Episode Spotlight: Crisis

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

“Crisis” (#45, 2×21)
Originally Broadcast: Saturday, February 9th, 1974
Written by Larry Gelbart & Laurence Marks
Directed by Don Weis

Capsule Summary: The 4077th grapples with lack of fruit, toilet paper, winter clothing, and other necessities after supply lines are cut.

This episode may very well have the best last line of any episode of M*A*S*H. Henry, sitting alone in his office, which has been stripped bare, tells someone on the phone, “I’m talking to you from deep inside a real big empty.” The way McLean Stevenson emphasizes the word “real” is just hilarious.

It’s interesting how little actually takes place during this episode. There’s no real plot, just the story of the 4077th facing a crisis. We see most of the characters dealing with their assigned duties. Frank is in charge of conservation, distribution, and possible rationing of food. He berates Klinger and Father Mulcahy for wasting coffee means playing bingo. Later, he “requisitions” a baked ham to share with Margaret. In other words, he stole it, and it doesn’t seem to bother him at all. At least he takes responsibility for his actions. Hawkeye and Trapper graciously offer to keep their mouths shut about Frank’s transgression.

Trapper is in charge of heat and electrical power. He burns Radar’s clipboard, orders Margaret to get rid of her hot plate, and allows 30 minutes of radio use at night in the Swamp. Radar is housing officer and takes his job seriously. Margaret is responsible for looking after her nurses, who impress her by acting in the Yankee Doodlest manner. Father Mulcahy is in charge of morale, which means bingo and songs.

That just leaves Hawkeye. He’s in charge of maintenance and general service and supplies but we never see him doing anything other than cracking jokes.

The running gag about Henry’s desk getting smaller and smaller as people cut it apart for firewood is amusing. That said, I find it hard to believe anyone would actually do something like that. Frank confronts two corpsman, played by Jeff Maxwell and Dennis Troy, who are burning desk drawers presumably taken from Henry’s desk.

At least two nurses post messages on the bulletin board hoping to find someone to keep warm with:

-Uninhibited nurse interested in Nietzsche, Freud, Beethoven and pre-Columbian art, will spend evening with anybody with five pieces of wood.
-Hungry? Cold? Tired of it all? Come to tent nine, change into something comfy, put on mask and wait. No appointment necessary.

There are so many great bits of dialogue throughout the episode. I particularly enjoy this exchange:

Trapper: “What’s for dinner? Brick again?”
Hawkeye: “I gotta heat my cot. When all this is over, I’m gonna invent an electric bedpan.”
Trapper: “Yeah, sure.”
Hawkeye: “Oh, you scoff. They laughed at Orville Wright when he invented his brother Wilbur. They said he would never get him off the ground.

I also like the hunting socks bit. Henry returns from the latrine to find Hawkeye and Trapper wrestling with Frank. “They’re hunting socks, sir,” Radar explains. “At this hour?” Henry asks.

Still from the M*A*S*H episode Crisis showing Henry in his empty office.
“I’m talking to you from deep inside a real big empty.”

Larry Gelbart discussed “Crisis” a handful of times at the alt.tv.mash Usenet group. In a July 1999 post he had this to say:

We (Marks) and I had a particularly good time writing this one. Sometimes you get on a roll and I think we had a pretty good one going throughout the second season (given the odd clinker here and there).

He shared a similiar sentiment in a December 2003 post:

> Any comments on anything about this episode Elsig?

Only to say that it was one of those scripts that was just a joy to develop, to write and to help come to life.

The final (uncut) result, l think is a testament to how much fun we had making it.

Gelbart also confirmed in an October 2003 post that crowding so many people into the Swamp was influenced by the “stateroom scene” from the 1935 Marx Brothers movie A Night at the Opera

Seven nurses are seen in Margaret’s tent–plus Margaret herself and, of course, Klinger. I recognize Kellye Nakahara, Gwen Farrell, and Sheila Lauritsen (I think).

Why is Father Mulcahy singing in front of a microphone in the Mess Tent? Is his performance going out over the PA system?

Whatever happened to Hawkeye’s pair of longjohns, the ones passed around the camp in “The Longjohn Flap” from Season 1?

When Hawkeye grabs the satchel with the baked ham off Margaret’s desk, Trapper brandishes the flashlight attached to his clipboard as a gun, pointing it at Frank, who actually seems scared.

11 Comments

  • Crabapple Cove says:

    One of my favorites of the entire series. I could watch it everyday. Just so many great lines from an episode that features the entire ensemble.

    In addition to those quotes mentioned above, I love the scene in Henry’s office when duties are being handed out. After Henry announces that “we may have to double and triple up, Radar will be deciding who sleeps with who” .. followed by the perfect comedic timing of Trapper … “Radar… I’d like to see you right after the meeting…”

    The Swamp scenes are complete hilarity — from Henry’s frequent bathroom visits and snoring to Father Mulcahy’s unusual version of ‘now I lay me down to sleep’.

  • BDOR says:

    This is definitely one of the few episodes from Season 2 that I truly enjoy – it’s funny, it’s visually interesting, and there are a lot of great moments of dialogue throughout, with my possible favorite being the innocent double entrendre that Henry makes when he discovers his desk is being chopped up to burn wood: “To cut off a man’s legs and steal his drawers!”

    My favorite scene throughout is perhaps everybody taking so long to nestle down into the Swamp for the night, then when they finally do, bang, casualties arriving.

  • Penguinphysics says:

    I happen to love the exasperated Fr. Mulcahey lamenting “I think I’ll go sleep in the nurses’ tent….WHAT AM I SAYING?” Always gets a chuckle from me

    • BDOR says:

      What about this:
      KLINGER: Father, it’s awfully cold out there. Want my stole?
      MULCAHY: Oh, why thank you, my son!

  • Jonathan Edney says:

    One of my favourites. ‘That does it…how are we supposed to fight a war without shuttlecocks?

  • Andrea says:

    I always liked the “my sister sent it to me.” line when Frank asks Igor where he got the wood. The fact that Frank believes it is the icing on the cake.

  • Joe says:

    “WHERE’D YOU GET THAT WOOD SOLDIER?” “My sister sent it to me, Sir!” “Oh, ok!” (turns and walks away)

  • Doc Funnypants says:

    So many funny lines in this episode, It’s hard to single out just one, but I’ll try.

    Hawkeye: Damn the staples, man. This is war, everyone’s got to live dangerously.
    The exchange of secret knocks between Frank and Margaret comes across as very childish and is emblematic of their idiotic attitudes in general.

  • Lady you ARE a Piece of Cornbread says:

    Is the scene referenced above about Trapper ordering HotLips to get rid of her hot plate cut in syndication? I don’t recall it.

    • Doc Funnypants says:

      It was cut in syndication along with several other scenes. Hawk accusing Frank of doing “a little Valley Forge gorging” is emblematic of the writing on the show.

      Father Mulcahy: Now I lay me down to sleep, a bag of peanuts at my feet. If I should die before I wake, give them to my brother Jake.
      A humorous line in an episode full of them.

Leave a Comment