Episode Spotlight: Dreams


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

“Dreams” (#191, 8×22)
Originally Broadcast: Tuesday, February 11th, 1975
Written by: Alan Alda & James Rubinfier
Directed by: Alan Alda

Capsule Summary: Exhausted after countless hours in the O.R. and with more wounded constantly arriving, members of the 4077th cope with disturbing dreams.

I have a feeling there aren’t going to be a lot of positive comments about this episode. Over the years, I’ve gotten the impression that “Dreams” is not particularly well-liked by fans of M*A*S*H. And yet, it received a Humanitas Prize and was nominated for both an Emmy Award for Outstanding Directing and a Writers’ Guild of America Award in the Episodic Drama category.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with the concept of the episode. In fact, it was territory M*A*S*H had covered before to some degree in “Hawk’s Nightmare,” which focused on Hawkeye’s nightmare and his sleepwalking. “Dreams” took things a step further by actually depicting the dreams rather than just reacting to them. And that is where it went too far for some viewers.

Klinger returns to Toledo, but only in his dreams

Klinger returns to Toledo, but only in his dreams

Easily the most bizarre and surreal episode of the series, “Dreams” allowed the fears of the characters, as manifested in their dreams, to take center stage. With the exception of Colonel Potter’s, all of the characters were left upset and disturbed by their dreams, so much so that at the end of the episode they were unwilling to go to sleep despite being exhausted.

In some respects, the dreams are easy to understand. Margaret is afraid of never being able to settle down because the Army is all she knows. Klinger is afraid of never making it back to Toledo or, if he makes it back, not being able to escape the horrors he witnessed in Korea. B.J. is afraid of losing Peg because they have been apart for so long. Father Mulcahy is afraid he is not able to help the wounded the way the surgeons and nurses are. And Hawkeye and Charles are afraid of being helpless, that all their talents as doctors will not be enough.

The only dream that doesn’t really make any sense is Colonel Potter’s. Yes, playing polo with a grenade was weird but otherwise it was a nice dream in which he saw himself as a child. When woken, he’s actually upset he wasn’t able to finish the dream.

The actor playing the patient trying to confess to Father Mulcahy deserves recognition for being able to remember all that gibberish. At first I thought it might be Latin rather than pure gibberish but here’s what the captions have to say:

“The first time was a bar in Seoul in which I trove sobbert in farley quince to civilar falamaries with closive infliches and depationary farven.

So, of course, we started drinking and then I saw again staven in tusiflia thurgis. In frawl with sagullery purchel. But franges are gurvel, you know. Iskeep perobic tondo.

The scene in the supply tent when Klinger reveals he has been warming blood inside his fur coat was a nice one and I think one often cut in syndication. I don’t recall having seen it before. That’s the nice thing about rewatching episodes on DVD.

There’s no option on the DVD to watch this episode without a laugh track because it doesn’t have one.

41 Replies to “Episode Spotlight: Dreams”

  1. This episode is very weird, but then grows on you. I doubt many folks liked it or understood it even on the first airing – but it really stretches the imagination and creativity of the actors and I like that. Hawkeyes was the strangest to me, all those mannequin arms in the river – somehow representing all of the lost limbs during the war – and how Hawkeye feels so helpless to do better than he is doing in such a terrible situation – all young people thrust into somewhere they don’t want to be –

    Charles’ dream addresses his “pomp” and his “I do one thing at a time, I do it very well, and then I move on” attitude – even though he is doing his magic very well in his dream, it isn’t enough to save the patient.

    Klingers was great – he gets to Toledo and it is gone! War torn just like Korea – and then he sees himself on the operating table. He might never get back!

    Margarets – her marriage bed is covered in blood, she can’t ever have the dream life she wants because of the war. All the eligible men are fighting, and all she can do for them is nurse them back to health – hopefully, or bury them.

    And you are right, Colonel Potters wasn’t horrifying like the others – he is a child and remembering what that was like – he heard his mother’s voice, and then he woke up. Maybe that was the true tragedy of his dream, that the simpler times of his youth were gone forever, and would never return.

