Je n'aime pas dans les vieux films américains quand les conducteurs ne regardent pas la route. Et de ratage en ratage, on s'habitue à ne jamais dépasser le stade du brouillon. La vie n'est que l'interminable répétition d'une représentation qui n'aura jamais lieu.

MASH Chronology: Chief Surgeon Who?


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*I foresee shenanigans about Hawkeye being promoted to Chief Surgeon instead of Frank.  Didn’t this happen in the movie?  Anyway, I read the title and I frankly feel like I’ve already seen the episode. 

*In the opening sequence, of the three surgeons lounging about in the Swamp, Hawkeye is cradling an acoustic guitar.  He never plays it, but he sure holds it close.  That’s random.

*Hawkeye reveals the recipe for the perfect martini: “You pour six jiggers of gin and drink it will staring at a photograph of Lorenzo Schwarz, the inventor of Vermouth.”  Now, that’s funny. 

*Frank, meanwhile, is typing a letter to send to his patients back home.  He reveals that he sends them a form letter and then Hawkeye mocks the content of the letter, but still, I kind of find that an interesting character shading on Frank.  I mean, even a form letter would be cool to get if your personal doctor was off in a MASH unit, wouldn’t it?  I kind of like that idea.

*Hawkeye shocks me with what you could say on television in 1972: “Your exploits make Superman seem like a fairy.” 

*Frank reveals that he was in practice for three years back home and that he owns a thirty-five thousand dollar home and two cars.  That’s an interesting detail. 

*Omigod, it’s Spearchucker.  In the OR, operating on a pancreatic case.  He asks for advice on what to do and Frank and Hawkeye clash about the advice they offer.  Hawkeye tells Frank that he’s a year behind on his medical journals. 

*Henry and Radar in a nutshell: HENRY: *pawing through a file drawer* “I can’t find anything.”  RADAR: *entering the room* “You left it in your tent, sir.”

*Very good bit of physical comedy from Burghoff when he lets Major Burns into Henry’s office and Henry gets angry.  It’s hard to describe, but it’s good stuff. 

*So, Frank is pressing charges against Hawkeye for insubordination and failing to salute and such.  Henry shows his general style of leadership: “I have got oak leaves on my shoulders!” “And I’ve got dimples on my butt!” 

*So, Henry decides he has to appoint a Chief Surgeon in order to stop all the arguing in the Operating Room.  He wants someone to officially be in charge. 

*Stevenson sells a legitimately awesome bit of dialogue: “The job will be a killer.”  “I can adjust.”  “I hope you can.  I’m giving it to Pierce.”  That “I hope you can” is a great line and Stevenson gives it a very real sense of weariness. 

*He then follows it up with a great joke: “What?  You can’t!  I won’t stand for it!”  “Frank, the one thing that will get you nowhere with me is impersonating my wife.” 

*Henry looks genuinely tired and worried as Hawkeye leaves: “Hawkeye.  Don’t let me down.”  Hawkeye gestures to his bathrobe: “Would I do anything to disgrace this uniform?” 

*Loretta Swit, who I have hardly talked about, does a priceless bit when Frank storms into her tent while she’s putting Peroxide on her hair with a swab.  “I was just fixing this cut on my head,” she cries. 

*Great bit of comedy here.  Frank sniffles and Margaret says, “Frank, it is not unmanly to cry.”  Frank rallies himself: “I wouldn’t give them the satisfaction,” he says and then he holds a smirk for about one second and then just dissolves into sobbing.    The timing is perfect. 

*So, there’s a party, of course, in which Hawkeye acts insufferable.  Ugly John  is there and so is Scorch, dancing with Henry.  Hawkeye’s speech is typical: “I always wanted to be a doctor.  Just ask any little girl I grew up with.”

*Spearchucker is, of course, wearing a huge sombrero.  Considering that in the Pilot he wore a samurai hat, I have to say that this character has something like the hugest ratio of appearances to stupid hats of any character in television history.   

*So, Frank and Margaret call General Barker.  Yes, it’s Sorrell Brooke as General Barker, who was, of course in the last episode.  This is his second and final appearance. 

*So, General Barker arrives and Frank tells him that there’s a badly wounded patient who’s been waiting half an hour to be operated on.  Meanwhile, Hawkeye, Trapper, Ugly John and somebody name of Kaplan (?) are playing poker.

*So, while Hawkeye keeps playing poker, he fills in an ever more and more infuriated General Barker in on the situation.  Seems the patient isn’t stable enough for surgery, but should be in an hour or so.  A nurse is monitoring him. 

*This delightful double conversation, in which Hawkeye talks to an enraged General Barker out one side of his mouth and plays a hand of poker out the other side is a nice moment for Alda to really shine.

