Season 2 of M*A*S*H was a sort of a restart after Larry Gelbart and Gene Reynolds realized that the first season was a mis-step. The 2nd season opener, Divided We Stand, was a far better “pilot” than The Pilot was. Some actually calling it a second Pilot. It did a great job of reintroducing the characters. The actors had a year under their belts and they started to make the characters their own as opposed to just playing characters’ others have done before. The show was really starting to come together, even though there was behind the scenes strife with two of the three top billed actors. More on that in season 3. The fact that Divided we stand didn’t even make the first list of episodes on my way to narrow it down to my top 5 shows that the season was pretty strong. Getting it down to 5 wasn’t easy, but here we go.
#5 – The Sniper
There are any number of episodes that could have put in this spot. Narrowing things down to 5 is a standard, but I could have very easily had a list of my 10 favorite episodes of this season. I have settled on The Sniper. The second season brought in a some more serious story lines. Some feel that the show’s strength is in the comedy and were less of a fan of the stronger drama. Personally, I feel the drama was fantastic as life really is a mix of laughing and crying. The Sniper had a little of both. It was a serious topic but the episode was still strong on the comedy. Some parts of the episode that stand out are when Henry, using Radar as a shield yells out to the sniper from the shower. When Radar tries to leave the shower to get help wearing only his towel, he is forced back to the shower where he loses his towel. They say that it was NYPD Blue that first showed backside. It was MASH. The scene where Frank tries to go out to hunt the sniper, and is found by Hawkeye is the best scene of the show. Hawkeye could have gone the usual route of making fun of Frank, but it was a good moment where he actually tried to help him instead. The end showed the reality of war with the chopper with the machine gun firing into the woods and the humanity with Hawkeye taking the risk of going out there to help.
#4 – A Smattering of Intelligence
The 4077th is over run with spys. While Edward Winter was in Deal Me Out, and it can be ret-conned that it was the first appearance of Colonel Flagg, this is the first official appearance of Flagg. (Flagg does say to Hawkeye that they played poker once, so the writers themselves may be ret-conning Flagg). Flagg is with the CIA and Trappers friend, Captain Pratt with is G2, Army Corps and Division level intelligence. Both intelligence officers, using fake names and codes to communicate are looking for a leak in the 4077th that doesn’t exist. Hawkeye and Trapper give them both plenty of leads that all lead back to Frank with them then accusing Frank of being a leftist communist and right wing fascist. Once they realize they have been duped, and with the surgeons called to work, Pratt offers to “buy” Flagg a cup of coffee. Just another day at the office.
#3 – Radar’s Report
Another version of the letter home. Radar is typing his weekly report to I-Corps outlining the events of the week at the 4077th. It is another great way to get a lot of little story lines in there at the same time without the episode seeming at all disjointed. Quite the opposite, this episode’s pacing is great. A North Korean is brought into surgery. While no one is paying attention to him, he jumps up and grabs a knife. He knocks over and breaks a bottle of blood contaminating the field around Trappers patient. The North Korean also wounds a corpsman and a nurse before being subdued by Klinger responding with a weapon to the altercation.
Treating the nurse played by Joan Van Arc, Hawkeye falls in love and starts to weirdly plan their wedding, apparently without telling her. Trappers patient is not doing well at all.
This episode marks the first appearance of Maj Sidney Freedman, though here he is Milton Sidney Freedman. It was a rough first start as he seems angry at Henry for bringing him up for an evaluation of Klinger. Though he eventually goes along with it saying he can get Klinger out for being gay, but then he has to go through life in high heels. Klinger rejects it saying he is not gay or a transvestite, he’s just crazy.
Hawkeye finds out from his “fiancé” that she has no intention of getting married, but they can still have a short engagement.
Trapper’s patient dies. In one of the best scenes of the show, Trapper comes in to where the North Korean is being held and with a crazed look in his eyes, it seems that Trapper was about to cut off the blood supply that the North Korean needed. Hawkeye comes in stops Trapper saying that is not what they are about. Upset, Trapper just leaves. A great scene.
#2 – The Trial of Henry Blake
This is another version of the letter home. A lot of minor story lines fit together perfectly to tell the overall story. Under the guise of charges being file from Burns and Houlihan, we get to hear the story of Radar selling black and white shoes, of the gurney races called by Henry and how Klinger almost got away hang-gliding out of camp looking like a big read bird with fuzzy pink feet (a week mis-step in another brilliant episode). When Henry is accused of giving aid and comfort to the enemy, Hawkeye and Trapper bring Nurse Cratty to the trial. She is an American nurse working in Korea to help poor refugees, women and kids and some of her patients are North Korean. In one of the best scenes of the year and something I wish they did more of, Henry makes a speech about caring for people and that even of some of those people are North Korean women and children they still need and deserve to be helped. Written by McLean Stevenson, it seems that even he thought Henry deserved to come across as a stronger, sometimes clueless type of leader that allows antics, but knows how to get the job done and is a not only a good doctor but a good person.
#1 – Deal Me Out
Nothing like a poker game with friends. The guest stars are what make this episode. Sidney Freedman, Col. Flagg, Sam Pak played by Pat Morita are the guests of honor and even though we have only seen these characters a handful of time, they already seem to be at home at the 4077th. The banter is funny and quick and it seems that it could be the conversation that any of us would have while playing poker. There is also a great level of coordination and even choreography here with the quick hits of people leaving and joining the game. What makes this episode great isn’t the individual situations or one story line or the other, but rather how well everything in the episode fits together so well. It also doesn’t hurt that one of the other guests is John Ritter. To me, this episode is a treat whenever I happen to catch it on TV or when it is the next one up while going through and watching the episodes. Absolutely one of my all-time favorite episodes.