Episode Spotlight: Alcoholics Unanimous


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

“Alcoholics Unanimous” (#57, 3×09)
Originally Broadcast: Tuesday, November 12th, 1975
Written by Everett Greenbaum & Jim Fritzell
Directed by Hy Averback

Capsule Summary: Temporarily in charge of the 4077th, Frank accuses Hawkeye and Trapper of being alcoholics and declares the camp dry. Things don’t go quite as he had planned.

Here’s another episode that really has only one story line: Frank outlawing alcohol at the 4077th. The bulk of the episode revolved around Hawkeye and Trapper reacting to the loss of booze but Margaret and Father Mulcahy had something to do as well. Klinger and Radar had very little involvement in the episode and Colonel Blake, of course, was absent entirely.

Were Hawkeye and Trapper (and later B.J.) alcoholics or borderline alcoholics? With one or two exceptions, their drinking was never shown to interfere with their ability to operate. They drank often but weren’t constantly drunk. The bulk of their heavy drinking took place off-duty.

One could argue that with the possibility of wounding arriving unexpectedly at any time, they should never have gotten drunk at all.

For once, Frank actually seemed to have the best interests of Hawkeye and Trapper in mind, even if he wasn’t actually concerned about them. They certainly failed the test he gave them and, deprived of their still, began to come apart at the seams.

I’m not sure what to make of Margaret’s confession that she too drinks to deal with her nerves, explaining that she sometimes can’t make it without drinking. Yes, she was seen drinking on more than one occasion but not nearly as much as Hawkeye and Trapper/B.J. and usually when she did drink, she got really drunk.

Would one drink really have led to Father Mulcahy giving his anti-drinking sermon drunk?

Margaret holding her nippy bottle and a medicinal flask full of brandy

Margaret and Her “Medicine”

Frank walking outside wearing Margaret’s bra was amusing. I can’t decide whether seeing his reaction upon realizing he was wearing the bra while talking to Radar would make the scene more or less amusing.

I wonder if the shot of the film projector exploding was done just once or if it required multiple takes.

The movie the camp is watching at the start of the episode is Tin Pan Alley from 1940. The woman singing is actress Alice Faye and the man playing the piano is actor John Payne. And the song being sung is “America, I Love You,” originally written in 1915.

19 Replies to “Episode Spotlight: Alcoholics Unanimous”

  1. Great episode. Henry isn’t present in this episode but with all that is going on here, you don’t really miss him. Fr. Mulcahy’s sermon is hysterical and the slow unraveling of his speech is one not to be missed.

    Best line in the episode…..after Frank lectures the 3 of them getting drunk in the Swamp and walks away in a huff.
    Margaret: Who was that??


  2. The thing that always amuses me. In all eleven seasons wounded appear unexpectedly, often intefering with something surgeons really badly need (Adam’s Ribs, for example) but, in more than a few occasions where camp men gets drunk and there is clearly no single surgeon in working condition, wounded never arrived until everybody sobered up. There is couple of episodes where surgeons operate on wounded soldiers under heavy hungover, but never when they’re drunk. Very nice of them, indeed!

  3. I love the “who WAS that” line as well, but I really love Father Mulcahey –

    I love the line “who WAS that?” as well, and also when Father Mulcahey repeats himself – and when accused of being a re-run, he says, “There’s no recording…. I’m Live”.

    Then Frank gets drunk, and prohibition is repealed.

  4. This is one of my absolute favorite episodes, probably in my top 10. A lot of hysterical scenes in this one, and Hawkeye, Trapper and Margaret getting drunk together is a riot! “Come on in, take off your skin and rattle around in your bones!” Fr. Mulcahey’s sermon is a classic. It never fails to get me when Hawkeye and Trapper first sit down at the lecture and Hawkeye shouts “Sound! Where’s the sound?!” (echoing the beginning of the episode when the sound cuts out during the movie). From start to finish this episode is terrific.

    Also, if Fr. Mulcahey wasn’t a big drinker (though we did see him partake now and then, particularly later in the series) and the alcohol content of the liquor was high, I could definitely see it making him drunk. His tolerance would have been low, and if he had an empty stomach (not hard to believe, considering the food in the mess tent!), well, look out! Besides, I always assumed he may have had a bit more between the drink we see him with and when he walks in to give the lecture.

    1. Looks like I pulled a Fr. Mulcahy last night, too! For some reason I spelled it “Mulcahey,” more than once. Not sure why I did that, and unlike Padre, I can’t blame it on alcohol.

  5. I’m not so think as you drunk I am……I believe that’s the way Margaret said it……A classic line…….

    Margaret: I wonder if I could see Col Blake

    Radar: I wonder if you can too….

    A classic line!

  6. You can tell Larry Linville is trying hard not to laugh when Margaret, Hawkeye and Trapper are drunk and discussing how they make the gin.

  7. About the test Frank gave his tentmates, they didn’t really fail as opposed to Frank believing they were lying about their answers. Furthermore, Frank left out the word percent in reference to those in the Asian theater with a drinking problem. Also, no one accused Father Mulcahy of being a rerun, he said it of his own volition.

    Frank: Men can move mountains with their words. Winston Churchill.
    Margaret: His mother was American, you know.
    Frank: So was mine.
    Vintage Frank Burns verbal lunacy.

  8. I liked Radar’s reaction to being asked to open one of the stained glass windows.

  9. Frank was actually the only one who didn’t get drunk, Margaret gave him a flask which exposed his hypocrisy but he only took one swig.

    The explanation for how they got the booze was so crazy it might have been true.

    “This is not a recording…I’m live”

  10. I know I’m constantly saying this, but here I go again…one of my favorite episodes! My favorite scene is where Mulcahy is giving a sermon on temperance while drunk as a skunk! Bill Christopher played drunk hilariously and NAILED it!
    Being a Bible buff as well as a M*A*S*H* buff, after watching the episode, I looked up and read the Bible story that Mulcahy was preaching about, about Aaron’s sons. Terribly sad lesson of how Jesus wants our obedience out of love instead of sacrifices.
    Anyway, like our favorite boxing padre would say, this comment was not a recording. I typed it live. 😉

    1. It wasn’t a ukelele. It was a full size Gibson LG-2 Acoustic that was being played by Captain Spalding and the song was “I Wonder If They Miss Us”.

  11. Absolute classic! From start to finish. The drinking scene is one of the very best. This episode is so good, it’s finished before u realise Henry is not in it. So many classic lines. Every character is in top form, I mean as a small example, the way Klinger turns and marches off after the glove speech is on point. 5 stars

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