*It culminates when General Barker gets nose to nose with Hawkeye and barks, “You’re in deep trouble, Pierce.”  Hawkeye drawls, “I don’t think so.  I can beat a pair of threes.”

*Wow, this “Kaplan” who’s involved in the poker game.  He gets one good close up and it’s Jack Riley!  Veteran television actor, probably best known for his role as the irascible Elliot Carlin on The Bob Newhart Show.  For that role alone, appearing in sixty-two episodes of what is probably still one of the two or three best sitcoms ever, he goes down in history.  Unfortunately, this is the only episode of MASH in which he appears.  Still, good to see him.

*An enraged General Barker storms over to Henry’s office and bursts through the door to find . . . Radar with his feet up on Henry’s desk, a massive cigar clenched in his teeth, swirling a snifter of Henry’s brandy.  What a reveal. 

*General Barker storms out of Henry’s office (doin’ a lot of storming this episode).  And then, quite suddenly, a voice barks, “Halt!  Friend or foe!”

*And it’s Jamie Farr making his first appearance as Max Klinger!  Yes, he’s in a dress, a simple brown uniform dress.  “Still trying to get out on a psycho, eh, Klinger?” General Barker shouts.  “Well, I can tell you it’ll take a lot more than this.”  “Well, then I’ll just have to keep trying, Mary,” Klinger shouts back.  He then turns and skips away.  Well, on screen less than a minute, but it’s clear that this guy would have to be back.  I mean, that’s commitment, right there.

*General Barker bursts into a nearby tent.  He finds Spearchucker, removing his shirt while Odessa Cleveland’s Ginger lounges on a nearby bed.  “Strip dominoes,” Spearchucker explains.  Well, at least they gave him one good joke before they sent him packing. 

*Okay, in case it’s not clear by this point, this is an inspired episode.  The funny bits just keep on coming.

*That’s what she said. 

*Oh, man, sorry.  Had to.

*So, Spearchucker tells General Barker where to find Henry’s tent.  It’s two tents down the row and, as we see when he arrives, it has a huge sign in front of it that says “HENRY BLAKE COMMANDING OFFICER 4077th MASH” on it.  General Barker takes a long, angry look at it.  This doesn’t make General Barker look particularly bright, I must say; on most shows that would be an accident, but I don’t think it is here. 

*So, as he storms toward Henry’s tent, there’s an inspired bit of Margaret sneaking Frank out of her tent only to run him right into General Barker.  “Bet this looks funny,” Frank stammers.  “Bet it doesn’t,” General Barker deadpans. 

*General Barker bursts into Henry’s tent.  Scorch is lounging in her pajamas.  Henry enters a second later, carrying a can of nightcrawlers that he’s just dug up for fishing. 

*Henry Blake and Leadership: “Do you realize you’ve got a man in guard duty in a skirt?”  “Luckily he’s got the legs for it.” 

*Henry and General Blake burst into the Swamp.  Ugly John has his head down on the table and Kaplan has his feet up.  They don’t move, but tell Henry that Hawkeye’s in OR.  “As you were,” Henry snaps as he leaves. 

*Once again, Hawkeye and Trapper pull it out of the hat by doing a great job in the OR.  General Barker is so impressed that he admits that Hawkeye was right to wait until the patient had stabilized and that he’s a brilliant surgeon.  Yes, this episode is essentially a second Pilot.  It reintroduces everyone, including Klinger, and features exactly the same resolution.  However, it’s way funnier and much better than the actual Pilot, so good job, guys. 

*General Barker prepares to depart when Klinger appears, naked save for rifle.  “Come on, Klinger,” Hawkeye moans, “Put on a dress or something.” 

*In the final scene, Frank asks Hawkeye for help in the OR with a messy resection.  Hawkeye joins him and the two reach a rapprochment.  “We’ll split the fee, right?” “Right.” 

*Surprisingly humane ending for Frank.  Just another reason this one is better than the Pilot. 

*This one is a sort of frantic classic, if you ask me.  Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised.  It’s written by creator Larry Gelbart and is, as I say, essentially him rewriting his own script for the Pilot.  And like most rewrites, it’s better than the original iteration.  Gelbart honing his own script and getting it better the second time.  Kudos. 

*And, of course, it has Klinger’s first appearance.  Yes, this one goes in my Abridged MASH. 

*** out of **** stars.

E.W. Swackhamer, Larry Gelbart

MASH Episodes, by Quality:

1.       Chief Surgeon Who?

2.       To Market, to Market

3.       Requiem for a Lightweight

4.       Pilot

The Abridged MASH

To Market, to Market

Chief Surgeon Who?

MASH Chronology