    BJs was so poingnant – wanting to get back to Peg, and her life going on without him – one of the big questions I hear is “what is that music that BJ and Peg waltz to?” Did anyone ever identify it?

    And Father Mulcaheys – he often has illusions of granduer, and always comes back to earth realizing that being pope, or cardinal, or even Captain, can’t be more important than his trying to salve the souls of the wounded and dying. And isn’t enough to do those things.

    It has become one of my favorite episodes – not for the humor, but for the uniqueness, and the glimpses into each characters insecurities and fears that they hide from everyone.

  2. My absolute least favorite episode. I’ve probably only watched it three or four times because I find it so disturbing. I skip over this one on my DVD’s in a heartbeat. Horrors of war…I get it.

  3. I think Potter’s dream as as Pinkpagoda says, harking back to simpler times when he was n’t burdened with all the decision making he has as a CO.

    The first time I saw this episode I hated it and wondered what had happened to the M*A*S*H I loved so well, but it has grown on me the more I see it and Charles’ nightmare really resonates with me.

  4. I know Alan Alda wanted to do this episode for years, but it wasn’t made until Season Eight, which makes me wonder: what would it have been like if it was done earlier, and what kind of dreams would, say, Frank, or Radar have?

    I like the concept for the episode myself, as a writer, I’m NOTORIOUS for writing dream sequences and imagine spots, so I think the concept of seeing the dreams of the characters, and really delving deep into their psyche, and really explore their inner most thoughts, fears, insecurities, etc kind of adds a level of character development, I think. I actally, years and years ago, did a similar fanfic for Alvin and The Chipmunks where they had dreams about their biggest inner fears and insecurities.

  5. I forgot to mention this, but I would love to know more about the filming of this episode. It must have been a huge undertaking. I am betting there are some good stories to be told.

  6. Love this episode! Very creative and the writing and execution are on-the-mark from start to finish!

    Couple of trivia points: In the hardback book about “M*A*S*H” that Susie Kalter wrote, there’s a picture from Margaret’s dream where Hawkeye is standing in scrubs next to her at the outdoor bed — a deleted shot, since Hawkeye doesn’t appear in Margaret’s dream in the episode that was broadcast.

    And, responding to Big Daddy O’Reilly: Not too many years ago — I think on the alt.mash.tv site — Larry Gelbart submitted some scenes he scripted of what might’ve happened in the dreams of Henry Blake, Frank Burns, Trapper, and Radar. Those are out there on the Internet somewhere.

    And in this episode, Sherman Potter joins Father Mulcahy as the only “M*A*S*H” characters who were ever portrayed by two different people. Add to this that Sherm’s usual alter ego, Harry Morgan, is also the only regular cast member who portrayed two different people (unless you count Wayne Rogers’ unbilled voice as a P.A. announcer in the episode where BJ is introduced!).

  7. Sorry to be such a party pooper, but this is one of my least favorite episodes. I think it was done as well as it could have been done, but the whole episode is so “dark” to me. It depresses me to even think of watching it again.

  8. I always enjoy this one. I thought Alda did a great job showing the fractured quality our dreams sometimes have. It’s also very effective at crawling into the heads of the characters and showing some of their primal fears in a very powerful way, where we get to see facets of their personalities we wouldn’t have otherwise seen.

    That fact that it unsettles some folks in here says a lot. It’s very well done.

  9. I love this episode and was surprised to learn it’s not universally enjoyed. It’s freaky in a good way. They really capture dreams much better than even Inception does.

  10. ” have a feeling there aren’t going to be a lot of positive comments about this episode. Over the years, I’ve gotten the impression that “Dreams” is not particularly well-liked by fans of M*A*S*H. ”

    A shame, as it is one of my favorite dramatic entries in the series. Creative, somber and above all, insightful (per each character) this episode had my shaking my head and uttering ‘daaaamn’ with every slumber based revelation, as I smiled at ingenious ways in which each person’s neuroses and personal perspectives were revealed. The installment most definitely deserved the awards and praise bestowed upon it, thankfully the professional writers and producers were able to recognize it’s brilliance, even if the fans you mentioned were not.

