M*A*S*HCast #91 – Some 38th Parallels

M*A*S*HCast -  Season 4, Episode 19: Some 38th Parallels

Special Guest Star: Rob Reilly

Air Date: January 20, 1976

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15 responses to “M*A*S*HCast #91 – Some 38th Parallels

  1. Rob R. did a great job as co-host for this episode. You can tell he did his research and has a great appreciation for M*A*S*H.

    I remember as a child being confused by the ‘big couldn’t’ topic. Couldn’t what? Kiss? That’s what I imagined Hawkeye was doing every time he was off screen with a nurse. I didn’t know what else it could possibly be. Even if syndication hadn’t edited out the scene between Hawkeye and Col Potter with the word ‘impotent,’ I wouldn’t have understood. As a full grown man (maturity not withstanding), I appreciate the topic much more now.

    Between Hawkeye’s ‘problem’ and Radar’s heartbreaking storyline, Frank’s garbage auction was much needed comedic relief.

  2. Yes, a hearty welcome to the new Rob! He joins Network co-founder Kelly (Primary Rob) and frequent commenter McCarthy (Alternate Rob) to serve as Contingency Rob. We just need an Emergency Rob to make our PACE plan complete. (PACE is how we plan for means of communication. Military planners are often obsessive about backups.)

    Seriously, great work by the new guy and the old pro.

    WAR STORY TIME! (To be read with the urgency and prosody of “MOVIE SIGN!” from MST3K)
    The remains recovery issue in this episode reminds me of some of the tough decisions I got to see supporting rescue (AKA personnel recovery). A personnel recovery center director always had to weigh the potential cost of putting more people in harm’s way against the moral duty of recovering a survivor and the likelihood of doing so. You do everything you can to mitigate the risks and increase your odds of success, but sometimes it takes time to get the information or the support you need so you can tell rescuers to launch. This can create conflict with the actual rescue forces, who are a) pretty confident in their abilities to find the survivor and overcome the threat, b) tortured by the idea of somebody dying or getting captured because they didn’t launch in time, and c) jonesing for that feeling you get from a successful rescue — the feeling Radar had after saving Phelan.

    My last deployment was to a headquarters in Kabul. At the time, we had already been in Afghanistan for fourteen years and some of our leaders were under the impression we were wrapping up. Somehow, that resulted in a staff composed largely of people who didn’t know much about Afghanistan because they’d never had a “turn in the barrel.” Several of us repeat offenders would gather in the chow hall to commiserate while we ate. One conscientious and knowledgeable captain was having a particularly hard time. He worked with a couple colonels who were making bad decisions and wouldn’t listen. One of us asked how he was dealing with this. Grinning sheepishly, he responded, “Well, at night, I weep.” We all burst out laughing with him because we knew it was true and we knew how he felt. When Radar asked BJ when the last time he cried was, I thought of that captain. (His situation got a little better over time.)

    Tolerance for casualties is a weird thing. You never really want to be tolerant of any casualties, but as you pointed out, Iron Guts, you have to accept that casualties will happen. We and our current enemies fight differently now than they did in Korea. Our casualty rate never approaches what it was in Vietnam or most earlier wars, including Korea. War with Russia or another war with China might be different, of course.

    Iron Guts, on an earlier episode, you keyed in on how Potter took offense when Flagg disrespected Henry Blake. I think Potter’s acknowledgement of Blake here is another expression of his respect for the man. With probably no military background (maybe some service in World War II?), Blake led the team that created the 4077th’s tremendous success rate. Some of that was having great people and staying out of their way, but that’s a leadership skill, too. In the military you’re always replacing or being replaced by someone, because of the rate at which we change assignments. This made me think of the relationships I had with predecessors and successors. They were mostly good, but I think I should’ve appreciated them more than I did, the way Potter did Blake.

