M*A*S*HCast #74 – Change of Command

M*A*S*HCast –  Season 4, Episode 2: Change of Command

Special Guest Star: Joseph Price

Air Date: September 19, 1975

Have a question or comment?

Theme music by Johnny Mandel

You can find M*A*S*HCast on these platforms:

Follow M*A*S*HCast on Twitter: https://twitter.com/MASH4077Cast

This podcast is a proud member of the FIRE AND WATER PODCAST NETWORK:

That is all!

14 responses to “M*A*S*HCast #74 – Change of Command

  1. What a great Mashcast episode about a great MASH episode!
    This is another one of my favorites, and you gentlemen did it justice. Thank you, Major Price, for a very interesting point of view. I have a few former military friends, and all of them love MASH, too (although a couple don’t care so much for Hawkeye the character, haha!).
    Re-watching this episode, and listening to you talk about it, made me want to go to itunes and download a copy of There’s A Long Long Trail. I only knew this song from this episode, so I was surprised to find that it was an actual WWI hit song. I didn’t like the 1917 version by John McCormack, which seems to have been the “hit” version. I see that it appeared in the 1941 MGM musical “For Me And My Gal” starring Gene Kelly & Judy Garland (sung by The King’s Men). I ended up buying a version by somebody named Roy Carriker, who I have never heard of but who sings a very simple arrangement, which reminds me of the MASH trio.

  2. Veterans represent! Rob, thanks for having Joe Price on. It’s great to hear a comrade in arms talk about MASH, even though we’ve never met. Our experiences differed — for example, I missed out on the garden spot* that is Sadr City in Baghdad — but I have the deepest respect for Joe’s service. I also second all his insights as he compared MASH to modern military life in the real world. Having a former commander on to comment on “Change of Command” was inspired.

    *Rob, “Garden spot” should be read with all the sarcasm you can muster (and I know your powers in this area are mighty). I supported a gunship mission into Sadr City once (from a really safe distance). Completely separately, I have a friend who was shot there. He’s fine now, but a lot of folks aren’t. I might not mind visiting Sadr City someday, but I don’t regret having missed it in the mid-2000s.

    Regarding Captain Hunnicutt and his “Yes, sir,” response to Colonel Potter: I think BJ is a more complex character than Hawkeye. Hawkeye is a great character, a great doctor, and a great guy in general, but BJ gives people both more respect and more empathy. If asked why he replied “Yes, sir,” to Colonel Potter, he might have said “Why antagonize the man? It’s his first day! He’s just trying to do his job.” He treated Potter as an individual from the beginning. Hawkeye was quicker to treat Potter as a symbol of the military authority he enjoyed flouting.

    That wasn’t a big deal, ’cause a full bird colonel is, in fact, a really excellent symbol of military authority, and Potter could handle Hawkeye’s little rebellions without breaking stride. But it’s impressive that the the show identified that difference between the Swamp Rats from the very beginning of BJ’s tenure, and then maintained it. Even Hawkeye and BJ’s later disagreement over the unnecessary appendectomy is part of that portrayal. I think you commented last episode that BJ makes Hawkeye better, and you see it in that episode when you see Hawk’s regret. Of course, BJ isn’t perfect, because another effect of feeling all this more deeply is his greater tendency toward anger and bitterness.

    That’s completely amateur psychoanalysis of a fictional character, by the way, so there won’t be any charge.

    The drinking in the Swamp and Joe’s story of smoking with his NCOs at the end of the day reminded me of some Friday nights in western Afghanistan. Our camp was like the 4077th’s; it was in the combat zone, but not right in the thick of the fight. Toward the end of that deployment, we’d have weekly bonfires, fed mainly with wooden shipping pallets, which burn exceptionally well.

    The XO always brought out his iPod and a couple of speakers. I remember when he made a point to let me know Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Simple Man” was coming on. We’d never discussed music, but he knew I was Southerner of a certain age and a philosophical bent, and he called it right.

