Episode Spotlight: Mail Call

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

“Mail Call” (#47, 2×23)
Originally Broadcast: Saturday, February 23rd, 1974
Written by Larry Gelbart & Laurence Marks
Directed by Alan Alda

Capsule Summary: Mail arrives at the 4077th and causes all sorts of problems.

Letters were a big part of M*A*S*H from the very start, both letters home and letters from home. “Mail Call” was the first of three episodes to revolve entirely around the 4077th receiving mail from home. There’s so much going on in this episode I’m not sure where to start. Every character gets at least a brief subplot relating to mail from home with the exception of Father Mulcahy.

Klinger faking a letter from his mother telling him his father is in a coma is classic Klinger. Henry pulling out a file filled with letters about various deaths (and pregnancies) in the Klinger family is hilarious. “Here’s an oldie but a goodie: half of the family dying, other half pregnant.”

The most emotional subplot has to be Trapper’s. The cookies and photograph he gets from home lead to him getting increasingly upset about how much he is missing being in Korea while his daughters grow up. His confrontation with Hawkeye while planning to go AWOL is revisited more violently with B.J. in “Period of Adjustment” during Season 8.

Poor Frank. He struck it rich with his investment in Pioneer Aviation and then lost it all when he learned it wasn’t a real company. He almost lost Margaret, too, after planning their lives together without consulting her, but managed to get her back. But he didn’t really lose any money, which means his stock portfolio still doubled.

Radar’s pen pal problem was the least interesting of all the letters but he learned a valuable lesson about honesty. I hope Henry managed to balance his wife’s checkbook and find a way to pay the $236 veterinarian bill (that was a huge amount of money in the 1950s). Maybe he had enough left over for a visit to Madam Wank’s Casa de Massage.

Margaret and Hawkeye also received mail. Margaret got new hosiery and spiked heels while Hawkeye got a sweater with a guest room from his sister. As most M*A*S*H fans know, aside from occasional references like this one during the first few seasons, Hawkeye was always an only child.

Trapper prepares to use violence

This was the first episode that Alan Alda directed.

Radar getting mobbed and losing his clothes is a weak gag, in my opinion. It would have been more impressive if there wasn’t a shot change to hide the fact that Gary Burghoff removed his clothes rather than Radar actually having them torn off.

Do people actually remove the pits of olives the way Hawkeye was while listening to Trapper talk about his kids? I guess he could have been practicing surgical techniques.

Notice Igor and a nurse looking bewildered in the background when Margaret is screaming about Pioneer Aviation and Franks runs out of her tent.

5 Comments

  • Crabapple Cove says:

    A very good episode.

    The scenes between Klinger and Col. Blake always crack me up. Very well acted.

    Frank’s Pioneer Aviation storyline is also hilarious and a classic prank that Burns typically falls for.

    Hawkeye’s sweater is funny as well. I kind of wish they would have used that prop again in a future episode(s).

  • Of the three “Mail Call” episodes, this one is probably my least favorite. I do love the moment between Henry reading all of Klinger’s fake letters, ending with this exchange:

    HENRY: Klinger? Aren’t you ashamed of yourself?
    KLINGER: Yes, sir. (Beat) I don’t deserve to be in the army!

  • Larry P. says:

    I like all of the Mail Call episodes, and I really love the Pioneer Aviation gag in this one.

    I may not have this exact, but I love the exchange at the end between Hawkeye and Frank:

    “There is no Pioneer Aviation!”
    “But…why?!”
    “To help you make a fool of yourself!”
    “…I don’t need your help!”

    Good solid season two ep.

  • J.A.R. says:

    One of the best episodes IMO.

  • Daniel says:

    I noticed in this episode, Hawkeye says this is the “second” war he’s been in. I found that interesting, as I always wondered what Hawkeyes and various members of the 4077 experience was during WW2.

    Has anyone else noticed characters talking about their prior service? (besides Potter and his many references to dubya dubya 1 & 2)

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