M*A*S*H (1982) – The Tooth Shall Set You Free, Pressure Points, and Where There’s a Will, There’s a War

The Tooth Shall Set You Free features a trio of recognizable guest stars and tackles racism. Written by David Pollock and Elias Davis, this episode first aired on 8 February, 1982.

Laurence Fishburne, Tom Atkins, Jason Bernard all make appearances in this tale that sees Atkins playing the CO of an Engineering Division where African-American soldiers are more likely to end up wounded or dead because Weems (Atkins) gives them the most dangerous assignments.

Fishburne plays one of his wounded men, whom Weems is trying to send home, not because he’s been brutally wounded but because he doesn’t want the young man in his unit.

Hawkeye (Alan Alda), B.J. (Mike Farrell) and Potter (Harry Morgan) realize what is really going on in Weems’ command and work to get rid of the man once and for all. They get the help of Rockingham (Bernard) who happens to be in camp to help out with the episode’s b-story…

… Winchester (David Ogden Stiers) has a toothache.

I love the way this episode plays out. At first, we think Weems just cares about his men and wants to get them home, but as you scratch the shiny poish away from his oak leaves, done in a great scene over drinks, the doctors discover who he really is, and that he has no place in the Army.

Pressure Points was also written by Pollock and Davis, and first debuted on 15 February, 1982. A smart story that focuses on Potter, and brings Sidney (Allan Arbus) back to the 4077th.

When Hawkeye has to go in to do some touch-up surgery on one of Potter’s patients, the older man begins to worry about his abilities, whether he’s losing his touch, and the way the pressure is building up on everyone in the camp, even him.

He has to confront his own mortality and age even as Hawkeye, B.J., and Winchester push one another to the limits with the mess that is the Swamp .

It’s very poignant seeing Potter admit his fears, and confront his worries about who he is, and what he would be if he wasn’t a surgeon. We also learn he’s sixty-two, and from where I’m sitting right now, that doesn’t seem so old. Course, when I was a kid and saw this episode that must have seemed ancient.

While the laughs abound with the trio tearing up the Swamp, the Potter story is incredibly well handled, and though it seems to jump to its ending as if simply voicing the issue has solved it, I think it was done fantastically.

Where There’s a Will, There’s a War gives us another story by Pollock and Davis, and this time Alan Alda slips back into the director’s seat.

First airing on 22 Fabruary, 1982, we follow Hawkeye as he draws an assignment to an aid station on the front. It was supposed to be B.J.’s turn but he got a chance to slip away from a bit of a refresher. So off to the front Hawkeye goes, and the proximity of the war hits home.

Back at the 4077th, everyone is panicking over the fact that there is a report of a surgeon killed at a battalion aid station and they think it’s Pierce.

Hawkeye, meanwhile, is writing his will, and we get glimpses and insights into all the major characters as he bequeaths his worldly goods. If only he could figure out what to leave for his best friend, B.J. The ending of the episode is wonderfully poignant, and shows once again that Alda understands these characters and can balance the humor and pathos perfectly.

We’re closing in on the end of season ten, but there are more laughs and tears to come at the 4077th.

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