Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Episode 191 - Dreams

Season 8, Episode 191: Dreams
Original Air Date: 2/18/80
Written by: Alan Alda and James Rubinfier

Directed by: Alan Alda

The 4077th is hit by the biggest batch of wounded they've ever seen, driving everyone in camp to the point of complete exhaustion.

No one has time to sleep any more than an hour or two at a time, and we get to see some of the bizarre, sad, and even nightmarish dreams they have.

Margaret dreams of herself on her wedding night, in a passionate embrace with her groom. But then a line of soldiers march by, and her husband leaves her, marching off. Her bed is then filled with bloody, wounded soldiers, reaching out to her for help. We last see her standing in a field, her wedding dress stained with blood, as she stands there looking stunned.

B.J, catching a nap during a break from surgery, dreams of his wife Peg (Catherine Bergstrom). They are dancing at a fancy party, and stroll their way into the OR. Col. Potter interrupts them, asking B.J. to perform an operation. He does, ignoring Peg. She stands there for a moment or two, and then walks off.

Potter falls asleep in his office, and his dreams starts with a horse wandering in. Potter, now dressed in his WWI uniform, climbs aboard, playing polo with a live grenade. As the grenade explodes into fireworks, Potter then stumbles across his boyhood home, and sees himself riding a horse, hearing the sound of his mother calling him to dinner.

Winchester dreams of himself as a magician, performing tricks and entertaining the other members of the camp. A patient is wheeled out, and Winchester tries greater and greater tricks. But the patient gets worse, leading Winchester to try more and more, to no avail. He's finally left tap dancing and twirling sparklers. He wakes up from this, sweating profusely, muttering, "Damn."

The recovering patients are piling up so much that all the beds in Post Op are turned into bunk beds, and Father Mulcahy takes a moment to hear one patient's confession.

But he's so exhausted he falls asleep, the patient's confession turning into gibberish. Mulcahy dreams of himself dressed in flowing, glowing robes, and he is welcome to his pulpit like the Pope. He begins to speak to his flock, when suddenly drops of blood splatter his Bible. He looks up, and what was a statue of Jesus is now a bleeding soldier, and the pews full of parishoners is now an OR.

Klinger dreams of himself back in Toledo, where he wanders windy, desolate, empty streets. He stops at Tony Paco's, where inside is an OR. There he sees Potter, calling him inside. On Potter's operating table is...Klinger himself. Klinger is happy to be awakened from this dream by Kellye, who tells him Potter wants him to patch through a call.

Potter gets a wounded general to make a call to a nebbishy private, who refuses to send ambulances to pick up the wounded. After being threatened, the private relents, meaning the 4077th will finally be getting some relief.

With the crisis over, everyone meets up in the Mess Tent. Hawkeye is so exhausted he falls asleep at the table, and he dreams he's back in med school. He has fallen asleep, and his professor takes it out on him by removing Hawkeye's arm (in this instance, a mannequin arm) and tossing it into a river.

When the professor asks Hawkeye what the procedure is to reattach a limb, he can't answer, apologizing for being asleep. The professor responds by removing Hawkeye's other arm, also tossing it into a river. Hawkeye then finds himself, armless, in a boat filled with severed limbs.

He spots a bleeding little girl, and is helpless. He then finds himself in front of an operating table, where a nurse hands him a scalpel. Helpless, he screams into the heavens, waking himself up. Now awake, he sees there are more wounded arriving, and he heads out of the tent.

Later, everyone is back in the Mess Tent. They all plan to go back to their tents and sleep, but when Winchester absent-mindedly quotes, "Ah, sleep...perchance to dream", everyone sits back down for another cup of coffee.

Fun Facts: This is a great, format-busting episode: an idea that could've easily fallen flat on its face but doesn't.

That said,
I've always felt this episode was a bit of a lost opportunity: since this episode consists of dream sequences, wouldn't it have been amazing to see Wayne Rogers, McLean Stevenson, or Larry Linville return to the show, just this one time? In particular, I could picture Margaret's dream involving Frank in some way.

This is the first time we got to see Peg. She has no dialogue in this episode, but she will when she returns for another episode.

I thought it was interesting that, out of all of them, only Potter's dream is not nightmarish or scary.

In Suzy Kalter's The Complete Book of M*A*S*H (1984), her write-up of this episode features this still:
...no such scene exists in this episode, as Hawkeye makes no appearance in Margaret's dream.

Over 251 episodes, there must have been at least a few choice "deleted scenes"--too bad they were not included on any of the M*A*S*H DVDs.

