Thursday, July 30, 2009

Episode 121 - Fade Out, Fade In

Season 6, Episode 121: Fade Out, Fade In
Original Air Date: 9/20/77
Written by: Jim Fritzell & Everett Greenbaum

Directed by: Hy Averback

Radar is worried that Frank isn't back from his R&R yet--which is very odd, since, for all of Frank's faults, he's always punctual. Col. Potter tells him not to worry about it...yet.

Wounded arrive, and since neither Frank or Margaret (who is still on her honeymoon) are back, the 4077th is very short-handed. One of the wounded is a doctor himself, Dr. Berman (Raymond Singer), whose chest wound is so severe that even Hawkeye isn't sure he'll be able to patch him up.

During surgery, Potter complains aloud about Burns being missing. B.J. offers the theory that maybe--just maybe--Burns went to Tokyo to interrupt Margaret's honeymoon?

Shortly after, Margaret comes back--early--from her honeymoon, in a very surly mood. She won't say why, and quickly heads off to the O.R.

Meanwhile, Col. Potter gets a call from M.Ps in Seoul, who say that a Major Frank Burns accosted a blonde WAC, but ran off before he could be apprehended. Potter thinks Frank is going nuts, and asks Radar to call a Col. Baldwin in Tokyo so he can send a fill-in surgeon while Frank is gone.

In Tokyo, we see Col. Baldwin (Robert Symonds) receive the call, as he is playing Cribbage with a doctor, Major Charles Emerson Winchester (David Ogden Steirs). Winchester is smug and arrogant, and he enjoys pointing out that he has beaten Baldwin in Cribbage to the tune of $672.17. Baldwin realizes he has the perfect candidate to send to the 4077th.

On the way to the camp, Winchester and his driver are shot at, and have to take cover. Their jeep is then hit, reducing it to a smoldering hunk of metal. The driver points the direction Winchester needs to travel, and heads back to his unit.

Back at the 4077th, Col. Potter gets another call from the Seoul MPs, relating another tale of Frank flipping out and accosting various women, acting as though they're Margaret. He's still on the loose, unfortunately.

Later, Winchester arrives at the camp riding an ox-cart, striking quite a contrast to his surroundings since he is wearing his dress uniform and carrying all manner of personal items. Radar is the first person to greet him, and his general feeling of superiority over Radar is obvious.

He is introduced to Col. Potter, Hawkeye, and B.J. as they are having a drink, and his stand-off-ishness immediately grates on everyone, insisting on calling everyone "Doctor" even after they introduced themselves by their nicknames. He then states he doesn't plan to "stick around long enough to get chummy."

When Dr. Berman goes into heart failure due to a ventricular aneurysm, everyone rushes out. Winchester wonders what the "panic" is, and then states that he's performed the necessary procedure successfully over a dozen times.

He performs the surgery, and it goes off without a hitch, except for the fact that Winchester spend a lot of time complimenting himself. Margaret is impressed, but Hawkeye and B.J. are less than thrilled.

Frank calls Col. Potter, and tells him some news. Hawkeye and B.J. follow, just as Potter is getting off the phone. He tells them that Frank accosted another woman and her companion, except this time it was a Brigadier General and his wife! Burns is now being held for psychiatric evaluation.

But that's not all the news--Frank is being transferred out of the 4077th.

The news hits Hawkeye and B.J. like a bomb--they toggle back and forth between delight and outrage that they're losing their favorite punching bag. As B.J. points out, "This reduces the enemy to just North Korea!"

The doctors and Radar have a toast, ended with abject glee, and they all throw the piles of paper on Potter's desk into the air with wild abandon.

Later, Hawkeye and B.J. have to pack up Frank's stuff. They keep all the good stuff, and Margaret comes in to take back a picture he had of her. They tell her to leave it there to keep Frank crazy, but when Margaret is complimentary towards him--and says there are some things he has over her new husband--Hawkeye and B.J. ask her what happened on her honeymoon.

After some cajoling, she tearfully tells them that, during the honeymoon, Penobscott seemed to shut down completely--he stopped talking, smiling..."everything."

