M*A*S*H (1973) – Deal Me Out, Hot Lips and Empty Arms, and Officers Only

The first episode up this week of M*A*S*H boasts a number of recognisable guest stars. Allan Arbus returns as Sidney, Pat Morita plays Captain Sam Pak, and John Ritter plays Private Carter. Deal Me Out was written by Laurence Marks, and series developer Larry Gelbart and first aired on 8 December, 1973.

While Hawkeye (Alan Alda), Trapper (Wayne Rogers), Klinger (Jamie Farr) and Blake (McLean Stevenson) attend a ‘conference’ – read as card game – with Sidney and Sam, problems arise around the camp; Radar (Gary Burghoff) hits a local with a jeep, and Burns (Larry Linville) is trying to get Hawkeye and Trapper in trouble for operating on a CID agent without another one present, while also dealing with Carter, who has been wounded, and suffering from battle fatigue does not want to return to the front.

As the game goes on, and each gets drawn from the table, and back again, for various reasons, the humour and the drama play out nicely against the backdrop of a poker game which has some really clever dialogue.

And while continuity in a sitcom can sometimes be difficult to do, especially back in the 70s when viewers weren’t necessarily as detail oriented as modern day viewers, there is a sense of reality coming from the series with returning characters and established routines.

This was a smart, and funny episode that touched on other dramatic elements while still entertaining, and just seeing both Ritter and Morita onscreen made me smile. And honestly, it’s always interesting when Sidney shows up in the camp.

Hot Lips and Empty Arms was written by Mary Kay Place and Linda Bloodworth-Thomason and first aired on 15 December, 1973, and thrusts Margaret ‘Hot Lips’ Houlihan (Loretta Swit) firmly into the spotlight.

When Houlihan receives a letter from home, from an old friend about the success she’s found in her life, Houlihan reevaluates everything she’s done with her life, including committing to the Army. She decides that she needs a change of scenery, and applies for a transfer, and then loses herself in a drink (or two or three).

She makes her goodbyes to the unit, breaks up with Frank, admits to Trapper she really could have gone for him if he had shown her an ounce of respect, and while sharing a slug with Henry Blake realises that the unit works well because of her being there, and that they are all family, whether things go the way they want or not.

Coming to the conclusion that she is where she needs to be, Hawkeye and Trapper work to get her sober, but won’t let her forget the things she said about Frank or Trap.

It’s nice to see Swit something more to do, and she is more than up to the task, this episode really lets her shine. And it’s interesting to see what she, as a character, thought was important to her, and what she realises is important to her.

She may not always like the things that happen in the camp, but she is definitely a part of it.

Officers Only was written by Ed Jurist and debuted on 22 December, 1973. After Hawkeye and Trapper save the life of a general’s son, the officer is more than delighted to grant them a request, a three day and night furlough in Tokyo.

Blake gets amusing updates of their antics, but when the pair arrive back in the camp they are shocked to discover that the general also authorised the building of an Officers Club, which won’t allow any of the enlisted men in.

The pair, while liking the idea of a club that the camp can relax in, are upset that not everyone can use it (there’s a thinly veiled theme there), and try to convince the other officers to sign off on letting everyone use it. With Houlihan and Frank Burns holding out, they’ll have to come up with a new plan.

And it all comes together when the thankful general comes to officially open the bar.

This one ends up being a straightforward comedic episode (and shows Trap and Hawk getting Frank, unknowingly, drunk), though it does have a relevant theme, and its great seeing Hawk and Trapper standing up for the enlisted men, while the officers of the camp seem to be quite happy to have a place of their own, separate.

There’s more comedy, pathos and meatball surgery next week as I continue my tour with the 4077th…

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