Episode Spotlight: Potter’s Retirement


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

“Potter’s Retirement” (#142, 6×22)
Originally Broadcast: Monday, February 20th, 1978
Written by Laurence Marks
Directed by William Jurgensen

Capsule Summary: When Colonel Potter learns that someone from the 4077th has been making complaints to headquarters about the way the unit is run, he decides to leave Korea and take a stateside posting.

This episode really only has one story line, one that involves a few plot threads. There’s the primary thread of Colonel Potter learning about the complaints coming from inside his command, the reaction from Hawkeye, B.J. and the others, their search for the culprit and of course there’s the Kentucky Derby party (and Margaret’s hatred for white icing on the cake).

Harry Morgan had such a wonderful way of acting angry. In this episode he’s seen yelling at Klinger, Radar, Charles and acting tough with just about everyone else. Poor Radar gets yelled at twice, in fact, and Margaret gets called a snitch.

For me, the highlight of the episode is Hawkeye and B.J.’s search through Charles’s trunk for proof he’s the spy. The letter, with its wonderful line about sparkling stars, is hilarious, as is Charles explaining that Winchesters do not spy but do occasionally hire them and his obvious pain at using the word jerk. He certainly shows them up, though, by explaining how they can actually find the letter.

Screenshot featuring Harry Morgan as Colonel Potter

A wish for peace

The revelation that Corporal (Lieutenant) Joe Benson was spying for the inspector general due to a complaint from Colonel Frank Webster falls pretty flat. Benson told the inspector general that from a military standpoint things at the 4077th were pretty loose and that was enough to spark the whole thing? Of course, the episode isn’t really about finding the snitch but how the 4077th reacted to Potter’s announcement that he was leaving.

Hawkeye begging Colonel Potter to stay in Korea (“You can give me a hundred good reasons to go, and I can’t give one good reason to stay. Stay anyway.”) is touching.

Radar opening a sealed letter with absolutely no trouble feels like something Season One Radar would be able to do.

There are two goofs in this episode, one in which Alan Alda nearly falls off “Whirlaway” while the camp is singing “My Old Kentucky Home” and another involving the placement of the scarf B.J. is wearing. Read more about them here and here.

At the very end of the episode, right after Colonel Potter blows out the candles on the half derby cake, there’s a noticeable change in the color of the footage. Take a look:

Screenshot showing two stills with different colors

The color changes

26 Replies to “Episode Spotlight: Potter’s Retirement”

  1. The interesting thing about this episode is that it was written by Laurence Marks, and was about an agent sent to the 4077th to spy on Potter’s efficiency of command – Laurence Marks frequently wrote for HOGAN’S HEROES, and that show was all about spies, sabotage, and espionage.

    The vibe of this episode feels a little more reminiscent of the earlier episodes, but it was also possibly one of the finest Potter episodes we had, I really like this exchange:

    POTTER: It’s been a long war, and I passed my prime about ten squares back.
    HAWKEYE: Look Colonel… uh… Sherman… you can give me a hundred good reasons to go, and I can’t give one good reason to stay. Stay anyway.
    RADAR: What he said.
    B.J.: Please.
    POTTER: Well, I’ll have to think about it for a little while… (Looks at watch) What the hell, I’ll stay.

  2. This is an episode from Season Six…..possibly the best season the show ever had. A great episode from an equally great season.

  3. Top notch episode. Hawkeye’s asking Potter to stay at the end is wonderful.

    Joe Benson was played by George Wyner, who has appeared in a TON of shows over the years, but for me, it’s almost impossible to see him in anything and not say to myself “Hey! It’s Irwin from Hill Street Blues!”.

    1. agreed, his role as Irwin in the HSB episode “Trial by Fury” is incredible. I consider that one of the best episodes of television ever aired.

  4. I’m not one of the people who love the way Hawkeye asks Colonel Potter to stay, maybe it’s because I never quite liked Hawkeye… But it’s an important scene, of course, and the only one where he calls him his first name. This made it memorable. The entire episode is good and I agree that Harry Morgan is great at acting angry, but why did the Colonel shout at everybody, especially at the ones that he could be sure weren’t snitching on him? He should be more upset than angry. But that’s just my opinion.

    1. In my opinion also, I believe that even though Potter knew that some of the people he was shouting at couldn’t possibly be the person sending the bad reports, he felt like they had all betrayed him. Henceforth he wanted to get back at them equally. That being said from the late middle towards the beginning end of the episode I think he realized he was making a mistake by being angry at those he knew couldn’t be the snitch. This can be seen in the scene in his office with Radar and some with Hawkeye and BJ. Hope this is of some help.

