Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Episode 199 - Death Takes A Holiday

Season 9, Episode 199: Death Takes A Holiday
Original Air Date: 12/15/80
Written by: Mike Farrell, John Rappaport, Dennis Koenig, Thad Mumford & Dan Wilcox, and Burt Metcalfe

Directed by: Mike Farrell

Its Christmas, and there's a truce on. Everyone is preparing for the big Christmas feats for the the nearby orphanage. When the supply line that was supposed to deliver the food gets cut, all of the 4077th band together and donate their holiday care packages--B.J. donates fudge, Nurse Kellye donates Macadamia nuts, and Rizzo donates...pig's feet.

They turn to Winchester to donate, but he offers just a small tin of oysters, despite him having received several large packages marked "perishable" in the last few weeks. Despite constant insults from everyone, Winchester refuses to budge.

We see, though, that Winchester has his own plans: he's bringing all the packages to the nearby orphanage, late at night. When he's caught the orphanage's headmaster, Choi Sung Ho (Keye Luke), Winchester tells him its part of a Winchester Family tradition: on Christmas Eve, they leave an anonymous gift of expensive, handmade chocolates on the doorstep of a needy family. Mr. Ho gratefully accepts the gifts, promising Winchester to keep it a secret.

Meanwhile, the truce is broken when a wounded solider is brought in just as the 4077th is kicking off the Christmas party for the kids. Hawkeye, B.J., and Margaret decide to take the case, and keep it secret from everyone else, lest the holiday spirit be ruined.

The young man is seriously wounded, and both Hawkeye and B.J. are certain he's going to die. After seeing a picture of the young man with his family, B.J. decides to continue working on him, determined to keep the man alive long enough so that he won't die on Christmas Day.

Meanwhile, at the party, Winchester sees Rizzo eating a piece of the expensive chocolate. When Rizzo tells him he got in on the Black Market, Winchester asks one of the orphans if they got any chocolate for Christmas. When the little girl says no, Winchester angrily confronts Mr. Ho.

They go outside (with Klinger overhearing the whole conversation), where Mr. Ho admits he sold all the chocolate. Winchester is enraged, calling him a "parasite", but Mr. Ho explains that the chocolate was so valuable that, on the Black Market, it could buy enough rice and cabbage to feed the kids for a month.

Winchester, stunned, apologizes, realizing, as he says, "It's improper to give dessert to a child who's had no meal." Mr. Ho accepts, and returns to the party, with Winchester going back to the Swamp.

As Hawkeye and B.J. continue working, Klinger visits Winchester, bringing with him small samples of all the food at the party. When Winchester asks what the gag is, Klinger says its not a gag: "It's an old family tradition...one that must remain anonymous."

Back in Pre-Op, the young man is about to die. B.J. is so caught up in the moment, though, he tries to stop Father Mulcahy from performing the last rites, alarming everyone.

B.J. calms down, but wants to keep working, but Hawkeye insists he stop: "Let him go...let him rest." B.J. listens, feeling defeated.

Hawkeye then walks to the clock on the wall, and moves the hands to past midnight, declaring: "Look, he made it." They decide, instantaneously, to fake the death certificate.

Later, they run into Col. Potter and a young Korean boy dressed in a Santa hat. Potter saved the last four pieces of fudge for them, which they use as a toast. As the snow falls, B.J. wishes the rest of them a Merry Christmas.

Fun Facts: One of my favorite later-period episodes, since I find both A and B plots compelling.

That said, the whole idea of the doctors working so hard not to let their patient die on Christmas seems a little thin to build a whole episode on: I can't say from experience (thankfully), but I would imagine someone close to me dying on December 26th wouldn't be that much different than them dying on the 25th.

The little kid Potter uses an elf is unbelievably cute. When he offers his tray of food to the doctors, he says in a squeaky voice, "Fudge!", which Tracy and I never fail to imitate when he hear it. Seriously--it should be a ringtone or something.

Favorite Line: When Winchester learns that Klinger knows about his efforts to give the orphans the chocolate, he turns, looks at Klinger, and quietly says, "Thank you, Max."

Klinger responds: "Merry Christmas...Charles."


Russell said...

I agree with you, Rob, that this is one of the better later-period episodes. The Charles-Klinger exchange is especially heartwarming. The scenes between BJ and Father Mulcahy are also great; "You've done your job, BJ, and now it's time for me to do mine!" You tell him, Father!!

Although at the end I am always struck by the idea: why didn't they just lie in the first place? So I guess I agree with you again, Rob.

If this was available on some type of "Christmas at MASH" collection I would buy it. However, the rest of season 9 doesn't make it worthwhile to get the whole season just for this episode.

wiestika said...

I would say part of the reason it mattered to them that he die on December 26th as opposed to Christmas Day has to do with getting every victory you can in wartime. For them, being there as long as they had, this tiny victory (if you can call it a victory) somehow helped them get through a terrible situation...just a thought.

What the Parrot Saw said...

A solid s9 entry. BJ's unwillingness to let the patient die on Xmas is fine pathos, as is Hawk and BJ's disagreement (Hawk: "Let him rest! It's over...").

The final exchange between Klinger and Charles at the end of their scene in the Swamp is one of my favorite moments in the entire series. Just the two acknowledging each other by their first names, but the genuine respect between the two men is unmistakable.

A wonderful moment (and scene).

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, in my family, we've had one December 24th death (discovered the morning of the 25th) and 2 December 26th deaths. A good friend's family has also experienced a December 24th one. While all deaths are difficult and painful, when it occurs on Christmas Eve/Day or another such widely observed holiday, the anniversary of the death is inextricably linked to the holiday.

Some people manage to gain a spiritual perspective. One of the survivors looks at Christmas Eve mass as a way to pay tribute to the person's life. Another would drink too much, pass out and have screaming, raging meltdowns (before the passing out). The person got sober, but still has the meltdowns.

Anonymous said...

PS Another aspect that makes a Christmas Eve/Christmas Day death difficult is that aspects of the holiday became associated with the death. Decorations can trigger memories of the death. Which considering decorating season in the retail sector starts in about October can prolong the grieving process the first few years.

In my experience, this can also be the case with deaths near Christmas such as the 26th, it's a lot more pronounced for the 24th/25th. Plus there's often pressure on the survivors to participate in festive activities they may not be up to for the first couple of years. It the contrast between the expectations of joy and grief which can be tough.

Going back to that episode, it would be difficult for the soldier's children to get excited about Santa when it's also the day of their father's death. His wife would have a hard time trying to provide a festive day for the children knowing her husband died on that same date. Granted, it wouldn't be that much easier knowing his death was the day after Christmas, but there is an important distinction.

Russell said...

Rob, I guess I have more to add to this. My mother died on Dec 11. It has marked Christmas for me this year, and I'm guessing, for the rest of my life. I now can't imagine if I had to mark this day as the same day as Christmas. I think MASH (BJ) got it right. :-(

Anonymous said...

I am a surgeon. I can imagine working that hard so someone does not die on Christmas, as I have done it.

Gye Greene said...

Hi! Yep -- a great episode. I found your blog by Googling, trying to find out which episode this was (so I could watch it while eating dinner).

Dying on a certain date: Yep, it indeed matters. A co-worker's dad died on the co-worker's birthday, and that tainted the whole thing for my co-worker (he refused to celebrate his own birthday for twenty years). Likewise, my grandmother died during Thanksgiving dinner (she had cancer, so it wasn't a total surprise). So Thanksgiving is kind of a bummer: it would've been better if she'd died on the day BEFORE, or the day AFTER, Thanksgiving.

Thanks for the blog: a useful internet resource. :)


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