Episode Spotlight: The Tooth Shall Set You Free


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.

Charles Tries to Maintain His Composure

Charles Tries to Maintain His Composure

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.

15 Replies to “Episode Spotlight: The Tooth Shall Set You Free”

  1. A Classic! One of my favorite episodes. I love to see Charles in this scene to try and keep his composure!! The last line Hawkeye has in the tent after Major Rheems is snuffed out is classic…….

    Also the closing scene where Charles bites the dentist is classic!!

  2. I literally only just realized right now that I posted this on a Tuesday and not a Monday. I swear when I was writing it last night I thought it was Sunday.

  3. Since this is a sit-com-dram we can give leeway that he WOULD have given way to the court martial, just as we must give way to Potter insisting that Charles eat the ice cream when he said he was allergic to strawberries – Potter says there is plenty of calamine – however a true food allergy can result in anaphylactic (sp?) shock and is deadly – Potter would have known this I’m sure.

    I do like the devious and clever side we see of Potter – as he scams not only Weems, but also Charles. We see this side again in “April Fools” and also when he scams Klinger by giving him the oath of the President, instead of the re-enlistment oath in “Your Retention Please”. LOL

  4. This was a good episode. My only question was why they had to bring in a dentist? In a previous episode, it was shown the 4077 had a dentist on staff. I think it was For the Want of a Boot in which Zale needed dental work to get Hawkeye a boot, and the dentist wanted to go to Tokyo in exchange for the dental work, which resulted in one deal after another which unraveled at the end.

    Weems got what he deserved in my opinion.

    1. I wondered about that too. There were dentists in other episodes, including “5 O’Clock Charlie”. He was playing the guitar in the swamp while Trapper and Hawkeye were trying to come up with ideas on how to stop Frank from firing at Charlie. Oh, well, not a big deal.

  5. IIRC, this was an early acting role for Laurence Fishburne. It’s hard to believe this was 33 years ago.

    1. Laurence Fishburne also had a fairly major role in “Apocalypse Now” a few years before this, even. He’s been around for a while LOL

      I like this episode. Quite possibly the best episode of Season 10, actually.

  6. what I’ve never understood about this episode is, why’d they have to bring in a dentist? It’s been shown in other episodes that the unit has more than one dentist. In “FOR WANT OF A BOOT” “5 O’CLOCK CHARLIE” and others, and in the pilot Hawkeye mentions “the Painless Pole” which was their nickname for the dentist in the movie and book.

    Except for that, a very goo episode.

  7. Another good late seasons episode. I agree that the setup by BJ/Potter/Hawkeye and even Charles really was great and very well done.

    The B-Story with Charles toothache is great. The sounds he makes when he’s in pain are hilarious, especially that yell after the ice cream scene. His reaction on learning Rockingham was a DDS was pretty funny too. This episode is another great example of the superior acting skills of David Ogden Stiers.

    Nice early cameo by Mr. Morpheus in this episode.

  8. The A story was better; it might have been more so if Rockingham had been a real major. Charles eating the ice cream was one of the highlights of the episode.

  9. Very very good episode. It’s about time they addressed racism in the military as it was very rampant in some units. Segregation still existed in a big way at home during the Korean War as it certainly did in the army regardless of what Truman ordered. Not to mention that job assignments were certainly race based (putting blacks on perpetual KP, passed over for promotions, etc). Imagine all the Southerners in the army who were used to blacks using separate bathrooms, water fountains, and walking in the street to let whites pass. How would they react to serving next to black soldiers? It would be difficult to keep every racist out of the army but it was a nice gesture on the part of the show.

    Frankly I don’t think they would have won the court martial. A higher ranking officer with a solid record happens to be a racist? The army had only just been desegregated a few years before. I’m sure there were plenty of officers who needed extra time to get used to it and the army understood that. Can’t send every racist home, particularly if they’re good at their job.

    This episode had a perfect balance of storylines and great acting. Unusual for later seasons. Loved to see a very young Laurence Fishburne (shortly after Apocalypse Now). Entertaining as usual.

    I wish they hadn’t relied on the same old gags to give Potter something to do. Yelling again and pulling rank over someone’s personal business? It’s gotten very very old.

  10. I’m about six years late on commenting this, but I love the moment when Hawkeye, B.J., Potter and Rockingham saw its four against one and Charles pitches in, “make that five”. I love to see the human side of Charles, where he is mostly shown as pompous and selfish, he stands up for his principles (unlike Frank Burns) and shows that he is a decent human being, helping out when he believes in a cause.

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