M*A*S*HCast #72 – Abyssinia, Henry

M*A*S*HCast -  Season 3, Episode 24: Abyssinia, Henry

Special Guest Star: Scott X

Air Date: March 18, 1975

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16 responses to “M*A*S*HCast #72 – Abyssinia, Henry

  1. One of the most powerful gut punches in television history. I got a little misty eyed just listening to your synopsis of the episode.
    This climax was already well known by the time I started watching MASH. It makes several of the earlier episodes tougher to watch with the knowledge that Henry will never make it home to his family.
    MASH was always brilliant television, and somehow, it always managed to continue to outshine itself.

  2. A complete gut punch. I don’t remember the first time I saw this, but I can remember as a kid thinking ‘maybe they were wrong about him dying’. As an adult, you understand why.

    Now that I am entrenched in my profession, I do like to point out when MASH does things right. Of course the team only has a moment to digest the news of Henry before going about business as usual in the OR. There are patients on the table. You can’t stop what you are doing and deal with your emotions right then and there. I hate to equate a war hospital to an ER but there have been times that something jarring and dramatic has happened in the first hour of my shift. But I have to put my head down and work the next 8 thinking only of the new patients before I can mull over what happened before. In this, MASH gets it right.

    But now, in my older years, I wonder if Radar did everyone a disservice by announcing it then. I wonder if it would have been better if he told everyone after all the wounded were cared for. Certainly, the death of a beloved colleague is going to be on everyone’s mind as they deal with the casualties. Maybe it would have been better to tell everyone later so they had emotional space, could hug each other and cry and deal with it on their own terms.

  3. Haven’t had a chance to listen yet but I will. Believe it or not I did not see this episode until THIS YEAR! I always knew Blake was gone but did not know why. MASH was on when I was a kid but I never really paid attention to it. My wife and I started watching it on MeTV this year and have not missed an episode. Both of us knew Potter was the CO but assumed Henry went home or transferred. Imagine our surprise when Radar walks in with the “it spun in, there were no survivors”. Excellent episode and ground breaking to kill off a major well loved character.

  4. Great discussion guys. I remember coming into this one blind, having seen mixes of Potter episodes (both new and reruns) and Henry episodes in syndication. Like Scott, I knew Henry left, but I had no idea he died until Radar walked in. Years later I saw this at the top of a list of “Great TV Moments”, maybe when television was celebrating it’s 50th anniversary, and it was then I realized just what a game changer it was.

    Your analogy for Spock’s death was apt, Rob. On the flip side, Kirk’s death in “Generations” felt VERY forced in a “Let’s sweep these old guys away so we can switch the franchise over to the TNG crew” way. It’s partially why that film is NOT considered a classic by anyone, but TWOK is.

    If Colonel Potter had walked into the OR barking orders behind Radar, imagine how awful this moment would have seemed?


  5. This episode was f***ing brilliant.

    When I first saw this I already knew Henry died but didn’t know how he died. I thought his helicopter was going to crash. Then he flew off and we saw the OR and I thought maybe I had gotten it wrong. Then Radar walked in.

    I have always seen the closing montage in syndication. I have heard that was an alternate ending for stations that didn’t want to show his death. I had always thought the flag was at half staff in the beginning of the scene but a recent viewing proved me wrong.

    Odd CBS let Cher use him in character for her show.

    In college in the late 1980s, were watching this episode one night in a dorm room. In the middle the phone rang and the person who lived there answered and we heard his end of the conversation.

    Oh, hi.
    We’re just watching MASH.
    It’s the one where Colonel Blake gets killed.

    At this point, one guy got really upset because he didn’t know how it ended. (We would have all been around eight when it first aired).

    I urge everyone to watch the Gelbart interview on YouTube.

    I wonder if Alda being the only one “in the know” was the final straw for Wayne Rogers leaving. Kind of sad his last line was him (justifiably) yelling at Radar while Hawkeye got the funny line.

    I always found it odd they got the news in OR. I wouldn’t want my surgeon to find out a close friend was just killed while operating on me.

    I first started watching the show around the time Radar left. I then found it in afternoon reruns. But my station didn’t carry the first three seasons much. I even saw a new cycle start with Welcome to Korea and I (at the time) didn’t really get who Trapper or Henry were. Maybe the producers were trying to screw Rogers and Stevenson out of royalties by selling a syndicated package without them. So I never gained a full appreciation for them. But listening to the first three seasons on here has made me wish I could have seen the show from the beginning.

    Looking forward to the end of the season wrap up and whatever you have planned to remember these two characters. Abyssinia, Henry (and Trapper).

  6. 1. I Personally like Potter and BJ Better than Henry or TrAPPER But i can see the other point.
    2 What I am unbending on is Charles is better than Frank Although FRank gets a good send off. Charles does’nt LIKE his co-workers but is basically a good guy and I get that. The whole show is set up so we like hawkeye but do you REALLY WANT HIM FOR a roommate

  7. Kudos gentlemen, an amazing podcast on an amazing episode. I’l save some thoughts for my recorded comments, but I did want to share that I, like Rob, watched MASH weeknights on the local Philadelphia UHF station, meaning episodes were shown out of order and with cuts for syndication. I can’t remember when I first realized that Blake had been killed off, or even remember when I first saw this episode, but I do feel his in story death marked the “end of innocence” for the program, as it were. After season 3, it became much easier to identify the demarcation line of MASH as a “sitcom” and MASH as a “dramedy”. It also marked the the evolution of MASH becoming “MASH’. What I mean by that is, when most people think of MASH, I find that more often than not, they think of the later years. That’s the MASH that became the pop culture icon, American institution. I do like, however, that for a show with such a screwy, timey wimey timeline, that the death of Henry and the departure of Trapper still held weight over the years, even up to the last episode. It’s not for nothing that BJ yells to Hawkeye that he “left him a note.”
    There will always be the “season 1-3” fans and the “season 4-11” fans out there, and yes, you can tell the difference of each era. I tend to fall on the side of Rob in thinking that season 4/5 are transition years when you look at the whole series. But it’s always astonishing to think, in this age of spoilers, how a viewer in 1975 must have felt after that scene in the OR faded to black. Devastating. And devastatingly brilliant. Thanks again soldiers, can’t wait to listen (and hopefully contribute) to season 4, which, yes, may be the BEST overall! Abyssinia!

