M*A*S*HCast #76 – The Late Captain Pierce

M*A*S*HCast –  Season 4, Episode 4: The Late Captain Pierce

Special Guest Star: Sean Ross

Air Date: October 3, 1975

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12 responses to “M*A*S*HCast #76 – The Late Captain Pierce

  1. Outstanding review, gentlemen. Once again, there were aspects of the episode I had previously enjoyed, but not thought more deeply about. By articulating them and even pointing out bits I didn’t catch, you helped me enjoy them even more. For this one, that was especially true regarding the character of Digger Detwiler. Thank you. I don’t think I have anything more to add, but I expect to change my story after others comment. See you next week or the week after.

  2. A great step up from “It Happened One Night”.

    I recently experienced the frustration that Hawkeye had in trying to contact his father. On Dec 30 we called the ambulance because it appeared my wife was having a severe reaction to high blood sugar. Within three hours of being in the hospital we were informed that she had tested positive for Covid. She didn’t have her phone with her, we weren’t allowed to visit and the area they took her to did not have phones in the rooms. For nearly three days the only info we got was two updates from a nurses’ station. She’s on her way to recovery even though that happened two months ago but the blackout of information was driving me and her daughters up the wall.

    The casual attitude of death and its aftermath that Eldon Quick’s character displays should not be surprising. As mentioned several times in this series, the military attempts to desensitize soldiers and leaders into thinking that death is “a casual thing”. To Quick’s character, they are just another piece of paper he has to process. BTW Quick has a great performance as Rob Roy Fingerhead in the Monkees’ episode “Monkees a la Mode”.

    Your reflections of the domestic terrorism in early January reminded me of September 11. I had an office job in a large organization at the time. We received an interoffice communication that the internet would be turned off that day because of the overload. We were expected to ignore the events on the East Coast and just do our job. Note — it didn’t work.

    In my opinion, probably the most poignant moment of the episode comes in the tag. The happiness and glee on Hawkeye’s face as he is talking to his dad quickly drains from his face as he realizes he has lost the phone connection. There is no afterglow about “Wow I just talked to my dad. That makes me feel so much better.” Instead we get almost immediate depression The way that Alan Alda portrays that is skillful yet very moving.

    1. My experience in the military regarding death was different, Randall. The work and the deployed environment would desensitize one to death. Sometimes I had to intentionally not think about the the human cost — both of the events happening in the field and of the decisions being made around me — in order to focus on my tasks and complete them. Corporately though, the military (and some specific military leaders) seemed very interested in countering that tendency and reminding us of the value of human life. The emphasis on memorial services and letters to next of kin were part of that effort, and they would lace it into the things they said to us and the policies they set. That was true regarding our lives and noncombatant lives, anyway. Enemy combatants were a different story.

      I didn’t always appreciate what they were doing. Sometimes it got in the way of completing those tasks they had given us, and sometimes I just wanted to be numb. But overall, I know they were right. There were all kinds of decisions that couldn’t be made well if one had become indifferent to the value of human life — risk assessments, collateral damage estimates, go/no-go decisions, and interpretation of the rules of engagement, for example. Pratt’s callousness in the episode is a good example of that effect.

      As for 9/11, I’m sorry your employers were so callous, and I agree that the emotional effect of 1/6 was similar — better in some ways because fewer lives were lost and worse in others because it was us. I can only guess your leaders reacted the way they did because they didn’t know how else to deal with it, but obviously they got it wrong.

      I wasn’t at work on 9/11. It was supposed to be our moving day from the family housing area of a base in the National Capital Region. At one point, my wife and I were sitting with all our movers on our couch, watching the news. Other than the couch and the entertainment center, the room was completely bare. Some of our neighbors worked at the Pentagon. In the end, everyone in our neighborhood made it home, but we wouldn’t know that for many hours. For a while, we were all just standing in our yards trying to reassure one another — trying not to cry and generally failing while a fighter CAP flew over our heads.

      I’m glad your wife is getting better, and I pray she will be completely recovered soon. Please hug your kids on my behalf. It’s as good an excuse as any.

  3. Things certainly have changed since the Korean War (even Vietnam). Now deaths are confirmed and an officer (Casualty Notification Officer/CNO), accompanied with a chaplain, visit the next of kin to give notification of death with an explanation of what happened. The family is next visited by the Casualty Assistance Officer (CAO). I have served as a CAO several times during my career. Both duties are emotionally daunting.

    1. Joe, I was on the rotation roster at one assignment, but by the grace of God, never had to go. I cannot imagine harder duty. Thank you.

