Sunday, August 2, 2009

Episode 124 - War of Nerves

Season 6, Episode 124: War of Nerves
Original Air Date: 10/11/77
Written by: Alan Alda

Directed by: Alan Alda

Wounded arrive, and one of them is...Sidney Freedman! Turns out Sidney was doing therapy in a fox hole with a patient, when a battle started. Sidney's wound needs to be attended to, but its not serious. He even feels well enough to help out in O.R.

Later in the Mess Tent, Sidney sees that tensions are starting to flare at the 4077th: Margaret and Winchester are in a heated debate about whether he touched his nose during surgery, Hawkeye and B.J.'s personal habits are getting on each other's nerves, and Radar and Klinger are mad at each other because Klinger insists on using Radar's teddy bear as part of yet another nutty scheme.

The arguments kick off even more squabbles, that get so out of control even Col. Potter can't calm them down. He walks out of the tent with Sidney, and he asks if Sidney will agree to see "some of the loonier ones" on a one-on-one basis. Sidney agrees.

As Sgt. Zale and Igor (Peter Reigert) prepare a fire to burn some bug-infested uniforms outside, Margaret comes to visit Sidney. She ends up talking about Winchester the whole time, insisting that she's not at all interested him, in any way.

Winchester is next, and says the same thing about Margaret. They both end up saying so much Sidney barely has room to say anything but sit and listen.

The patient Sidney was treating, Tom, is bright and cheery with Hawkeye and B.J., but when he talks to Sidney is nasty and angry. Sidney is saddened at this response, and goes back to his tent.

Klinger arrives to talk, saying he's really worried he's going crazy--that this whole "I'm crazy" bit isn't an act anymore. Sidney assures him that, deep down, he's okay.

Zale and Igor's bonfire has grown exponentially, to where its a giant pile of random objects. Potter disapproves, and tells them to pull all that stuff off the pile, but then Sidney councils him that this fire must just be the pressure valve they need and that Potter was looking for. Potter reverses his order, and commissions one "Grade A" bonfire. The camp cheers in glee.

Radar then turns to Sidney for his advice, worried about his reliance on his teddy bear. Like with Klinger, Sidney assures Radar that he's fine, and that once he's home, away from all this "mud, blood, and death" he probably won't need it anymore.

Before Sidney's patient Tom is about to be shipped out, Hawkeye and B.J. ask him to talk to Sidney one more time. He agrees, but once again his cheery, jokey disposition changes abruptly when Sidney arrives, and he refuses to give Sidney any sort of comfort.

Sidney, a bit despondent, is then visited by Father Mulcahy, who is the one to dispense comfort. He talks Sidney into coming outside and participate in the bonfire, which he does, adding his trousers to the effort.

The fire is lit, and the 4077 stays up, late into the night, singing songs together as they watch it burn.

Fun Facts: Actor Peter Reigert (Boone in Animal House) plays a character listed on the credits as Igor, who is of course normally played by Jeff Maxwell.

The patient treated by Sidney is played by Michael O'Keefe, who played a soldier with the exact same problem in the Season Three episode "Mad Dogs and Servicemen."

Favorite Line: Klinger, when talking to Sidney about why he hates being here, says its because he doesn't want to be killed, watch someone else get killed, or be the one who's doing the killing, his voice getting angrier and firmer: "...and I don't want to be told how to do it to somebody else, and I ain't gonna, period, that's it, I'm gettin' out!"
We all know Hawkeye's main reason why he hates the war, and to a lesser extent we've seen each of the main objections of the other characters, but in this exchange we see what offends Klinger the most: the idea that someone would ask him to kill someone else. Its a great sequence, a great insight to what is normally a lighter character, the lines perfectly delivered by Jamie Farr.


What The Parrot Saw said...

An excellent episode that revisits Alda’s own “Dear Sigmund” and, in my opinion, improves on it. The bonfire’s growing presence from the mundane burning of uniforms is exactly the sort of steam-blowing one would expect from this beleaguered unit. Sherm’s initial, incredulous disapproval is exactly what we expect- as well as his wisdom in eventually seeing Sidney's outsider perspective on it.

Meanwhile, the patient’s hatred for Sidney at the psychiatrist’s technique of getting the psychologically scarred back to the foxhole is equally believable, as is Freedman’s painful admittance that ‘he may never know’ if he has succeeded in this particular case or not. His pained expression, tightly controlled, followed by his melancholy walk away is one of Arbus’ best moments in the series.This idea would be returned to, of course, in the finale; arguably, not as well as it is illustrated here.

Finally, the individual scenes with characters mano a mano with Sidney are all wonderful: Margaret and Charles are hilarious in their telling nonchalance when discussing each other; Radar's wondering about his teddy bear is sweet and not at all overdone; Klinger's scene is one of his best- measured, funny and ultimately serious.

A classic.

Russell said...

I kind of have to disagree with What The Parrot. While I think Klinger's and Father Mulcahy's scenes are wonderful, I find Margaret's and Charles' scenes annoying in the extreme, and I would have hoped BJ and Hawkeye could have gotten some counseling, as well, as the way Hawkeye keeps bugging BJ in the mess tent, "Smell this! Smell this!" really would annoy me. Arbus is good throughout, but I think this is another one of those that tries too hard to do too much in too little time. (sigh)

Rob As Well said...

A favorite line of mine in this episode is between Sgt. Zale & Col. Potter, when Potter has found the large pile of objects assembled for the fire. It is supposed to be a fire of prisoners' uniforms, and Col. Potter delivers: "are you telling me a prisoner came in wearing an American ladder?" that one gets me every time!

PA_Rob said...

The whole OR scene with Charles and Margaret and half of the mess tent scene are cut for syndication, so you have no idea why everyone is arguing! One of the worst syndication edits.

Donald said...

btw you got the episode title wrong about the previous episode that Michael O'Keefe appeared. It's Mad Dog and Servicemen"

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