M*A*S*HCast #105 – The Korean Surgeon

M*A*S*HCast -  Season 5, Episode 9: The Korean Surgeon

Special Guest Star: Matt McLean

Air Date: November 23, 1976

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15 responses to “M*A*S*HCast #105 – The Korean Surgeon

  1. Thanks for an enjoyable show, Rob and welcome to Matt – a great new addition to the M*A*S*HCast Company!

    Heminephrectomy: Well, -ectomy at the end of any operation describes an organ being removed (Think Tonsillectomy, Hysterectomy or Appendicectomy). The prefix Neph- relates to the kidney (if you studied any biology at school you might remember that the functional unit that filters the blood is called a nephron). So a Nephrectomy is removal of a kidney and a Heminephrectomy is removal of a non-functioning part of a kidney. Given the meatball surgery of the M*A*S*H unit, they’d likely be removing part of a very damaged kidney following a severe abdominal injury or wound.


    If we’re being charitable towards Frank (… now there’s a phrase I didn’t imagine I’d be writing… ) his stepping away from performing a tricky operation when he’s too tired to do it safely could be viewed as very insightful and self aware. Perhaps he’s aware of his fatigue and the risk that he could be putting the patient at through his own exhaustion – in that situation, handing his patient off to a less-tired colleague would be the responsible thing to do.

    … but this is Frank Burns, so if this is him showing a high degree of self-awareness and placing patient safety over the demands of his own hyper-inflated ego, it’s a first!

  2. Great episode, and Matt was a great guest. I’m not MASH expert, but is this the most court-martial worthy offense Hawkeye and BJ ever pulled? I would have to think so. I agree, I think they got off very lightly here. I agree with the sentiment, but this seemed to kind of break the reality of the show just a bit, at least from hearing this episode. I’ll have to go back and rewatch the episode to be sure.

    Larry Hama deserves a biopic more than just about any comic creator. What a fascinating life! He not only wrote the G.I. Joe comic, he created the backstories for nearly every character in that franchise for over 10 years! He wrote all the file cards on the back of the packages!

  3. Very fun discussion. I like this episode a lot.

    I’m sure I’m in the distinct minority, and I’m certainly not defending Frank’s behavior, but one thing I don’t care for is the stinger when Potter joins Hawkeye and BJ in picking on Burns. It feels like piling on, similar to the way Potter picked on Burns in The Bus last season. Yes Frank brings it on himself by acting like such a jerk, but Potter should rise above it. It’s not really a fair fight or as fun for the viewer when it’s three against one.

    Plus Frank had just been kidnapped by the enemy. Even though it was his own fault for acting so arrogant, that would be a terrifying experience. And Potter, Hawkeye, and BJ all knew by this point that Frank had some childhood difficulties in regard to his father. And of course he was recently dumped by Margaret and had no friends. In the past we had seen indications that Frank wants to be friends with Hawkeye and BJ.

    Frank is of course written to be insufferable but why not try to get him some help instead of provoking his worst tendencies by further piling on, mocking and antagonizing him, which will only make him even more isolated and cause him to keep acting like a jerk.

    But anyway, I’m probably overthinking a character who was written to be a relatively cartoonish villain. I like the episode a lot overall as with all of the fifth season, and it was of course a great podcast episode as usual!

  4. Another great episode Rob. Wanted to send some location info, since you wondered about the quanset storage building seen as Frank is hiking back to the 4077. That building actually was on the far western edge of the compound. In the opening five seconds of episode The Korean Surgeon, you can actually see the honking MASH bus driving past the building. The first structure seen after the fade-up right after the opening credits is a hooch or indigenous hut, then the storage building is the next structure the bus passes. The bus passes it 6 seconds after the fade up and at 1:01 overall episode time on DVD. Frank was walking back to the 4077 on crags road, the main road that runs through the compound, from the west, so the building is the first thing you see in that long telephoto shot of Frank quizzically waving to Dr Paik. Crags Road is also the road that leads all the way from the entrance to Malibu creek state park all the way back to the MASH location. It continues, again, to the west and to Bulldog Motorway, on which some of the hilly driving scenes were shot for the series. The Soon-Tek Oh “Yalu brick road” episode scene where the North Korean patrol passes and Ralph waves them off is at the corner of crags and bulldog, just a quarter mile west from the compound.. Hawkeye also takes a left onto bulldog in a jeep after he says “why should he be mad? (the General), we fixed his flat didn’t we?’” In episode Welcome to Korea, when Hawkeye, BJ and Radar are headed back to the 4077. Rob, you also mentioned the clearing station where Donald Sutherland’s Hawkeye meets Duke Forrest in the opening scenes of the movie MASH. That same location is used as Kimpo air base in the MASH season four opener Welcome to Korea. It’s where Hawkeye is looking for Trapper and where Radar locates B.J. And where they take the General’s jeep. If you watch that scene and then the Sutherland MASH movie scene, the buildings are identical. In Solomonson and ONeil’s complete book of MASH, Larry Gelbart comments on that episode and says “We found some of the MASH movie locations and they served as Kimpo”.