      1. Thanks, brother. I’ve been at various stages throughout the process. I’ve been there when young men, boys really, we put into body bags. I’ve taken boys off of helicopters after being killed. Then as I said with the notification and assistance here State Side. Nothing of it is easy. It’s all done respectfully. One last honor to show to a fallen comrade.

  4. Interesting that you mention that the deceased would have been another Benjamin Pierce. That would make 3 serving in Korea which would be a strange coincidence. Might it have been that the deceased was someone who died an Hawkeye was the one to sign the death certificate and the name was taken from the death certificate wrong.

  5. Great episode gents.

    I love Detwiller. And yes Masur will always be Clark from The Thing. (How long were you alone with that dog Clark?)

    As I have said many times, I am not comparing myself to being an Army Combat Surgeon. But a lot of the emotions I see in these episode resonate a lot more for me at this stage of my life and career than they did when I was a kid.

    The ED can be a chaotic place. You never know if it is going to be slow or busy. You never know if it is going to be mundane medical issues or life-threatening emergencies. And there is no ‘end’. The patients keep coming. Your shift may end. But they keep coming. SOmetimes, despite all you can do, sad things happen. I knew what I signed up for and I love my job. But sometimes that can get to you.
    Even though the department is big, you end up forming close bonds with a few other physicians, the folks you can discuss bad cases, laugh about the insanity, and generally keep an even keel knowing you’re all in it together.
    Imagine losing that safety net … like losing Henry and Trapper.
    Now throw in stressors from your outside work life and things can get even worse. You can get edgy or depressed.
    Imagine thinking that your dad thinks you’re dead.

    That speech Hawkeye gives at the end is powerful because it is the culmination of all his loss and frustration. In the end, he knows his vocation and those wounded are more important than these issues so he gets up and heads back to work. I get it.
    But I can tell you, some ED folks stay on that bus and head into a different area of medicine.

    Thanks again for this. Great discussion.

  6. I’m glad to be reminded of why I listen to this podcast. Not only the accessible analysis from Rob and his guests, excellent deciphering of the name Detwiler, Sean!, but the perspectives from folks like Captain Entropy and Dr. Anj. Thank you so much for that!

  7. Favorite line:
    Digger: I’m looking for Captain Pierce.
    Klinger: He’s in the shower.
    Digger: What’s he doing in there?
    Klinger: Who can tell with officers?

    I also felt it strange Mr. Pierce knew to ask for BJ. I have told my wife my boss’ name in case of emergency but she doesn’t know anyone else’s name. I can’t see myself writing a letter telling my dad about who I work with.

    Good point on Klinger already being trained as clerk but making a mess when he got the job full time. He even was doing the job in the episodes right before Radar left. Maybe Potter just overlooked screwups from a fill in but had higher standards when he was the official company clerk. He at least got him to stop wearing dresses.

    I still see early S4 episodes as written for Trapper and they had to adjust slightly for BJ. (Eliminate him having a date). But he did do well being Hawkeye’s pal here.

    Yes, Frank was being a jerk but there wasn’t much he could do. The army didn’t send any money for Hawkeye so he was just screwed. Not to downplay things, but did he really need money? He ran a tab at the O Club and the food was free. I don’t know where they got the stuff they used in the still but BJ could buy that (from where?) until Hawkeye got back on his feet.

    The comment about Radar being with Margaret in Seoul made me laugh. I can’t think of a less likely pairing in TV history.

  8. “Thinking of selling my golf clubs? Stop.” That line makes me laugh every time I watch this episode. I hadn’t thought of it before, but The Late Captain Pierce does a great job of balancing the drama of Hawkeye’s concern for his dad, and the absurdity of his “death.”

    Thank you for your wonderful coverage of this episode.

  9. Another great episode, and a wonderful review. I hadn’t thought of The Late Captain Pierce as the last sign-off of Season Three, but now that Sean brought it up and explained his idea I think it’s brilliant.
    I also agree with George W in his opinion that early Season Four episodes were probably written for Trapper. Neat to think how BJ changed the dynamic around. Hawkeye’s mentioning BJ to his father was probably something along the line of “my old room-mate has left, and was replaced by this really nice guy from California” and then went from there.
    And I always thought that the lines for Nurse Able were written for Margaret, but when Loretta Swit wasn’t available they were given away to the cookie-cutter nurse. I “hear” Margaret every time I watch this episode.
    Lastly, listening to Jeff Maxwell’s podcast MASH Matters helped me understand how characters like Kellye Nakahara were treated. She was a background “extra” for several years until she eventually graduated to having a few lines. She was not for the majority of the time considered a “guest star” or even an “actress.” That is why she almost never had lines in OR. If you’re interested in hearing stories about MASH behind the scenes, I heartily recommend MASH Matters.

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