Like any classic television series, M*A*S*H produced a number of memorable and ground breaking episodes throughout its 11 year run. It is hard to narrow the list down to 10…..and I couldn’t! Instead, I have compiled 20 episodes that make M*A*S*H one of the greatest series in the history of television.
“Sometimes you Hear the Bullet” (Season 1, Episode 17)
The first season of M*A*S*H relied to heavily on comedy. CBS was afraid the audience would not respond to drama in a comedy series. But the writers of M*A*S*H decided early on that the series needed to have a serious tone. “Sometime you Hear the Bullet” was the first episode to introduce a dramatic storyline. When a friend of Hawkeye’s visits the camp, the audience is quickly drawn to his wit and the friendship between him and Hawkeye. Late in the episode, Hawkeye’s friend is wounded and brought in to the unit. Hawkeye tries to save his life, but he is unsuccessful. The loss of his friend gave Hawkeye a new perspective on the war, but it also changed the perspective for the audience.
“Divided We Stand” (Season 2, Episode 1)
You probably noticed that the pilot episode is not on this list. There is a good reason for that…it wasn’t that great. Series creator Larry Gelbart agreed, and the first episode of Season 2 was written as a second pilot. In the episode, a psychiatrist is sent to the 4077th to determine whether its member need to be broken up and reassigned to other units. At first he is shocked by the antics of the cast, but once they are called to surgery, he understands that their antics are a coping method. A far better concept for a pilot episode as it reintroduced the characters to the audience.
“Radar’s Report” (Season 2, Episode 3)
What happens at the 4077th on a weekly basis? “Radar’s Report” explores just that in this classic episode. Hawkeye is infatuated with a new nurse, Trapper loses a patient because of a POW, and Klinger gets evaluated by Dr. Sidney (called Milton in this episode) Freedman. This is the first of several appearances of Allan Arbus and Dr. Freedman. The episode is one of many using either a letter or report as a basis for the storyline, but this episode stands out because it funny and shocking at the same time.
“Abyssinia, Henry” (Season 3, Episode 24)
The writer’s decision to kill of Henry Blake was the most courageous, and risky, moves of the series. When McLean Stevenson decided to leave the series, the writers decided to give Henry Blake a big send-off, the catch…he would not make it home. Although “Sometimes You Hear the Bullet” was the first episode in which a character dies, this episode was the first time a major character had been killed off a network program. The move did negatively affect ratings for the show’s 4th season, but viewers came back. The show also turned out to the final show for Wayne Rogers as Trapper John McIntyre. His character did not receive a proper exit because Rogers and the show’s producers could not come to terms on his contract.
“Welcome to Korea” (Season 4, Episode 1)
Episodes that introduce new characters are very important in a television. In this episode, one of two new characters for Season 4 is introduced. When Hawkeye returns from R&R, he discovers that Trapper has been sent home. He and Radar race to the airport in hope to see Trapper before he leaves. While there, they pick up Trapper’s replacement – B.J. Honeycutt. The trip back to the 4077th is eventful, and BJ gets his first taste of life in Korea.
“Change of Command” (Season 4, Episode 2)
Following the death of Henry Blake, Major Frank Burns is made acting commander of the 4077th. Everyone hates Frank, but they are nervous when they are told that Frank is being replaced by a “regular Army” colonel. Col. Sherman Potter (Harry Morgan) arrives in camp and appears to be a tough commander and an inexperienced surgeon. As it turns out, however, Col. Potter fits right in.
“Dear Mildred” (Season 4, Episode 7)
Some episodes are iconic because they feature characters in uncomfortable positions. “Dear Mildred” explores the difficulty that Radar is experiencing adapting to Col. Potter. The story is told through the letter Potter writes home to his wife, Mildred, about the antics of the members of the 4077th. Hawkeye and BJ convince Radar to give Potter a chance, and Radar decides to give Col. Potter a special gift for his wedding anniversary – a horse. Potter’s horse becomes a series “regular.”
“The Interview” (Season 4, Episode 24)
When a war correspondant visits the 4077th, the doctors and nurses are interviewed for a documentary about their experience at a M*A*S*H unit in Korea. This episode is unique as it is entirely in black and white. The interviewer, played by Clete Roberts, asks a number of questions and the actors were either given specific lines or asked to improv. Many of the lines used in this episode were gathered from interviews with actual M*A*S*H doctors and nurses. It is this dedication to actual events thats made M*A*S*H a solid series.
“Margaret’s Engagement” (Season 5, Episode 2)
For the first four seasons of the series, Margaret was Frank’s mistress, but in Season 5, Margaret began to transform. In this episode she gets engaged to Lt. Col. Donald Penobscot. Although she remains shallow, proclaiming, “I could never love someone who didn’t out rank me,” Margaret rejects Frank. Even though her marriage does not last, Margaret’s character continues to grow. In fact, the character of Margaret sees the most dramatic transformation throughout the series.
