Episode Spotlight: The Best of Enemies


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

“The Best of Enemies” (#195, 9×01)
Originally Broadcast: Monday, November 17th, 1980
Written by Sheldon Bull
Directed by Charles S. Dubin

Capsule Summary: Hawkeye finds himself held at gunpoint, desperately trying to save the life of a gravely wounded North Korean soldier. Meanwhile, back at the 4077th, Colonel Potter challenges Charles to a bridge tournament.

Many, many years ago when I first started this website, I started writing lengthy summaries for various episodes of M*A*S*H. I didn’t complete very many but I did finish one for “The Best of Enemies,” the Season Nine premiere. For some reason it has stuck in my head ever since and I can clearly remember watching the episode on FX, furiously writing notes on a pad of paper trying to keep up with the action.

I thought then and I still think now that Hawkeye’s bright yellow Hawaiian shirt was just too much. Too bright, too yellow and too many layers. Why was he wearing his Army t-shirt, the Hawaiian shirt and the shirt from his Army uniform? It’s a silly thing to fixate on, I know, and we don’t know when this episode is supposed to take place so I suppose it could have been chilly. On the other hand, B.J. was sleeping in just a t-shirt so it couldn’t have been that cold.

Obsessing about clothing aside, this is not an episode I’m very fond of. Neither of the storylines are that strong. Of the two, I prefer Hawkeye’s, which suffers primarily from feeling repetitive and unrealistic. Hawkeye must have graduated from the TV sitcom school of talking-to-someone-who-doesn’t-speak-English, which just means speaking louder and using vague hand gestures. As in other episodes, he somehow thinks that will someone bridge the language barrier.

His reaction to being “captured” by a North Korean isn’t believable, even for someone like Hawkeye. If ever there was a time to act seriously, I think that would be it. Seeing him stop and turn back to help dig the grave for the dead soldier was a nice moment, although again I’m sure it would have been more realistic to see him run away at the first opportunity.

What happened to Colonel Potter in this episode? Every word out of his mouth felt over-the-top and in many case over-enunciated. I don’t know if it was the writing or Harry Morgan getting back into the groove of the 4077th but something was really off. This was the fourth episode produced for Season Nine, so the latter theory doesn’t really hold water. To some degree, Charles too felt a bit like a caricature. His upper crust qualities were certainly in full force. Margaret, B.J. and Father Mulcahy fared better, as did Klinger with the exception of his question about horses being mammals. Klinger wasn’t that dumb.

Still from the M*A*S*H episode The Best of Enemies
Hawkeye helps bury his enemy’s friend.

I can’t decide if Charles was actually trying to cheat or not. Frank definitely would have tried cheating. Desperate times call for desperate measures and Charles was looking shiftily at Colonel Potter’s cards. But was he really trying to signal Margaret or just nervous?

I’ve never played bridge and actually don’t know how it’s played. Does understanding the game add anything to the viewing experience of this episode?

This episode marked the fourth and last appearance by Mako on M*A*S*H. His first was in “Rainbow Bridge” in Season Three.

As with other episodes containing Korean dialogue, I wonder exactly what Li Han was supposed to be saying. Was it actually Korean?

Can anyone tell if the stamp on the letters Hawkeye and Colonel Potter received are 1950s vintage or from 1980?

13 Replies to “Episode Spotlight: The Best of Enemies”

  1. Not an episode I especially care for. It has some okay moments, and Hawkeye helping to dig the grave is nice, but other than that, meh. When thinking of this episode title, I actually totally forgot about the bridge tournament subplot, so that tells you how much I care for THAT storyline!

  2. That yellow shirt was such an anomaly. Where was Hawkeye’s regular blue and white Hawaiian shirt?? Why didn’t he wear that when he was leaving. That shirt made an appearance after this episode, so it wasn’t like it was lost or anything.

    I like Mako a lot in his guest appearances. He went from being a genial host in ‘Hawkeye Get Your Gun’ to a cold-blooded Korean soldier in ‘Guerilla Warfare.’ What a stupendous range he displayed!! Tremendous actor.

    The bridge game was nice enough to break up the episode’s seriousness. Keep in mind, Hawkeye could most definitely have been killed by the Korean soldier after his attempts to keep the guy alive failed. The helping him dig the grave at the end was a nice touch to show that even though they were on 2 sides of the war, the losses are equally devastating.

    1. If I could just make a correction about the episodes you refered to with respect to Mako’s appearances. The episode with the Korean woman that Major Park (Mako), suspected was an enemy guerrilla was not called “Guerrilla Warfare”. The true name of the episode is “Guerrilla My Dreams”. Also, if I may add, I believe this was the first ever nationally aired episode that had explicit dialogue (A line near the end of the episode where Hawkeye says to Major Park, “You son of a b**ch”.) Today those words are somewhat common place for the most part, but back in that point in time, it was considered to be an extremely vulgar term.

      1. Correction to the correction, Mako’s character was Lieutenant Park, not Major Park

  3. What I don’t understand is when Margaret gave her breakfast order, the laugh track was on.
    Potter: Confucius say “A bird on the collar beats your fifty dollar”.
    I’m surprised that Charles would reference Doodles Weaver so openly. I would never guess that Charles would know who that was.

