M*A*S*H (1972) – I Hate a Mystery, Germ Warfare, Dear Dad

Hawkeye (Alan Alda) plays detective after he’s apparently framed for a rash of thefts across the camp in I Hate a Mystery. Written by Hal Dresner, and first airing on 26 November, 1972, the story is rather light-hearted, though there is a real issue at heart behind the crimes.

Knick knacks from all over the camp have been disappearing, and when they are all discovered in Hawkeye’s foot locker, he’s practically ostracised by friends and enemies. But he’s determined to find out who the real culprit is, and the concocts a scheme to out the cad!

There’s a lot of fun to be had in this episode though I still take exception to the nickname of one of the doctors, and will refer to him as Captain Jones (Timothy Brown), and, unless I miss my mark, this is the first appearance of Radar’s (Gary Burghoff) teddy bear.

It’s a solid episode, that shows, once again, that this series had it from the off, and was able to make you laugh, while raising legitimate questions about the world around us.

I also realised, finally, that Major Houlihan (Loretta Swit) is a real tattletale. Whenever she wants something, say Hawkeye’s court martial, she doesn’t go to her CO, Blake (McLean Stevenson) she goes around and above him – outside of the camp to the something member of the military hierarchy. She may be a good nurse, but man, that would cheese me off until I could transfer her out!

Germ Warfare is a fun episode, but also one that sees the last appearance of Jones, and Lt. Dish (Karen Philipp). Larry Gelbart, who developed the series for television, penned this episode that first aired on 10 December, 1972.

Hawkeye and Trapper (Wayne Rogers) are working on a Korean POW, and Burns (Larry Linville) wants him out of the post-op, as he’s a prisoner, and taking beds away from American troops. Blake agrees, but advises Hawkeye that he can still help in the patient’s recovery, just not there.

So Hawkeye moves him into the Swamp, which ends up being very convenient because the patient needs a blood donation. Unfortunately he’s a rare type, O negative, and there’s only one person in the camp who has the same blood… Frank Burns.

They siphon some blood, but when the patient starts showing some strange symptoms they think Frank may have hepatitis. Until they’ve got confirmation from the lab, they have to keep away from the operating theatre, and Major Houlihan (as the pair seek to find places to sneak off together throughout the episode).

This one ends up being a delightful little madcap episode, and it’s really a lot of fun to see the way Rogers and Alda play off of one another, and while it’s no surprise that Jones doesn’t appear again, it’s really too bad, because he really could have rounded out the group if he had been given more to do.

Dear Dad was also written by Gelbart and aired on 17 December, 1972 and is a bit of a Christmas episode. Hawkeye is writing his father a letter, so Alda provides narration throughout the tale which knits a number of vignettes together into one story.

It’s more a chance to throw together a number of sequences that work as a cohesive whole to give us a look at life in the 4077th, while the war wages around them.

There is hilarity as Trapper and Hawk sabotage a date between Frank Burns and Margaret Houlihan, there is tension running high as Frank and Klinger (Jamie Farr in his second appearance come to blows which gets settled off-screen,and obviously didn’t cause lots of problems for either character). It also shows that Trapper helps out in the local village whenever he can, and as a party for the local children draws near, Hawkeye dresses up as Santa, but gets called to the front to perform emergency surgery.

Some of it works really well, some of the interactions and treatment of Houlihan is downright offensive. I recognise that its meant to be funny, but it’s not.

Still, it’s a nicely solid episode that lets each character get a chance to shine including Father Mulcahy (William Christopher), Radar – who is apparently shipping a jeep back to the States piece by piece and Colonel Blake who has a hard time delivering a speech about marital sex to the camp.

More madcap and maudlin next week as I continue my tour with M*A*S*H!

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