They comfort Margaret by telling her that meeting all of his new wife's old friends and former beaus (like various generals) probably intimidated Penobscott, and it shook his confidence. They tell he'll get over it.

When she wonders why Frank didn't have this problem, Hawkeye and B.J. offer that's because "He had every other one." Margaret defends Frank, until she sees that, among his belongings, was an alarm clock Frank told her was stolen. Enraged, she says one last goodbye to Frank by pouring what's left of her martini in his suitcase.

Col. Potter is talking on the phone with Baldwin, and now that Frank is not coming back, the 4077th needs a permanent replacement. After rejecting several poor candidates, Potter says he'd be willing to keep Winchester, if he's available. Baldwin agrees to the deal.

Potter finds Winchester in the Officers Club, eager to get out of there. He breaks the news to Winchester, who is less than happy, to say the least. Potter offers Winchester some words of encouragement, but Winchester is despondent. Potter leaves the building, and Winchester ponders his fate.

Later, Dr. Berman is amazed that he is recovering from his wounds. As they say goodbye, Radar tells them Frank is on the phone, and says it'll be the last time he ever speaks to them.

Not being able to pass that up, B.J. talks first, and then Frank (who we never see or hear) asks to talk to Hawkeye. After a few moments, Hawkeye sounds incredulous, then annoyed, then condescending and impatient.

As soon as he gets off the phone, he grabs the whole apparatus, opens the door to the compound, and chucks the phone to the ground with all the force he can muster.

As Radar chases after it, B.J. asks Hawkeye what's up. Hawkeye delivers the bad news: "The Army, in its infinite wisdom, has cleared Frank of the charges. They've reassigned him to a Veteran's Hospital in Indiana...and promoted him to Lieutenant Colonel."

As Hawkeye walks off in disgust, B.J. attempts to grab the phone from Radar and get his licks in, but Radar won't let him have it. B.J., too, walks off in disgust.

Winchester officially moves in to the Swamp, and he rages to no one in particular about how his skills, culture, and intelligence are so much better than everyone else's, and how he can't believe he's stuck in this "Godforsaken...dump."

Wounded arrive, and Winchester gets his trial by fire. While being a superb surgeon, he is so slow and methodical--even when washing his hands--that he quickly falls behind everyone else. When told to "switch into high-gear", he gets testy and refuses. B.J. steps in and shows Winchester a short-cut that works better when dealing with this kind of volume.

After surgery, Winchester's ego seems deflated. He doesn't think he'll be able to hack it, but the other doctors try and cheer him up. Winchester meekly agrees, and adds "Well, if you people did it, I certainly can." Hawkeye, B.J., and Potter watch him walk out of the laundry room.

Potter asks them whether they'd rather have Frank back, and they offer he was more fun to be cruel to. That leads Potter to warn them off pulling any practical jokes on Winchester until he gets settled in. Hawkeye and B.J. respond that they wish he could have told them that "Before we put the snake in his bed."

That night, in the Swamp, Winchester is sitting alone, listening to Mozart on his record player. Hawkeye lays down, only to find the snake is now in his bed. He screams wildly as he throws it out of the Swamp, and responds, "Clever...very clever."

Winchester, betraying little emotion, admonishes him with, "Please...Mozart", and then goes back to listening.

Fun Facts: This is the third of the series' one-hour season premieres.

The debut, of course, of M*A*S*H's last new character, Major Charles Emerson Winchester. The series would be forever changed with the simultaneous departures of Larry Linville and Gene Reynolds, and, in a general sense, you can divide the series into two eras--Seasons One through Five, then Six through Eleven.

Radar is always the first member of the 4077th to meet a new staff member--he goes and finds B.J. in "Welcome To Korea", he's the first person Potter meets in "Change of Command", and now this.

There's a scene in the Officers Club with just Winchester and Igor. For some reason, actor Jeff Maxwell is completely over-dubbed by Johnny Haymer, who played Sgt. Zale! Even weirder, that's the second time they had Haymer perform this task, having done it before in Season Five's "Mulcahy's War."

Favorite Line: Hawkeye, B.J., Col. Potter, and Radar toast the departed Frank Burns:

"What should it be?"

B.J.: "Something tender."

Col. Potter: "Something sentimental."

