Monday, July 6, 2009

Episode 103- Dear Sigmund

Season 5, Episode 103: Dear Sigmund
Original Air Date: 11/9/76
Written by: Alan Alda

Directed by: Alan Alda

Sidney has come to visit again, and he seems to be staying longer than usual--so long that he has time to write a letter "to" Sigmund Freud, where he tells the world famous psychiatrist about what the calls "a kind of spa"--the 4077th.

He describes each member of the 4077th, and shares stories about them--like the time Hawkeye came to do rounds in Post-Op dressed in a pith helmet and swim fins, delivering one-liners like Groucho Marx.

Klinger, pretending to be hit in the head with a chopper blade, all of a sudden speaks only Arabic. Someone else is perpetrating a rash of practical jokes, and no one is safe--not even Col. Potter.

Meanwhile, A bomber pilot named Hathaway (Charles Frank) arrives in camp, oblivious to the destruction he's causing--and the innocent people he's hurting--by keeping himself above the war, both physically and emotionally.

Sidney comes back to the Swamp one day to find Hawkeye and B.J. reading his letter to Freud, which gets Sidney to open up about what's troubling him. He's been having a very difficult time with his patients lately--he missed the signals one "sweet, innocent, troubled kid" gave him, and the boy ended up killing himself. Depressed and unfocused, he's come to the 4077th to feel better: "There's something special about this place--you give life here."

Later that night, he has a drink with Hot Lips. A nice chat turns into a debacle when the self-described "unflappable" Hot Lips gets insulted when she sees an athletic supporter laying nearby. She gets so worked up Sidney has to put his hat over it so she doesn't have to look at it.

During surgery, the bomb pilot--who is helping out in triage, thanks to Hawkeye--sees that one of the wounded is a little girl, about six years old. He is horrified to learn that she was hit by an overhead bomb, and rushes out of the O.R.

Hawkeye follows him out, and the pilot breaks down, realizing what he's been doing and that this isn't, as he calls it, "a clean war."
Sidney, in his letter, talks about Radar, who seems as childlike as the Korean children he plays with, and yet keeps the chaos of the 4077th running smoothly. We also see that he gently handles the task of writing a letter for Col. Potter to the parents of his friend, an ambulance driver who crashed his vehicle due to careless and rushed driving and was killed.

The one person Sidney can't figure out is B.J.--he seems so calm, so serene, yet he figures there must be something bubbling underneath his calm demeanor.

Sidney's suspicions are confirmed when he sees that B.J. is, in fact, the mad practical joker. He helps B.J. fill Frank's air raid bunker with water, then calls Frank out by yelling "Air Raid!" at the top of his lungs. Frank runs out in a panic, falling into the water and splashing around helplessly.

Sidney finally starts to feel better, and heads back to work, but not before noticing all the tin cans Hawkeye and B.J. have tied to his jeep's bumper. He pauses for a moment, sees what's making all that racket, and then drives on.

Fun Facts: One of my all-time favorite episodes. Sidney was always one of (if not the) my favorite M*A*S*H characters, so having a whole episode focusing on him is a delight to watch. Its a testament to the lack of ego the other cast members must have had, to go along with an episode revolving around a guest star.

There's an extraordinary scene where Col. Potter is mad that "O'Donnell"--the ambulance driver--was driving too fast and caused his ambulance to crash, injuring several soldiers. He barks at Radar to tell O'Donnell to meet him in his office for what's surely going to be a chewing out. He ends with "You got that?!?"

Radar pauses, choked up a little bit, and replies, "He's dead, sir." Potter stares for a half second, saying nothing. He then turns on his heel, and storms off.

I'm not describing the scene well at all, but its a marvel of performance and editing, making for a very powerful moment.

Favorite Line: When Frank pops out from under a pile of laundry, Hawkeye shrugs: "Oh God, I thought that lump under his blanket was dirty laundry."

B.J.: "It is."


Russell said...

This is my favorite episode of the entire series...for all the points you mention, Rob, plus the conversation between Frank and Sidney (which is both funny and sad). Those scenes with Radar and Potter you mention always bring a tear to my eye.

Although it is frustrating to think of all the other staff members of the 4077 we never get to see. How many people were AT the MASH, anyway?

What the Parrot Saw said...

rob, this may sound like sycophancy, but when I read your commentaries here they so often mirror my own thoughts on the series. Sidney could have been a regular every episode I would be quite happy. His dry wit and bemusement always adds something unique to every appearance.

This may well be the best episode in which he appears. The conceit in his writing a letter to Freud is perfect ("who better than he would understand?") and his survey of the characters' individual foibles is amusing and even touching. Perfect blend of pathos and humor and an absolute classic episode.

paulyt said...

@What the parrot saw - The producers wanted Sidney to have a full time role, they offered Allan Arbus a full time role when Gary Burghoff told them he was leaving but he turned it down.

What the parrot Saw said...

^^Never knew that!

Lynette said...

This is probably my favorite episode in the entire series. I can't count the number of times I've watched it. But my favorite line has to be "There's a link between anger and wit. Anger turned inward is depression. Anger turned sideways is Hawkeye." I've always believed that line to be a PERFECT description of Hawkeye's character.

Anonymous said...

What Sidney was doing in writing to Sigmund Freud was a form of self-therapy.

Robert Gross said...

I love when Col. Potter tells Radar not to change a word of his ghost-written letter.

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