  4. I think what stands out about this episode most for me is the theme music -a somber horn based version- that was exclusive to this episode. I wonder why?

    1. I noticed this from the first time it aired…this was probably going to be the season nine version until it aired and they either got complaints or some bigwig didn’t like it…

  5. Something I never realized until recently is that Doodles Weaver was the brother of NBC programming executive Sylvester Weaver which makes Doodles the uncle of actress Sigourney Weaver.

  6. When Hawkeye gets to the Wounded patient in front of a bunch of trees with yellow blossoms it almost looked like colorized b&w film, and the colorists used the same shade of yellow for the gray shirt as they used for the grey background.,or the affect of the Dick Tracy movie with everything the same five shades of color.

  7. One thing I had noticed about the end scene where Hawkeye returns to help dog a grave for the dead soldier: if anyone has spent any time looking at a complete US helmet of the WW2/Korea/ Vietnam era, you know there is an outer steel she’ll and an inner liner, which seems to be a fiberglass or some type of lighter material with canvas webbing to help cushion the helmet.
    Hawkeye starts digging with the whole helmet, liner and all. The steel helmet is useful for many things, shaving or washing with, for example, and would make a good impromtu scoop for digging a hole in the ground as depicted. But the inner liner will be full of dirt and it just takes a second to pull the liner out. I am surprised Alda, as a veteran himself, would not have thought of removing the liner

  8. Colonel Potter was almost a caricature in this episode. It’s always irritating when he orders people to do things they really don’t have to do and that he has no authority to order them to do. It’s not funny. It’s gotten old. Also, his capped teeth are noticably very large and uncomfortably white this episode. I didn’t recognize the writer’s name as one that had written for the show before so I’m guessing he may not have known the characters as well as a Gelbart or a Metcalf. Either way the writing was ridiculous for almost everyone, reducing them to cartoon versions of themselves. Potter is being written more and more like a moody old man. He has exactly two emotions: very angry or hysterically happy. No in between. He’s angry in this one and it doesn’t really fit considering he’s used to Charles’ arrogance so should not be at all surprised at his big ego about bridge. Did anyone ever notice most of his country witticisms just seem to be alternatives to saying bullshit? Buffalo bagels, beaver biscuits, etc.

    Loretta Swit changed her hair again and it looks like Florence Henderson with a helmet smashed on. I’m not looking forward to that steel grey Cleopatra look she cultivates later. BJ still has the long sideburns that are still utterly inappropriate for a show about the 50s but has cut his hair a bit shorter in keeping with the 80s style. His hats are getting more and more ridiculously outlandish. His hat in the officer’s club looked like someone blew up a straw hat and then put it back on his head. It’s way too big for his head (which is really saying something). Also, his punning is out of control in this episode. Almost every line he spoke was some kind of wordplay. Alda has said that later seasons fell victim to a lot of unfunny puns written by lazy writers and this is an excellent example of that.

    In the mess tent scene where Charles and Potter battle over bridge, Stiers’ face makeup is very obvious. You could see where it began and ended and it seemed caked on his face. Klinger is still nosing around smiling and reacting to others’ conversations. At some point they need to allow him to be who he is: a street smart city guy instead of making him ask if a horse is a mammal. He’s been in the army awhile so he doesn’t need to be written like everything is a surprise. He’s always overly excited about things that don’t concern him. “Hey everybody, BJ’s got a straight flush. What’d I say? I don’t know nothing about this game.” Maybe not but you DO know that even in poker you’re not supposed to tell everyone which cards are being held. The man is 50 years old! Stop pretending like he’s some young naive teenager.

    One other small thing that bugged me was how did the Chinese soldier know Hawkeye was a doctor? He shot at him and then couldn’t believe his luck that he was a doctor? The medical bag was tucked deep into the back of the jeep. How did he know it was there? Also, why is it that whenever anyone runs into the enemy it’s always just one or two of them? Where are the big Communist hordes that are causing all the wounded? It’s also a bit insulting to Asians everywhere that they keep using Mako (good as he is) as their resident North Korean or Chinese. Do they think we won’t notice or is it that they think all Asians look alike and don’t realize?

    Not a bad episode all in all though. Lol

    1. Pertaining to the episode’s writer, his name is Sheldon Bull, and he did write a previous “MASH” episode. I’m guessing he wanted to put a different spin on the characters than other writers had. I agree with you about Potter’s loopy behavior, especially after winning the first game of the bridge tournament. His unbridled glee bordered on orgasmic.

  9. Hawkeye may have kept his Army clothes on over the Hawaiian shirt to signify that he is not a spy. I should look again to see if anyone wore civilian clothes when they were out and about over there if they were in the military and not a war correspondent or something. It can be a big deal. If they take you prisoner in uniform they are supposed to treat you a certain way although of course they didn’t necessarily follow the conventions but if they catch you out in about in civilian clothes and you are in the military you can be executed as a spy and saboteur, quite legally.

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