (B) Col. Potter’s office. Potter is working at his desk while Radar scurries about, wearing a helmet. Sounds of gunfire are still coming from outside. Hawkeye and B. J. burst in to demand that something be done about the snipers. They get Potter to look out of the window and see the broken Scotch bottles. While they are looking, a bullet comes through the glass and everyone dives for cover.

Now Potter is taking the snipers seriously. The old horse trooper speaks:

          POTTER
You know what would scare ’em away? Cavalry! Today’s cavalry, a tank!

The mere sight of a tank, says Potter, will frighten off the enemy. Hawkeye tells Radar to get Col. Griswald on the phone so he can call in a favour. He gets his tank with the aid of a little blackmail:

          HAWKEYE
     (to GRISWALD on the phone)
I beg your pardon? You’re very busy right now?… Uh, Colonel, the above sniper fire is endangering all my private medical records…. All of them. I just may have to put them in the official files for safekeeping… where anyone and his uncle can get a very good look at them.
     (beat; listening)
Yes, sir!

13. (B, D) The compound. We see a closeup of a tank’s treads as it rolls along. From a wider angle, we see Griswald riding the tank into the camp. The tank is due for maintenance, but he has held it back so the 4077th can have it for 24 hours.

          HAWKEYE
Terrific, Colonel. I’m sorry about the bad news.

          GRISWALD
What bad news?

          HAWKEYE
All your medical records were destroyed in the last attack. Burned to a cinder.

          GRISWALD
Ohhh.… Well, I guess you can keep it for a week!

Plot D is resolved, but the presence of the tank sets up the finale.

Potter offers Griswald a drink, but the tank colonel isn’t allowed booze while he recuperates from his disease. Since Father Mulcahy is on hand, Hawkeye makes up an excuse for him not to drink:

          HAWKEYE
We’re clearing up an old tank driver’s complaint… Bloodshot hips.

14. (B, A) The Swamp. Another poker game, the next day. In the course of chitchat, we hear that the tank has frightened off the sniper, resolving plot B. But Frank still hasn’t signed Kimball’s medical form.

          KIMBALL
No luck on the signature yet, right?

          B. J.
We’ll get it if we have to resort to torture.

          HAWKEYE
We’re making a bid on an anthill later.

15. The grand finale: Major Toad’s Magic Ride! The compound. Still smarting with jealousy, Frank brags to Margaret that he once trained in a tank. To prove it, he climbs into Griswald’s tank and starts it up. He chases Margaret around the compound, making ‘boom, boom!’ noises and laughing.

Suddenly he realizes that he can’t remember how to make a tank stop. Margaret shoos a group of nurses out of the shower tent, dressed only in towels, just in time to save them from being crushed under the treads. The Swamp gets mashed flat, ending the poker game as the players flee in all directions. Col. Potter comes out to see what the commotion is about:

          MARGARET
Colonel! Save us!

          POTTER
No sweat. Watch an old cavalry hand in action!

Potter drives a jeep into Frank’s path and blocks his way, waving him down and yelling for him to stop. At the last moment, Potter dives out of the way, and the tank smashes the jeep to scrap metal. Potter looks sadly at the wreckage of his ‘mount’, and like a good cavalryman, knows there is only one thing to do. Without saying a word, he draws his revolver and shoots the jeep, putting it out of its misery.

Finally, Frank figures out how to stop the tank. A crowd gathers round to give him a mocking cheer as he pops up out of the hatch, smiling. Then someone yells, ‘Let him have it!’ They pelt him with boots, basketballs, playing cards – anything that comes to hand.

16. Tag. (A, E) Frank is sitting on the ground, leaning against the tank, while Margaret gives him a drink. A group of Koreans are scavenging the wreckage nearby. Potter demands an explanation for ‘that jackass behaviour’.

          HAWKEYE
Somehow the tank got started, Colonel, and it went crazy. Frank jumped in.

          B. J.
Saved us all!

          FRANK
     (nodding foolishly)
Somebody had to!

          POTTER
     (not believing a word of it)
Uh huh.
     (He turns and walks away)

Frank doesn’t understand why the Swampmen saved his neck.

         FRANK
Why?

          B. J.
Sign on the bottom line, Frank.

          HAWKEYE
Sergeant Kimball’s medical profile.

          MARGARET
That’s blackmail.

          B. J.
Blackmail is an ugly word.

          HAWKEYE
We prefer ‘extortion’. B-U-R-N-S, Frank.

          FRANK
     (signing the paper, mumbling)
B-U-R-N-S.

Plot A is resolved, and since the promise to Sgt. Kimball has been kept, we may safely assume that the new microscope is on its way as the credits roll.

The timing, by the way, is exquisite. The first scene, at the poker game, is quite long – as it needs to be, since it has so much story to set up. After that, the general tendency is for the scenes to grow shorter and quicker-paced, with some variations, until the big finale. From the moment when Frank approaches the tank, we have about five minutes of uninterrupted action, portrayed in real time – all one scene, in the dramatic sense, though of course filmed as a number of different camera shots.

