Every Monday, I spotlight a random episode of M*A*S*H, providing a brief review and asking readers to offer their thoughts.
“Some 38th Parallels” (#91, 4×19)
Originally Broadcast: Tuesday, January 20th, 1976
Written by Regier & Markowitz
Directed by Burt Metcalfe
Capsule Summary: Frank wants to sell the 4077th’s trash, Hawkeye has problems of a personal nature and Radar befriends one of B.J.’s patients after helping to save his life.
All three of the story lines in this episode, two of which are connected, could be considered the A story. I suppose one could time the episode and see which story gets the most air time. For no particular reason, I’m going to call Frank’s garbage auction story the A story.
I don’t doubt that the military has strict rules about dealing with garbage. I would be surprised to learn there are actually regulations that allow it to be auctioned off. Wanting to do so was pure Frank, though, as was the zeal and glee with which he pursued the venture.
I can understand why Hawkeye and B.J. were so upset about Coner’s callous indifference to losing so many soldiers and his lack of concern over Phelan’s death. But the colonel was charged with retrieving the bodies of soldiers killed in action. That’s a pretty important job and apparently did it quite well. He just got a lot of additional soldiers killed doing it.
We don’t see any repercussions but Colonel Coner had to be pretty upset after having all that garbage dumped on him. Perhaps he was even injured by falling tongue depressors or became entangled in stretched-out nurses’ bras. There’s no way Hawkeye could have avoided punishment.
The helicopter carrying Hawkeye’s trash was obviously filmed outdoors. But the trash actually being dropped on Coner was filmed on indoor sound stage.
I’m calling Radar’s quick friendship with Phelan, and his disbelief and anguish at Phelan’s death, the B story. It works as a counterpoint to Frank’s funny garbage story line. We never learn exactly what happened to Phelan. He seemed to be doing well and thus his death comes abruptly and without explanation to viewers, just as it did to Radar.
That leaves Hawkeye’s impotence as the C story. Also a serious story line, it feels both out of place and unnecessary in this episode. Had it been left out, Hawkeye could have been given more to do involving the garbage auction or he could have been drawn into Radar’s story line. But that may have robbed viewers of some nice interaction between Radar and B.J.
This episode marks the sixth and final appearance of Lynnette Mettey. She had a recurring role in three Season One episodes as Lt. Nancy Griffin and then made one appearance in Seasons Two through Four, each time as a new character.
I think my favorite piece of dialogue from this episode comes at the end of the garbage conversation in Colonel Potter’s office:
Potter: “Burns, what are you leading up to?”
Frank: “Sir, it’s un-American to get nothing for nothing. Now I propose we auction our garbage off to local contractors. Let it go to the highest bidder.”
Potter: “That’s ridiculous.”
Frank: “As per Pentagon directive, uh, N/R/358/9-8.”
Radar: “The Trashy Substances Act, sir.”
Potter: “Really? Burns, some men are born to greatness. Others have garbage thrust upon them. You’ve got it.”
Frank: “I won’t let you down, sir.
Potter: “There’s no way you can.”
Frank refers to the late Colonel Blake, who apparently said Frank was the best rubbish officer the 4077th ever had.
Margaret does not appear in this episode but she is mentioned briefly when he explains that the Margaret confiscated all the best parts of the Jane Russell puzzle.
There’s a very brief scene in which Klinger and Kellye are seen getting ready for a date.
I may be missing something really obvious but I’ve always wondered exactly what the title is supposed to refer to. The 38th parallel, of course, was the pre-Korean War boundary between North and South Korea. Within the context of the episode, however, what are the parallels?