  8. I saw this in first broadcast, at least in Canadian broadcast on our local CBC affiliate. We got it on a Friday at that point, as opposed to CBS’s Tuesday cast, but as we had no cable, I never knew the difference and fortunately, no one had spoiled it in our media. I’d watched MASH religiously, or irreverently, since I was 9, so this put me at 11. By then, I had even seen the movie, though I doubt I’d understood it, and the differences in Henrys’ was jarring.

    But outside of guest stars in westerns or cop shows, I’d never seen anyone kill off a main character, even if he was leaving. Adam Cartwright’s departure on Bonanza, or Chester on Gunsmoke, was never even mentioned in script. They just moved on, replaced the character and kept cranking out shows.

    I really wasn’t privy as to why the actor or character was being written out, and they easily could have just played the montage, and no one would have cared a whit. But that wasn’t MASH’s style – they were going to make you care, and boy, what a scene to do it in. I remember watching with my parents, and I had to get up and go to the washroom. Yeah, right. I was bawling like a baby… and I can’t remember if I even saw the montage until it was in reruns.

    This was a powerful podcast about a powerful episode – and there will be more as we move into the show’s next iterations. And I will be there to hear them all. Unless my plane spins in…. sorry. Too soon.

  9. Another great podcast about another great episode. I remember watching this one as a kid and seeing my parents upset. It would take me a few years to “get it” but now I can’t help but get teary eyed whenever I see it. I haven’t watched it as often as Rob has, but it has not lost its power to effect. I, too, was tearing up as you went over the description of the last scene.

    One thing I would like to point out about the last scene, though….I think Larry & Gene did McLean Stevenson a disservice by not pulling HIM aside and telling him. From all I have read and heard, the last scene was just a big a shock to him as it was to everyone else. As he watched his fellow cast members react from the sidelines, he was so flabbergasted that he turned on his heels and walked out, skipping the good-bye slash wrap party that was scheduled to begin soon after. That was not the proper way to say good-bye to him. I always wondered if Larry & Gene felt bad about how “Mac” felt at that treatment.

  10. I was about 7 when this originally aired, and I honestly can’t remember if I saw it then, or if I understood the significance at that time. But I do clearly remember watching it in reruns starting high school and just feeling my heart sink. Radar’s face during the last scene is unforgettable. Wow.

    Now as usual for my crazy memory, I think I did see that skit on Cher’s show when it aired! I can really picture it stronger than just from imagination. It wouldn’t surprise me, because my folks enjoyed sketch/comedy/musical shows like that. Sonny and Cher, Smothers Brothers, Donny and Marie, even *shudder* the Bradys. I can’t remember it perfectly, but enough to picture it. Another wow.

    Congrats on finishing the season, Rob! Go schedule some R&R in Tokyo after the mailbag episode.

  11. I see this episode as the spiritual successor to Sometimes You Hear the Bullet. In that episode, we felt for Hawkeye as we watched him deal with the death of a friend. In Abyssinia Henry, we mourn the loss of a friend along with Hawkeye and the rest of the unit. Two excellent episodes that highlight the difference between sympathy and empathy in the audience’s experience.

  12. As everyone has said, this was a very powerful episode, and it hit pretty close to home for my family. In fact, I’m pretty sure that my dad would never watch this episode if it came on.

    My uncle Gene, for who I am named, enlisted in the Air Force during Vietnam when he found out that his parents had taken out a loan in order to pay for his college education. (Hey, it was the 60’s.) He intended to do his tour and then come back and finish school on the GI Bill. 10 days before he was scheduled to come home, he was part of the flight crew on a plane that crashed due to engine failure while transporting soldiers to R&R.

    My dad has told me that this is the incident that killed my grandmother. Although she lived to see my sister and I born, she was never the same. Every time I hear Radar reading the telegram all I can think of is the Air Force telegram that my grandparents got telling them that their oldest son was dead.

    For more on my uncle: https://www.honorstates.org/index.php?id=277651

  13. Powerful episode. Does anyone else find it interesting that Wayne Rogers went on to play a doctor in another sitcom based on a movie? Meanwhile the character of Trapper John got his own show where he’s played by Pernell Roberts, another actor famous for abruptly leaving a successful long running show.

  14. Some late comments. I think others have hit the main points:

    First, I have always wondered about the exact details provided about his death. From a historical perspective, as far as I am aware, the chances of North Korea shooting down a transport jet over the Sea of Japan were close to nil. How would the event have played if the plane crashed on takeoff or landing? I am pretty certain that close to as many – if not more – have died in the last 20 years due to accidents as due to direct action by the military.

    Second, a little more humorous, another example of Radar’s time machine: How did they manage to get down to Seoul, get a suit made, and get back in roughly 24 hours? I know Asian tailors are fast, but that is pushing it a bit.

    1. One more thing I just noticed: Henry’s tie. It has a fish motif: As in, “he sleeps with the fishes.”

      I have to wonder if is serves the same foreshadowing as the skeleton.

  15. If you watch the scene very closley you can see that Trapper/Wayne Rogers flips an instrument in the air it flies between Hawkeye and Klinger landing on the floor causing the noise that disrupts the silence that had enveloped the OR!

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