Every Monday, I spotlight a random episode of M*A*S*H, providing a brief review and asking readers to offer their thoughts.
“The Tooth Shall Set You Free” (#228, 10×14)
Originally Broadcast: Monday, February 8th, 1982
Written by: David Pollock & Elias Davis
Directed by: Charles S. Dubin
Capsule Summary: Charles turns out to be afraid of going to the dentist, even if it means attempting to deal with a painful toothache on his own. Meanwhile, after noticing a disproportionate number of black casualties from a combat engineers unit, the doctors begin to suspect the unit’s commanding officer is prejudiced and plot to uncover the truth.
Last week’s spotlight featured an episode that involved an over-the-top ideologue bent on exposing Communists. Today’s episode, “The Tooth Shall Set You Free,” involves a more subdued villain. At first glance, Major Weems appears to be a caring commanding officer, worried about his men and trying to get them back stateside as soon as possible. But Hawkeye soon catches Weems in a lie, does some investigating with B.J. and discovers that Weems is harboring a prejudice against black soldiers. And those soldiers are paying the price: they’re being wounded far more often than white soldiers.
It had been a long, long time since I last watched this episode and I had forgotten everything about it. So I was able to watch it as if I was seeing it for the first time. As the truth about Weems unraveled, it was all as new to me as if I had never seen the episode before. I am not sure how much repeat value the episode would have, though, given that it relied so heavily on a big twist. The plot by Potter, Hawkeye and B.J. to bring out the racist in Weems was very well done, although I am not sure how realistic it is that Weems would agree to resign so readily after being threatened with a court-martial. Had the plan backfired, would Captain Rockingham, DDS have been in hot water for impersonating a major?
The B story involving Charles and his toothache worked well because it involved Charles. The best scene in the episode was Potter trying to get Charles to eat ice cream to force him to admit his tooth is still giving him a lot of pain. This was not the first episode to show how far Charles and his ego would go to maintain face but it was still funny. And it tied together well at the end with the A story.