M*A*S*H (1974) – The General Flipped at Dawn, Rainbow Bridge, and Officer of the Day

Harry Morgan makes an appearance, not as Colonel Potter but a Major General Steele (which one him an Emmy), in the season three opener for M*A*S*H. Written by James Fritzell and Everett Greenbaum, the season began on 10 September, 1974.

It serves as a bit of a reintroduction to the characters, as the General arrives to inspect the 4077th, and reminding them that they are a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital plans to move them closer to the front. This troubles the whole unit, from Blake (McLean Stevenson) down to Radar (Gary Gurghoff) but the only people who seem willing to sound off about it are Hawkeye (Alan Alda) and Trapper (Wayne Rogers).

Steele, we learn pretty quickly is a racist, and when Hawkeye stands up to him, and subsequently draws a court martial, we learn that he’s also completely round the bend. Which means, of course, that the 4077th isn’t moving, and Steele is sent home and promoted.

It’s a fun episode, there’s some goofy moments, but as season openers go, not to mention some of the previous episodes, this one feels a little below snuff. Still, seeing Morgan on the set paves the way for what we know is to come, Stevenson had announced that he would be leaving at the end of the season, and Morgan was brought in to see how he worked with the cast, lining him up as Stevenson’s replacement.

Consequently this is the only time that Morgan, Rogers and Stevenson share any scenes together as by the time Potter arrives to take over, both Trapper and Blake have left the series.

Rainbow Bridge features a guest appearance by Mako, in an episode that was written by series developer Larry Gelbart and Laurence Marks. It first aired on 17 September, 1974, and in my opinion should have been used as the season opener.

On the verge of departing for Tokyo for some well earned rest, Hawkeye and Trapper, instead, get pulled into thirty six hours of surgery, and then learn that Chinese forces are prepared to turn over some American wounded that they cannot tend to. It involves crossing into enemy territory to a remote location, known as Rainbow Bridge, and they set some strong rules about what will be needed for the exchange, including a caveat of no weapons.

Hawk, Trap, Radar, Klinger (Jamie Farr) and Burns (Larry Linville) take on the mission, but unfortunately, Frank Burns is going to jeopardise everything because Margaret Houlihan (Loretta Swit) has given him a pistol.

The episode also features the first appearance of the singing surgeon, Captain Spaulding (Loudon Wainwright III) who croons a song, “Oh Tokyo” throughout the show.

This, I feel, is a stronger episode than the previous one, and would have made a great season opener. Sure, it was great to see Morgan in the episode and see how he’d work with everybody, but this one has a more dramatic story, and one that really works for the show, as it balances laughs and drama in equal measure.

Oh well.

Either way the third season is off to a great start, so lets finish off the week with…

Officer of the Day. Penned by Laurence Marks this Hawkeye-centric episode first aired on 24 September, 1974. Colonel Blake is away, leaving Frank Burns in charge of the 4077th – that’s all fine, until Radar reveals that Hawkeye has drawn the assignment of Officer of the Day.

As such, he has to see over the day to day functions of the camp, and deal with things as they arise. And today is just your average day – a pair of young thieves steal Radar’s teddy bear, which we learn belonged to his brother, a number of locals, sporting the same name, all come in for medical assistance, and Colonel Flagg (Edward Winter) returns demanding Hawkeye and the rest tend to a wounded Korean prisoner he has so he can take him back to Seoul for interrogation.

There’s a lot going on… and all Hawkeye would like is a couple of hours sleep but it’s just not going to be that kind of day.

It’s not quite a slice-of-life episode, but there’s a lot of that going on in this episode, and it lets Alda just play to his comedic talents.

The third season continues next week as I continue my tour of duty at the 4077th M*A*S*H outfit.

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