“Fade In, Fade Out” (Season 6, Episode 1)
After Margaret and Frank’s relationship came to an abrupt end, Frank became a difficult character to write for. It seemed cruel to make fun of a character who was already down and depressed. The decision was made to replace him. The running joke with Frank was his lack of surgical skills, but Frank’s replacement was not. Major Charles Emerson Winchester III was Hawkeye and BJ’s surgical equal, if not superior. The introduction of Charles in Season 6 gave Hawkeye and BJ a real rival, instead of a walking practical joke.
“Point of View” (Season 7 Episode 10)
Ken Levine and David Isaacs wrote a number of great episodes of M*A*S*H, but this is one of the most unique. The entire episode is shown from the point of view of a wounded soldier. From the time he is wounded, the aid station, a helicopter flight, and finally the 4077th, the viewer sees what a wounded soldier would have experienced. All the writers of M*A*S*H were required to read a book called Back Down the Ridge. The book was written by a soldier that wounded in Korea, and he describes the experience. Having read the book, I believe it could have provided the inspiration for this episode.
“Dear Sis” (Season 7, Episode 14)
Father Mulcahy was in the series for all eleven seasons, but he did not play in central role until later in the series. In this episode, Mulcahy is writing to his sister, and he is depressed because he is unsure of his place at the 4077th. It is Christmastime and everyone is depressed to begin with, but Mulcahy is even more so. Even though is successful at lifting the spirits of Charles, he punches a wounded soldier and he is really bothered by his reaction. In the end, Hawkeye toasts Mulcahy and explains that he is important to all of them, even though they do not show it. The episode highlights the talent of William Christopher, but also helped build Mulcahy’s character.
“Hot Lips is Back in Town” (Season 7, Episode 19)
I mentioned earlier that Margaret’s character changed the most over the course of the series, and this episode marks yet another turning point in her development. After her divorce is final, she realizes that she does not need to be married to have a fulfilling life. She has a career with the Army, and she begins taking it more seriously by training the nurses to handle triage, thus freeing up the surgeons for surgery. Margaret becomes more independent after this episode, and it fits the series.
“Goodbye, Radar: Parts 1 & 2” (Season 8, Episodes 4 & 5)
The title of this episode is pretty self explanatory. Radar was one of the most popular characters on the show, but it became difficult to write for the naïve character. They tried to change his character, but it did not work. Coupled with the fact Gary Burghoff was ready to leave Hollywood behind, it was clear Radar had to go. Radar received a two part farewell that was fitting and very well received. This episode also marked the transformation of Klinger. He replaced Radar as company clerk, and the dresses begin to disappear. He becomes more military, but with the occasional Section-8 attempt.
“Life Time” (Season 8, Episode 11)
“Life Time” is an episode that took place in real time. Hawkeye has only 20 minutes to transplant an artery or else a severely wounded soldier will likely be paralyzed. The only problem is, they do not have any grafts large enough to complete the surgery. There is another wounded soldier that is not going to make it, and BJ waits for the one soldier to die to save the other. A buddy of the dying soldier is upset when he learns how the doctors are just waiting for his friend to die. The surgery is successful, but the real time action and drama of this episode is intense.
“Old Soldiers” (Season 8, Episode 18)
Col. Potter is summoned to Tokyo to visit a dying friend. Everyone in camp assumes the worst, that it is Col. Potter who is either sick or dying. When he returns, Potter is depressed, and he barricades himself in his office. Everyone is baffled when they are invited to his tent. When they arrive, they learn that Col. Potter is the last living member of his friends from World War I. Col. Potter opens a bottle of brandy and toasts his fallen buddies. Then he turns and toasts members of the cast. It is probably one of the most moving scenes from the series and showcases the talent of Harry Morgan.
“Dreams” (Season 8, Episode 22)
“Dreams”s is one of the most unique episodes of the series. The episode shows a dream from each of the principle cast members. Each of the dreams begins very peacefully, but each dream is invaded by the war. It is an interesting suggestion as to how all their lives, and dreams, are affected by realities of war.
“A War for All Seasons” (Season 9, Episode 6)
One of my favorite episodes is “A War for all Seasons.” The episode contains four major scenes, one for each season of the year. The shorelines of this episode develop as the year progresses. It is a great episode because it does not focus on the surgery, but more on how the members of the 4077th kept themselves entertained throughout the year.
“As Time Goes By” (Season 11, Episode 15)
Although “Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen” was the last episode to air on television, “As Time Goes By” was the last episode filmed. In it, the members of the 4077th bury a time capsule with items that represented their time in Korea. The episode was filmed before countless members of the press as every awaited the final “that’s a wrap” from the director. After the crowds subsided, the cast of M*A*S*H buried a real time capsule with items from the series on the Fox lot.
“Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen” (Season 11, Episode 16)
“Goodbye, Farewell and Amen” is not only considered one of the greatest episodes of M*A*S*H, it is considered one of the greatest finales of all time. The end of the war made for a great way to end the series, but the emotional final half-hour of the finale was the perfect end to the series. The episode is still the highest rated show of all time (not by number of people watching, but the percentage of the people who watched). Numbers range anywhere from 60 – 70% of the television watching public tuned in to watch the M*A*S*H finale on February 28, 1983.