Suspense writers use the same technique to build tension, at both the scene and sentence level. Short scenes and staccato sentences convey a sense of speed and urgency; but when the action really kicks into top gear, the onrush of events is shown by unbroken text – a virtually unpunctuated gush. It is a favourite trick of Stephen King’s. Whether or not Mittleman had read King before 1975, it is plain that they learned their writing craft in the same pop-cultural school; and Mittleman, like King, learned his lessons well.

Largely because of the pacing, there is a real excitement about the events of ‘Hey, Doc’. We not only laugh at the characters and events, we care about them: more characters and events, and a denser and more intricate plot, than most writers would conceive of cramming into a half-hour sitcom episode. ‘Hey, Doc’ stands as a monument to Rick Mittleman’s skill, and as I have said, perhaps the most technically perfect episode of M*A*S*H ever made.

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Comments

  1. Thanks, Tom – I really enjoyed your detailed analysis – I’ve seen this, but didn’t realize everything technical. Not enough nurses, though – the whole show.

    • ‘Not enough nurses’ is a valid complaint. The producers in the later years thought they were standing up for the New Feminism and American Womanhood by cutting out the hanky-panky between the surgeons and nurses on the show; but actually, after this ‘improvement’, the nurses had rather less to do than before.

      The schtick of referring to non-recurring nurses as ‘Nurse Able’ and ‘Nurse Baker’, while it would have been a cute way of naming actual characters, really hits you between the eyes when you watch three or four separate episodes and see a different ‘Able’ in each one. The feminists of the 1970s were often obnoxious, but Lord, they had some things to be obnoxious about; and their treatment at the hands of male self-styled liberals in the entertainment business was one of those things.

      • Many of them came out of the anti-war movement because the men there were equally obnoxious.

  2. I commend you for the detailed analysis of this episode.

    I lost interest in M*A*S*H after Henry (Stevenson) and Trapper (Rogers) left. It became too much ‘The Alan Alda Show’ for my taste. My suspension of disbelief to use 40-something actors to play 20-something doctors evaporated.

    Will you perhaps consider performing such analysis on another show? Say, Gilligan’s Island or All in the Family or The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air or Leave It to Beaver. Or even Star Trek (choose your series) or — Heaven forfend — The Starlost.

    • Once I’ve finished with M*A*S*H, I may think about it. However, this is the series that I’ve learnt the most from recently, as it gave me some key ideas for Where Angels Die. Likely I shall have to get that project finished before I am ready to tackle another round of TV criticism.

  3. Andrew Parrish says:

    Once again brilliantly done. I am really enjoying this series. There is a trend in online writing communities to focus only on what others have done wrong. I once wrote an essay about a John Le Carre novel exploring some things I thought he had done well, and wondered afterward if I was the first person ever to think of this. Folds nicely, if you ask me, into your ‘superversive’ credo.

    • It’s a combination of habit — when writers look at their own work, what they need to look for is the flaws, to be revised away — and the way, in an excellent work, all the parts mesh together into a unity so it’s hard to tease them apart.

  4. Stephen J. says:

    Just wanted to drop a note and let you know how much I’m enjoying these columns. The behind-the-scenes stuff (though in the previous one rather than this one) I find particularly fascinating; I’d known Alan Alda had become a sizeable part of the show’s creative mechanisms but I had never realized to what degree, or what the effects were on the rest of the cast.

  5. This was not the funniest MASH episode, but you’re right: it was the most carefully structured. Except for one detail: why do you need a British and an American officer? Why not have the American tanker there first, get treated, then leaves, then needs to come back to leave the tank. It would not affect the structure except by simplifying it a bit.

    • The thing is, the British officer had to fail to remove the sniper. There was no chance that I Corps would send out a tank in the first place, since flushing out snipers is supposed to be an infantry job. So the sequence had to work like this:—

      1. British and American officers owe Hawkeye and B. J. favours for treatment.
      2. British patrol fails to flush out sniper.
      3. Sniper shoots Scotch left as payment by British officer, prompting:
      4. Escalation – they call American officer to bring them a tank.

      We can be sure, by the way, that the sniper(s) skedaddled at the sight of the tank, not because the tank itself frightened them off, but because they assumed it came with crew and the normal complement of support troops. If true, that would have made the 4077th far too hard a target for sniper attacks – retaliation guaranteed.

  6. I fear there’s a more negative reason.You could construct a dozen plots justifying Col Griswald eventual return. While he visits wounded troops and dispatches broken tanks back to the rear, he gets his, ah, shore leave treated. A full-bird colonel would naturally travel with a few riflemen as bodyguards, who temporarily suppress the snipers. When the sniper returns, Griswald is naturally reluctant to backtrack to the 4077th until Hawkeye brings up the “medical papers.” When he returns it’s with an operable tank, perhaps 300-400 miles short of its 2000 mile maintenance period.

    Sadly, I think the writer brought in Lt Chivers only to bring Col Griswald’s boorishness into pointed relief.

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