Season 10, Episode 220: Communication Breakdown
Original Air Date: 11/30/81
Written by: Karen Hall
Directed by: Alan Alda
The 4077th is suffering from a breakdown in the mail system involving second class mail, so there hasn't been any reading material--newspapers, magazines, etc.--for weeks.
The only person getting a newspaper is Winchester, whose family sent him a package containing a week's worth of The Boston Globe. He opens the package carefully and with great ceremony, treating the papers as if they were sacred parchments.
Hawkeye and B.J. of course want dibs, but Winchester refuses, only allowing them to read each day's paper after he's done with it. Hawkeye and B.J. reluctantly agree to the deal.
After a session in OR, Winchester sees Father Mulcahy sitting outside the Swamp, reading one of his papers. He tries to shoo Mulcahy inside (after lying about how he got them, claiming they were used to wrap fish), but he's too late: people walking the compound see it, and a crowd develops, each of them wanting to get their hands on it.
Finally, Winchester gets so fed up he offers the camp the same deal he offered Hawkeye and B.J, with the same grumbling response.
After a couple of days, Winchester sees one of the papers is missing, and he immediately assumes "some lowlife" in the camp stole it. So he goes on the P.A., accusing anyone and everyone of the crime, and rescinds the offer.
This leads to an ever-escalating series of vengeful acts--first, someone steals his bathrobe, followed by all of his possessions (except the papers). That leads Winchester to keep everyone up all night playing music over the P.A.
When his possessions are not returned, Winchester decides to do something big--collapse the Mess Tent as everyone is inside eating. Just as he boards a jeep he's using for the task, he's stopped by Col. Potter, who is enraged and points out Winchester's fatal mistake, revealed in the very newspapers that started all this.
Winchester is forced to apologize via the P.A. and admit that there was a "wildcat truckers strike" on May 5th, stopping the delivery of the paper to some areas--meaning the paper wasn't stolen, it never arrived in the first place!
That settled, Col. Potter takes that day's paper and acts like Mayor LaGuardia, reading aloud Li'l Abner to everyone in camp. Everyone enjoys Potter's effort, but they burst into hysterics when Winchester is forced to beg for his clothes back!
Fun Facts: There's a scene between Winchester and Nurse Kellye involving sub-titles, the only time the show would use them.
There's a solid B-plot about a patient of Hawkeye's, a North Korean soldier, who ends up being guarded by his brother, who is part of the South Korean army. Hawkeye contrives a way to allow them to talk to one another, since they can't do it out in the open without risking their lives.
This episode aired 28 years ago today!
Favorite Line: Instead of a line, its a camera move: Winchester climbs aboard a jeep he's using to get revenge. As he does, the camera pans over slightly, and in the shot suddenly is Col. Potter, looking as angry as we've seen him, blocking the jeep's path.
I'm not describing it well, but it stands out because M*A*S*H generally didn't do jokes based on the staging of any given scene.