I am looking through the episode list for season 4 to put together my top 5 for the season. I don’t think i will have a hard time coming up with 5, but as I was going through the list of episodes, Season 4 was an extremely strong season of M*A*S*H. Season 4 is start of the 2nd major section of M*A*S*H with the departure of Wayne Rogers and McLean Stevenson and the addition of Mike Farrell and Harry Morgan. In retrospect, I am surprised just how strong the season is given that the show had to be completely revamped. It is testament to Larry Gelbart and Gene Reynolds. With the original cast they were sort of hamstrung by being forced at some level to stay within the confines of the original. I always thought that was the weakness of the first three years. In order to make it a television show they had to make it smaller. They had to get rid of a lot of characters and they had to change the focus of the show. In the book and movie, we are seeing the events through Hawkeye. He is involved in everything, but the main action happens to everyone around him. He is the eyes and sometimes the catalyst, but not the center of the action. The TV show had to make him the catalyst and the center of the action. This stripped some of the characters around him, mainly Trapper, who a good portion of the action revolved around in the movie. The TV Trapper basically had nothing more to do. Being able to change the cast enough to bring in a new sidekick and a new commanding officer gave Gelbart and Reynolds the freedom to reset the feel of the show the relationships of the characters. I do not think M*A*S*H would have survived if Gelbart and Reynolds didn’t have the chance to create their own characters. While not my favorite episodes and probably wont make my list, Welcome to Korea and Change of Command were really strong episodes that did a great job of introducing new characters and updating the feel of the show. It felt more mature.
The maturity was despite the presence of Frank Burns. Larry Linville hit his stride with Burns and season 4 had some of his best moments. Spoiler: I think by season 5 Larry Linville was already ready to leave and I think the show was ready to have him leave. The show was maturing to a level that Frank was unable to reach. Margaret, at the behest of Loretta Swit left Frank and was moving on herself (though to another man, which I feel was really not such a great development, but more on that when we get to season 5.)
Not to tip my hand, not that I can since I don’t know what my 5 episodes are going to be, there are three letters home, Dear Mildred, Dear Peggy and Dear Ma. The letters home are some of the best episodes, also the brainchild of Larry Gelbart meant to be a device to show that there is more than one thing going on at the camp at any given time. I will probably try to change it up and not put all 3 letters, but I may have a problem there. One thing I can tell for sure is that besides the 3 letters, the 4th season is capped off with The Interview. This I can tell you, The Interview is most definitely in the top 5. I am trying to remain objective, but I have long said that The Interview is my favorite episode but since the whole point of this is to rank my favorites and see if the shows hold up or get stronger over time, we’ll see if it stays at the top.