Favorite Line: The young soldier confessing to Mulcahy has to speak gibberish to show how Mulcahy isn't really hearing him, and its all nonsensical stuff, except for one part where he says: "But fringes are gerbel, you know?"


Neal said...

I was disappointed with this episode. I too thought it was a missed opportunity, but for different reasons. The dreams themselves seemed too pat and obvious. Each dream was basically the same: the horror of war intruding on the normal life they yearned to return to. Only Colonel Potter's dream reflected a unique perspective. I wished they had been more creative and exposed aspects to the characters we had not previously seen. It just seemed to be the same old "war is hell" mantra that was getting pretty old by the time this episode aired. I got a little tired of the anti-war message as the show continued because I felt that they were, in a sense, exploiting war for big ratings and profits. Every time they griped about the war and begged to go home, I would think, "You can go home. Just end the series!" I think it would've been more appropriate if they have been brave enough to end the series after seven seasons like The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

Russell said...

I agree with Neal. Besides Potter's dream, which I always thought was great, I thought maybe one or two of the "war is hell" dreams were fine (say, Margaret and BJ) but to have all the rest of them be basically the same is just plain bad writing. Besides, I *really* don't think Charles would have had that particular dream; does he really see himself as a magician of little substance? I don't think so.

This season is probably my least favorite. It just seemed *old,* even when it was trying to do new stuff like this...

What the Parrot Saw said...

I disagree- while the content of the characters' individual dreams are not that surprising, the surreal touches present in each are at the very least interesting. Admittedly, none of them venture into David Lynch territory, but the juxtaposition of the OR as a setting for such relatively bizarre imagery was an inspired idea that generally comes off.

The dreams remain intriguing- if anything, I wish that they were more 'out there' but that would difficult to pull off in a serious vein for any TV show. Consider that the hack move would have been an hour long 'special episode' with the dreams toned down a notch, related directly to some actual event in the plot (a patient needs some rare blood type: Hawkeye proceeds to dream of a Swamp poker game in which they are playing with bottles of cross-matched blood), with Sydney roped in at the end to provide a comforting word.

A lot happens here in 25+ odd minutes in an episode that doesn't milk the dream angle to otherwise patch holes in a plotline or to provide cheap laughs.

One of my favorites.

Anonymous said...

I couldn't finish the episode. Not trying to be melodramatic, but I'm sitting in Afghanistan and it was just too much. I turned it off (hit "next" actually) after Hawkeye pulled off his left arm and the guy asked for the other and the look on Charles' and Hawkeyes' faces was just too much and filled me with dread. I've seen that look and others have seen that look on my face. It affected me. War is Hell.

Great site btw--if you're still checking comments :)

rob! said...


Thank you for the comment.

Its a testament to how powerful MASH--and this episode in particular--still is, 30 + years after it aired. Sorry it was a little too much for you.

I assume you're in the service, that's why you're in Afghanistan? If so, I thank you for your service and hope you come home soon!

RobAsWell said...

I skip this episode every time I fire up the DVDs. There is just something about it that is too weird and creepy. A powerful episode, to be sure.

Glad to read the troops are still watching M*A*S*H!

Anonymous said...

Talk about underrated episode! A lot of fans don't seem to "get" this episode, as if there's anything to "get" - these people are soldiers on the front lines, and the war even invades their dreams.

The real genius of this episode, however, is the fact that these are like real dreams someone would have in real life. Far too often on television, we see "dream" sequences played more for laughs than for realism. Whoever wrote this episode obviously pays attention to their dreams.

Also genius is the fact that each dream is so unique to each character. Hawkeye's dreams reflect his fears of screwing up in the OR, Klinger dreams of home, Father Mulcahy dreams of finally being "useful" as the pope...these are dreams we can believe these characters would actually have, because they reflect who they are. Perhaps Potter is the only one with the pleasant dream because, as the soldier with the most amount of experience in war, he has learned to have a certain level of optimism even when faced with the horrors of war.

I can't say enough good things about this episode. That many fans (present company excepted) denigrate this episode because they're more concerned with being "entertained" than examining the inner thoughts of these beloved characters says more about them than it does 'Dreams'.

What the Parrot Saw said...

^Great comment, anon, particularly regarding Potter; that could not have been an accident.

This episode has long been in my top ten.

Rob: great to see the blog is still going! Love the podcasts.

Alastair said...

I was surprised to see Gary Burghoff included in the credits. He didn't feature in any of the dream sequences that I could see.

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