Episode Spotlight: 38 Across


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

“38 Across” (#111, 5×15)
Originally Broadcast: Tuesday, January 11th, 1977
Written by Jim Fritzell & Everett Greenbaum
Directed by Burt Metcalfe

Capsule Summary: Bored out of their minds, Hawkeye and B.J. become obsessed with a newspaper crossword puzzle. They call an old friend of Hawkeye’s for help and due to a misunderstanding, he thinks there’s an emergency at the 4077th and shows up with an admiral in tow.

Maybe it’s just me, but while rewatching this episode I realized that I liked Frank’s B-story better than the Hawkeye and B.J.’s A-story. For some reason I just find his childlike glee while playing his Ball-in-the-Hole game, received as a present from a former receptionist, hilarious.

Still from the M*A*S*H episode 38 Across
Frank and His Dirty Ball-in-the-Hole Game

We never get to see the game, which has a picture of a scantily-clad and 15 holes for the BBs. Margaret refers to it as a pornographic. The conversation between Margaret and Frank is the highlight of the episode:

Frank: “Well a man has to have something. I’m very lonely, Margaret.”
Margaret: “You deserve to be. Look at that skimpy outfit she’s wearing.”
Frank: “I could buy you one just like it.”
Margaret: “How would you like that game jammed in your ear?”
Frank: “Oh, don’t make me nervous, Margaret. I’ll shake my B.B.s loose.”
Margaret: “It’s too late, Frank.”

Klinger’s C-story about trying to eat an entire jeep piece by piece is also a good one. Too bad there was no mention made of Radar’s attempt to mail a jeep back to the United States (in Season One’s “Dear Dad”). I wonder what Jamie Farr was actually eating when Klinger was supposedly swallowing nuts and bolts.

And that brings us back to the A-story and the crossword puzzle. It is certainly believable that Hawkeye would become obsessed with completing a crossword puzzle, going as far as to reach out to an old friend to try to come up with the last word to finish the puzzle.

I think what bothers me is the idea that Lt. Brooks would spend an entire day traveling from their aircraft carrier — which meant walking ten miles, among other things — just because Radar called and left a message that Hawkeye needed his help “real bad.”

We know Brooks called the 4077th before leaving, because he left a message, presumably with Radar. That means Radar is responsible for misunderstanding, a shocking bit of incompetence on his part. He could have simply asked Brooks about the crossword puzzle on the phone. Instead, he apparently forgot that was the entire reason Hawkeye called.

The admiral deciding not to order an investigation after participating in a seven-hour surgery is convenient and repetitive. Just about angry general or admiral ultimately gives Hawkeye a pass after seeing the 4077th in action.

This concept was revisited somewhat in Season Six’s “The Light That Failed,” which featured members of the 4077th obsessed with a mystery novel and going to great lengths to learn how it ended.

20 Replies to “Episode Spotlight: 38 Across”

  1. My favorite scene is Klinger mumbling from his bed in the hospital and kissing the Admiral when he bends down to listen closer.

    Hawkeye getting off the hook again? I think the only time Hawkeye was really held accountable for his actions was in the finale when he spent time at the Seoul hospital after his breakdown.

  2. I like this episode, I do crossword puzzles myself from time to time.

    It should also be noted that this isn’t the first time an affair between Frank and Nancy, his receptionist, has been referenced… I think whichever episode had Frank zonked out of his mind from illness (and I know there were a few), he starts hallucinating that Margaret tending to him is his receptionist Nancy, and remarks they’ll have to go somewhere else because there’s too many people in the motel.

    And yes, Klinger eating a jeep was a really funny Section 8 scheme… I always just assumed that Jamie Farr really was popping in those nuts and bolts into his mouth and miming he was swallowing, then just spat them out between takes… but as for the motor oil, I’m wondering if it was pancake syrup or something.

    1. The episode you’re thinking of is “As You Were”. Frank had a hernia that needed attention and eventually required surgery.

