M*A*S*H (1977) – End Run, Hanky Panky, and Hepatitis

Harry Morgan directs the first episode this week, End Run, which was written by John D. Hess and debuted on 25 January, 1977. Morgan keeps his story threads separate, giving us some comedy with Klinger (Jamie Farr), Frank (Larry Linville) and Zale (Johnny Haymer) when Frank decides to pit the two against one another in the boxing ring.

You just know that’s not going to go well, and have lots of laughs.

To serve as a counterpoint, Hawkeye (Alan Alda) and B.J. (Mike Farrell) find themselves working on a young soldier, Billy Tyler (Henry Brown) who was a promising football player before the war, and with the injury that landed him in the 4077th’s care may no longer have a future as a ballplayer, and must face the new reality that is his life, if he’s willing to face it.

Radar (Gary Burghoff) forges a connection with Billy, and the two find their way out of Billy’s darkness together, and maybe he’ll be ready for the challenges his life now presents.

It’s a nicely balanced tale, and it also has Margaret (Loretta Swit) getting to enjoy a belly-laugh when Frank finds himself in the wrong spot during the boxing match.

Hanky Panky was written and directed by Gene Reynolds, and was first broadcast on 1 February, 1977. It’s a B.J. story that suggests that after being faithful to his wife for so long, he brushes up against infidelity when he tries to console a nurse, Carrie Donovan (Ann Sweeny), whose marriage has just come to an end.

While Margaret frets over her fiance being laid up in a hospital, and not being able to reach him, Nurse Donovan recieves a ‘dear jane’ letter from home that wrecks her. She and B.J. have always been friendly, and he understands the distances involved in the relationship, as he misses his wife, Peg, every day.

When the pair talk about what has happened, B.J. falls off the fidelity wagon, and hates himself for it. Hawkeye stops him from writing home and telling Peg about it, asking why B.J. would punish her like that? But it doesn’t change how B.J. feels, until he has an important and poignant conversation with Carrie.

The episode does not endorse the subject of infidelity, but it definitely makes you examine and talk about it, as an act of kindness and betrayal.

As a kid, this episode would have bothered me, because it’s not one of the funny, madcap episodes, but as an adult, I think it was a solid, important, and adult episode.

Hepatitis finishes off the trio of episodes this week. Alan Alda wrote and directed this tale that sees an outbreak of hepatitis sweeping the camp, and Hawkeye needs to innoculate everyone while dealing with some serious back pain.

This story first hit the airwaves on 8 February, 1977 and while B.J. tackles a serious surgery, Hawkeye is in charge of vaccinating the rest of the camp after Father Mulcahy (William Christopher) exhibits some symptoms of hepatitis which may have been incurred while caring for a patient who has since left the camp.

This is a fun, and fast-moving episode, and it’s a real delight to see B.J. drunk, and self-congratulatory at the end of the episode for having pulled off the surgery. And as the reasons behind Hawkeye’s back become clearer, we learn that it’s not a physical ailment that has brought on this pain, he’s holding onto anger about the war, while those at home succeed and reap the rewards of a ‘normal’ life.

The show, five seasons in, continues to entertain, and is also getting braver in its dramatic storylines, but constantly balances it with its sense of humour.

There’s more next week, as I hang out in the Swamp in the 4077th!

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