  5. Coincidentally, I was thinking about Soon-Tek Oh not too long before listening to this episode. After the recent passing of Fred Ward, I got to thinking about “Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins,” and found myself wishing that they had cast Soon-Tek Oh as Chiun rather than applying heavy make-up to Joel Grey.

  6. Never thought of Quincy as a comedy but Ito was very good in it. He was a lab tech that helped Quincy solve the crime of the week. At the end of the episode, the gang would usually gather at a restaurant where they would eat, drink, and wrap up the case. The place was owned by a character played by Val Bisoglio, who was in a few MASH episodes as the mess tent sergeant.

    An enjoyable episode, but I agree the premise was ridiculous. Seems like the army would have someone show up at MASH to keep an eye on POWs. (Calling Col. Flagg). And Dr. Pak was able to slip out, clean up, and show back up shortly thereafter? And as a doctor? A pretty specialized position, not like they snuck him in to dig latrines.

    I can understand Margaret’s concern. Sure, he was legit in wanting to help, but you don’t know that. Everyone could have gotten in a heap of trouble for this. Maybe not execution, but it could have gotten Hawkeye and BJ serious prison time along with Radar, who was coerced into helping. Also likely Klinger and Sparky. Ten years at Leavenworth is a high price to pay for a watch.

    I know this is fictional, but as an English speaking surgeon trained in America, I hope Pak would have been able to defect after the war. Anyone know if POWs (who technically held South Korean citizenship) were given the opportunity to stay?

    Anyway, thanks for another great episode.

  7. Great discussion. I like this episode, especially the Burns comeuppance at the end. He isn’t even worth shooting. The North Koreans probably think he is be alive as an irritant.

    Dr. Lewis is right about heminephrectomy. I think it was probably never done in a MASH unit. It is probably much easier to perform a total nephrectomy than a delicate hemi-. When you have a room full of wounded and the patient can live with one kidney, you can’t spare the time to do the more time consuming procedure. The longer you work on one patient, the longer someone else isn’t on the table. It’s why they amputate. It’s why they call it meatball surgery so often. My guess is the fact that Dr. Pak is even thinking of doing that surgery is probably suspicious for Margaret. Then Pak does the surgery in a way no one has seen? More suspicion. I have always head canon’d that his choice to do that added to Hot Lios worries.

    This season continues to crackle.

  8. A few points:

    It is interesting to note that Frank and Margaret were right in a way: The “enemy” would in fact send someone to spy on the unit in a future episode.

    I have to think it was done intentionally, but Hawkeye’s line “the war can’t last for ever” has some very dark humor: The war DID last forever, technically the Korean war is still going on.

    I have to wonder if the heminephrectomy was done intentionally by Dr Pak in part to establish his competency. We know of other surgeons tested on their first day, and despite everything, you have to wonder if Hawkeye and B.J. wondered how good he actually was. Dr. Pak probably thought he needed to wow them out of the gate.

    Now for something I have been thinking about for a while:

    Everyone today knows what a surgeon is: You go to medical school, you do a five year residency, then you are a fully qualified surgeon.

    Well, not always.

    Up until around 1970 if you had anything but the most complicated operation in the United States, it was likely done by a “general practitioner” who only did a one year internship. Then, he would pick up whatever else he needed to know through his partners in private practice. They did the routine appendix and gall bladder removal, but they would also do major surgery on the colon, stomach and esophagus.

