Earlier in the week I posted a link to MASH4077TV.com’s poll asking site visitors to choose their favorite episode of M*A*S*H. I found this to be very difficult as the show changed over time.
M*A*S*H has been considered to be a comedy by some and a drama by others. As a compromise, it has been dubbed a “dramedy.” The first three seasons of M*A*S*H were largely comedic, but this changed following the death of Col. Henry Blake at the end of season three. There was a balance between drama and comedy, but the show changed often. Cast changes in seasons four and six also make it difficult to choose a favorite episode because each cast had its own merits. I enjoy the original cast just as much as the show’s final cast. At first, I thought it was unfair for the website to ask me to pick only one episode. Only one episode from 251. One episode from two very different casts. After some thought, I think I have made my decision.
To me, a great episode of M*A*S*H has to have the best combination of comedy and drama. The episode also needs to feature its characters the best way possible. Again, there are a number of episodes that qualify, so to narrow it down again, I had to focus on the story and, in this case, the episode’s guest star. The episode I chose is “Dear Sigmund.”
Before I explain why, let me first give a brief synopsis of the episode. The episode aired during the series’ fifth season and featured Allan Arbus and Dr. Sidney Freedman (my favorite character). Dr. Freedman came to the 4077th for a poker game, but stayed for two weeks. The doctors of the Swamp find this odd and learn that Dr. Freedman has been writing a letter to Dr. Sigmund Freud,who had been dead for over a decade. In his letter to Freud, Dr. Freedman describes each of the characters at the 4077th while relaying the events that had taken place during his stay at the 4077th. There is the death of a ambulance driver, a fighter pilot who had never considered the consequences of his actions, yet another Section 8 attempt by Klinger, and a mysterious ring of practical jokes. Dr. Freedman writes the letter to combat his own depression having recently lost a patient. He says to Hawkeye and BJ, “You give life here. I am running a little low on that right now.”
The Emmy award winning episode was written and directed by Alan Alda. He describes the episode as one of his favorites largely because of the talent of Allan Arbus. In 2009, Alda described this episode in a short interview:
For me, “Dear Sigmund” is the obvious choice as my favorite episode, but I like nearly every episode of M*A*S*H. There are two seasons (two and nine) that I can watch every episode. I believe with regard to the MASH4077TV.com poll, the winner will likely be “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen,” the series finale. I agree that it is a great finale, and possible one of the best TV finales in history, but I do not believe it is an episode. It was a two and a half hour movie that is still the highest rated (percentage of audience) program of all time. It was not an average episode. It was meant to be an event. “Dear Sigmund” is just a 22 minute episode. No fanfare, just an average stint at the 4077th. That is what makes it my favorite episode.
BONUS: I have included the full text of Dr. Freedman’s letter to Sigmund Freud.
I have been feeling somewhat frustrated lately and so I came to a kind-of spa. The waters are pretty good here. And the inmates have a pretty interesting defense against carnage. Insanity in the service of health. One of them is particularly good at it, name of Hawkeye. A coupe of weeks ago he made rounds in post-op with a personality that had split two for one. Klinger is an interesting case Sigmund. He’s found more ways to go crazy then you ever dreamt of. I guess what draws me to these people is that faced with aggression in its most brutal form, they have regressed to a state of antic of not lunatic pleasure. There has been a rash of practical jokes lately. Who ever the perpetrator is, he or she is becoming a folk hero. Rank makes no difference. No one is safe from the mad joker. As you pointed out Sigmund, there is a link between anger and wit. Anger turned inward is depression. Anger turned sideways is Hawkeye. If there is a way to preserve your sanity in wartime they have found it. The slide their patched up patients into the evac ambulance like loaves into a bread truck, and yet they never forget those packages are people. Father Mulcahy fascinates me Sigmund. He’s shy and studious and yet he’s got a left hook that could stop a truck. And with absolutely no training he seems to be a natural as a therapist. Margaret’s an interesting woman. On the outside all discipline and strength, and on the inside six kinds of passion looking for an exit. Some people will not accept pain. They just refuse delivery. That’s pretty difficult here because pain is such a basic ingredient at a M*A*S*H unit. Actually Sigmund, it’s a wonder more people do not take a vacation from reality. Some people even manage to grow. Radar for instance. In many ways he is still as innocent and naïve as the local orphans he plays with, and yet this boy keeps this unit, this state of chaos, running smoothly. The one person I cannot figure out, even with all you’ve taught me Sigmund is BJ Honeycutt. He’s an enigma with size 13 shoes. In the midst of the most horrific enterprise ever devised to separate a person’s brains from his buns, BJ goes calmly on. I envy his serenity. Although there must be a volcano under there somewhere. They look every day into the face of death. On the surface they may seem like other doctors and nurses, but underneath, Sigmund, underneath.