Episode Spotlight: The Novocaine Mutiny


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

“The Novocaine Mutiny” (#92, 4×20)
Originally Broadcast: Tuesday, January 27th, 1976
Written by Burt Prelutsky
Directed by Harry Morgan

Capsule Summary: Frank has charged Hawkeye with mutiny and various members of the 4077th attend a preliminary hearing.

This episode is a terrific yet disturbing look into the psyche of Frank Burns. His outlook on life can be summed up perfectly by this somewhat famous line of his:

“Unless we each conform, unless we obey orders, unless we follow our leaders blindly, there is no possible way we can remain free.”

And he believes it, too, earnestly and completely. In fact, the episode revolves around Frank’s various convictions: that Hawkeye is a danger to America; that he can reshape the 4077th in six days while in temporary command; that his surgical skills are top notch; that everyone around him is incompetent at best, mutinous at worst.

Frank’s recollection of the surgery that led to the so-called mutiny is brightly lit, bizarre and easily the highlight of the episode. That he thinks highly of his surgical skills was not surprising but the depth and extent of his false memory was unbelievable. Left uncertain is whether Frank actually remembers the surgery that way or if he was simply trying to build himself up while tearing down everyone else. Personally, I’m conflicted.

Nurse Johnson and Frank in the O.R.

Frank Burns, Surgeon Extraordinaire

There are a lot of great bits of dialogue in this episode. My favorite is between Frank and Radar about his teddy bear:

Frank: “Don’t tell me he sleeps with you.”
Radar: “I’m hoping to do better, sir.”

I also like Hawkeye’s “Mediocrity’s no crime, Frank!” from Frank’s recollection.

Anachronism alert: Radar’s comic books seen during Frank’s search of his desk are Marvel comics from the 1960s.

During Frank’s recollection of the events of 11 October, notice his voice when he calls out “Nurse Johnson.” It doesn’t match the rest of his dialogue.

The title of the episode refers to the 1952 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Caine Mutiny, which was turned into a 1954 movie starring Humphrey Bogart.

Margaret does not appear in this episode.

This was Harry Morgan’s directorial debut.

16 Replies to “Episode Spotlight: The Novocaine Mutiny”

  1. I’m pretty sure that, “Nurse Johnson” line was an ADR dub, which they seem to do on occasion.

    To me, this was a meh episode at best, however, I do actually like Frank’s recollection in surgery, mainly because it’s exactly what we need to expect from Frank: building himself up as the super surgeon who saved countless lives, while Hawkeye, B.J., and all the others simply couldn’t keep up… and did you notice? Despite taking place in the O.R., we still heard the laugh track. We know not to take any of Frank’s story seriously.

    Also, don’t forget, Frank thinks so highly of himself, he almost pretty much compares himself to God:

    FRANK: Six days, Colonel? God created the universe in six days.
    KLINGER: (Enters) Here’s your bridle and truss, Major Pussycat! (Exits)
    FRANK: Oh course, God wasn’t surrounded by a bunch of flakes!

  2. I found this to be a very uneven episode. First of all, wouldn’t Frank need the CO to sign off on the court martial papers before they are brought to court?? How and why did Col. Potter do that?? Couldn’t the matter have been resolved in his office like always??

    Second of all, how come everyone believes Hawkeye’s version of events but not Frank’s?? Again, Hawkeye is deemed to be a near demi-god for his surgical skills and it seems that he can do no wrong.

    Uneven episode and quite unbelievable at that.

  3. By the way, I thought I’d announce this just in case some of you didn’t hear about it.
    The last four remaining raiders of the Doolittle Raid are getting together one last time in public somewhere in the Midwest of the United States. They will drink from their Goblets the 1896 year Cognac (Look it up!:)) and toast the other seventy-six that have died over the years. 🙁

  4. While there were definitely some amusing moments, I also find this episode completely unbelievable. As Sue said, Potter would never sign off on something so frivolous. Also, Hawkeye would likely never want anything to do with Frank ever again after putting him through that. The ending is remarkably laid back and jovial considering it was a court martial proceeding.