    There was a post exchange at the more civilized camp adjacent to ours. We had access to bad non-alcoholic beer for free in the chow hall and somewhat better non-alcoholic beer for money in the exchange. (It was St. Pauli N.A.; I don’t mind shilling for a good product.) Anyway, the beer’s effect was supposed to be psychosomatic, to make us feel like we were really relaxing. Combined with everything else, it worked. I think for any group of people in a difficult situation, times like those do as much to help people bond as the hard times do, and they help keep us sane.

    That’s it for now. Can’t wait for the next episode. Thanks again!

    1. Thanks brother. All of my deployments were to Iraq. I never made it to Afghanistan, no matter how many times I volunteered. I was even in TRADOC at an AIT unit. when a taster came down to send one person to the ‘Stan. I again tried to go. My BC said no. He wanted me there since I was the only one with combat experience and we had begun to run LFXs.

      1. Our deployment history is darn near opposite, Joe. I spent all of about 24 hours in Iraq, all at a single base, checking on an issue with one of our subordinate units. That was long enough for two indirect fire attacks, but they were more interested in showing effort and getting away than having a lethal effect, thank God. I spent years in Afghanistan and got to see a lot more of the country.

        I volunteered for deployments from two training assignments and two staff billets, so I know exactly how you felt as an AIT instructor. Given the situation you describe, though, I’d have made the same decision your battalion commander did, and you probably did more good there training the new kids. Thank God he had you.

        For those who still speak in words and not capital letters:
        TRADOC (“tray dock”) = Training and Doctrine Command
        AIT = Advanced Individual Training = where you go after boot camp to learn your actual Army job (military occupational specialty, or MOS)
        LFX = live-fire exercise = a uniquely valuable training opportunity with little margin for error

  3. I was never a member of a disciplined military unit; instead I served as a medic in the Air Force from 1986-1990. There was definitely camaraderie amongst the ranks at the time. The medics worked so closely with the RNs (who were officers) that we were mostly on a first name basis when we were off duty. And my first CMSgt was a regular at the tavern just outside the hospital dorm and you couldn’t go there on a Friday or Saturday night without bending a few with the chief. Speaking of taverns, the consumption of beer was not only allowed but highly encouraged at Bitburg AB, Germany, with an emphasis on the local beer (Bitburger Pils).

    Getting to Rob’s point in this episode regarding Hawkeye’s comment that Col. Potter must be a hack surgeon or they wouldn’t have sent him to a MASH unit, I will refer you to an episode of AfterMASH. In that episode an MD served at an aide station made a comment along the lines of Tokyo getting the cream of the doctor crop, the hacks being sent to the aide station, and the MASHes getting the rest. While Hawkeye was a great surgeon, he didn’t play the military game well enough to be assigned to Tokyo; in fact it was Charles’ inability to play the military game which got him exiled from Tokyo to the 4077th. Hawkeye must’ve thought that Col. Potter was a hack or why else would a career man who had been riding a desk for years have been “exiled”?

    1. Ted, thanks for your service, too (enjoyable as it was; none of us suffered all the time!). I have fond memories of Germany, but not as many as you do.

      I like your description of the surgical hierarchy. I think Potter had no aspirations other than serving where he could do the most good.

  4. Rob, thanks again for having me. It was a lot of fun recording with you. There is one thing that I thought of after listening to the show. It’s possible to be against a war and still support the people in the military. While MASH was a commentary on the Vietnam war, I don’t think it was intended to insult or disrespect the service members themselves.

  5. A great MASH episode. It tackled everything that needed to be addressed and didn’t pad the episode out to an hour. I think it’s the only episode that introduced a major character that didn’t use the hour format.

    My interpretation of “Are you ready? As ready as I’ll ever be.” was that BJ was still getting his feet wet as far as the type of cases he would see in wartime. I didn’t see it as a first time in OR but rather as a continuation of his orientation into the horrors of war.

