Episode Spotlight: The Abduction of Margaret Houlihan

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

“The Abduction of Margaret Houlihan” (#102, 5×06)
Originally Broadcast: Tuesday, October 26th, 1976
Teleplay by Allan Katz & Don Reo
Story by Gene Reynolds
Directed by Gene Reynolds

Capsule Summary: Margaret rushes to the aid of a South Korean family, leading Frank and the rest of the 4077th worry she may have been abducted by the Chinese. Colonel Flagg arrives to investigate.

This is a truly hilarious episode and I honestly don’t know where to start talking about it. Every line out of Colonel Flagg’s mouth in this episode is a winner. Even before Flagg showed up, though, the episode was hitting on all cylinders: the South Korean girl’s reaction to Klinger; Hawkeye playing basketball in the Swamp; the banter between B.J. and Frank in the Swamp; the aftermath of Frank accidentally shooting B.J. in the leg. Everything worked and worked well.

I also can’t decide what bit of dialogue is the most amusing. As I said, everything Flagg says in the episode is a gem. A few choice exchanges:

Frank: “I’m going out into the jungle to hunt for Margaret.”
B.J.: “Well, I understand she’s game.”
Frank: “Don’t be a smarty-pants. She’s probably been abducted by Chinese heathens. They have her hanging upside down by her feet from a bamboo tree, doing unspeakable things to her.”
B.J.: “Speak a few.”

And:

Colonel Potter: “Making yourself at home, Flagg?”
Colonel Flagg: “I have no home. I’m the wind.”
Hawkeye: “I told you he was the wind. You said he was the stars.”
B.J.: “No, I said he was the moon.”

Plus:

Colonel Flagg: “There’s only one flaw in that theory.”
Hawkeye: “Only one?”
Colonel Flagg: “They don’t do three shows Saturday night at the Sands.”
Hawkeye: “How do you know?”
Colonel Flagg: “I was a showgirl for six weeks.”

And finally:

Colonel Flagg: “Alert the Navy for offshore artillery. I want a squadron of copters for air-to-ground search and, uh, round up a box of scorpions. About a dozen.”
Radar: “You mean, uh, scorpions scorpions?”
Colonel Flagg: “Big ones.”
Hawkeye: “What the hell are you gonna do with a box of scorpions?”
Colonel Flagg: “It’s personal. Gift for a friend.”
[Radar begins to leave]
Colonel Flagg: “Corporal. If you can’t find scorpions, get two snakes and a rat.”
Radar: “And a rat. Right, right.”

If I had to pick just one single line to sum up the hilarity of the episode, it would be this Colonel Flagg line: “Nobody can get the truth out of me because even I don’t know what it is. I keep myself in a constant state of confusion.”

Colonel Flagg wearing an outrageous military uniform
Colonel Flagg in Disguise

Sometimes, after watching a Colonel Flagg episode, I wonder what might have been had the character been given a spin-off. But then I realize it never would have worked. Flagg was hilarious because he was so seldom seen on M*A*S*H. Had he been used any more frequently, he would have become stale and familiar.

The weakest part of the episode is the childbirth lecture. It almost feels like filler, added to pad out a short episode. But even it is worth watching, if only for the detailed diagrams the prop department designed or acquired (perhaps they’re actual childbirth diagrams from the Korean War).

Sadly, Colonel Flagg’s exit from Colonel Potter’s office through one of the windows loses some of its comedic impact due to the editing required. He forces everyone to close their eyes, screams and then presumably flings himself out the window. All of this is heard while the camera is on Hawkeye, B.J. and some of the others. It doesn’t quite work.

There are a few unusual and bombastic musical cues heard in this episode, including one played right after Hawkeye says “The wind just broke his leg.”

Father Mulcahy does not appear in this episode.

12 Comments

  • Seoul City Sue says:

    If I had to pick my most favorite episode of the entire series, this would have to be it. Great, great episode and everyone is on fire for this one. The one-liners fly fast and hit the mark each time.

