Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Episode 149 - The Billfold Syndrome

Season 7, Episode 149: The Billfold Syndrome
Original Air Date: 10/16/78
Written by: Ken Levine & David Isaacs

Directed by: Alan Alda

Along with the wounded arriving late at night is a medic, Sgt. Jerry Nielsen (Kevin Geer). Nielsen asks if he can come in to OR and watch the doctors work. Winchester rudely turns him down, but Hawkeye as Chief Surgeon overrules him and let's Nielsen watch.

In the OR, Winchester is even more short-tempered, and everyone else finally demands to know why. He reveals that because he's stuck in Korea for the foreseeable future, he has lost his chance at being Chief of Thoracic Surgery at Boston Hospital. Everyone is sympathetic, but Winchester isn't having any of it. Back at the Swamp, he finally gets so mad he states he will not talk to anyone in the 4077th ever again. Hawkeye and B.J. of course take this as a challenge.

While they try and find ways to get to him to talk, they are faced with a more serious challenge: more wounded arrive, again accompanied by Sgt. Nielsen. Except this time, he seems dazed, and doesn't seem to know who or where he is. He points to his dog tag, asking "Is this me?"

They immediately put in a call to Sidney Freedman, who diagnoses the problem as The Billfold Syndrome--a man looks at his billfold, but can't place himself.

He meets with Nielsen, and decides to put him under hypnosis. With the help of Hawkeye and B.J., he takes Nielsen back to the moment where he lost his memory. We learn that Nielsen, on top of all of his other duties as a medic, was responsible for looking after his kid brother, who was also in the unit. During a battle, Nielsen's little brother was killed. Nielsen, filled with guilt, had a breakdown.

Coming out of the trance, Nielsen is himself again, and collapses into tears on Sidney's shoulder.

Later, a fake telegram sent to Winchester (supposedly from Boston Hospital) gets him to talk. When Winchester learns its a practical joke, he gets revenge by collapsing the roof of the Swamp on top of Hawkeye, B.J., and Sidney after dropping off a telegram that simply says, "Gentlemen: Heads up."

Fun Facts: Another solid Sidney Freeman episode (aren't they all?). I love his reaction when Radar tells him he can have the VIP tent as soon as he moves his animals out: "Sounds very comfy!"

Favorite Line: Hawkeye and B.J., desperate to get Winchester to talk, lob insults tailor made to get under his skin. Among them: "Winchester, your parents voted for Roosevelt--four times!"


What the Parrot Saw said...

Syd's "meatball psychiatry" here makes for great drama (Kevin Geer is great throughout this episode- another solid one-shot character!) but the psychiatry behind the re-enactment always struck me as little far-fetched. Then again, I'm no psychiatrist... wonder if there is any literature on this technique?

Charles' devastatingly cold shoulder to all and sundry here is hilarious. The B-plot here is one of the season's funniest.

Hawkeye's FDR jibe is classic, and the whole getting Charles to talk scheme is inevitable but nonetheless hilarious.

BJ: "Well, we got him to talk"
Hawk: "That's nothing! I can make him yell..."

The mix of humor and drama at this point in the series is still strong.

What the Parrot Saw said...

Forgive me one further comment. :-)

The re-enactment scene might be one the best ever serious scenes to feature Sydney. Genuinely tense and Geer pulls off a truly stunning moment in the split second between his hypnotized recall of the battlefield and his sudden remembering of the event out of hypnosis; he very creditably segues from blank stare to sobbing in literally 2-3 seconds.

This is the stuff of acting workshops, but very difficult to do. Kudos to Geer!

Russell said...

I agree this episode mixes the drama and the comedy well...for the first time this season, IMHO.

Poor Jerry always gets me to tear up a bit when he realizes his brother is dead; BJ and Hawkeye's looks and comments, too, are spot on...wonderful episode.

mark said...

I see certain parallels between Jerry Nielsen and Captain Arnold Chandler in "Quo Vadis, Captain Chandler" (season 4). Both forgot who they are after a traumatic event, but Chandler claimed to be Jesus Christ. Both times Sidney was involved, but this time at least he didn't have Colonel Flagg breathing down his neck! (Later that season, Charles would fix Flagg's wagon, but good).

Charles's stunt with the jeep foreshadows his behavior in "Communication Breakdown" (season 10).

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