  11. I’ll not disappoint you. I’ve never liked this episode. It is well written, well. acted, but I enjoy MASH for the humor, if some drama is woven into that, fine. This episode is just drama, and dreary depressing drama at that, with no humor.

  12. “Dreams” is on right now. Never really cared for it. Alan “Creative Consultant” Alda’s fingerprints are all over this one. Liked Klinger’s and Winchester’s dreams better than the others.

  13. Potter’s dream made sense as an older man who would be nostalgic about his childhood and him not being as affected due to his having already been in both World Wars.

    Hawkeye’s dream was probably the most affecting as it showed his feelings of helplessness and fear of losing a patient.

    Klinger’s post-apocalyptic Toledo dream was quite creepy.

  14. Growing up I always hated this episode and thought it was the worst of the entire series. I remember may parents hating it too.

    Seeing it now on DVD though for the first time in years, it’s honestly not that bad. I get what they were going for, and it mostly works. It’s also nice to have an episode that’s so different from the rest. Mixes things up a bit.

    Being that every main character gets a dream, it also doesn’t focus on Hawkeye for the entire episode like most other episodes in the “Alan Alda show” of the later years, so that’s always nice.

  15. The waltz that Peg and BJ dance to is the “Thousand and One Nights Waltz” by Johann Strauss. It just played on the PBS New Years Concert from Vienna. I recognized it immediately.

  16. The B-story in this episode deals with a situation all too familiar to most senior military officers and NCO’s. A wet-behind-the-ears lieutenant is scared to release equipment he’s signed custody for because he fears he’ll have to account for it if its damaged with his own money. He won’t accept the fact that damage in combat is imminent and the Army won’t hold him liable.

    Only question I have is: what was the general who finally talked him into sending the ambulances doing there? Occupying a bed on the American plan? Where could he have possibly been to get combat wounded?

    1. The same thing happened temporarily to Radar in “Welcome to Korea” when their jeep was stolen outside the Kimpo O club. “I signed out for that jeep! I’ll have to pay for it, and I’m poor!”

  17. One of my favorites, a change of pace episode that would have worked well as a Halloween episode with its Twilight Zone like feel (Note: This episode actually aired in 1980, not 1975.)

    The General represented a break from the usual run of unsympathetic ones and is actually able and willing to help: “In the flesh, sir?” “Or what’s left of it, lieutenant?” He seems a lot more like Colonel Potter’s type of officer.

  18. There are certain episodes for which I remember the original CBS commercials. I remember the ad for this one ended with the shot of Charles swirling his cape, before going on to whatever other show they were advertising that followed MASH.

  19. When Father Mulch dreams, what is the pipe organ piece being played? Does anyone know? I feel like I should know, like it’s familiar, Carmina Burana maybe?

  20. I love this episode. It’s easily one of my favorites, if not my favorite. I love the surreal feeling of the dreams and the symbolism. The episode isn’t funny but it is masterfully written, acted and filmed.

  21. I think this might be one of my very favorite episodes. I just watched it for the first time in a long time, and I already want to watch it again. It’s not funny, but why should it be? Having a break from the laugh track is nice now and then.

  22. Wonder if that brass bed in Margret’s dream was the same one that “co-starred” on “Love American Style” so much it was drawn to represent the show on a TVGuide cover to represent the show.

  23. I reallly liked the episode. I know lots of people thought it was too serious on a comedy show, but by this point MASH had reverted to a drama show with some comedic elements instead of a comedy with some drama. That’s why it didn’t bother me.

    I really enjoyed seeing different costumes and settings than we’re used to seeing. That was one of the goals for the later seasons, to change up the settings so it wouldn’t get boring. I wish that more of the dreams had taken place at home. I can speak from experience that being away from home in an awful place does not stop you from dreaming about home. In fact it’s nice to be able to visit.

