Going through the Facebook pages and forums for different shows I like, mainly M*A*S*H and Star Trek in it’s many incarnations, people always talk about their favorites and least favorite episodes. So I thought I would list my favorite episodes by season, starting at the beginning.
For a show that I truly love, Season 1 was not fantastic, but even with that, there were some excellent episodes. Staring with #5:
#5 – Henry, Please Come Home
Due to the success of the 4077th, Henry Blake was transferred out of the MASH unit and to Seoul working with General Hammond. With Henry away, Frank takes over the unit, effectively killing morale. Hawkeye and Trapper concoct a plan to get Henry to come back to the unit. I wouldn’t call this a fantastic episode, but the thing that I do like about it is that they show the strong side of Henry. They don’t often do this. The character of Blake was supposed to be a World War 2 vet with extensive military experience, while still being oblivious to chaos going on around him. Sometimes they make Henry too silly and it goes against what the character is supposed to be. McLean Stevenson played the role brilliantly. I just wish they made him as strong as he comes across in this episode.
#4 – Dear Dad.. Again
I do love the letter home episodes. I was going back and forth about which one of the two to put on my list, but then realized that the first Dear Dad was the episode where they effectively destroyed the character of Trapper, so it was off the list. I like the letter home since it gives the writers license to jump around from story to story in a way that makes sense. It shows that there is more than one thing going on at any given time. The story about the fake doctor, Adam Casey (Schwartz, actually) was a really good one. Hawkeye bets Trapper he can walk through the camp naked without being noticed. Klinger is walking around in a wedding dress without a slip and Hawkeye wears a tux to their no-talent night where Margaret sings My Blue Heaven. For some much going on, it was really held together nicely and narrated perfectly by Alan Alda. This more than it’s predecessor for me really solidified the letter home format.
#3 – Tuttle
In order to not put his name on things, Hawkeye signs paperwork with the name of his imaginary childhood friend, Tuttle. As it happens in the 4077th, things got out of control. Tuttle started to get a lot of attention because of the good work and deeds that he was doing. The obvious problem is that Tuttle doesn’t exist. Hawkeye, Trapper and Radar create the paperwork to invent Captain Jonathan S. Tuttle. The Sister at the orphanage wants to meet him, General Clayton wants to give him a medal, Frank is mad that Tuttle has been ignoring him, Margaret apparently finds him attractive, even though it was just from his description in his paperwork and Henry insists that he has been having several meals with Tuttle over the course of a couple of days. Hawkeye even demands Tuttle get all of his back pay, which he then sends to the orphanage. It is a silly comedy of errors, but it was a lot of fun. There was also one shot that always stuck with me. When there was an announcement for Tuttle to report to Blakes office, Hawkeye and Trapper are just coming out of the OR. The shot is from the ground up, which I don’t think is ever used again and it was obviously shot on the ranch later in the day as it seems like they are losing the light. I like this because things always tend to happen in the middle of the day or in the middle of the night. This was probably just because of how the shooting schedule fell since again, you never see this sort of twilight again.
#2 – The Army-Navy Game
The Army-Navy football game is an annual tradition. Just as the game get underway, the 4077th is under attack. The bombs must have hit some sort of antenna because now they can’t get the game on the radio. (Though their phones work. I don’t understand this). This is close to the top of my list because of some individual scenes. The story that Henry tells Radar about the football game is one of my all-time favorite scenes in the entire show. When Hawkeye is talking to I-Corps about the un-exploded bomb, Hawkeye is asked if he has a stethoscope. His quick and angry response of “we’re a medical unit!” is really funny in a scene that is otherwise quite serious. Having the scene end with Hawkeye being told to call him back at half-time was also funny. The end-game of the bomb being a CIA propaganda bomb was actually anti-climactic for me, but it didn’t matter as the whole rest of the episode was very solid.
#1 – Sometimes You Hear the Bullet
A childhood friend of Hawkeye comes to camp. He is a foot soldier writing a book call “You Never Hear the Bullet” since war is not like it is in the movies. You don’t hear the ricochet, you are just gone. At the end when his friend is back but this time on the gurney severely wounded, he tells Hawkeye that the funny thing was that he heard the bullet. Hawkeye suggests that he then change the title to Sometimes You Hear the Bullet, it is a better title anyway, though Tommy Gilles dies on the table. It is really the first time M*A*S*H dealt with a really serious issue. It was not a comedy, it was truly tragic and it is when M*A*S*H is at it’s best. They never forget that they are at war. Funny things happen, but the underlying endeavor is violent and tragic and they never forget it. The great topper of this episode is the B story of the underaged Marine that Hawkeye at first says he is not going to blow the whistle on, but after the death of his friend, he turns over to the MPs. That kid is played by a young Ron Howard and it is one of the best scenes in the whole season. I’m going to hate you for the rest of my life. Let’s hope it is a long and healthy hate. Great lines delivered well with feeling. This is clearly the best episode of the year, and among the top of the whole series.
Honorable mentions – I really struggled for even five excellent episodes. After the top 3, it went downhill fast. Though there are some other decent episodes including The Ringbanger with Leslie Nielson as a gung-ho West Pointer that Hawkeye and Trapper try to convince is going crazy. Nielson was great in this episode. Cowboy was also a good episode. Good mix of comedy and drama and you do get the feeling that Henry is in trouble. To Market, To Market was also a fun episode with the running gag of “you’ll never guess what kind of wood this is.” “It’s oak.” “Nope, it’s oak.” Also Jack Soo is always fun to watch.