Sunday, June 7, 2009

Episode 81 - Quo Vadis, Captain Chandler?

Season 4, Episode 81: Quo Vadis, Captain Chandler?
Original Air Date: 11/7/75
Written by: Burt Prelutsky

Directed by: Larry Gelbart

Wounded arrive, and Radar is shocked when one of them--who arrived without dog-tags--says his name is Jesus Christ.

Hawkeye and B.J. try and get the soldier's real name, but he insists he really is Jesus Christ. His wound is superficial, so they assume he's doing this to get out of the Army. The soldier remains unruffled by the doctor's doubt.

Frank and Hot Lips try and get Col. Potter to step in, since they are sure that "liberal, bleeding heart" Hawkeye and B.J. will try and fill this soldier's head with all kinds of anti-American ideas.

Potter refuses to humor them, so they take it upon themselves to meet with Col. Flagg, who shows up to investigate this solider claiming to be Christ.

Flagg reveals the solider is actually Captain Arnold Chandler, a bombadier who has flown 57 bombing runs. Potter thinks it sounds like battle fatigue, but Flagg couldn't care less. Flagg demands Chandler be released immediately, but Potter goes with Hawkeye's idea: getting the advice of an expert on cases like this, Major Sidney Freedman.

Sidney Freedman arrives, and Flagg tries to talk him into backing his position. He first tries cajoling, then moves onto threatening him, referencing his "subversive" background. Freedman is unmoved.

Sidney meets with Chandler, who, still as Christ, reveals a deep sadness about having to bomb people who never did anything to him. He weeps at the thought of dropping bombs on "my children." They discuss the notion of faith, and identity.

Later, in a meeting in Potter's office, Sidney gives his professional opinion: he's Christ. Potter replies: "As you can see, I'm not laughing."

Sidney then explains that Chandler has suffered a mental breakdown, feeling so tormented over the killing he's done that his mind has shut down, refusing to allow him to do any more fighting. He grabbed the most peaceful identity he could find--Jesus Christ--and Chandler disappeared inside.

Col. Flagg of course doesn't buy any of this, and now threatens to "blow the whistle" on Freedman and his pro-Commie background, particularly Sidney's refusal to sign his Officer's Loyalty Oath.

When Hawkeye and B.J. congratulate Sidney on not signing ("Where do we go to not sign?!"), Flagg thinks he's being played, and insists that Sidney is staying right where he is--in the Army, where he'll have to be "loyal to the organization that's going to hound your every step." He storms out, revealing Frank and Hot Lips listening outside.

Potter shakes his head at Flagg's lunacy, and ultimately decides to follow Sidney's advice.

The next day, Capt. Chandler--after blessing Radar's teddy bear, upon request--boards the bus to be taken home. He still believes he's Christ, leaving Hawkeye, B.J., and Father Mulcahy to sadly watch as he departs.

Fun Facts: One of M*A*S*H's most brilliant episodes--it manages to tackle some huge dramatic--even controversial--issues while also being hysterically funny. The interchanges between Freedman and Flagg are masterpieces of comic timing.

This episode features pretty much the only time Sidney Freedman and Col. Flagg would appear together (they were both in the Season Two episode "Deal Me Out", but Edward Winter was not playing Col. Flagg, at least officially).

There's a great exchange between Col. Flagg and Col. Potter--meeting for the first time--when Flagg demands Potter make a decision, and says "The last C.O. they had here couldn't make a decision without a month's warning." Potter, clearly angry, says, "I'm not fond of personal abuse, Colonel--I was in this man's Army when the only thumb you cared about was the one in your mouth!"

Sidney Freedman also gets his shots in at Flagg: "You're a victim too, Flagg. But you're such an example of walking fertilizer it's hard for me to care."

Favorite Line: After Col. Flagg unleashes a typically loony tirade, Sidney Freedman shakes his head and says: "He's what Freud used to call 'spooky.'"