    I really liked the insight into the characters’ fears and feel like I know them better after this episode. Charles’ dream was tied with Hawkeye’s for my favorite because both were slightly twisted. If you take it at face value, Charles was jumping through hoops or doing magic tricks to save a patient and it wasn’t enough. The dream could also mean that he’s so worried about impressing others that he would literally stand there performing and smiling while watching a patient die. He’s coming to terms with his own ego and doesn’t like what he sees. As for Hawk, I wish they would have done more to make the limbs look realistic. He looked like he was boating through a shopping mall that exploded, with all the metal pieces on the mannequin limbs just ruining any chance we might have of thinking they’re supposed to be real. His blood curdling scream at the heavens was definitely chilling.

    Margaret’s bloody wedding dress made for a striking image. BJ’s was typical and not very exciting or surprising. I had hoped he would have seen his wife kissing another man instead of being led away by men who could been ushers. Potter’s dream seemed thrown together and not very inventive. I’m guessing they didn’t want us to think he had any demons so he could stick to the kindly grandfather role he had been cultivating. Klinger’s was best for the setting because I’ve always longed to see these people at home. AfterMASH doesn’t really count because it was only a few of the least interesting characters. If the entire cast had signed on, they probably would have had a hit.

    I don’t know why there’s so much hate for the episode since the writing is very well done as is the acting. So what if it’s not your typical MASH story? People can’t relate to weird dreams? They always need everything told to them in a linear way? Maybe it’s scary and horrifying but so is war. I think a lot of time the hate is very 21st century based. We are used to seeing gore and fear done better and more realistically so this episode doesn’t match up. At the time, this was cutting edge and I’m not sure people are realizing that. What’s wrong with trying something different? With showing that even through all their wacky hijinks, the characters are worried about the future and are being psychologically affected by the war. For trying to show us something new on television, I applaud Mr Alda.

  24. If I had to write Radar’s nightmare, I think it would have gone like this:

    Radar falls asleep at his desk, and is woken by the phone. It’s his mom, and she’s telling him to come home right away, dad is there. Radar is overjoyed and tells his mom he’s on his way, and is just about out the door when Potter tells him that the daily reports are due. Then, a call from I-Corps looking for some other missing paperwork. Then, other people coming in to demand forms, all the while Radar’s mom phoning him to tell him to hurry up. And then of course, choppers, which wake him – probably the only time he was the last person to hear the choppers.

  25. Dear M*A*S*H compatriots,

    I don’t know why you stated this episode is probably least liked by serious M*A*S*H watchers. I really like this episode. Everyone dreams and parts of our day, week, recent and far back history find their way in. Important events and people, places, items, actions all can find a way in. Stress, elation, fear, and other emotions, wants, and needs wiggle in too. I saw that episode as a natural extension of the situation into which our beloved characters (representing real people) had been thrust. The dreams, to me, made those characters even more real…believable…human.
    I have always been curious about Potter’s dream. But who’s to say that, had Klinger not awakened him, a young Sherman walking onto the porch to have a taste of those muffins would not have seen his house blow up? Or a sniper kill his mother? Or maybe it was just bad enough that he dozed off for ten minutes and AL-MOST had a taste of his childhood but ‘NO!’ the war intervened as Klinger had no choice but to wake him. (The latter is what I settled on long ago.)
    Then there is Charles, in his learndedness, quoting Shakespeare – (his original quote in all caps) “…To die, to sleep – TO SLEEP, PERCHANCE TO DREAM. At, there’s the rub, for in this sleep of death, what dreams my come…” . I think the whole quote could be relevant in a figurative way. During mere naps, just minutes, they’ve all had these horrible dreams. Now, there’s a break in the fighting and they can all finally, overly exhausted, feeling, as one might say – like death warmed over, finallyie down and have a full night of sleep. Imagine what dreams may come to them in a sleep like that? Just a thought I had.
    There’s also the B.J. & Aggy issue. Toward the end he says he ‘must live for tomorrow cause for me [him] there is no now’, (which makes Aggy “love you [him] all the more”) All in all, I think it’s a well written episode and one that might not be in my top three but I really, really, like it.

