M*A*S*H (1977) – The Winchester Tapes, The Light That Failed, and In Love and War

James Fritzell and Evertt Greenbaum give us another slice of life episode with The Winchester Tapes, which first debuted on 18 October, 1977.

Winchester (David Ogden Stiers) is still having trouble settling into things at the 4077th, and is recording tapes to send home to his parents that not only illustrate his life in the camp, but also his intense desire to be removed from the unit to a ‘more appropriate’ venue for his skills.

Interwoven with this is a constant deluge of wounded that prevent Hawkeye (Alan Alda) from getting to Seoul for a three day weekend with a young woman of his acquaintance, and Klinger (Jamie Farr) trying a new tactic to get out of the army; fainting spells.

Winchester tries to bribe Radar (Gary Burghoff), can’t get a read on Houlihan (Loretta Swit) and sits for a portrait by Potter (Harry Morgan), all while B.J. (Mike Farrell) and Hawkeye prank him into thinking he’s getting thinner and fatter in turns.

Greenbaum and Fritzell are great at these type of episodes, stringing together shorter narratives into a whole that gives us a look at the day to day life of the camp. Their episodes always lean more towards the comedic, and leave the heavier drama to other writers.

The Light That Failed is an episode written by Burt Prelutsky that first debuted on 25 October, 1977. Morale and supplies are low around the camp, medical supplies are dwindling, lights are burning out, and the staff are doing what they can to save lives. When a supply shipment arrives, it’s not even for the camp. But amongs the boxes is a mystery novel, a new story for the camp!

As pages makes its way around the camp, chapters ripped from the book as B.J. finishes it, the whole camp gets swept up in it, until B.J. reaches the last page, which is missing… who did it?

The camp tries to figure out who dunnit, while Winchester makes a near fatal error with one of his patients and can’t admit that he made a mistake or that Hawkeye and B.J. helped save a life.

There’s a nice balance between the comedy of the mystery novel, and Winchester’s selfish behavior and inabilty to recognise the work and aid of his fellows.

Will Winchester smarten up before the episode’s end? and more importantly, will the murdered be unmasked?

This is a delightfully fun episode.

In Love and War was written and directed by Alda, and wa first broadcast on 1 November, 1977. Alda puts Hawkeye and Houlihan front and centre in two parallel stories. Despite Potter’s warning, Hawkeye begins to fall in love with a beautiful Korean woman, Kyung Soon (Kieu Chinh), who seeks his aid in looking after her ailing mother.

She has also taken in other families on their ruined estate, and Hawkeye can’t help but fall for this brilliant and compassionate woman.

Meanwhile, the arrival of a new nurse in camp, Gleeson (Susan Krebs) raises questions of the fidelity of Houlihan’s husband back in Tokyo.

While there are some laughs throughout the episode, it’s actually more of a poignant pontification of love, and solace, pain and heartache that arises in war, with hearts being the casualties.

Soon is a wonderful companion for Hawkeye, and really helps to make both characters come to life in a new way, but by the episode’s end, events force her to leave the area, and leave Hawkeye wounded, but no doubt, remembering those two special weeks for a long time to come.

There’s more meatball surgery, laughs and pathos next week when I take in another trio of episodes of M*A*S*H!

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