Friday, December 4, 2009

Episode 224 - Follies of the Living - Concerns of the Dead

Season 10, Episode 224: Follies of the Living - Concerns of the Dead
Original Air Date: 1/4/82
Written by: Alan Alda

Directed by: Alan Alda

Klinger comes down with a mysterious illness, causing him to have a very high temperature and even fits of delirium. All the doctors are working on it, but none of them can quite seem to figure out what's wrong.

In the meantime, wounded arrive, and one of those brought in is DOA--a young man named Weston. As Weston body is put off to the side, we see what can only be called Weston's ghost rise up from it.

Klinger is somehow able to see Weston, and communicate with him, but of course no one else can. Is Weston even there, or is a figment of Klinger's fevered imagination?

We follow Weston as he wanders through the camp, watching everyone else deal with their petty problems--Hawkeye and Winchester argue over which nail each of them gets to hang their clothes on in the Scrub Room, B.J. and Margaret squabble over which fork B.J. likes to use in the Mess Tent, etc.

Weston can't quite accept he's dead, because he says he "doesn't feel dead." He gets upset when he sees his friend Hicks shed tears over his death, uncomfortable over Hick's glossing over all of his faults, just because he's dead. He watches B.J. and Father Mulcahy go through this personal effects, like his wallet, which he fondly recalls getting for the first time.

While watching Hawkeye, B.J., and Winchester get drunk, Weston starts to feel different--he says that it starts to look like "everyone is made up of little dots."

Finally, Weston walks across the compound, and we hear random snippets of conversations taking place all over the 4077th--some of them serious, some of them silly.

On a road outside the camp, Weston is greeted by another soldier who is also dead. He points down the road, partially covered in fog, and they walk down it together, along with some other recently dead. They continue walking until they're out of sight.

The next day, Klinger wakes up, his fever having broken. Everyone is happy to see him better, and he asks about Weston--"Where is he? Did he get what he wanted?"

No one knows what Klinger is talking about, and as the rest of them argue over whose shift it is in Post Op, he's left to lay back in bed, pondering what exactly happened.

Fun Facts: Definitely one of M*A*S*H's most audacious episodes--when you think about it, here's a show that presumably exists in the real world, the world of you and I. And yet here it is, telling us there are, in fact, ghosts, and at least some form of afterlife. Pretty heady stuff.

For most of the episode, you could chalk up all the Weston scenes to Klinger's feverish imagination, brought on by his illness. But the final scene with Weston takes place after Klinger has gotten better, so you know that its not a figment of Klinger's imagination.

One of Klinger's feverish, non-sensical ramblings is "A mouse has four paws, but he doesn't wear a belt." Tracy and I use that all the time, when we're talking about someone or some thing that's a non-sequitur.

There's a brief scene in OR where Hawkeye and Winchester are working together on a patient. For once, there's no jokes or insults, just the two of them working together. You get a really good sense of what a crackerjack team the 4077 doctors are, since even two people as different as Hawkeye and Winchester work together flawlessly.

Favorite Line: When Weston meets up with another dead solider, they walk together to some unknown destination (Heaven?). Weston asks his traveling companion "What did you think it would be like?", to which the young man answers, "I didn't know."

Then Weston waits a beat, and asks, "Where are we going?" The young man answers, with a short of shrug: "I don't know."

There's something about the delivery of that final line that sends shivers down my spine whenever I hear it. You like to think that these dead people are heading to some form of Heaven, but we don't know where they're going...and neither do they (There's one slightly ominous line, where the young man points to the road, and says they have to go "down there"--I hope that's meant to be just a commonly-used term for the road itself).

Major credit to actor Jeff Tyler, who plays the young man, for doing so much with just a couple lines of dialog.


Unknown said...

As always Rob!, yet another fine entry. The ending of this episode reminds me of a Twilight Zone episode (original TZ). I don't know the name but it should be easy to find on the internet. The episode is about a (maybe slightly injured/handicapped) Civil War solider who stops to have a drink at a woman's house. Most of the episode is about them talking back and forth and the solider's growing realization that he is dead. There is yet another group of soliders walking down a road much like the scene you show here. I don't know if the MASH creators used that for inspiration or if they even knew about it, but it paralleled.

What the Parrot Saw said...

^^I've seen that TZ episode and this is similar (what a great show that was!)

I honestly believe that Alda should have won an Emmy for this teleplay. This is one of the best episodes in the entire canon- Klinger is the perfect character to see the dead Weston (his fevered conversations him are hilarious!), and Weston's changing attitudes towards his state of limbo are absolutely pitch-perfect throughout. His walk across the compound over-hearing everyone's thoughts is one of my favorite moments in the series (perhaps oddly?)

The last scene with Weston's joining the other 'spirits' is genuinely touching with wonderfully understated dialogue (as Rob! quotes here). Klinger's confusion at the end hits a bitter-sweet note that makes a perfect ending to a classic episode that blends humor and seriousness to terrific effect.

Albert Giesbrecht said...

I think the dead are in purgatory, and the road never ends.

Robert Gross said...

Favorite line:

Hawkeye (regarding Klinger who has babbled about his relatives incoherently): Someday I have *got* to meet his family.

Unknown said...

This is certainly an award worthy episode. I enjoy television, movies, and writings that make me think beyond the obvious. This particular show certainly accomplished that and interested me enough to look online for commentary. The relationship between Klinger and Weston while the rest of the 4077 was totally self absorbed is possibly the show's truest reflection of real life. I sincerely appreciate creativity of this caliber.

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