      1. I also think Potter has a temper. I’m so used to it w/my own dad that it sounds so familiar. He will lash out if he’s angry, no matter what the problem is, and take it out on those around him. Potter has always done this. However, he has always apologized after.

  5. IMO, Klinger’s plan to get transferred to the MP’s seemed rather plausible considering his other schemes. You had to feel for Radar getting yelled at by Col. Potter twice basically for no reason than Potter felt like it.

  6. Sorry about the abrupt cut-off. What I was trying to write was this:

    Hawkeye: What are you using for mint?

    BJ: Green cough medicine.

    Hawkeye: Antiseptic and antebellum.

  7. I don’t get what Hawkeye was getting at when he inquired “How are things in Seoul, the Jersey City of the Orient”? I never understood what it meant. Is there a comparison between the two cities?

    1. Jersey City & New Jersey itself is colloquially known as “The Armpit of America”. Hawkeye was referring to the fact that Seoul is the “armpit” of the orient aka Asia, which at the time it was especially compared to Tokyo.

      1. Thank you for the explanation. I thought this episode was pretty good aside from Potter’s grumpy mood after the meeting with Gen. Kent.

        Potter: If there’s one thing I won’t abide by, it’s two commissioned teenagers who think they can break regulations whenever the mood hits them.

        Margaret: Darn tooten.

        Potter: But what’s worse is a snitch. Somebody who can’t settle a matter face to face.

  8. “Monogrammed toilet paper? Who’s he trying to impress?”

    I noticed how Hawkeye only calls Potter by his first name once in this episode. They had a different relationship with Potter than with the more informal Henry, but it was still one of enormous respect and friendship.

  9. I noticed on the DVD version of this episode, right after BJ says “Business before pleasure”, the screen goes dark for a few seconds and then returns with a chopper landing on the helipad. What I want to know is was there a commercial break during that portion of the episode. I’d greatly like verification of this please.

  10. Toward the end of the episode while colonel Potter was making his decision to stay or go and he said, “I passed my prime ten squares back.” My question is, what is a “square?” And how does the term represent a unit of time? Is it for the four seasons like a square has four sides but colonel Potter seems to old to had been in his prime 10 years ago. Or is it four years, makes more sense he was in his prime 40 years ago. What is a “square?”

      1. I though it was like playing a board game like Monopoly and you pass a square marked Park Place or some other street name.

  11. I think the reason the color changes in certain episodes is because they can’t remaster the footage where the episode credits are featured.

  12. Great episode. “Angry Potter” is usually good entertainment. His yelling “Where the hell have you been?” at the unsuspecting Radar is especially devastating; I always feel sorry for Radar during that scene.

    The “Deus ex machina” reveal of Benson being the snitch is pretty lame. Here’s a character we’ve never seen before, and yet he’s supposedly been at the 4077th for 6 months? The solution would have been more effective if it had been someone we knew for more than 5 minutes.

    1) The whole scene in the Swamp where Hawkeye and BJ are going through Charles’ things. Hawkeye’s reading of Charles’ letter is absolutely hilarious.
    2) The scene in Potter’s office where he decides to stay in Korea. All of the actors are terrific here. I don’t know if I believe that anyone would pass up the chance to leave a war zone, but Potter was a dedicated doctor and he cared for the people under his command, so maybe he would.

    1. About Hawkeye reading Charles’s letter to the mysterious Meredith, I have a few things to say about it. First, if Meredith is a general, isn’t it disrespectful to address a superior officer by only their last name. Second, how did Hawkeye know Charles was using code phrases in the letter. And, lastly, I loved the part where he referenced Grandmama Winchester possessing the wisdom of the ages and half of downtown Boston.

  13. I also like Hawkeye’s reaction when Charles takes a drink from his hair tonic bottle:

    Hawkeye: “Charles, you’re drinking your hair!”

    Charles: “Don’t be ridiculous. This is twelve year old scotch. I wouldn’t leave the real stuff around you petty larcenists.”

    (Hawkeye starts gagging)

    BJ: “What’s wrong?”

    Hawkeye: “I’ve been drinking from his scotch bottle!”

  14. The reason Webster had Benson mole around the 4077th was that he was angry that Potter wouldn’t treat his superficial injury (small piece of shrapnel in his thigh) on the spot and had to wait until the more serious casualties were treated. I think that point’s been missed here

  15. I’ve finished researching for a friend. I couldn’t remember which episode Radar used his “flicking the envelope flap” technique to open a sealed envelope. The things we do for others!!

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