Episode Spotlight: The Most Unforgettable Characters

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

“The Most Unforgettable Characters” (#110, 5×14)
Originally Broadcast: Tuesday, January 4th, 1977
Written by: Ken Levine & Davis Isaacs
Directed by: Burt Metcalfe

Capsule Summary: Radar attempts to improve himself by enrolling in a creative writing correspondence course. Meanwhile, Hawkeye and B.J. attempt to cheer up Frank on his birthday by pretending to fight.

What makes this episode so remarkable is that on the surface neither the A or B stories should work. But they both do. Just think about the A story involving Radar’s correspondence course. You basically have a character who spends the entire episode butchering the English language. Yet just when you’re saying “This is painful, please make it stop” you realize that’s the point. Radar wouldn’t be Radar if he didn’t think being a writer just meant using big words whenever possible and often incorrectly.

As for the B story in which Hawkeye and B.J. decide to fake a fight only to get into a real fight, that’s straight out of sitcom cliche 101. But mostly on the strength of Mike Farrell’s ability to act acting angry, it also manages to work out. Frank’s pure joy at seeing his Swampmates nearly come to blows and his anger at Radar for ruining his birthday by getting them to patch things up certainly helps, too.

Who put gasoline in my gasoline?!
“Who put gasoline in my gasoline?!”

Klinger’s fake attempt at self-immolation and Potter having his can of water filled with actual gasoline is hilarious. But if you stop and think about it, he only resorted to such a drastic piece of trickery after trying to capture Chinese prisoners and failing, in the process being assaulted by soldiers who mistake him for a woman. That’s actually pretty dark. It’s played for laughs and Klinger doesn’t appear to be any the worse for wear aside from torn clothing and a busted rifle. It’s not quite as funny without the laugh track, though.

The Amazing Radaro, the world’s first magician/clerk/typist, is the only part of this episode that doesn’t quite work. It actually feels a little out of place, as if it was tacked on at the last minute. I’m sure were supposed to assume he’s now enrolled in a correspondence course to learn magic but something about the scene is off.

During the montage at the start of the episode, the quality of the stock footage of hospitals and ambulances varies. There’s one shot of an ambulance landing that looks like it comes from the opening credits but upon closer inspection it isn’t a complete match to any of the scenes in the opening credits. I wonder if it could have been filmed for the opening credits but cut out. It wouldn’t be the first time.

If you look closely, after a gasoline-drenched Klinger runs into the showers, the woman who runs out clad only in a towel is very obviously laughing. One has to wonder how many takes it took to film that scene and how long the unnamed extra had to wait in the showers for her cue. Furthermore, if you look at the inside of the tent when she runs out, it doesn’t look like there are actually any showers inside.

8 Comments

  • One thing I like about this episode too, is that at the beginning as Radar is filling out the daily report, he says the date of the episode is 13 June… and with Frank’s birthday being a plot point of this episode, that means Frank and I share the same birthday. I can see it now: the 4077th would be throwing both of us a party, but it’s clear that they’re favoring me, but because it’s for both of us, Frank will try to weasel his way into getting the bigger pieces of cake, and the better presents. :p

    I pretty much agree on all counts, and I too found the whole Amazing Radaro tag at the end really out of place as well, but then again, it seems like Season Five had a number of episodes like that…

    I’m also surprised that Klinger never thought to (fake) immolate himself sooner; it’s one of his more “clever” schemes to get a discharge, I think, but it was also really clever on Potter’s part to have the water secretly switched out with real gasoline, and Klinger’s reaction was really priceless.

  • Tuttle says:

    This is definitely one of the goofier Season 5 episodes, but I’ve always enjoyed it. Completely agree that the Hawkeye-BJ “feud” is really silly, although Radar’s bit about how bad their fighting makes him feel is actually touching.

    The whole Klinger “immolation” sequence is definitely the comedic highlight of the episode.

  • Larry P. says:

    I really like this one (but then, there’s not much from the fifth season don’t like). The Hawkeye/BJ fight, on paper, sounds like it just shouldn’t work, but in practice, it does. I really enjoyed it. It’s always interesting (albeit rare) when Hawkeye and BJ/Trapper try to do something nice for Frank, even if in this case it involves playing off what a creep he is.

    Since the channel loves the $$$ brought in by commercials above all else, it’s not surprising, but it is interesting to note that TV Land actually cuts out the part where the fake fight turns into a real one, which makes the resolution come off a bit strange in their airings. Not that it matters, since I’d guess most of us own the DVDs, but I found that edit notable.

    No doubt, Klinger’s self-immolation is a riot. It seems that as the show went on and before he dropped the schtick entirely, his schemes became more and more forced (or maybe that was the point?), but lighting himself on fire really is pretty clever, although it IS definitely one of his darker attempts.

  • doc funnypants says:

    The ending of this episode seems out of place,especially Frank destroying his own watch and blaming Radar. Just another example of Frank being Frank.

  • Latrinogram says:

    Frank destroying his watch is straight out of vaudeville. He had to know there was something in the handkerchief. It’s just another example of why Linville wanted out. Burns had become a cartoon character.

    Otherwise, this is a good episode. I like that Hawkeye and BJ wanted to do something nice for Frank. And by the way, BJ was correct in his criticisms of Hawkeye.

    Klinger’s scheme was a good one, although I don’t know why Potter was the only one who didn’t smell gasoline. Funny sequence, though.

  • Lady you ARE A Piece Of Cornbread says:

    I guess it’s just an odd effect of The Late William Christopher’s accent, but every time I watch the sequence of Father Mulchany explaining to Radar about his sister the Sister’s basketball achievements I first think he says “She played God on her team” when he says Guard.

  • John says:

    The gas can is really filled with gas

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