Saturday, September 19, 2009

Episode 166 - Preventative Medicine

Season 7, Episode 166: Preventative Medicine
Original Air Date: 2/19/79
Written by: Tom Reeder

Directed by: Tony Mordente

During OR, the doctors notice that all the wounded have multiple shrapnel wounds, from all directions. Col. Potter explains these soldiers are part of Col. Lacy's unit, which sustains more casualties than any other in Korea.

Later, Col. Lacy (James Wainwright) himself arrives, and seems to be quite the charmer. He's complimentary to Radar, to Col. Potter, to Margaret. Hawkeye and B.J. are indifferent to Lacy's kind words, and his troops are downright hostile to him.

Lacy makes a speech about how the bravery of his men have given him the initiative to put in a plan to I-Corps to take on Hill 403, a dangerous mission. Hawkeye and B.J. are disgusted, and in private Col. Potter tries to talk Lacy out of it, to no effect.

The next morning, Lacy sits down to breakfast with Margaret in the Mess Tent, and she's up front about how much she likes him. Lacy tells her about the mission to claim Hill 403, and when he casually admits that he expects "around 20%" in casualties, Margaret is horrified. She asks what makes the hill so important, worth all that, and he responds, as if its a strange question, "Well, getting it."

Margaret, disgusted, walks off, leaving Lacy alone. He then tries to talk to Hawkeye and B.J., and Hawkeye lets him know how revolting he finds Lacy to be. Lacy is condescending and smug, still not caring a bit about all the casualties he's created and will create.

He returns to Post Op to give out Purple Hearts, but none of the wounded want them. One of them goes into cardiac arrest, while Lacy receives a phone call from a general, who tells him that Lacy's offensive on Hill 403 has been denied, on the grounds of it being too risky.

Hawkeye and B.J. overhear this and gloat, but Lacy won't take no for an answer. He says that he plans to send out reconnaissance, and that usually draws fire. And once the shooting starts, whose to say who started it?

B.J. is horrified, but Hawkeye seems to have changed his mind--he compliments Lacy, inviting him to the Swamp for some drinks. B.J. at first is shocked, but Hawkeye lets him know the plan is to slip Lacy a mickey, pulling him off the line.

They go ahead with the plan, and when Lacy doubles over in pain, B.J. immediately diagnoses it as Gastritis, but Hawkeye says its Appendicitis, requiring surgery. When Lacy hears that, he protests, saying he'll lose his command if he's off the line that long, which only reaffirms Hawkeye's plan.

In the scrub room, Hawkeye and B.J. have it out--B.J. says cutting a healthy body open is "Mutilation--why don't you just stab him?"

Hawkeye argues that its worth that to save the lives of all the young men who won't have to climb Hill 403, and goes ahead with the operation. B.J. walks out, refusing to participate.

Later, Hawkeye comes back to the Swamp. He wearily admits to B.J. that Lacy's appendix was "Pink and perfect, and I tossed it in the scrap bucket."

B.J. says there's wounded coming, just a few seconds before the P.A. announces it. B.J. adds: "You treated a symptom--the disease goes merrily on." He puts his hand on Hawkeye's shoulder, helping him up, and together they leave the Swamp.

Fun Facts: This episode's plot is a more dramatic, extended version of part of the storyline from Season Three's "White Gold", where Hawkeye and Trapper give Col. Flagg a mickey that puts him in the hospital for a while.

Favorite Line: Col. Potter asks Hawkeye and B.J. to lay off Lacy while he's in camp. Margaret, who finds Lacy attractive, seconds that: "Yeah!"

Potter, pointing to Margaret: "That goes for you, too."


What the Parrot Saw said...

I mentioned scriptwriter Tom Reeder in an earlier comment as being able to draw upon the feel of earlier seasons, but that is not really the case here, of course. While this indeed revisits one of the plots in "White Gold," the results here are completely different- casting into bold relief the difference between Trapper and BJ.
I tend to agree (now) more with the approach here. Hawkeye's motives are understandable- laudable, in fact. But BJ's argument is convincing, Still, one must wonder how many lives were saved with Lacy off the line...

a fine serious S7 entry.

Michael E. Rubin said...

True story: in my sophomore year at a community college in northern Illinois, I took a Logic and Ethics course (I was a humanities geek). The professor showed this episode as a jump start to our discussion and debate about situational ethics. It still gives me chills to hear B.J. say, "That man is crazy. That doesn't make this right. Some things are wrong, and they're always wrong."

We had a huge debate about that line. Was B.J. right? Are there moral absolutes? Is a doctor morally obligated to do everything he can to save a life, even if he finds the patient repugnant?

I had never seen M*A*S*H before that day. And instantly, I became a fan and have been one ever since.

rob! said...


Great story! Thanks so much for sharing that.

Video Beagle said...

I always wonder when I see this episode if it was in fact written as a reaction to the earlier episode, written in the jokier days of the show.

Robert Gross said...

Well, to respond to Video Beagle, there is a difference between giving someone temporary gastritis and permanently removing an organ. That said....

This episode is quite deft in that it doesn't shove its "moral" down the audience's throat, unlike so many M*A*S*H episodes. Though the writing clearly favors B.J.'s point of view, Hawkeye is not dissuaded, and I think audience members can sympathize with Hawkeye's viewpoint and logic.

I appreciate episodes that explore shades of grey like this.

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