Hawkeye: "Right... [pauses, raises his drink]...goodbye, Ferret Face."


Steve Spatucci said...

This was just on TV Land two mornings ago - I watched it knowing that the blog would be catching up soon. I hadn't seen it in a while so I didn't remember it well. It felt a little over-the-top in terms of showing Charles' faults, but the scene after the O.R. turned things around nicely. They rarely let things get too exaggerated without pulling things back closer to reality.

I totally missed the Igor-dubbing, though - that's freaky. Very odd decision to use another actor from the show to do that. Maybe the actor was being punished for some on-set indiscretion.

Neal said...

I remember watching this episode when it first aired and instantly sensing the difference in tone and style from the previous seasons. I felt a little down afterward, knowing that the show was never going to be quite the same, and I wasn't sure I would ever like the show again. I eventually warmed up to Winchester and realized that he offered more story possibilities than the one-dimensional Frank, but the show felt tired and worn out from that point on.

Russell said...

I have to agree with Neal. I missed Frank, and although I eventually warmed to Charles as a character, he simply was not as funny as Frank, which meant the show was never as funny. In fact, except for a few exceptions, the show became less and less of a comedy in its last few years, in my opinion.

What The Parrot Saw said...

While I agree with all here about the change in the show's tone, I suspect that it would have happened even if Frank had stayed. And then, I'm just not sure how Frank's character could have changed that much after five seasons. As others elsewhere have noted, without Margaret as a co-conspirator against the Swampmen, and with a CO with decidedly more consistent gravitas than Henry (although when it came to surgery, Henry was nothing but business), Frank was kind of left out there hanging by the end of the fifth season. The creative team time and again illustrated a rare knack in pulling the very best out of these characters, but I think that Frank Marion Burns would have run his course this season.

Which brings us to Charles! It was only over time that I have been able to really appreciate what a genius stroke Winchester was. Here was a worthy complement to the surgical team in skill and as a blue-blood, he brought yet another reading of the lunacy of their collective situation. What's interesting in his debut is that while the viewer already senses his role as "the character you love to hate," his unbridled condescension is really exasperating here! Yet, when we witness his despair at mastering meatball surgery and his final retreat into his beloved Mozart, it seems evident that he is not destined to be a cardboard villain (which Frank increasingly resembled the previous season).

Witnessing Winchester adapt to the 4077th and not filtering everything through the lenses of Bah-stahn would prove to be one of the most consistently interesting motifs of the last part of the series' run for this viewer, leading to some truly memorable moments.

And it would be years until I realized that David Odgen Steirs didn't really speak with a Back Bay accent!

Bonus points here for Dr. Berman, yet another example of a one-episode character as fully fleshed out as a regular.

Korey Pepper said...

I love this episode and it has so many favorite lines/moments to choose from.
I do say 2 of my favs both deal with the phone scene in the office.
First is after Hawkeye has thrown the phone and Radar brings it back, BJ tries to wrestle the phone away and says " i was just gonna call my congressman." For just a brief moment and a GREAT bit of acting by Gary Burghoff, Rader says "Oh ok" but instantly changes his mind.

Also a part that really shines Potter's experience and his ability to respond on a dime (something that Henry Blake often struggled) AFter Potter rejects Winchester's call, He tells Potter "his dad knows Harry Truman.
..without missing a beat Potter responds "GOOD, then have daddy call Harry and Harry call me, and then maybe we can work something out." Showed that unlike Blake, you could not pull a fast on Potter too easily...

rob! said...


Yeah, there were some distinct differences between Blake and Potter, one of the cooler changes the show underwent going from one character to the next.

My favorite I think is in "Quo Vadis, Capt. Chandler" when Col. Flagg mocks the departed Col. Blake to Potter's face, and Potter shows Flagg that he will not be pushed around.

Robert Gross said...

My favorite line: "Let's avoid the Christmas rush and start hating him now."

Jeff Maxwell was once asked in an interview about the overdub and he refused to answer why it was done. It was very odd.

mark said...

I wonder what kind of welcome home Ferret Face got. A flying bedpan, maybe - the "priceless" one Hawkeye and BJ substituted for the Chinese bowl in "Souvenirs" (season 5).

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