    Some of my favorites:

    Col. Flagg : Where’s Houlihan?
    BJ : I think it’s near Dublin

    Col. Flagg: This won’t look good on your record.
    Frank: But Colonel, it’s Reader’s Digest.
    Col. Flagg: Not if you eliminate the third, fifth, and sixth letters, then it’s Red’s Digest, comrade.

    LOL. Love this episode and never tire of watching it.

  • Yes, this is one of my favorite Flagg episodes as well, I couldn’t agree more on how hilarious it is.

    FLAGG: Alright, pipsqueak, what tipped you off?
    RADAR: Well, you don’t look anything like you, sir, and since you’re a master of disguises, I figure you’re the only one who couldn’t look like you all that much, sir.
    FLAGG: (Pause) I’ll buy that. For now.

    I too have often thought Flagg could be given his own spinoff, maybe a post-war sitcom about him still working for the CIA, or maybe even the FBI… but, in addition to his few appearances on M*A*S*H, Flagg was too broad and too one-dimensional a character, that any show where he was main focus would become formulaic and played out too soon, and would be boring after a couple of episodes. I have often said though, if there’s even a movie remake of M*A*S*H done today (perish the thought), Patrick Warburton HAS to play Flagg, he’s perfect for the part.

    • jgf says:

      The writers have stated Flagg was written as an over-the-top character, and that Ed Winter, without coaching, read the part just as they had imagined it. Because such a character could so easily be overdone (think Larry, Darryl, and Darryl in “Newhart”) they made the conscious decision to not use him more than once per season. So there are only seven Flagg appearances …and all rank highly with most people.

  • Crabapple Cove says:

    …I also love Col. Potter’s contribution to the “I’m the wind” dialog when he says

    “Colonel Wind, would you kindly blow your butt out of my chair!”

    (I think I have the line correct, it has been a while since I watched this episode).

    That line cracks me up everytime.

    I agree 100% that this was a great episode. I also love Flagg in the ‘Spy vs Spy’ episode “A Smattering of Intelligence”

  • Larry P. says:

    Great, great episode! Anytime Col. Flagg shows up is hilarious, but this may be near the top of the eps featuring him.

    One of my favorite moments comes after Frank accidentally shoots BJ:

    Frank: I think Margaret has been kidnapped by the Chinese!
    Potter: So naturally you shot Hunnicutt.

    I probably don’t have that exactly right, but whatever the actual wording is, I always love it.

  • hrflyer says:

    Frank get chummy with Flagg and puts his arm on Flagg’s shoulder.

    Flagg: My father touched me that way once. To this day he has to wear orthopedic shirts.

    Frank gets this goofy smile on his face and quickly takes his arm back before Flagg rips it out of its socket.

  • T.F. says:

    Note_COlonel Flagg _whatever his true name and rank were did come back to MASH ..in “AFTER MASH” http://mash.wikia.com/wiki/Colonel_Sam_Flagg

    Edward Winter also guest starred in the series “Misfits of Science” in which he plays a generals aide who is killed trying to stop a Crazy General -played by LARRY LINVILLE

  • J.A.R. says:

    I love this episode, it’s freakin’ hilarious!

    Aside from the other great lines, I’ve always liked Potter’s “Careful, Radar, you don’t want to shoot him across the room!” when they’re doing the childbirth lesson. When my wife gave birth to our son, her final push was pretty intense and she did damn near shoot him across the room! Naturally that scene flashed through my mind at that moment…

  • jgf says:

    Potter, to Flagg, “Why are you dressed like an Italian usher?”

    From the conversation at the start, Margaret is apparently fluent in Korean. But in other episodes, such as when the Korean woman chases Klinger with a pitchfork when she thinks he has corrupted her daughter, Margaret doesn’t understand Korean and requires an interpreter.

    • Doc Funnypants says:

      The episode you’re thinking of is “Private Finance”. IMO, it wasn’t that great an episode referring to “Private Finance”.

  • Pete Woodhouse says:

    Prompted by the showgirl revelation, Hawk does some sort of “rat-a-tat-tat” dance (imitating a gun) at episode’s end. Great fun overall

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