Every Monday, I spotlight a random episode of M*A*S*H, providing a brief review and asking readers to offer their thoughts.
“Exorcism” (#108, 5×12)
Originally Broadcast: Tuesday, December 14th, 1976
Teleplay by Jay Folb
Story by Gene Reynolds & Jay Folb
Directed by Alan Alda
Capsule Summary: After Colonel Potter orders Radar to remove a spirit post, strange things start going wrong at the 4077th, leading Hawkeye to bring in a priestess to perform an exorcism.
This is a bizarre episode and I’m not entirely sure how I feel about it. There are a few good jokes but the exorcism sequence doesn’t seem to fit and the B-story isn’t really much of a story at all.
The most amusing part of the episode comes when Hawkeye tells Kyong Ja he’ll try to exorcise the spirits (Hawkeye: “Acetyl, salicylic, phenobarb and arsphenamine.”) and then Frank walks out of pre-op (Hawkeye: “My God, it worked.”) and Radar begins to laugh hysterically. The scene in the Swamp in which B.J. and Hawkeye tease Frank about his cologne is also a funny one, too.
The actual exorcism, although impressive in its execution, is difficult to take seriously. Although I am sure research was done to ensure the priestess and the ceremony were as accurate as possible, it just looked like she was dancing around the camp and in the operating room. It was a piece of performance art not a religious or spiritual ceremony.
There aren’t a lot of episodes that delve so deeply into Korean beliefs and customs. Although everyone other than Frank is certainly respectful to some degree (Hawkeye’s pretend exorcism is really quite mocking in tone) and in the end Potter decides to have the spirit post put back, you can’t help but get the sense that everyone was laughing a little bit at the whole thing. Hawkeye tricking Frank out of $10 by exorcising his radio in the tag isn’t particularly respectful of Korean culture.
I suppose that’s the point of the episode. Klinger may believe wholeheartedly in spirits and jinxes but everyone else is just trying to help an old man who needs an operation. They’re humoring him and letting him have his way because they want to save his life. I wonder if the episode would have worked better had it dealt solely with Korean superstition and left out all the bad luck and broken lights and strange occurrences. Although that ground may have been covered in other episodes.
The Corporal Marsh B-story doesn’t add much to the episode because it doesn’t go anywhere. He’s at the 4077th for a second time, winds up there a third time, and then leaves. That’s it. Are we supposed to think he was affected by evil spirits, too?