Episode Spotlight: War of Nerves


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

“War of Nerves” (#124, 6×04)
Originally Broadcast: Tuesday, October 11th, 1977
Written by Alan Alda
Directed by Alda

Capsule Summary: Sidney Freedman arrives at the 4077th with a patient who hates him for sending him back to the front. Colonel Potter asks Sidney to help relieve tension among the camp’s personnel.

My first reaction while watching this episode was to wonder if the Army really would have sent a psychiatrist to the front lines. I’m sure psychiatrists were considered very valuable assets to the Army, able to heal the mental wounds of its soldiers and get them back to the fight. I suppose Sidney could have gone to the front on his own, without clearing it with any of his superiors, willing to risk his life for one of his patients.

This was a fairly simple episode, with just one storyline that focused on how the pressure of war was affecting people, Sidney included. Colonel Potter worries the 4077th is under too much pressure; Margaret thinks Charles is in love with her; Charles thinks Margaret is in love with him; Klinger fears he actually is going crazy; and Radar is upset because he needs his teddy bear.

It’s too bad we don’t see Hawkeye or B.J. visit Sidney, particularly after seeing them playing Smell That Food in the mess tent. Father Mulcahy drops by by the VIP tent but doesn’t talk about himself; instead, he turns the tables on Sidney and counsels him.

Still from the M*A*S*H episode War of Nerves
A regulation bon-type fire

The minor subplot involving Sidney’s somewhat recovered hysterical paralysis patient Tom is connected to the main storyline, so I’m not sure it really counts as a separate storyline. I’d be curious to know why actor Michael O’Keefe was brought back to play Tom after appearing in the Season Three episode as a soldier with a far more severe case of hysterical paralysis. Did someone remember his earlier role and specifically go after him?

Likewise, I wonder why Peter Riegert was credited as Igor in this episode (he was also credited as Igor in “Change Day”). This was Season Six. Igor had been around a long time. Maybe Jeff Maxwell wasn’t available. If so, why wasn’t the character’s named changed?

Filming the bonfire scene must have been a lot of work — but hopefully also fun — for the cast and crew. I would think they only had one chance to get it right. Poor Charles, losing his cot to the fire. And how about that desk Colonel Potter helped toss into the flames? Are we supposed to assume it was his desk?

If you watch carefully during the scene in the Mess Tent when everyone starts yelling, you can see Kellye in the background covering her ears.

8 Replies to “Episode Spotlight: War of Nerves”

  1. This is also one of the rare times that a future episode referenced an earlier episode as evidenced by the conversation Margaret and Charles have in ‘As Time Goes By’ with the nose touching incident.

    At this point, I think the writers were toying with the ideas of a romance between Charles and Margaret with scenes between the two of them in multiple episodes hinting at an awkwardness between the two…..like the book reading scene from ‘The LIght that Failed.’ It was just fortunate that that was put an end to rather quickly and the writers didn’t go there again in terms of character progression for Margaret.

  2. I was always under the impression that the patient “Tom” was the same soldier as in “Mad Dogs and Servicemen”, hence the same actor in both episodes…

  3. Officially, psychiatrists were on staff in rear echelon hospitals, where they could be of most use. But we know from several episodes that Sidney often goes to the 4077th to relax, play poker, etc. (despite the incongruity of going to the front to relax …makes you wonder what his normal work load was like); in one episode it is mentioned he came there for a couple of days and stayed for a couple of weeks.

    There’s nothing particularly remarkable about this episode, but I’ve always liked it. Especially when, after Potter tells Sidney he’ll steer the MASH people to him one at a time for a little chat to see why they’re all so irritable, Potter then blows his top and chews out everyone around, catches himself and turns back to Sidney, “Did you hear that? Maybe you better set aside an hour for me”.

  4. Weren’t they burning some stuff that they might have needed later on? We’ve always heard how hard it was to get things at the 4077th. But the singing was a nice touch.

  5. I like this episode, except for one aspect: Hawkeye and B.J.’s prodding Tom to make amends with Sidney. Tom’s anger against Sidney was unfair, but understandable, and Hawkeye and B.J.’s interventions seemed more for Sidney’s benefit than Tom’s. But perhaps the idea of validating a patient’s feelings hasn’t taken hold yet.

  6. I love Sidney’s conversations with the various “loonier” characters in the camp.

    Margaret’s money quote is so typical for her! “I suppose you think I find money attractive… Money is far down on my list. Money comes second, maybe even third…… Second.” Classic.

    I love how Charles is almost out of Sidney’s tent and then talks himself into coming back inside without Sidney having to say much of anything! That man is magic. I wish there were more Sidney episodes!

    The way Klinger is sitting, holding his handbag, while waiting for Sidney to come back to his tent is hilarious.

    RADAR: It’s about my teddy bear.
    SIDNEY: He’s been acting strangely?

  7. Re: Jeff Maxwell unavailable for filming. IIRC, he was filming “The Kentucky Fried Movie” at the time this episode was filmed. As for the confusion about Igor, I really don’t have an answer about that.

  8. One of the worst episodes for the standard syndicate edits. The whole OR “nose touch” and most of Klinger’s Section 8 dodge is removed and it just cuts to the Mess Tent fight. If you were watching for the first time, you wouldn’t know what all this is coming from.

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