M*A*S*H (1973) – The Ringbanger, Sometimes You Hear the Bullet, and Dear Dad, Again

Leslie Nielsen guest stars as Colonel Buzz Brighton in The Ringbanger, which was written by Jerry Mayer, and first aired on 21 January, 1973.

Hawkeye (Alan Alda) and Trapper (Wayne Rogers) click with one of their patients, Brighton, but are soon troubled to learn that his unit suffers the highest casualty rate, with the least objectives achieved, and they are worried his gung-ho attitude is going to get his soldiers killed. So they concoct a plan to keep him around camp for a few days while gaslighting him into thinking he may in fact be ill.

This involves constantly moving the location of his temporary barracks, the idea that Frank Burns (Larry Linville) has romantic intentions towards him, that Colonel Blake (McLean Stevenson) is a bit of a drunk (a little hypocritical on their part) and has a thing going with Major Houlihan (Loretta Swit), which all plays out in a climax that gets the colonel sent home to rest and relax for a few months and perhaps lose something of the cavalier attitude toward his growing casualty list.

It’s funny, though some of the things they do seem questionable, even if they are doing it for the right reasons. Taken within the context of the show and the message at work within it, though, it does feel justified, and as likeable as Buzz is, it’s very apparent that he needs a reset and needs to find a way to balance his objectives with the human cost, which isn’t something the military always does well.

Sometimes You Hear the Bullet is a great episode. Written by Carl Kleinschmitt it debuted on 28 January, 1973, and perfectly found the balance between humour and melancholy as it dealt with a number of heartfelt issues.

Hawkeye is delighted when one of his old friends shows up at the 4077th, Tommy Gillis (James T. Callahan) with news that he’s enlisted as a soldier instead of a correspondent because he wants to write a book from the soldier’s view of the war.

Things get complicated quickly in the camp when Burns injures himself in a romantic clinch with Houlihan and puts in for a Purple Heart, and Hawkeye discovers an underage marine (guest star Ron Howard) in the post-op, and he has to decide what to do about the boy’s future.

His future is chosen for him by Hawkeye, however, when Tommy ends up back in the 4077th, this time as a dying patient, which rocks Hawk to his core, and drives him to send Wendell (Howard) home with Frank’s dubiously earned Purple Heart.

Funny, poignant, and resonating, this one is a real classic, and I loved every minute of it, from the laughs, to seeing Hawkeye really upset for the first time, and how it focuses him on saving a life no matter what the patient thinks of him afterward – like sending an underage boy back home, away from the war.

Along with the first Dear Dad episode, this story is an instant classic and shows how well they can balance the laughs and the tears with this show.

Dear Dad, Again was written by Sheldon Keller and Larry Gelbart, who oversaw the development of the series from the film, and the novels. It first debuted on 4 February, 1973.

This episode ties together another series of vignettes as Hawkeye writes another letter home to his dad. This time around, Klinger (Jamie Farr) gets some fashion advice, Radar (Gary Burghoff) attempts to get his high school diploma by taking a final exam, Frank and Margaret Houlihan have a bit of a falling out because she thinks she only wants him for her body, Hawkeye takes a dare, there’s a (questionable) talent show, and finally, there’s a subplot that takes its inspiration from an actual event…

There’s a new surgeon in the camp, Captain Casey (Alex Henteloff). He’s great at his job, and is a fantastic doctor, until he reveals to Father Mulcahy (William Christopher) that he’s not a real doctor, he’s not even a real captain. He’s just a sergeant.

This is an incident that actual occurred aboard a Canadian warship involved in the Korean War, where an imposter posted as a ship’s surgeon!

Not quite as solid as the previous episode, but still a lot of fun, and it’s great to see how the actors have settled into their roles, and where the nickname of Ferret Face for Frank came from.

There’s more laughs and melancholy next week as I continue my tour with the 4077th…

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