*So, a journey through MASH. Does it need a justification? Hmm, no, I don’t think so. I should lay out my complete lack of qualifications for writing lengthy, in-depth posts for every episode of MASH. First of all, prior to buying the complete series on DVD, I had seen exactly one episode of the show on television. That’s right, one episode.
*Also, I hated the movie and thought the book wasn’t much better. But critical acclaim for the series made me decide to give it a shot and why watch a series from start to finish if you’re not going to blather about it in rambling posts like this one?
*So, let’s get started. The Pilot is from 1972. Given my interest in chronology and the fact that the chronology of MASH seems to be hotly debated on the net, I feel that I should mention that this opens with a straight up date stamp of “1950, 100 years ago.” So, we’re definitely at the beginning of the Korean Conflict.
*So, this George Morgan who plays Father Mulcahy here. Is it just me or does he look a lot like Mark Hamill? Of course, I am aware that George Morgan isn’t long for the show. He appears here as Father Mulcahy, but is replaced when the series proper starts.
*So, there’s a fairly long sequence prior to the theme. This is, I think, the only episode this happens on. It briefly introduces all of the characters, engaging in activities of various kinds. And then leads into Radar catching a football and then pausing, hearing the helicopters coming. There’s a great zoom over his shoulder to the helicopters and then we’re into the basic title sequence, only it’s a bit longer, with some added bits. Nothing of substance.
*Ah, the ol’ golf ball into the minefield gag. Always a classic.
*First operating scene is the first post-title scene.
*Hmm, this episode is narrated via the device of Hawkeye writing a letter home to his dad. It seems that this is a device that is returned to over and over through the series. So, it’s kind of interesting that they just straight up start the series as a whole via that device.
*First fight is of course between Frank and Hawkeye. It starts in the OR over Frank bawling out a nurse.
*I have to say the jokes here are not brilliant.
*Spearchucker is sleeping in the Swamp. I hear he doesn’t stick around long. I’ll try to keep track. He’s played by Tim Brown who was in the original movie. In the movie, his name was given as Judson and here he’s Jones, but it’s obviously supposed to be the same character, right?
*First good joke in the episode is about six minutes in, from Wayne Rogers as Trapper, reading a letter from home: “Bad news from my wife. She still loves me.”
*Yes, that’s the best one so far. Trust me.
*So, Hawkeye and Trapper have to raise a couple of thousand dollars in order to send Ho-Jon to the states to attend Hawkeye’s old alma mater.
*You know, they actually give Hawkeye this horrific line to Ho-Jon when Ho-Jon asks Hawkeye how he can ever thank him for helping get him into college in the US. He says, “You just go back there and become the best possible you you can.” I mean, I’m sorry, but that’s just dreadful.
*So, the best thing about the Altman movie was the dynamic between Henry Blake and Radar and the series does a great job in their first scene together of Blake being, like in the movie, perpetually a step behind Radar. “Pierce and McIntyre to see you, sir.” *Pierce and McIntyre enter* “Show them in.”
*So, Hawkeye decides to raffle off a weekend in Tokyo with Lt. Dish, a nurse with “so much body she should be continued on the next girl.” Cue terrifically unfunny montage of Hawkeye harassing Dish.
*Second fight in the episode comes when Frank gets mad at Hawkeye and decides to smash the still. Stupendously unfunny scene. I mean, it’s pretty terrible. They even do a really awful “boioioioingngngngng” sound effect when he grabs the still.
*The Painless Pole is mentioned as buying a raffle ticket. I understand this is the only time he’s referenced at all in the series.
*So, Henry and his main squeeze, a nurse name of Scorch, have to go down to Seoul to see General Hammond. Radar provides the weekend passes, but unfortunately Frank being acting commander, the raffle is cancelled. At least until Hawkeye gives Frank a shot in the rear and our happy band of misfits wrap him up like a mummy and Hawkeye writes orders that he be kept sedated.
*Spearchucker shows up to the party, it being a costume party, dressed as a samurai. And for a second, when I saw him coming in with the big samurai hat, I thought he was wearing a Darth Vader costume, which would be pretty amazing, this episode being from 1972 (and SET in 1950).
*So, Margaret realizes Frank is missing and can’t find him. Hawkeye won’t tell her anything, so she calls General Hammond in Seoul who is played by G. Wood, who also played the character in the movie.
*There’s a very funny flashback to Margaret and General Hammond working together in Fort Benning. And by working together, I mean making out violently on top of a medicine cabinet. I think it’s the only time I actually laughed out loud watching this episode.
*So, General Hammond and Henry fly down to the 4077 after Margaret’s call. Radar, the only person to have heard the helicopter coming, is there to meet them at the pad, bedpan on head. He did come directly from the party. It’s something I’ll be coming back to a lot, but Gary Burghoff is the only possible person who could sell a lot of these moments.
*So, Lt. Dish is in suspicion that Hawkeye is going to fix the raffle so that he wins. He’s a gentleman though and he actually fixes it so that Father Mulcahy wins. George Morgan’s anguished reaction is about the only thing he actually does in this episodea s Mulcahy. I don’t think he has a single line.
*So, General Hammond shows up and places Hawkeye and Trapper under arrest, but then a large shipment of wounded arrives and then Hawkeye and Trapper so impress Hammond in the OR that he dismisses the charges. Big surprise there.
*So, for the credits, the cast list is read over the PA system with a short clip of each of them. Hilariously, Odessa Cleveland, who plays a nurse named Ginger, is given a full credit along with all the others despite the fact that she has exactly two lines in the episode.
*Okay, so there are a couple of things I wanna do on this little journey. One is, of course, to create a ranking of all the episodes in order of quality. This will, of course, be changing and mutating as we go along. For now, it’s rather a short affair. Pilot, despite the fact that I find it to be a generally weak episode, gets to come in at number one. See list appended to the end of this post.
*Second thing I wanna do is create something I’m calling The Abridged MASH. Now, the show’s a classic; it’s one of those shows that people should watch and, despite a lot of continuity problems, I think the show does have a definite emotional arc through the series and it really is one long story about these people, at least at its best. But when you want to go through the Korean Conflict again with the crew of the 4077th, you’re faced with a problem, namely that there are over two-hundred and fifty episodes, which adds up to a lot of hours. What if you want to take that trip, but don’t have the time to go through all the episodes again? Well, that, quite simply, is what The Abridged MASH is for. I’ll be picking episodes for this abridgement as we go. Which episodes make the cut? I don’t even know yet. Will I be cutting the show in half? By a fourth? It’ll be interesting to see. But the point is to give a solid abridgement, one that respects the story, the characters and the emotional arcs and points being made by the show. Strictly, in other words, the best and the most essential episodes. I’ll be appending that list to the end of each post too.
*Nothing this post, however, because, horror of horrors, the Pilot does not make my list. It’s a mainly uninteresting episode and it’s not essential. In fact, it’ll make the abridgement flow better than the whole series since Lt. Dish is heavily featured here only to disappear immediately as the series progresses and, as previously mentioned, we have a different actor as Father Mulcahy. So, no, in my abridgement, you can skip this episode. I know it’s the Pilot; I know it’s historic and important. It’s also not a very good episode.
*Hmm, so far I have a 100% rejection rate. This abridged MASH may be really short.
*Anyway, that’s it for this time.
* out of **** stars.
Gene Reynolds, Larry Gelbart
MASH Episodes, by Quality: