Alan Alda directs the final episode of the ninth season, which he co-wrote with John Rappaport and had an original airdate of 4 May, 1981.
While all the medical staff are given administrative duties around the camp, which illustrate how inane some Army regulations can be, Winchester (David Ogden Stiers) has a trial of the soul. When he and B.J. (Mike Farrell) help save a wounded soldier who was clinically dead for a few minutes, the major is haunted by thoughts of what happens after we die, all stemming from a childhood tragedy.
He besieges the patient with questions, broods, and finally delivers himself to Battalion Aid, the frontline triage area, to walk in the midst of death in search of answers. Hoping desperately for some kind of relief, and release.
It lets Stiers add some real depth to his character, and Alda balances the poignancy of Winchester’s story with the comedic elements of things like Hawkeye (Alda) being in charge of the mess tent, B.J. the laundry, Houlihan (Loretta Swit) gets Morale Officer, and Father Mulcahy (William Christopher) the garbage.
This one leans into being a thinker, and isn’t afraid to pose these questions to its audience, even as they laugh at some of the lighter fare. It’s an interesting way to end the ninth season, reminding us once again that both comedy and drama are the forte of the 4077th, and shows that Alda really understands the series and the characters, and can use them to tell powerful stories.
Season 10 got underway with a hour long premiere, That’s Show Biz, that was written by David Polllock and Elias Davis. and debuted on 26 October, 1981.
A traveling USO show gets stuck in the 4077th after an attack closes all the roads, and while the entertainers are very different from the medical staff, realizations begin to arise that they are both doing what they can for those who are doing the fighting.
One of the entertainers needs her appendix out, and takes a real shine to Hawkeye, while an burlesque dancer meets a fan in Potter (Harry Morgan) and they share a nice connection, while Houlihan’s opinion of who some of the entertainers are is transformed by her experience with them. Winchester has some trouble with the musicians, because of their choice of instruments, not realizing that it is necessity, and for some reason has a real problem with puns making him laugh.
There’s also a nice story thread about one of the entertainers, trying to learn more about her brother who was KIA in the area, and she was hoping to recover a memento from his personal effects.
And then there’s Klinger (Jamie Farr) who thinks he’s found his new outlet, comedy, and his jokes bomb worse than the enemy!
With that, the penultimate season of MASH is underway, and it was a fun way to launch the season