Russell said...

And wasnt' this the episode where we learn that Radar's given name is Walter? I think I remember reading somewhere that Gary Burghoff insisted Radar wouldn't ask "Jesus" to bless him as "Radar," insisting that the writer give him a real name. (I've sinced learned that Radar had a name in the book MASH but it wasn't Walter!)

What the Parrot Saw said...

Quite agree with your commentary here, rob!- this episode is one of the very best in the entire M*A*S*H canon. Alan Fudge's performance is understated and extremely effective. This idea needed pitch-perfect writing and direction; the creative team comes through in spades here.

Potter's dignified and professional rebuke of Flagg's intimidation remains memorable as well as his rejoinder to Margaret and Frank ("You consider Jesus Christ an underdog?" What a line!)

A true masterpiece.

What the Parrot Saw said...

I don't mean to bogart the comments here, but Flagg has a line that kills me everytime I watch this episode; when accusing Sydney of disloyalty, he blusters, "You're not smart, mister- you're dumb. But you've met your match in me!"

Flagg in a nutshell, delivered with so much GI Joe gusto, that you know that the irony is lost on him.

Farrel's immediate laughter seems spontaneous- as is ours.

Dr. Eric said...

I know it's been a while since you wrote this, Rob, but it contains a throwaway line that proves Capt. Halloran was Col. Flagg. When Sidney first runs into Flagg, Flagg introduces himself and then says "We played poker once." I'm certain this is a reference to "Deal Me Out." No doubt on of Flagg's many aliases!

rob! said...


I remember that line, good catch. Although I suspect that was the later MASH writers "retrofitting" that episode to make it a Col. Flagg show, in retrospect.

In either case, it works perfectly.

Bill said...

Alan Fudge is so amazing in this episode. He believes so strongly that he is Christ that you the viewer, like Radar, feel a compulsion to believe him. So wonderfully understated, especially when he tears up. He's playing a game with us on one level even as he lets us in on another.

Anonymous said...

Putting Sidney and Flagg together in an episode, just was a brilliant idea. You have almost POLAR opposite's fighting over somebody else's life, you see almost the immediate the dividing line...Potter,Pierce,Hunnicutt and Freedman actually caring about this man and Flagg, Burns, Houlihan only wanting rules and regulations. No heart at all.

also everyone seems to get a little shine here, which is awesome! Radar, with his name. Hawkeye and BJ's exchanges with Flagg, Freedman and Chandler,,,Flagg and Freedman, Potter vs. Burns/Houlihan. ('creeps'),,even Mulcahy's cut short convo with of all identities,,Jesus Christ,,,

Anonymous said...

I have two comments. First, if Frank really is religious as he claimed, he would've checked Chandler's hands. Second, I agree this episode is one of the best. They were smart to not use a laugh track on this one.

Bill S. said...

That's a good point about Frank not checking the holes, but maybe he figured if the draft board did a physical on Capt. C and didn't find them (let's face it, holes in both hands St. Thomas could stick a finger through are 4-F material if anything is) than how would he? Though that may credit Frank with more theological perspicacity than deserved...

Anonymous said...

One of the greatest M*A*S*H episodes, the fourth season may have been Larry Gelbart's last but it was also the template for all the later seasons. The transitional period of Seasons 5-7 may have several good episodes yet those seasons lack the spark of the Gelbart era, as well as its balance. Edward Winter's Flagg and Alan Arbus's Sidney are both at their best here, Morgan's Potter far superior to the clich├ęd bore of the later years, Larry Linville's Frank hilariously lacking in empathy (and intelligence), while Gary Burghoff pulls off the difficult task of being child-like without being punchable. Not to forget Alan Fudge's moving guest performance. Latter-day M*A*S*H would return to this type of episode more than.a few times but never as brilliantly as here, not least because Quo Vadis, Captain Chandler is as funny as it is wrenching.

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