Episode Spotlight: The Grim Reaper


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

“The Grim Reaper” (#131, 6×11)
Originally Broadcast: Tuesday, November 29th, 1977
Written by Burt Prelutsky
Directed by George Tyne

Capsule Summary: An angry Hawkeye shoves a callous colonel whose casualty predictions are eerily accurate, leading to charges that could result in a court martial.

The B story in this episode is bizarre. It might more accurately be described as a B story (Winchester’s food) and a C story (Klinger’s fellow Toledo native) but the two tie together at the end so in that respect you could consider them the same story. I’m not sure what to make of Charles and his basket of fancy foodstuffs. I guess we’re supposed to assume it was shipped to him which explains how the canned pheasant went bad (or maybe pheasant just isn’t a bird that should be canned).

The initial scene in which Hawkeye and B.J. discover the food is nice but the entire sequence in Margaret’s tent is awkward. One would think Charles had been at the 4077th long enough to realize Margaret wasn’t all that much sophisticated than Hawkeye and B.J. That being said, the expression Charles made in reaction to Margaret’s poem was priceless.

Winchester's Tiny Jacket

Winchester’s Tiny Jacket

As for Klinger, there isn’t much meat to his C story involving Danker from Toledo but it’s a nice little diversion from Hawkeye’s angry tirade turned remorseful whining. Can anyone from Toledo confirm that the streets the two discuss actually exist?

That brings us to the A story. Colonel Potter sums it up rather succinctly during his dressing down of Hawkeye: “What did you think you were doing? You rave against violence and insensitivity then to prove your point, you attack a man.” Hawkeye’s initial sarcastic response to Colonel Bloodworth was predictable. The man did come off as the perfect combination of insufferable and heartless, exactly the qualities that would anger Hawkeye.

Hawkeye actually shoving Bloodworth was out of character, certainly, but so to was his palpable disgust at his actions. Was a little push really so devastating to his psyche? Is shoving a man really comparable to ordering 280+ men to their potential deaths? The Hawkeye of earlier seasons wouldn’t have cared nearly as much about the possibility of a court martial.

During Potter’s attempt to get Bloodworth to drop the charges, notice the group in the background playing catch. It looks like Kellye is playing catch with a shirtless man and a nurse in a very bright, very un-Army like shirt.

The best scene in the episode was Charles trying on the flight jacket in Potter’s office.

12 Replies to “Episode Spotlight: The Grim Reaper”

  1. This was a “meh” episode at best. Even though Season Six is a favorite of mine, I usually skip over this episode most of the time.

    I do agree though, the B story involved Charles was pretty amusing, but other than that.

    I’m also kind of glad Klinger got a chance to meet up with someone from Toledo too.

  2. Okay episode, though there’s not much from season six I don’t like. Comparing Hawkeye’s reaction in this one to how he behaves in “House Arrest” is interesting. If nothing else, it shows how much the show had changed since season three.

    It’s always a bit strange to see the early Winchester episodes, when the writers were trying for some kind of chemistry between him and Margaret, ala her and Frank Burns. Obviously, it was something that didn’t work out, and I think they made the right choice in abandoning the idea, although the twist of Margaret now being the married one cheating might have been funny.

    1. There were a number of changes that were made beginning in Season Six that Gene Reynolds didn’t like (despite no longer being involved with the production of the show), and the writers trying to find ways to bring Margaret and Charles together was one of them… but then again, the departure of Frank, and Margaret’s eventual divorce among other changes he didn’t approve of.

  3. Another average episode; but in my estimation an average episode of MASH is better than the best episodes of 90% of the other sitcoms around.

    This episode always reminds me of the old George Carlin joke about the Labor Day weekend:
    “The Traffic Safety Board has predicted there will be 2000 traffic deaths this weekend. So far there have been 1642. Come on, people! You’re not trying!”

  4. Klinger getting to meet a patient from his beloved Toledo was amusing; it was fun seeing them talk about their mutual home town. The Charles and Margaret subplot was awkward; I think the idea was her now being a married woman having an affair would turn the tables on her old relationship with Frank.

    I don’t know why Hawkeye wouldn’t have been worried about a real court-martial-he’d been up on charges before but this was more serious. His righteous anger was certainly understandable.

  5. Hey I am new to this site but have been loving these recaps and comments.

    I am a Toledo native so I loved this episode. Jamie Farr is a local legend in the city and is much loved for talking about it so much in M*A*S*H.

    And yes I can confirm the two street intersections of Locust and Ontario (wounded soldier) and Michigan and Galena (Klinger) do exist and are residential areas in downtown Toledo. In fact, they are just a few blocks apart!

    And Tony Packos Hungarian hot dogs are absolutely delicious!

  6. I liked Charles’ unintentionally pun statement about BJ being a bigger man then he thought he was which turned out to be literally true—BJ knew the jacket was too small for either himself or Charles.

  7. I think the problem with Hawkeye’s indignant anger at military men who like their jobs is annoying because he knows very well he’s beating a “dead” (ahem) horse. After having been in Korea for so long, you’d think he would have learned that doing what he did has no bearing on what happens in the war. Surely he can maintain his principles without making more trouble for himself. I do understand that MASH had a tendency to simplify or dumb things down to make a larger point about the futility of being a doctor in a warzone. It’s like Henry told Hawkeye about rule#1 from command school and how doctors can’t change it. Maybe the place was just getting to Hawkeye and his emotions got the better of him. But all his little speeches strike me as mostly a waste of time. Of course we know war is hell. We also know that changing anything about it is beyond anything we can do.

  8. Isn’t it possible that maybe Charles’ “advances” toward Margaret were simply because he saw someone who respected him as a surgeon? Just a thought.

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