Episode Spotlight: Chief Surgeon Who?


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

“Chief Surgeon Who?” (#4, 1×04)
Originally Broadcast: Sunday, October 8th, 1972
Written by: Larry Gelbart
Directed by: E.W. Swackhamer

Capsule Summary: Colonel Blake appoints Hawkeye chief surgeon, leading Frank and Margaret to complain to General Barker, who comes to the 4077th to investigate.

This is a terrific episode through and through. The plot flows nicely, all the jokes hit and it includes perhaps the greatest line ever uttered by Colonel Blake:

Henry: “You honestly want him to call you Major?”
Frank: “I have got oak leaves on my shoulders.”
Henry: “And I’ve got dimples on my butt! None of that means anything around here, Frank.”

Poor Frank. Despite having a $35,000 house and two cars back in the States the guy just can’t catch a break in Korea. He gets no respect in the O.R., is passed over for chief surgeon and has to put up with General Barker’s obvious interest in Margaret. It’s easy to forget sometimes just how many men Margaret supposedly was involved with. The scene in which Barker and Frank run into each other outside Margaret’s tent is hilarious.

Klinger's second appearance

Klinger’s second appearance

Hawkeye’s coronation as chief surgeon feels wonderfully over the top, complete with a picture of Hawkeye surrounded by ladies’ underwear, Radar tossing ripped up newspaper as he walks ahead of Hawkeye, and Hwakeye’s orb and scepter.

I will admit that during the poker game, Hawkeye’s complete lack of respect and discipline really seems to cross the line. Some of his comments to General Barker are incredibly rude.

As long as we’re being honest, I’ve never been a big fan of Klinger’s appearances in this episode. They just aren’t that funny. They feel out of place and throw off the pace of the episode. Maybe that was the point.

Following Klinger’s second appearance, Henry can be seen saying something to General Barker but you can’t quite hear what he’s saying. The subtitles indicate he’s mumbling.

In the last scene, when Hawkeye goes to assist Frank, he sticks his hands into the patient without changing into fresh gloves. That’s got to be a no-no for a chief surgeon.

7 Replies to “Episode Spotlight: Chief Surgeon Who?”

  1. I love this episode – it is when the actors are still getting to know their characters, and the characters aren’t yet defined as the folks we come to love and know – but are kind of still the characters in the movie – when Hawkeye DID snub authority and had complete faith in his own prowess as a surgeon – and when Radar still was a sly, fast talking, go-to guy who had an interest in the ladies, gambling, cigars, and liquor. These things changed in the later seasons, but Season 1 was unique in many ways. Margaret is seen to be a hottie, with a fun past (and present), and who wants to marry or at least be seen with someone higher in rank than she is (a little different than in the movie, but definitely season 1-3 Margaret). I think everything that happens is perfect, and Klinger – desperate for a Section 8 – will do anything to make a visiting officer think he deserves one – so both appearances to me make perfect sense.

    1. Frank – leaving Margaret’s tent and running into Barker – “I bet this looks funny”
      Barker – “I bet it doesn’t”


  2. I concur, this was a great episode, and probably one of more important ones from the first season as well simply because of Hawkeye being appointed Chief Surgeon of the 4077th.

    I both agree and disagree with the sentiments regarding Hawkeye’s rudeness towards General Barker: while I agree that it did seem to cross the line a bit, I disagree in that that’s what Hawkeye’s character was all about – he didn’t like the military, he didn’t like being in the army, and to show for it, he had no respect for authority, so it was pretty much in-character for him.

    And I think part of what made Klinger’s appearance seem odd and out of place was probably because he was intended to be just a one-shot character, so I think the way he was written in this episode was to just throw in a crazy guy wearing a dress. There’s also a blooper from this episode featured in a reel that can usually be found on YouTube, where Mac Stevenson seems to be adlibbing his dialogue… not sure if any of what he said was used as he was mumbling, but in the blooper he says, “Actually sir, he’s… not THAT hairy… and look at the SIZE of his…” then we hear “CUT!”

    All and all, great episode. BTW, did anyone else besides me notice this: during the tag of this episode, Frank asks Hawkeye for his help, so Hawkeye moves from his patient over to Frank’s, and sticks his hands in… without changing his bloody gloves. Surely that’s a HUGE mistake in an operating room, I can’t imagine they missed that.

  3. I love this one. I like the three episodes before it, but IMO this is perhaps the first ‘great’ episode of the first season, which I guess means it’s the first great episode of the series (in my eyes). It’s also interesting how the show, this early in it’s run, took so many pages from both the book and the movie before really finding it’s own path. The pilot, for example, is clearly trying to be like a toned-down version of the movie, and a good chunk of this ep’s plot is straight out of the original book. That’s not a knock, though, just an observation.

    Anyway, hilarious episode. Klinger’s first appearance is a riot, especially when he skips away from General Barker. The second appearance where he’s nude is okay but not as funny as that first one. Speaking of Klinger, my favorite exchange from this ep involves him (I’m quoting from memory):

    General Barker: Do you know you have a guard on-duty wearing a skirt?!
    Blake: Well, luckily he’s got the legs for it!

    That one never fails to bust me up!

  4. Was Frank calling Blake ‘Henry’ right after complaining that Hawkeye calls him by his first name deliberately meant to be ironic?

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