Every Monday, I spotlight a random episode of M*A*S*H, providing a brief review and asking readers to offer their thoughts.
“The Incubator” (#36, 2×12)
Originally Broadcast: Saturday, December 1st, 1973
Written by: Larry Gelbart & Laurence Marks
Directed by: Jackie Cooper
Capsule Summary: After a particularly impressive bender, Hawkeye and Trapper rededicate themselves to medicine. Deciding the 4077th needs an incubator, the two attempt to get one through military channels only to hit a stone wall. As they move up the chain of command, the Army’s responses become increasingly bizarre.
This is a classic example of an episode from the early years of M*A*S*H. Hawkeye and Trapper are on a mission, Henry is trying to stay out of the way, the military isn’t having any of it and Radar saves the day. The opening sequence in which Hawkeye and Trapper wake up in the Swamp surrounded by the evidence of a massive party is terrific. I especially like the blown up surgical glove with a face on it, topped by what appears to be one of Henry’s hats, and the beer can on the record player.
Also great are the early scenes with Radar, who was too tired to be sacrificed as a virgin, and Frank, who is unwilling to give his Swamp mates the tongue-lashing they so richly deserve because he doesn’t want to enable their behavior.
Aside from Henry’s comments about the two being unable to top their recent party and his surprise that four people could fit in a sleeping bag, plus a nurse giving Trapper a few knowing glances, we never learn anything about what happened during the party. But that wasn’t really the point of the episode.
M*A*S*H got a lot of mileage out of by-the-book, corrupt or incompetent Army personnel over the years. This episode had them all: Captain Sloan can’t see past his regulations, Colonel Lambert is corrupt and General Mitchell is the height of incompetence. Major Morris is just plain stubborn (and potentially obsessive compulsive).
“The Incubator” doesn’t really have a B story unless you count Henry’s barbecue. To be honest, having Radar trade the barbecue to get the incubator felt a little too much like “To Market, To Market” when Hawkeye and Trapper traded Henry’s desk for hydrocortisone.
The nurse who seems to be very interested in Trapper is played by Sheila Lauritsen in an uncredited role.
This episode includes a rare reference to the passage of time. Hawkeye says “the war’s been running for two years” when arguing with Henry about the incubator. It may also feature the only appearance of the 4077th’s laboratory. Was it seen before or since this episode?