Episode Spotlight: Dear Dad


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

“Dear Dad” (#12, 1×12)
Originally Broadcast: Sunday, December 17th, 1972
Written by Larry Gelbart
Directed by Gene Reynolds

Capsule Summary: As Christmas approaches, Hawkeye writes his father a letter detailing various goings-on at the 4077th.

This is a wonderful episode and one that needs to be watched carefully and closely to catch all of the little things going on in the background, like Radar carrying around jeep parts and P.A. announcements that are more amusing then usual. There’s also a jarring sequence in which Klinger tries to blow up Frank with a grenade, which feels out of place yet bizarrely fitting.

It’s tough to pick a highlight of this episode but for me it would have to be Trapper’s question to Colonel Blake during the sex lecture:

Trapper: “Uh, sir. What happens in the event that Figure A is attracted to Figure B and wants to get married, but Figure A is already married to, say, Figure C, and Figure B is engaged to Figure D? But Figure A can’t keep his hands off of Figure B because she’s got such a great figure.
Henry: “Uh-huh. Well, according to the Army, he’s got to forget her.”
Hawkeye: That figures.

It’s one of my favorite bits of dialogue from the whole series and I would love to know whether Wayne Rogers was able to say it correctly in one take or if it took a few tries.

There are some parts of the episode that aren’t too believable. Klinger, in his second appearance on the series, gets in a fight with a superior officer, punches him out cold and then threatens to blow up the camp priest with a grenade. And yet he suffers no repercussions whatsoever. It’s difficult to reconcile this Klinger with the Klinger who comes up with wacky ideas to try to get out of the Army. Obviously, the character hadn’t really been defined at this point.

Likewise, a doctor being lowered from a helicopter into the middle of a battle to patch up a wounded soldier doesn’t seem realistic. Hawkeye would have made a perfect target ever so slowly descending from above.

The scheming Radar seen in this episode is soon replaced by a more naive Radar who wouldn’t think of trying to ship a jeep home part by part. Larry Gelbart discussed this in a December 2007 post to the alt.tv.mash Newsgroup:

Once l became aware (through research) that some enterprising
serviceman did in fact mail a jeep to his stateside home, one or
several pieces at a time, l knew that we had to have someone do it in
an episode – and who was more enterprising than Radar? After that, it
became a matter of indicating very specifically where in the
episode’s script Radar would be seen carrying a steering wheel or
whatever jeep component or any other designated item and then somehow
paying the whole business off.

I’ve long wondered why this episode has a “roll call” at the end. It was the 13th episode produced (although the 12th aired). Typically, television shows are given 13-episode orders and if they’re successful a network orders a full season. Perhaps the cast was acknowledged at the end of the episode as a sort of celebration that the first block of episodes has been completed.

Henry’s sex lecture

In his letter, Hawkeye states that his father lives in Vermont rather than Maine. He also mentions his mother and sister, despite later episodes revealing he is an only child and his mother was dead. The series is peppered with inconsistencies like these, particularly in early seasons, but they don’t detract from the quality of the episode.

After walking into the Mess Tent and seeing Father Mulchay trimming the Christmas tree with various medical instruments, Hawkeye says “Looking good, Red.” This is a reference to the nickname “Dago Red” used in the original novel and the film MASH but only used twice in the series (the other instance was in the pilot episode).

Lizabeth Deen is credited as playing Becky in this episode. She must be the nurse Hawkeye is planning on meeting at 11 o’clock after his rendezvous with Barbara at 9 o’clock.

16 Replies to “Episode Spotlight: Dear Dad”

  1. There really isn’t anything else I can say, other than this is the first great Christmas episode M*A*S*H had (the other great Christmas episode being Season Seven’s “Dear Sis”), and one of the finest episodes from its struggling first season.

  2. I have always liked this episode. I think this was the first “letter” episode of many more throughout the series run.

    As far as the Vermont/Maine continuity error, I guess it could be argued that Hawkeye’s family was merely visiting Vermont, since he says something like “Christmas here in Korea, as with you there in Vermont…” (I know it is a stretch, but just a thought).

    Henry’s lectures are always hilarious.

  3. Funny episode although I like the second ‘Dear Dad’ episode ‘Dear Dad, Again’ much better.

    Henry’s lectures were always a hoot to watch.

  4. Definitely one of the best Season 1 shows.

    As far as Klinger’s behavior is concerned – I think you can justify it by saying that he had just arrived in Korea and was probably more unsettled by being there than many others in camp. Frank being Frank just pushed a very fragile person over the edge.

    I asked Ken Levine about the show’s continuity errors a couple of years ago and he told me that the show never had a Writers Bible, which is very unusual. That would explain a lot of the gaffes.

  5. this is a little late, but as for the Maine/Vermont continuity error; since it’s a Christmas episode and Hawkeye says in his letter something like “Christmas will soon be here for us in Korea just as it will be for you in Vermont” maybe his father had a vacation cabin in Vermont or something like that. And when he says at the end “Kiss Mom & Sis for me…” maybe that refers to a picture of his mother that his father keeps on display or carries in his wallet or something & maybe his father has a girlfriend that Hawkeye considers his sister.

  6. I think too many people dwell on the continuity stuff. It’s obvious he was just crazy and imagined his mother and sis.

  7. just want to say that this was the first episode of MASH that I watched all the way through and to this day it’s one of my “must-see” Christmas shows (the others being “MR. MAGOOS CHRISTMAS CAROL” “A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS ” & “HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS” in case anyone’s interested)

  8. An excellent episode for Christmas. One thing I don’t understand is why Frank would blame Klinger for something Frank did. Does Frank think he’s above the law in everything in he does?

    The lecture Henry tries to deliver is hilarious and worth the effort to watch this episode.

    1. In the movie, Frank’s a big blamer. “Every time one of his patients dies, he says it’s God’s will or someone else’s fault,” Duke Forrest tells Blake. When Frank does this to Boone, it leads to Trapper punching him out. I don’t think this Burns quite made it to the sitcom; too heavy, but like Spearchucker, Lt. Dish, and Ugly John, you see some residue.

  9. Radar delivering a Jeep home was a classic bit. Also I believe this is the episode that introduced Klinger as a character? As for Vermont, his dad might have been there on Christmas vacation. His dad always sounded like a great guy.

  10. Honestly one of the funniest episodes in Season 1. The bit when Hawkeye runs naked through the mess tent and then Trapper tells him “50 Bucks!” Hawkeye replies “I Think I Left My Wallet In The Swamp!” One of the funniest bits in the episode to date.

  11. Regarding continuity, I was reading a post on The Andy Griffith Show where one of the writers was asked about the Bobby Fleet character being named Freddy Fleet in a later episode. The writer basically said, look we were all focused on making a living and feeding our families…..it never occurred to any of us that people would be watching these shows fifty years later and picking them apart. I’m sure that applied to a lot of these episodes too.

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