Episode Spotlight: Letters

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

“Letters” (#196, 9×02)
Originally Broadcast: Monday, November 24th, 1980
Written by Dennis Koenig
Directed by Charles S. Dubin

Capsule Summary: The 4077th receives letters from a grade school in Hawkeye’s home town and set about answering them as best they can.

I love this episode. It offers a nice twist on the letter home plot device, allowing our favorite characters to respond to letters from home. It retained the familiar flashback sequences to highlight various goings-on around the camp, including Irving the Alcoholic Dog, Colonel Potter attempting to set a new free throw record, and the story of poor Major Bainbridge.

I will admit that Hawkeye agonizing over how to respond to Ronny’s angry letter about his dead brother was a bit much. His reactions over the course of the episode are typical of later season episodes. The letter and .If the episode had spent just a little less time on that letter, perhaps there would have been room for one or two others. Hawkeye’s re

Here’s a list of all the letters that were replied to in the episode:

  • Stacy – Father Mulcahy told her about Irving
  • No name – Charles insulted his or her handwriting
  • Ronny Hawkins – Hawkeye asked him not to hate
  • Fred – Klinger told him about his failed Chinchilla Villa Breeding Farms
  • Jimmy – Margaret told him about a patient she’ll never forget
  • Peter – Charles told him to have his father’s best suit altered
  • Lewis – BJ told him about Major Brainbridge
  • Danny – Colonel Potter told him about his free throw record attempt
  • Virginia – Charles thanked her for sending him the birch leaf

A few others were mentioned but not directly replied to, including one Father Mulcahy got from a student who was only writing because the teacher made him and another Margaret got from a student who thought MASH people sit around making potatoes.

Irving the Alcoholic Dug is just a bit too cutesy for my taste. It’s too bad M*A*S*H so rarely referenced earlier episodes. Rather than Mulcahy recounting to Stacy how he cured Irving’s alcoholism he could have told her about the emergency tracheotomy he performed on a wounded soldier in “Mulcahy’s War” back in Season Five. Maybe that would have been too graphic for a fourth grader. He also could have told her about the times he had to assist during surgery.

It’s fitting that Charles is the one to respond to multiple letters given his initial disgust at the idea. Out of everyone involved it’s obvious that Charles got the most out of writing to the students. His first response was sarcastic. His second involved the terrible idea for young Peter to have his father’s suit altered. His third was heartfelt, however. The leaf would have been a nice reminder of home to Hawkeye but to Charles it was even more meaningful.

Charles and his leaf

Just how many dogs are there around the 4077th? Look closely during the start of Colonel Potter’s free-throw attempt, when Klinger first approaches him. There’s a white dog with a black face in the background. It’s not Irving.

Charles is wearing the toboggan cap he received from home in “Dear Sis” during Season Seven.

It’s hard to tell but it looks like all of the letters from the students have writing on them. Did somebody in the prop department actually write out the letters? Likewise, who typed out the letter Klinger was supposedly composing on his typewriter?

11 Comments

  • Seoul City Sue says:

    The best thing about this episode is anything that involves Charles. His recordings to the kids are hilarious…from berating the child on his “aaaatrocious” spelling to telling another one to take daddy’s best suit down to the tailor so he can alter it to fit it to his little body. The look on his face when he sees the leaf and his gratitude to ‘Virginia,’ the little girl that sent it to him was just so touching. Charles was amazing here and it is worth watching this episode for his scenes alone.

    Irving the dog took on many personas in the series. He was the dog that Margaret doted on (and the one that got hit by the car) in ‘Images.’ He also was Leo, the dog (that became dinner) in ‘Rumor at the Top.’ I wonder if he was anyone’s pet and filled in when a dog was called for. He was absolutely adorable.

    • Ally says:

      What breed of dog is Irving?

      • Bill says:

        Irving was a Mongolian sheep hound. Very rare breed and very fitting breed because Korea has lots of this breed. I’d like to know who Irving belonged to in real life. Obviously, he resided in California.

  • This Is Me says:

    One of my favorite episodes, and the highlight of an otherwise mediocre season.

  • Joe says:

    I remember when I first saw this episode once on a local station, the weather was exactly the same as it was in the episode.

  • Ally says:

    What breed of dog is Irving?

  • 007 says:

    This is a pretty good episode. It’s an example of the show going a bit more dramatic, but doing so in the right way (where as a lot of the later seasons did not do it right).

    The part with the alcoholic dog Irving is funny because it shows how different times were back then. Giving a bunch of alcohol to a dog in this day and age would cause most people to scream of animal abuse, and animal rights people to have a conniption fit. In this episode every one stands around and cheers afterwards.

    On a random note, I love that green camo-ish looking shirt that Hawkeye wears during Potter’s basketball free flows.

  • chauncy Upercrust says:

    Was Irving the same dog that played “Jack” on “Tales of the Gold Monkey”?

  • mspence says:

    I thought it was a bit late in the series for Hawkeye to deal with the fact that they saved wounded soldiers so they would be able to go back out and fight. But Charles was at his sentimental best in this episode and it was a reminder that he was far less of a jerk than he appeared to be.

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