  3. Good episode, not great. The conversation between Hawkeye, BJ and Frank in the beginning about the BB game and showing of injuries/scars is reminiscent of little boys on the playground showing off their battle scars.

    By far, the most memorable thing about this episode is Klinger swallowing the bolts and then chewing the windshield wiper.

    Good Season 5 episode but not an exciting one.

  4. The really most unbelievable thing about this episode is that there is no way that only one word could be left. A true crossword (not like the ones you did in grade school to learn your spelling words) has boxes of letters that spell words up and down and across – and there would be no five letter word missing unless you at least knew several of the other letters AND some of the other words would be unknown and unfinished as well. So….. this one falls short from the get go. Never one of my favorites. I do think the Frank thing is cute – didn’t even like Klinger eating a jeep. My mother used to tell me that if you swallowed something that wasn’t food, you would DIE. Can’t believe in the 50s they didn’t believe that old wives tale.

  5. A funny episode, but I agree it makes no sense for Hawkeye’s friend to make that trip with no more radio communication. And why did he bring an admiral with him? Admirals are fleet commanders, he would be much too busy to accompany some junior officer on such a nebulous jaunt.

  6. Radar: Did Moses speak Yiddish?

    Hawkeye: Only when he was playing Pinochle.

    I don’t get the joke at all. Can someone explain the correlation of this exchange to me?
    Other than that, it’s an amusing episode with a odd payoff at the end.

    1. What did Hawk mean when Radar was mentioning a soldier’s rank and Hawk said, “That’s nice for his mother”

      1. Radar: I got a guy in Seoul contacting the Essex. He’s a radio man first class.

        Hawk: That’s nice for his mother.

        I don’t get this one either. Maybe since he’s a good radio guy it’s easy for him to contact back home frequently even while at war?

      2. I think he meant it was something his mother could be proud of and brag about her son being a whatever it was

    2. After some brief Googling, looks like Pinochle was a game favored by Jews. I found the below entry on the Pinochle wiki page.

      During World War I, the city of Syracuse, New York outlawed the playing of pinochle in a fit of anti-German sentiment.[4] Pinochle was the favorite card game of American Jews and Irish immigrants[citation needed], while skat was the preferred game of a majority of German immigrants.

      1. I’m positive it was Hawkeye who said the pinochle line. If you doubt my word, watch the episode and if I’m right, apologize for doubting me.

  7. This is a very enjoyable episode, even with the sitcom-like miscommunication. Klinger’s psycho attempt is funny and Frank is hilarious playing his game.

    My only gripe is near the end when Seoul City Sue says Hawkeye’s name over the radio. Alan Alda’s ego strikes again!

  8. this one reminded me of the episode where Hawkeye and Trapper were trying to find the Presidents’ faces in a puzzle so that they could win a pony…what was Klinger really eating when he ate “pieces” of the Jeep?

  9. When Brooks arrives and pleads with Hawk about being in trouble with ADM Cox with no emergency, Hawk replies, “I could hold my breath, say it’s a case of blue-face”. BJ says, “you’d die”. Impossible, a person can’t die from holding their breath.

  10. I like the episode as a solid season 5 effort, but agree that the A-story here was a little daft. I don’t know why Hawkeye’s friend, with whom he clearly had a casual friendship, would believe he was the first port of call in an emergency. It’s not like there would be a lot of situations requiring naval personnel in Uijeongbu.

    To the person who commented re: Soeul City Sue highlighting Hawkeye’s name. That was directly as a result of him operating on the injured N Korean soldier with a bad head-wound at the start of the episode, as he was always the doctor who took the enemy soldier cases. That was the case that Sue was talking about when she was mentioning ‘experimentation’. It was more plot than ‘ego’.

    Always laugh at Mike Farrell’s reaction at the end (clearly not acting) when Hawkeye knocks Frank’s BBs.

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