Every Monday, I spotlight a random episode of M*A*S*H, providing a brief review and asking readers to offer their thoughts.
“The Smell of Music” (#135, 6×15)
Originally Broadcast: Tuesday, January 3rd, 1978
Written by Jim Fritzell & Everett Greenbaum
Directed by Stuart Millar
Capsule Summary: Charles annoys Hawkeye and B.J. with his French horn so the two decide to give up showering until he agrees to stop practicing his music in the Swamp.
I love this episode. It’s unbelievable and silly but I love it. Actually, what I love is the A story with the smells and the music. I’m not as fond of Potter’s B story involving a suicidal patient because it’s a bit too convenient. More on that in a bit.
The A story is unbelievable in a few ways. First, I feel like there’s no way Charles would play the French horn so badly. A Winchester would never risk being seen doing something poorly, including playing a musical instrument. In fact, if he was actually good I think it would have made the storyline stronger because he could argue that his playing was bringing culture to the Swamp. Or there could have been people who actually enjoyed listening to him, adding more conflict.
It also seems unlikely that Hawkeye and B.J. would be allowed to go without showering for so long. Aside from the smell, there are also sanitary concerns. I’m not sure if being incredibly stinky would impact their ability to remain sterile in the O.R. At the very least they would be a disgusting presence during surgery. And what about the patients? They have it bad enough being wounded.
It certainly looks like everyone had a lot of fun filming the forced washing of Hawkeye and B.J. and the destruction of the French horn. Listen carefully and you’ll hear Hawkeye scream “I don’t care what you do to me but those lice you killed were women and children.” And B.J. say “How well do we know each other?” while a nurse is scrubbing him. The French horn was obviously replaced after being run over by the jeep. It’s far too flat.
The B story isn’t a bad one. It’s understandable that an injured patient like Saunders would be depressed at the prospect of going home with a ruined face. And it’s perfectly understandable that Colonel Potter would get emotionally invested. What doesn’t work well for me is how easily Saunders was able to try to kill himself not once but twice.
He smashes a medicine cabinet and overdoses on pills, then slips past everyone in Post-Op to get into the O.R. and the anesthesia? That seems hard to believe even before Potter asked that he be watched around the clock.
My favorite scene is Hawkeye and B.J. turning on a fan in the Swamp and trying to blow their odor towards Charles. The expression on Hawkeye’s face while he’s furiously flapping his shirt is hilarious. Father Mulcahy trying to figure out how to politely refuse an invitation to sit outside the Mess Tent is also a great moment.
Another good line is Hawkeye’s “The irresistible force is about to polish off the immovable object!” That’s not quite as good Hawkeye telling Charles “The more you blow the worse we’ll grow.” In fact, there are a lot of funny lines and puns involving smells and odors.
The very last shot during the tag, when Charles is examining the bizarre contraption Sang Nu built, is much darker than the rest of the episode:
There’s a goof involving footwear during the scene in which Potter convinces Saunders he doesn’t actually want to die. Saunders can be seen with bare feet while inhaling anesthesia but later is wearing shoes when Potter helps him walk through the door.
According to the Internet Movie Database, the music Charles is playing on his French horn is from two works by Richard Strauss (“Ein Heldenleben” and “Don Juan). Hawkeye and B.J. play the “Colonel Bogey March” on the kazoo and improvised drum.
Radar does not appear in this episode.