    However, at the same time, there was a growing trend towards residency training for surgeons. Now, obviously, there was friction between the two camps: The “GP’s” thought these residency-trained surgeons were “academics” who did not know a thing about real medicine. While the trained surgeons viewed the GP’s as barely trained barbers.

    This friction is described in a series of books that were published starting in the 60’s by Dr. William A Nolen. He was a surgeon trained at Bellevue who established a practice in rural Minnesota. (Paradoxically, it was hard to get a good job as a residency trained surgeon since the other physicians viewed him as a threat. That is why he ended up in the middle of nowhere.) Dr. Nolen became a famous physician – a competent Dr. Oz – who appeared on the Tonight Show and had his own syndicated column before dying very young of heart disease . The medical establishment was VERY upset with his books shinning a light on the real life of physicians and surgeons – the fact that they were not “Saint’s in Surgical Garb” – even thought his disclosures are incredibly tame by today’s standards.

    With all that said, apply it to Frank and Hawkeye and B.J. Frank was taught surgery – poorly – by his father. Hawkeye and B.J. were at least in a surgical residency. (There is some inconsistency over whether Hawkeye completed his residency. Blake says he was “certified in general and chest” which would imply he did; but if he did, he would have been commissioned as a Major.) This conflict between the “GP’ and the “Surgeon” can be seen in a number of the arguments between the two. Remember in an early episode Frank mocks Hawkeye for “learning surgery in a hospital.” However, to give the “GP’s” their due, keep in mind that almost certainly Potter and Blake were in the “GP” camp as well. Some did manage to become good surgeons.

    To put it in today’s terms for the physicians, imagine a new surgeon telling an older one, “You really aren’t competent to do that appendectomy, you didn’t complete an Acute Care Surgery Fellowship …”

    I don’t know if the writers were aware of this conflict that would have been raging in the 50’s, and was still around a little around 1970. But it is another part of the dynamic that separates Hawkeye and B.J. from Burns.

    Now back to this episode: It is strongly suggested that Dr. Pak completed a residency in Chicago. The group of residency trained surgeons isn’t incredibly large today, and would have been tiny back then. That may have contributed to his unmasking.

    Finally, you may say that it is impossible to create a surgeon out of thin air. However, keep in mind this was in the era of paper records during a war. Yet even in the modern era major mistakes are made. As an example, about a month ago, there was a report of a major who was kicked out of the Air Force for stealing narcotics. Yet he managed to still be paid and receive medical benefits for over ten years.


    So, yeah, I think they very easily could have managed to promote Radar to Second Lieutenant and create a surgeon out of thin air back then,

    1. Absolutely right that medicine has become increasingly specialised over the years.
      The school I went to before going to medical school had very close ties to the City of London and the historic – often mediaeval – City Guilds who represented the tradesmen (and later tradeswoman) of the City. On leaving school, I was awarded a prize by the Worshipful Company of Barber-Surgeons as I was going to medical school. (Very useful it was too: it bought me a good few textbooks!) Barbers – often traveling around with fairs – would do minor medical and dental procedures along with the haircuts. The red & white striped barbers pole is alleged to represent the blood-stained bandages which you would hope wouldn’t result from a quick trim of the sideburns! To this day, UK doctors who undergo specialist surgical training and become members of the Royal College of Surgeons drop the title Dr. and become Mr./Mrs./Miss. – supposedly in a nod back to the pre-medical roots of the surgical tradition. The history is fascinating – Wikipedia link here if you’re interested (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Worshipful_Company_of_Barbers)
      Up until relatively recently, GPs might have done procedures such as tonsillectomies, but these days that would not happen. Some very large practice buildings over here do have small operating theatre rooms, but these are the exception. I do some very minor operations: removal of skin tags & cysts etc. in our treatment room, but not everyone does the additional training to do even this level of surgery.

  9. Yet another great episode. Your guest said that Frank and others demonize the enemy. That is very true. I recall before getting on a plane and heading to Kuwait for the 2003 invasion of Iraq, we were told to hate the enemy. We we told to hate them with every ounce of our being. That they hate us just as much and will kill us just as fast. I spoke about this with a therapist recently. He said that a person would have to hate another in order to kill them. I’m not saying that it’s right or wrong. But, it is a method that is used a lot in order to survive combat.

