Friday, September 11, 2009

Episode 158 - Dear Sis

Season 7, Episode 158: Dear Sis
Original Air Date: 12/18/78
Written by: Alan Alda

Directed by: Alan Alda

Father Mulcahy is writing a letter home to his sister, and he's bemoaning his relative lack of usefulness at the 4077th. He tries to help out with an ornery patient in OR, but instead of being able to talk him down, it requires Margaret to shoot the patient with a sedative, leaving Mulcahy to feel like he didn't help much.

Later, Radar asks him to say a prayer for their pregnant sow over the phone, which he agrees to. But before he can finish, the sow goes into labor, requiring the advice of Winchester, who is waiting to use the phone to call his sister. Again, Mulcahy feels useless.

He admits no one comes for confession, or even just to chat. Serving as bartender, he tries to comfort those drowning their sorrows with booze over being stuck in Korea over Christmas, but he keeps getting interrupted, never getting to finish a thought.

Later, wounded arrive, and one lightly-wounded patient is short-tempered and combative. When Margaret tries to check his wound, he pushes her off, insisting he see a doctor. Mulcahy tries to help, but the soldier angrily pushes him away, too, onto the ground. Mulcahy pauses for a moment, rears back, and belts the young man, so hard in the jaw he knocks him out of his stretcher. Mulcahy can't believe what he's done.

In Post Op, he tries to apologize, but the soldier is an even bigger jerk, ridiculing Mulcahy, asking where was he ordained: "Stillman's Gym?"

Mulcahy is devastated. He goes outside to cry, and Hawkeye follows him out and tries to comfort him. Mulcahy admits it isn't just the punch--its that he feels useless at the 4077th.

Hawkeye, B.J, Margaret, and Potter "celebrate" Christmas in his office. Potter has a stiff upper lip, but his three younger friends are miserable. Potter tries to cheer them up, taking them all to the "traditional turkey dinner" the cook has prepared in the Mess Tent.

They all cheer up at the prospect, but their enthusiasm is quickly dimmed when they got a load of the meal--turkey on shingles with cranberry sausage--which Potter can't even bring himself to eat.

Christmas presents are dispensed by Capt. "Santa" Hunnicutt, and Winchester is surprised to learn that there's one for him: his old childhood toboggan hat, which makes Winchester's eyes tear up with nostalgia. He thanks Radar, who admits the whole thing was Father Mulcahy's idea.

Winchester tearfully thanks Mulcahy, saying he's a credit to "Your kind of person", the most effusive praise he can muster.

There's also a present for Mulcahy: Hawkeye leads everyone in a toast to Mulcahy, thanking him for his simple decency and kindness. He also has everyone sing "
Dona Nobis Pacem"--"Give Us Peace."

It starts to snow, making the 4077th almost look pretty. Unfortunately, wounded arrive, breaking up the festive mood.

Everyone goes to work, and Mulcahy ends the letter to his sister with "It doesn't matter if you feel useful going from one disaster to another--the trick I guess is to just keep moving."

Fun Facts: Another episode in the "Dear..." format; this time it's Father Mulcahy's turn. The final shot of the show--Mulcahy moving briskly in the darkness--is beautifully composed.

There's a scene in OR where Potter and Margaret seem sort of rude to Mulcahy, which is a bit out of character, especially for Potter. So much so, it makes me think that this episode--or that scene at least--is being told from Mulcahy's point of view, not necessarily relating how it really happened.

Favorite Line: Potter, recalling another Christmas at war: "I remember one Christmas in the Black Forest: the company horse died and the cook tried to pass him off as dark meat. I cried all through dinner."


Russell said...

This is another one of my favorites. I agree with William Christopher, who has said that Father Mulcahy could have been a much stronger presence in a lot of the episodes. His simple "being there" in this episode helps "save" Winchester, in one of the most touching moments of the entire series, and probably the best Christmas episode they did.

Dr. Eric said...

I hate to be a nitpicker, but the song at the end is spelled Dona Nobis Pacem. The song is a very moving scene.

rob! said...

Dr. Eric-

No apology necessary. I did the best I could to figure out the title when I couldn't find any listing of it on Google--thanks for setting me straight. Duly corrected!

What the Parrot Saw said...

I made time to watch this after reading this synopsis- truly an excellent episode all around.

William Christopher carries his own "Dear ..." episode with considerable aplomb- another reminder of the vast reservoir of talent the series had to draw on. (His soliloquy in a later season at the comatose boxer's bedside is one of the series' best ever)

Alda pulled off a quiet gem here.

Anonymous said...

This is truly a very sweet episode. Cudos to Alan Alda for doing a fantastic job with this one. Every scene in this episode is either saddening in the sense you feel sorry for Father Mulcahy and for the personnel who are spending a Christmas away from home or moving with the acts of kindness and moments of unity. Everyone singing Dona Nobis Pachem is very touching, especially with Mulcahy's "Amen" at the end.

I just have one question though. In the end while, everyone is looking outside at the snow falling, someone says "All of a sudden this place is pretty". However, I do not recognize the voice. Anybody have any clue who said that? Thanks a bunch!

P.S. Congratulation to everyone that made M*A*S*H possible on 40 years of tears and laughter. Happy Anniversary 4077th! =)

Dr. Eric said...

I believe it is Col. Potter.

Robert Gross said...

After the "Stillman's Gym" comment, Father Mulcahy should've decked him again.

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