    It’s true that Henry could be indecisive, and he was even more lax on military discipline than Colonel Potter. That said, military discipline is a means to mission accomplishment, not a religious sacrament. It helps you do things you don’t want to do, like following orders, risking death, or depending on someone you don’t even like. Taken too far, however, it can get in the way of creativity and the free exchange of ideas. So it’s always on a rheostat, to be adjusted to exactly the point that’s useful for the situation. I think Blake and Potter both got that, but Potter was better at turning the rheostat up when he needed to.

    I had an instructor who was a Marine officer. He told me he had enjoyed working with my fellow Airmen in joint assignments. He had found them to be very bright and good at their jobs. However, he noted that he probably would never be able to get them to do an assault landing onto a heavily defended beach. They would have had lots of “why” questions and suggestions for other, less costly ways to accomplish the same effect. That sounded right to me. I think the Marine Corps and the Air Force each have the rheostat set about where they want it for their purposes.

      1. Russell and Terry, thank you both for your kind words and support! I enjoy your comments and guest appearances, too. My wife would say, “Now, don’t encourage him!”. Or at least, that’s what she says to my daughters, but it’s always too late.

  3. Oh! One more random thought: You talked about how hard it must have been for the censors to rein in MASH when it was the number one show on TV. That reminded me of watching a Chicago Bulls game with my older brother a few decades ago. He pointed out to me how officials often ignored minor fouls when Michael Jordan was the one committing them. Ever since, when I see a star performer get away with things others couldn’t, I think of it as “The Jordan Effect.”

  4. Great discussion as usual. I’ve grown to like this episode more the last couple times I watched it. Superb acting by Mike Farrell and Gary Burghoff in their scene at the end. I’ve come to appreciate Burghoff’s acting even more after seeing him in reruns of the 1970s game shows Match Game and Tattletales. In real life he is very witty and sophisticated, far different from the naive farm boy he played.

    It seems like in this episode we see part of the process of Radar growing up as he experiences the tragedy of war through the death of a new friend. Radar gradually growing up was like an ongoing story arc that continued throughout the series to Radar’s final episode when he leaves his teddy bear behind. It was even mentioned by Hawkeye in the last scene ever filmed for the entire series when he donates Radar’s teddy bear in the penultimate episode of the final season. So in that way I see this episode in Season 4 as carrying forward a key theme of the whole series.

  5. What a great episode about another great episode. This is another one of my favorite episodes. And I appreciate Rob Reilly (wasn’t he Firebrand on Earth-2?) putting into words some of the parallels that I don’t think General Kelly was cognizant of before. To me, this episode holds together extremely well, as each plot thread ends up sewing itself into a pattern that tells us, again, that War is Hell.

    So great work, Rob-1 and Rob-2. I hope Rob-2 can return in the future for more insight.

    I know exactly what General Kelly is talking about when he mentions sighting “the MASH mountains” in other films or TV shows. I was watching something…Mannix? Barnaby Jones? and for some outdoor scene, our MASH Mountains popped up. I recognized them immediately and they took me right out of the story, haha!

    I really, really like the Potter-Burns-Radar discussion about garbage. It’s a masterpiece of comic writing and timing.

    My all-time favorite MASH bit is BJ and Radar after Phelan dies. The cold, medical way that BJ confirms what death really is….and the way that Radar doesn’t want to be any part of that….it just gets to me. Every time I watch this scene, it brings a tear to my eye. EVERY SINGLE TIME.

  6. When I listen, I think of a dozen things to comment about. When I sit down to comment, I forget them! So, I’ll react to the other comments! The bit about recognizing the MASH mountains compels me to mention a book I have. “Silent Echoes” by John Bengston uses stills from Buster Keaton films. The author identifies specific geological features in the backgrounds, i.e., mountains and hilly terrain, and prints the the stills side-by-side with contemporary (of publishing date) photos of the same mountains from the same angle Keaton used. I’ve no doubt some inveterate TV-watcher has created a monograph or website showing all the screen appearances of the “MASH Mountains!”
    Captain Entropy, if you’ll allow me to cross genres here, I commend the idea of the Legion of Substitute Robs!