    My only complaint about the episode was the rapid way that a career Army man befriended Hawkeye and BJ and allowed Klinger to continue his cross dressing. I don’t think one bender would make you abandon decades of Army regulations. I would have thought it would take Potter more than one night (and episode) to understand the lack of Army discipline at MASH.

    1. Randall, I agree with your interpretation of “Are you ready?”

      Regarding Colonel Potter’s adaptability — some of that, I think, is for the sake of the show and making him likable. That said, as Ted points out above, the medical folks in the military are always a little different — at least the ones who didn’t start in combat arms like he did — and I think Potter’s knowledge and acceptance of that helps explain away the discrepancy.

      Plus, as he implies in a later episode, he doesn’t need to make good soldiers out of them for the long haul. They’re almost all draftees. He needs them functional for an urgent mission right now, and he’s willing to make some compromises to achieve that.

  6. BJ said he spent a week under Frank. But we don’t know the time lapse between Henry leaving and Trapper leaving. So Frank could have been in charge longer.

    I would have liked to have seen Frank in command for one or two episodes before Potter arrived. Remember this was S4E1 until Wayne Rogers quit.

    Imagining Potter and Trapper isn’t too difficult for me. I just picture Trapper saying BJ’s lines in this episode as they were probably written for him anyway. I also like to imagine Henry with BJ. Henry and Charles is a little harder.

    The two of them leaving at once does provide a clean break. I was never a fan of the philandering that was played for laughs and was glad it ended.

    I have fun with the timeline as much as the next guy but I don’t get too bothered by it. A three year war in an eleven year TV show isn’t going to mesh. Potter’s 18 month comment is just part of it.

    I also wish they had given it a few episodes before he was drinking with the guys.

    Thanks for a fun recap and thanks to your guest for his service and insight.

  7. I know this is Colonel Potter’s first draft, but dang, he’s so wonderful already. My favorite part is in the OR, going over to look at BJ’s patient, and calmly giving some directions, and that “You’re doing fine, son.” Oh my gosh, he is completely paternal in that moment and it works. A completely new character for the show and gives a great contrast to the whipper-snapper rebel stars. Love it! I usually have only been rewatching the episodes a single time, but I don’t think that’s enough for these last two episodes. Another rewatch is called for soon.

    Well done, Rob. And welcome aboard, Joe! Glad to see another Price in the Swamp.

  8. Meaning no slight to BJ, but I think Potter’s addition to the show did more to change the tone of the show. I believe that’s due to the fact that Potter is the commanding officer, so his personality and style sets the atmosphere for the entire camp. To be fair, BJ probably has a stronger influence on Hawkeye’s character development.

    As an aside, my daughter and I love the scene when Potter first arrives, and interrupts Radar in the middle of sunbathing.

    Thanks for another wonderful episode.

  9. Great pod and great episode.

    My observation on Hawkeye’s quip about Potter’s medical qualifications is from personal experience. The biggest thing about military medical care (I was told by my mom) was that it was not as good as private care. So, through that lens, Hawkeye was saying that Potter was a less than adequate surgeon. Also, Linville kills in this episode.

  10. I think one of the things that makes me enjoy this season so much is that I get to run wild with my head canon! So let’s say Blake passed away and Frank was put in charge. We’d have to assume he was in command for at least a few days or a week before Hawkeye left for R&R. Trapper was then discharged and BJ arrived. Then Potter arrived. I always assumed Frank was in command around 3 weeks, and that BJ was around for about a week of Frank’s reign of terror. I also assumed that BJ’s first foray into meatball surgery was this episode, hence the exchange between him and Hawkeye, “ready as I’ll ever be..” If they were having the weenie roast that Potter mentioned, perhaps that first week was slow.
    Regarding Potter himself, just a wonderful character, so multifaceted, it’s brilliant in hindsight that they didn’t replace Blake with a carbon copy “sweet, goofy uncle” type character, but with a career military man of dignity, intelligence, heart and empathy. Along with BJ, I feel Potter had a profound effect on changing and maturing Hawkeye. An amazing episode during an amazing season.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *