Episode Spotlight: Exorcism

Every Monday, I spotlight a random episode of M*A*S*H, providing a brief review and asking readers to offer their thoughts.

“Exorcism” (#108, 5×12)
Originally Broadcast: Tuesday, December 14th, 1976
Teleplay by Jay Folb
Story by Gene Reynolds & Jay Folb
Directed by Alan Alda

Capsule Summary: After Colonel Potter orders Radar to remove a spirit post, strange things start going wrong at the 4077th, leading Hawkeye to bring in a priestess to perform an exorcism.

This is a bizarre episode and I’m not entirely sure how I feel about it. There are a few good jokes but the exorcism sequence doesn’t seem to fit and the B-story isn’t really much of a story at all.

The most amusing part of the episode comes when Hawkeye tells Kyong Ja he’ll try to exorcise the spirits (Hawkeye: “Acetyl, salicylic, phenobarb and arsphenamine.”) and then Frank walks out of pre-op (Hawkeye: “My God, it worked.”) and Radar begins to laugh hysterically. The scene in the Swamp in which B.J. and Hawkeye tease Frank about his cologne is also a funny one, too.

Exorcising spirits
Exorcising spirits

The actual exorcism, although impressive in its execution, is difficult to take seriously. Although I am sure research was done to ensure the priestess and the ceremony were as accurate as possible, it just looked like she was dancing around the camp and in the operating room. It was a piece of performance art not a religious or spiritual ceremony.

There aren’t a lot of episodes that delve so deeply into Korean beliefs and customs. Although everyone other than Frank is certainly respectful to some degree (Hawkeye’s pretend exorcism is really quite mocking in tone) and in the end Potter decides to have the spirit post put back, you can’t help but get the sense that everyone was laughing a little bit at the whole thing. Hawkeye tricking Frank out of $10 by exorcising his radio in the tag isn’t particularly respectful of Korean culture.

I suppose that’s the point of the episode. Klinger may believe wholeheartedly in spirits and jinxes but everyone else is just trying to help an old man who needs an operation. They’re humoring him and letting him have his way because they want to save his life. I wonder if the episode would have worked better had it dealt solely with Korean superstition and left out all the bad luck and broken lights and strange occurrences. Although that ground may have been covered in other episodes.

The Corporal Marsh B-story doesn’t add much to the episode because it doesn’t go anywhere. He’s at the 4077th for a second time, winds up there a third time, and then leaves. That’s it. Are we supposed to think he was affected by evil spirits, too?

7 Comments

  • Admittedly, whenever I watch Season Five on DVD or TV, I usually skip over this episode… not because I don’t like it, or that it doesn’t do anything for me (which it really doesn’t), but because believe it or not, I’ve actually had encounters and problems with spirits before in the past, I am not lying, and it seems like whenever I watch something that has to do with spirits like this episode (or say ghost hunting shows and things like that), they turn out to be invitation for the spirits to come to me. Matter of fact, I’ve had to have an exorcism before too. Back in the summer of 2008, I was being visited by a spirit every night for maybe a week or two: it would go through the things on my desk, or hover over me and consume my energy, but then finally, one night, I actually saw it in a vision – he was a little boy, maybe six or seven years old… don’t know why he decided it was me he wanted to play with, but finally had a Catholic priest come over and exorcize to send him on his way, and he even blessed the play with Holy Water.

    Another experience was years earlier, it was early in the morning, there was still a little bit of time before I had to get up, so I still laid in bed half asleep, then the covers were just ripped from the bed, but when I sat up, there was nobody there. What’s more, it turns out the same thing happened to my down, only he also felt someone lift him up, then push him back down.

    So, yeah.

  • chuckles says:

    I personally think this is one of the all -time lowest episodes that was made. Really pretty stupid……one exception. The only funny part I liked is when Hawk was trying to cast out evil spirits from the OR and Frank walked out just as he finished. Hawk replied, “God, it worked!”

  • Mal says:

    Who played the part of the priestess? She was never credited.

  • Susan says:

    I liked this episode, it was funny. Things like spirits and demons and things like are most definitely the product of peoples imaginations. I know this lady who raised believing in demons, and everywhere she would go, she “saw” them. In other words, she was indoctrinated and brainwashed from infancy into believing this junk, so of course, she would be affected by it when she got older. A persons imagination is a very tricky thing, and this episode pretty much puts it all in the correct perspective. Love the way Hawkeye was doing his own excorsim, hilarious!

  • Julie Nielsen says:

    I love watching this lady dancing. It’s beautiful the way the fabric of her costume flows with the the late afternoon sun showing through. She’s very graceful. One of my favorite episodes.
    As for spirits, I am a born again Christian, so I know that there are spirits, evil, and of God. I know that ghosts are not the spirits of the dead, but are fallen angels / demons. Human spirits either go to Heaven or hell when we die.

  • Julie Nielsen says:

    Here is a video on Youtube of a Traditional Shaman Dance, which looks very much like the dance in this episode. The costume is basically the same.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wL4FtvGK1oI

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