  10. Other thoughts on the show. I wanted these to be separate from my other comment.

    Too bad Hawkeye and BJ couldn’t use the mimeograph machine that was used to cut orders promoting Radar to LT.

    Frank could have been charged for the cost of the Jeep if Potter wanted to push it. A friend of mine was signed for a number of vehicles in Iraq. One went missing. It was nowhere to be found. He was charged for it, meaning that the Army took money out of his pay to account for the missing hummvee.

    The mystery building behind Frank could have been anything. We’re assuming that he walked in the correct direction after being kicked out of the Jeep. It is Frank after all.

    I wonder of Dr Pak knew the North Korean soldiers, or knew who they were. They were seeking medical supplies, and he was a doctor. If that was how he managed to get supplies, it was to take care of his soldiers. I wonder if he developed compassion for the 4077 personnel and warned them in order to protect them.

    1. Many have wondered why Dr. Pak gave the warning when they were already complying with the request, but I believe Pak warned them because he knew enough about Frank that he knew Frank could change on a dime.

      Sure, they were giving them the supplies, but one wrong word and Frank would have tried to have them arrested. It was fairly obvious to anyone that after Margaret’s engagement Frank was becoming unhinged. Well, more unhinged than normal.

      It obviously makes sense for a plot point, but the fact that Margaret was suspicious that he knew they were North Koreans does not make a lot of sense in real life. I would not find it at all unusual that a purportedly South Korean would be able to identify a North Korean. If I was in Japan, and if I were to tell someone that another American is a fake because there is no way he is a native of Alabama, I don’t think they would find that suspicious.

      (Most people reading this – including those from outside the U.S. – would be able to tell the difference between a New York and an Alabama accent.)

      Natives of a region know their accents very well; it is not uncommon for someone to be able to place them to a very narrow geographic region. Her and Potter finding this suspicious is one of the things in this episode that always struck me as slightly off.

      1. Reminds me of a Saturday Night Live sketch.

        It is WWII, and an American military unit has captured a guy they think might be a German spy. This was the interrogation.

        If you’re really an American, tell me who played Rhett Butler.

        Clark Gable.

        Wrong!!! It’s Cary Grant. (Shoots prisoner).

        Uh, sir, it really was Clark Gable.

        Damn. I always mix them up.

  11. Another great show, about another great episode. Good job, guys!
    And because nobody mentioned it, I’m going to tell you that MY favorite line is after Margaret & Dr. Pak have their initial conversation, and he leaves. She tells Col Potter, “I certainly didn’t tango at the Pink Pagoda!” and Col Potter says, “Maybe it was the cha-cha-cha?” then quickly follows up with, “I’m kidding.” Those lines, because of the expressions on both their faces, makes me laugh every time.

  12. This episode feels so much like something from the Henry and Trapper era, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that it was originally written during the first three seasons, and only used later. I really didn’t care for how Margaret was portrayed in this. She all-too-easily reverted back to her old ways, and seemed to undo much of her recent character development. And surely she should have instantly realized with one look that Pak was telling the truth, and that the soldier wasn’t able to breath properly? I also thought her response to “Dr. Ho’s” suggestion that they had tangoed one night at the Pink Pagoda was cringe-worthy, as Margaret indignantly recoiled at the suggestion, as if she was offended by the very idea of ever having danced with an Asian man. We know from countless other episodes (mostly post-Season 3) that Hot Lips isn’t prejudiced, but this moment as scripted sure did suggest otherwise, at least to me. As I said, I don’t think that Margaret was very well served by this otherwise excellent episode.

    The easy way that Radar seems to know just what must be done to fake an identity suggests to me that Cpl. O’Reilly had engaged in that sort of skullduggery before.

    And when Frank decides to leave with the two (North) Korean soldiers, he tells Radar he’s off-duty, so he can do as he pleases. First of all, is a M*A*S*H* surgeon ever really “off-duty”? It isn’t as if wounded are only allowed in between 9:00 and 5:00 on weekdays. And secondly, can anyone, even a Major, just leave the camp without the commanding officer’s approval?

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