    1. It’s another laugh fest. Just keep in mind it may not reflect reality all that well.

      One of my favorite lines takes place in the O.R. as artillery goes off outside and Frank has the stupidity to ask Hawkeye:

      Burns: Was that a bomb?

      Pierce: Uh no Frank, someone’s been playing their World War II album.

      This calls up images of Sunday mornings and a nice breakfast and coffee, perhaps a smoke, the Sunday paper and oh dear what to do?

      Hey I know! I’ll just pull out my favorite WWll! Man they sure don’t make em’ like they used to. Bang! Bam! Boom!

  5. I guess I didn’t really think about the logistics of the court martial. Do we know for sure that Frank’s complaint against Hawkeye would have had to go to Colonel Potter first, or could he have bypassed the regular chain of command and gone directly to whoever? Frank and Margaret certainly went over Colonel Blake’s head plenty of times.

    1. Technically Frank could not bring charges against Hawkeye, with or without going “through channels” (i.e. Potter). He could only present his evidence to the JAG office, they would review the evidence, determine what, if any, crime had been committed, then bring charges.

      Just like in real life, if you see a crime committed you do not bring charges, you report your evidence to the police (and therefore to the DA’s office). If charges are then filed, you appear as witness.

      I don’t recall whether this episode takes place before or after Hawkeye has been made chief surgeon. In the military there is differentiation between “rank” and “authority”; the classic example is a lowly private assigned MP duty can arrest a five star general if he sees him doing something illegal. “I respect your rank; you respect my authority.” If Hawkeye has already been appointed chief surgeon, then in the operating room he has absolute authority, therefore there was no mutiny.

  6. Sorry, I forgot to introduce myself.
    My username is from “Bottoms Up”.
    My favorite episode is “Old Soldiers”
    I live 2 hours east of Toledo,Ohio.
    I’m a devoted fan of the site and check in often.
    Hope to hear from all you M*A*S*H fans
    Frank was his usual bizarre self in this episode.

    1. Hi, Doc Funnypants!
      My name is JocularityGirl (Made it up myself after Father Mulcahy’s catchphrase!)
      My favorite character on the show is Father Mulcahy, and my favorite actor/actress on the show is William Christopher.
      My favorite episode is “Nurse Doctor” .
      I’m eighteen, live in Northeast Texas and love watching Mash and writing clean romance novels inclunding one Mulcahy/original character fanfiction!
      Nice to meet you all!

  7. This is a perfect example of what would happen if Frank were in charge and Margaret wasn’t there to rein him in.

  8. A funny episode especially where the courtroom scenes are concerned. Knowing Frank, he probably really did believe his own story. As BJ said, he had no doubt that Frank remembered it that way.

    Potter: “I’m not saying I’d want a company of Klingers…”
    Hawkeye: “Unless Christian Dior invades Pearl Harbor.”

    Frank (when trying to explain why he had the unit moved from one spot and then back again): “Mash means mobile.”
    Hawkeye: “Also meshugah.”

  9. Franks distorted look at realty…it would have been funnier if the CO was Col Blake…Potter whould have put Houlihan not Burns in charge…..

  10. IIRC, Hawkeye had been made chief surgeon early on in Season 1, so after what you said, he had total authority.
    I love this episode but I take on board comments such as Tuttle’s about unbelievability: “Hawkeye would likely never want anything to do with Frank ever again after putting him through that. The ending is remarkably laid back and jovial considering it was a court martial proceeding.”
    This episode, plus the one where Hawkeye is arrested after punching Frank, are two examples where – in their respective aftermaths – the 2 guys shouldn’t have been in the same camp together.
    More proof that MASH didn’t really do continuity, more like 250-odd episodes existing in their own separate universes.

  11. “Gentlemen, I have weighed the evidence carefully. Not merely the testimony, but the records of those involved. I have no doubt that Captain Pierce is a prankster and thoroughly unmilitary. But the records indicate that he’s a topflight surgeon. Lord knows I wouldn’t want to lead a company of Pierces into battle but I’d sure as hell want him around when that battle was over.”

    Case dismissed!

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