Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Episode 134 - The Merchant of Korea

Season 6, Episode 134: The Merchant of Korea
Original Air Date: 12/20/77
Written by: Ken Levine and David Isaacs

Directed by: William Jurgensen

B.J. gets a telegram from his wife Peg telling him they have a chance to buy a piece of property they've had their eye on for a long time--if he can come up with the $200 down payment in the next 24 hours.

B.J. asks around, but both Hawkeye and Radar are pretty much broke. In desperation, he turns to the richest guy he knows--his fellow Swamp Rat Winchester.

Winchester gives him the money, but soon after he starts to treat B.J. like a "$200 houseboy", asking him for small favor after small favor. Things get worse when payday, which was scheduled the next day, is delayed when the 4077th's money is accidentally sent to Guam.

This keeps B.J. indebted to Winchester, and leaves everyone in the camp broke...except for Winchester, of course. And when he pays Hawkeye's bar tab in the Officers Club, he starts treating Hawkeye in the same "do me a small favor" manner.

This drives them both to distraction, and they come up with the idea to have a poker game and invite Winchester, who knows nothing of the game, to play, intending to rob him blind.

News of the game spreads, and with the idea of Winchester sitting in, everyone joins in. At first, Winchester acts uncertain and hesitant, which causes everyone else to bet heavily. But the joke's on them when Winchester wins the first hand, drawing a straight out of a four-card draw!

This continues all night, with Winchester winning hand after hand ("First the war, now this", Hawkeye offers), leaving everyone else off more broke than they were before.

In the middle of the night, Winchester asks for a break, and takes a walk outside. Back inside the O Club, everyone marvels at how Winchester is winning so much. They then notice that Winchester has a tell...he whistles, loudly, when he's bluffing.

With this piece of information, they commence playing, and when Winchester starts whistling loudly again, everyone antes up confidently.

Morning arrives, and Winchester is cleaned out. He's fronted money for the last hand by Hawkeye and B.J., after they both paid off the money they owe him over the course of the night. He loses that hand, too, officially ending the marathon session.

As everyone clears out, Hawkeye and B.J. goof on Winchester for losing so much, but he takes it all in stride, boasting he's spent more money than this on a "late-night snack at home."

Since he now owes them money, they guilt Winchester into sticking around and cleaning up the O Club, which he does, whistling opera the whole time.

Fun Facts: There's a fun speech where, when talking about the property B.J. is buying, Winchester talks about some land his father owned in Hyannisport. They loved it, until "This large family moved in next door--nouveau riche--played a perpetual game of touch football on their lawn. Naturally, we moved out."

as a series, rarely played up the fact that the show was set in the past, which would enable it to make jokes about events that haven't (to the characters) happened yet but viewers would be familiar with.

The syndicated edit of this episode always took that speech out, but seeing it again on DVD as an adult gave me a big laugh. If only Winchester had made friends with that family, he might have been able to pull some strings and get himself transferred out of the 4077th!

B.J. goes on and on about the little piece of land he and Peg now own outside of San Francisco. I can't be positive, but I'm pretty sure this was the beginning of my semi-obsession with that part of the country. I visited San Francisco in 2001, and loved it, and part of me eventually wants to move there and live in the same general area that the Hunnicutts did.

Favorite Line: Hawkeye is mad that he can't order a drink at the O Club because he hasn't paid off his bar tab, and without any money he can't for the forseeable future.

He turns to B.J., furious. Gesturing to the bartender, Zale, he says, "Can you believe the nerve of this guy?"

B.J., mockingly sarcastic, "After all you owe him!"


Russell said...

This episode proves that Levine & Isaacs could come up with comedy if they had to. This is the funniest episode since Images, which had a definite "sad" sub-plot with Margaret and the nurses. I love it when Charles says, "First of all, I don't sweat, I perspire, and second of all...I don't perspire." All the characters had their moments in this episode, but I think my favorite is the Margaret-Radar-Potter scene where Radar gets away with calling Donald cheap; when Margaret is about to smack him, he cries out, hiding behind Potter, "You said it first!" Funny, funny stuff.

What the Parrot Saw said...

This is an excellent episode, looking back. I agree with Russell's and your observations, rob!... truly, everything here works.

Charles acts completely in character throughout; not mean, but just high-handed enough that we can enjoy getting aggravated at him. This may be the first episode this season in which his character truly jelled.

The Kennedy anecdote is also perfect. It might be noted that this blue-blood makes no remarks about them being Irish or Catholic- even better, it seems as if his family (or at perhaps just Charles) probably distanced themselves enough in order not to find out! Yet, ex-ambassador Joseph P. Kennedy could (and probably would loved to) have pulled strings to help Charles, ostensibly just a favor for a neighbor's son. After all, the Winchesters could be of help with John's senate campaign in another quid pro quo.
It's a gem of an aside...

Also, it is only fitting that it is Radar who unwittingly discovers Charles' tell. (Even Charles' beginners luck (?) is believable; remember the cribbage game that got him sent to the 4077th in the first place?

After some of the missteps this season, this is an episode which effortlessly recalls the easy familiarity and humor of earlier seasons, buttressed by an innate sense of what makes its characters tick. Great episode!

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