    1. Haha Haha What’s funny is I came on here to talk about the gibberish confession. The first time i heard it as an adult, I knew it wasn’t Latin but thought perhaps some old way of confessing, say using Hebrew words for the bad ones he didn’t want to say. Of course it could be what Fr. Mulcahy heard as he dozed off. One could almost make the story up with the words used. But I had a bit of fun on Google translate ..our gibberish into Hebrew then reverse translated back & this is what it spit out:

      “I vaporize Subbert’s fashions into Farley’s civic wonders with a slap and maneuver. I saw again the Tusipalian Interpreter in Proley with a fancy buyer. But Frenchmen are gravel, you know. Tondo Frobie.”

      So…………. on that note, I go back to watch Season 8 Episode 24. I began it months ago on hulu. When I have a minute, I watch some of my favourite show from growing up!

  26. I think Potter’s dream represented his desire for his younger days. He had more experience with war than the others and was ready to go home, as it were.

    I liked the visiting General-how did he get wounded, anyway? Why was he at the front? He was actually willing to help and seemed more like Potter’s type of officer than the usual antagonist.

    I wonder what Igor’s dream would have been like. Maybe with him serving the rest of the camp gourmet meals but having to eat the Army food himself…

  27. I still don’t understand the wounded soldier’s confession. What exactly did he say? Is it one of those ‘first-and-last-letters-in-their-place-but-not-the-middle-ones’ sort of deal?

    Where is Larry Gelbart’s depiction of Radar’s, Trapper’s and Henry’s dreams?

  28. This episode reminds me of the kind of student plays put up in college. The sort of pretentious plays where a man will have his hand up dogs arse while reciting a poem that doesn’t rhyme. And then they will flash some half nudity and be very pretentious.

    I can appreciate what they were trying to do with this episode, but it fell flat and is just pretentious. I really hate it when TV shows are doing these “tune in tonight for a VERY SPECIAL EPISODE OF…” kind of things. “My name is Alex” from Family Ties comes to mind.

    1. Sanctimonious & pretentious crap thanks to Alan Alda. Overly dark & dramatic. I admit I’m a bit biased. I ran into Alan Alda in New York City as a star struck 19 year old. I thought Hawkeye was an extension of Alda, a man of the people. Of course, I was young, Alda could have acknowledged that. He was rude. The real Alan Alda is a phony, So ignore “ Hawkeye’s “ concerns about people. Alda is a phony.

  29. Sanctimonious & pretentious crap thanks to Alan Alda. Overly dark & dramatic. I admit I’m a bit biased. I ran into Alan Alda in New York City as a star struck 19 year old. I thought Hawkeye was an extension of Alda, a man of the people. Of course, I was young, Alda could have acknowledged that. He was rude. The real Alan Alda is a phony, So ignore “ Hawkeye’s “ concerns about people. Alda is a phony.

  30. I must admit, time has changed my opinion on this one. As a 15-year-old, I didn’t get it, even though I obviously understood how horrible war was after watching the show for several years. I give them credit for trying something WAYYYY different here, even if I don’t think it quite always hit, but at least they tried.
    This is by no means perfect, and it doesn’t totally stick the landing, but it’s better than some of the other avant-garde attempts they made late in the run (Follies of the Living, anyone?) and it took guts to do it. And, as someone else said, although Alda’s dream was the centerpiece, he wasn’t the only one given the chance to shine. It’s not a full thumbs-up, but I don’t hate it. I get it.

  31. What incredible creative writing! And then acting!

    No knee slapping, laugh out loud lines; yet, some great smiles (still leaving it a sitcom/drama, with a big lean on drama) …

    Hawkeye to Margaret (just before her dream of injured & bloody soldiers in her bed and her bloody wedding dress), “sweet dreams Margaret “ and, “ you want to make it a double feature “.

    Potter to B.J., “have yourself a nice long rest and be back here in 12 minutes”.

    The joy on B.J.s face when he sees Erin. Even the sweet/sad way the writers bring B.J. back to the OR was so well done you have to smile.

