M*A*S*H (1980/1981) – Death Takes a Holiday, A War for All Seasons, and Your Retention Please

Mike Farrell directs this episode that he wrote alongside John Rappaport, and Dennis Koenig from a story by Thad Mumford, Dan Wilcox, and Burt Metcalfe. It aired on 15 December 1980 and was used as that year’s Christmas episode.

Farrell knows how to pack his story with emotional impact without being super sappy about it. The camp pulls together to help some orphans celebrate the holidays. Charles (David Ogden Stiers) is shocked to learn that an anonymous gift of chocolate he left for the children, part of a family tradition, ended up on the black market, for a good reason.

And while the camp parties in the mess tent, B.J. (Farrell), Hawkeye (Alan Alda), Houlihan (Loretta Swit), and Mulcahy (William Christopher) work to keep a dying man alive until midnight, so that his family back home won’t have that shadow hanging over their Christmas for the rest of their lives.

Charles learns a valuable lesson, which Klinger (Jamie Farr) hears and recognizes. And our group in the O.R. confront the horrors of war head on, and make a decision to preserve a family’s peace.

A poignant, and well-crafted episode that rings true. There are fun moments of levity, and they are balanced with a heartrending story of the holidays.

A War for All Seasons was written by Mumford and Wilcox and first debuted on 29 December, 1980. The year 1950 is coming to a close. And while it’s a great episode it does show some of the inconsistencies of a show that ran, at this point, for nine years, about a three year conflict. We’ve celebrated Christmas a number of times, and this story bounces between New Years 1950 and 1951.

And to really nitpick, Potter (Harry Morgan) can’t be around, because he doesn’t take command until 1952. But continuity wasn’t as big a thing for television viewing as it has become.

We check in on the characters throughout the year, Houlihan has taken up knitting and what starts as a pot holder grows. Klinger and Potter, and eventually Charles, get wrapped up on betting who is going to win the 1951 World Series, Mulcahy and Klinger grow a garden, and Hawkeye and B.J., who have been putting good use to the Sears-Roebuck catalogue, decide to build a kidney machine to help a patient.

It’s an entertaining enough tale and we get to look at how a year can change people, as well as change their outlooks for better or worse on a number of things.

Your Retention Please was written by Erik Tarloff and was the first episode of 1981, airing on 5 January.

Klinger receives heartbreaking news from home, his ex-wife is going to marry his now ex best friend. He’s morose, and upset, the perfect prey for a retention officer, Vickers (Barry Corbin), who has arrived in the camp to get people to re-enlist.

Klinger signs off on it, but Potter needs to swear him in for it to be official. Can Hawkeye stop Klinger from what he knows will be a huge mistake? And does Potter have the Army or Klinger’s best interests at heart?

There’s also an interesting b-story that follows a male nurse, Hutchinson (Sam Weisman). The rest of the nurses when they were drafted, or signed up were made officers. Hutchinson, when he was drafted, and because he’s a man, was made a sergeant. It’s an interesting topic, and I wonder if that was an actual thing, or was just a way for the series to comment on sexism by reversing it?

Anyway, there’s more to come as we work deeper into season nine of M*A*S*H next week!

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