M*A*S*H (1977) – Fallen Idol, Last Laugh, and War of Nerves

Alan Alda writes and directs a pair of episodes this week, with the first being Fallen Idol. Having an original airdate of 27 September, 1977, the story focuses on the friendship between Radar (Gary Burghoff) and Hawkeye (Alda). And although it’s been hinted at that Radar has in fact had some intimate moments with nurses in the camp, the plot for this story has the character still a virgin, and very much wanting to resolve that percieved issue.

So Hawk encourages him to get a pass and head down to Seoul for a three day weekend of debauchery, and take care of things once and for all. Radar has always kind of idolised Hawkeye, so takes the advice and heads on his way. Unfortunately, for B.J. (Mike Farrell) and Hawkeye, not to mention Radar, the young corporal is in a deluge of wounded that show up at the 4077th, having been struck by a mortar.

Hawkeye takes the situation seriously, and demands he be the one to look after the young man, while blaming himself for the circumstances of Radar’s injury. Consequently, he ties one on after surgery, and makes a poor showing of himself in the O.R. the next day.

Radar isn’t disappointed that he was injured, he’s upset with Hawkeye for having to leave the O.R.for being sick and hungover.

Conflict arises in their once balanced friendship, as Radar realises Hawkeye may be a helluva surgeon, but he’s also human, and makes mistakes, and Hawkeye feels horrible about what happened to his friend.

Happily, it gets sorted by episode’s end, and Radar gets to see Hawk in a different way… as a regular, flawed human being.

Lasy Laugh featues the wonderful James Cromwell in an episode written by James Fritzell and Everett Greenbaum. It first aired on 4 October, 1977.

Leo Bardonaro (Cromwell) makes a quick pitstop in the 4077th on his way back to the States to see his old friend, B.J. Leo served as B.J.’s best man, they’ve known each other for years, and have a history of practical joking.

They pull fast ones on each other, and as a parting gift, Leo has framed B.J. for a disturbance in a Seoul hotel that ended up causing a general (Robert Karnes) some embarassment and consternation. Potter (Harry Morgan) and Hawk join B.J. in proving his innocence, but the surgeon is determined to have the last laugh on his old friend.

Will Leo get out of the country and back home? Will B.J. end up in the stockade after all?

This is just a light, and enjoyable episode, that features a fantastic guest star, and is just a lot of fun to watch as the pranks play out.

War of Nerves is Alda’s second entry this week. Sidney Freedman (Allan Arbus) ends up back in the camp in this episode from 11 October, 1977.

He was at the front trying to help a young soldier, Tom (Micheal O’Keefe) get back into the fight, but the young man blames Sidney for his injuries and for forcing him back to the front. Sidney’s timing at the camp couldn’t have been more fortuitous because tempers are flaring, everyone seems to be at one another’s throats, and if they don’t find a release soon, things may go badly for everyone.

Klinger (Jamie Farr) reveals that he’s afraid he may really be going crazy instead of just trying for a Section 8, Margaret (Loretta Swit) who had a getaway of her own last episode to see her husband, is constantly arguing with Winchester (David Ogden Stiers) and there’s even some static between Mike and B.J.

Finally there’s a release at the end of the episode as a huge bonfire is lit, and the camp celebrates the cathartic release as they throw things on the ever growing blaze, which symbolically allows them to get rid of their problems, if just for the moment.

Alda has a talent for storytelling, and pulling back some of the layers of the characters, making this more than just a funny show but giving them real depth as they face the horrors of war week in and week out at the 4077th.

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