Every Monday, I spotlight a random episode of M*A*S*H, providing a brief review and asking readers to offer their thoughts.
“Dear Dad, Again” (#18, 1×18)
Originally Broadcast: Sunday, February 4th, 1973
Written by Sheldon Keller & Larry Gelbart
Directed by Jackie Cooper
Capsule Summary: Hawkeye writes his father, telling him about a sergeant impersonating a doctor, his naked stroll through camp, Frank’s drunken ramblings and more.
One of the things I really like about reviewing an episode every week is that I sometimes get to rediscover some true gems that I haven’t seen in years. “Dear Dad, Again” is one of those gems. It is a superb episode from start to finish and watching it without a laugh track was really quite interesting. I actually went back and watched a few scenes with the laugh track to get a feel for how experience of watching with the laugh track is so drastically different than watching without it.
There’s literally nothing to criticize in this episode with the possible exception of questioning whether Father Mulcahy would really be okay with Casey/Schwartz impersonating a priest. I spent the whole episode wondering who the actor was playing Captain Casey and what I knew him from. It wasn’t until I watched the closing credits that I realized it was Alex Henteloff, who co-starred in The Young Rebels on ABC (you can read all about the show at Television Obscurities).
So much was packed into this episode that I actually made a list, separating the various strands of the Captain Casey storyline from all the other bits and pieces:
Storylines in “Dear Dad, Again”
-Captain Casey is introduced
-Father Mulcahy learns Captain Casey’s secret
-Hawkeye learns Captain Casey’s secret
-Captain Casey becomes Father Casey
-Klinger’s white wedding dress
-Hawkeye bets Trapper $50 he can walk into the mess tent naked without anyone noticing
-Radar’s correspondence course
-Frank gets drunk and keeps Hawkeye and Trapper up into the wee hours of the morn
-The 4077th’s Charity No-Talent Night
There’s so much to love about this episode that it’s hard to say which storyline was the best or most amusing. Hawkeye walking naked from the Swamp to the mess tent was great, as was the performance of “My Blue Heaven” by Hawkeye Pierce and his Swinging Surgeons (with special guest Hot Lips Houlihan). Even the very brief scene in which Klinger drops off some x-rays while wearing a wedding dress made an impression, if only because without the laugh track it is a little disturbing. Take out the laughs and a man in a wedding dress isn’t funny, it’s just weird.
Hawkeye’s terrible knock knock jokes about Abe Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson fall flat, as intended, but Trapper’s frustrated response (“Hawkeye, I never liked you”) and Hawkeye’s mad laughter (described in the closed captions as “boisterous cackling”) make for a hilarious scene. Larry Linville did an amazing job playing Frank drunk, singing and chattering incessantly. Frank reveals his brother’s cruel, childhood nickname for him: ferret face.
Radar’s correspondence course was confusing because the company involved, The Triple-A High School Diploma Company of Dellavin, Indiana, suggests that he was getting his high school diploma. I always thought you needed at least a high school diploma to get into the military. It was a little strange to see Radar depicted as such an idiot but the character was in flux throughout much of the first season or so.
Two final thoughts on the episode:
First, did the U.S. Army really issue camouflage bathing suits for women, like the one worn by the nurse sunbathing next to Hawkeye while he writes about Radar’s E.S.P.? Or was she wearing a regulation pair of shorts and a homemade bikini top? I’m sure we see similar bathing suits in other episodes.
Second, how much does an extra get paid to stand barefoot and in a bathrobe while pretending to kiss Hawkeye good night at the start of the episode? Was she a regular extra or was there a casting call for an actress with the right legs?