    Potter (to himself) after the very young lieutenant told him he wouldn’t send ambulances, “I’m too old for this, I’ve got children telling me I can’t play with their toys.” Actually, much of his conversation with the lieutenant, such as, “…what are you using for brains, chopped liver?” (As the camera goes to the lieutenant showing him eating a chopped liver sandwich.) and, “… the army expects them to be destroyed, that’s what they give them to us for.” (About the ambulances.)

    The way the supply closet sounded like and rocked like a train.

    B.J. (to the General asking to see the commanding officer), “Right now he’s operating.”
    Hawkeye, “We’ll send him in as soon as he wakes up.”

    Potter to the General, “He says there’s a lot of shooting going on and he doesn’t want the ambulances to get hurt.”

    General to Lieutenant, “I’m sure you have a very sound reason for not sending those ambulances into combat.” … “So why don’t you come up here, right now, in the flesh, and tell me what it is.”

    Charles’ (as everyone is leaving to get some well earned sleep), “Aww, sleep, a chance to dream.” (And everyone sits back down and decides to have another cup of coffee.)

    Thank goodness for Potter’s more lighthearted dream and B.J.’s mostly happy!

    And I thought “Yessir, That’s My Baby” was serious :)!

  32. Wow. To be honest, I never knew this episode was hated by some people – the dark and disturbing imagery I could see people having a problem with since I do think this episode is arguably the “darkest” of the entire series based on imagery (yes, including the finale), but hating the episode as a whole? I mean, I first saw it when I was 11 and it gave me nightmares for a month, but even though almost 15 years later I still have trouble getting through this episode in one sitting, I could always recognise that it’s a frankly fantastic piece of television, particularly for when it was originally shown, from the acting to the direction to the writing to the (for the most part) incredibly smooth transitions to the characters’ dreams.

    It’s not perfect by any means (personally, I’d have liked B.J.’s dream to reveal something more about him than just the same old “my work is taking me away from my family” worries that get explored enough in other episodes; and I never thought it made sense for Potter to be afraid of sleeping in the tag when he had the only happy dream of the lot), but I’d probably say it’s one of the best episodes of the entire series. I think M*A*S*H generally tended to be at its best (both dramatically and comedically) when the episodes were based around simple concepts and you can’t really get much more simple in terms of concepts than just “we see the main characters’ dreams”.

    One point of discussion that rarely gets brought up is the presence of the other characters in the dreams. We have Potter in B.J.’s dream, Klinger and Mulcahy in Charles’ dream, the entire camp in Mulcahy’s dream, Potter in Klinger’s dream, and Charles in Hawkeye’s dream. The only two characters who don’t have any other main characters featuring in their dreams are Margaret (although apparently at one point Hawkeye was going to appear in her dream) and Potter. I know that in all likelihood it was merely a case of conservation of actors but my pseudo-analytical brain still can’t help trying to find some kind of meaning in it…

    1. I was also surprised to discover this episode was hated, by anyone, let alone so many.
      It is a fantastic piece of art!

      I agree with these previous statements:
      Pink pagoda
      “… it really stretches the imagination and creativity of the actors and I like that.”
      David G.
      “Love this episode! Very creative and the writing and execution are on-the-mark from start to finish!”
      “The fact that it unsettles some folks in here says a lot. It’s very well done.”
      Kevin Karstens
      “Creative, somber and above all, insightful (per each character)…”
      “…most definitely deserved the awards and praise bestowed upon it, thankfully the professional writers and producers were able to recognize it’s brilliance, even if the fans you mentioned were not.”
      “I love the surreal feeling of the dreams and the symbolism. The episode isn’t funny but it is masterfully written, acted and filmed.”
      “… a natural extension of the situation into which our beloved characters (representing real people) had been thrust. The dreams, to me, made those characters even more real…believable…human.”

      For something so dark, the comedy is masterfully blended in.
      “Our” M*A*S*H humor softened the blow and highlights the heartbreaking.

      1. P.S. Am I the only one who sees humor sprinkled throughout?

        Maybe I should have watched it again before saying:
        “For something so dark, the comedy is masterfully blended in;
        “our” M*A*S*H humor softens the blow and highlights the heartbreaking.”

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