  7. I remember seeing this when I was young and I knew what he “couldn’t” do but I didn’t know why he couldn’t. I just thought a guy always could and didn’t (at the time) know that things don’t always work out as planned.

  8. Chiming in 8 months later with an alternate commentary on B.J.’s line about washing his socks because it actually is a very revealing character moment IMO – we see more and more as the show progresses that B.J. is stubbornly resistant to the idea that the war is changing him. For his own peace of mind he has to believe that he’s going to leave Korea as the same man he was when he arrived, and that his time at the 4077th is inconsequential to his “real” life. Season 4 touches on this again in The Interview where B.J. expresses a desire to erase all his memories of the 4077th even though he has a lot of love for the people he’s met there. And the same idea gets revisited in greater depth in later season episodes (War Co-Respondent being probably the biggest example). It isn’t until season 11 when B.J. can finally start coming to terms with the fact that his experiences HAVE changed him and he IS going to carry that with him for the rest of his life – I’m thinking of Bombshells of course, but also U.N. The Night And The Music where he identifies with his patient so strongly that he can’t bear to tell said patient they could have to amputate his leg, because B.J. himself is so afraid of returning to his own wife and daughter having been permanently changed.

    All this to say, the sock washing is symbolic of how B.J. compartmentalizes his own understanding of himself. Especially when we factor in that he tells Hawkeye the socks are a reminder of better times, i.e. a connection to life back home. If he wears the socks, they’ll get dirty. If he admits that his time in Korea is fundamentally altering him, then he has to accept that he’s not the same husband/father/doctor he was when he left home. But if he keeps washing the socks (keeps living in denial) then they (and he) stay clean. Of course we don’t know whether any of this was in the writers’ heads when this scene was conceived, but regardless of intent the line ends up being a pretty nifty early clue to this specific pressure point of B.J.’s.

    Rob and Rob, thank you for the discussion of what is a very solid lower-key episode of season 4! I’ve been really enjoying catching up on the podcast and look forward to the new season soon 🙂

  9. Did anyone one else feel that some of the scenes were out of sequence? Just a couple of them. Radar’s story line was fine and wonderfully done.
    Story line between Hawkeye’s plot line, Frank selling Garbage.
    in the episode (Streaming from Hulu): Watch Hawkeye expressions and body language.
    Everything is good up to this point.
    The events go like this:
    1. Frank is doing the Auction, BJ and Hawkeye come running in wanting to bid on the Garbage. Yes, Hawkeye is being normal self like nothing happen in the previous scenes with Nurse Able.
    2. Hawkeye next scene with Col. Potter throwing Horseshoes. Here He’s more annoyed, frustrated, Impotent, (which i did not know what that word meant until this Podcast thank you for clarifying that). Potter Suggest he “needs a Hobby” — Hawkeye, has the look of still being down in the slumps.
    3. Next scene they confront Col Corner (which the name does fit). When Frank comes over to tell Hawkeye “you thought you were clever to buy that garbage” , right then Potter goes ” you bought the Garbage?”
    Right then Hawkeye goes “you said get a Hobby”

    So, If we switch 1 &2, then it would make more sense? I could be reading a lot into this. But, I could help but notice.

    Radar’s plot line, losing a friend, I like what was said in the podcast how, it brings us back to “Sometimes you hear the bullet” the idea that Doctors can only do so much.
    I love BJ and the compassion that he has. When Radar says “Gee, I hope I don’t Cry” and BJ response “its not a sin” which makes me wonder if the people Radar grew up around told him that it wasn’t Man-like. Which would kind of explain his line.
    Then at the movies Listen to the music as each of them is talking. notice how it changes when it get to Radar, which it might’ve been business as usual for the others, but for Radar wasn’t, he was still shocked by it all.

    I love listening to this Podcast, I’m almost caught up. I still have a season and a half to go. I will get there.

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