Episode Spotlight: Deluge

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

“Deluge” (#95, 4×23)
Originally Broadcast: Tuesday, February 17th, 1976
Written by Larry Gelbart & Simon Muntner
Directed by William Jurgensen

Capsule Summary: A constant flow of wounded to the 4077th leads to shortages of supplies like plasma and gloves.

This is an interesting episode due the inclusion of black and white footage from Fox Movietone News newsreels, without which it would have been a fairly mundane story about too many wounded. The use of the newsreel footage adds a lot to the episode, giving viewers a glimpse at what (and how) the general public in the early 1950s learned about what was going on in Korea. It feels a little disjointed at times but overall works well.

Would you believe that the episode wasn’t planned to include newsreel footage? According to Larry Gelbart, the decision to use newsreel footage was made after the episode had been filmed and the producers discovered that it ran short. Gelbart discussed the episode a number of times at the alt.tv.mash Newsgroup.

From October 6th, 1998:

Although we used snippets of newsreel footage in several shows, “Deluge” was the first episode first time we used such material as the glue for a show.

In fact, it was only after we shot the episode and found that we really didn’t have enough for the 24 minutes and 20 seconds that the show ran that we decided the only way to bulk it up (shooting more original material would have been impossible) was to buy archival footage (none of that stuff is ever free) and splice it between our own filmed sequences.

From September 29th, 2000:

We lucked out. We edited so much material out of the shot footage for a script entitled “Deluge” – which was never meant to alternate scenes at the 4077th with newsreel stuff — that we were minutes short of having a show to go on the air. So we added all the black and white stuff.

From November 11th, 2008:

Forget what the episode was originally entitled. but when Reynolds and I timed the final cut, we realized that we did not have enough show. I forget whose idea it was, but we decided to insert bits of actual newsreel footage to add to the correct timing for the show’s content (26.20), started combing over available newsreel stuff, intercut it with what we formerly shot and that was it.

All sounds so simple now. Probably was then, too. We were a pretty well-oiled operation at that point in the series’ life.

If at times the use of newsreel footage feels like an afterthought, that’s because it was.

About halfway through the episode, there’s a sequence in which Hawkeye and Radar perform triage interspersed with newsreel footage of a dance competition. I think it’s the best use of newsreel footage in the episode.

As for the episode itself, there isn’t much of a plot. The 4077th is inundated with casualties and everyone is under a lot of stress. Lots of little things happen. Radar breaks his glasses and has to wheel and deal for plasma. Hawkeye leaves a sponge in a patient, prompting Frank to gleefully make fun of him. Hawkeye and B.J. operate underwater on a soldier with phosphorous burns. The O.R. runs out of gloves and the doctors have to operate with bare hands.

Also, Klinger complains about being in the Army and reveals how he tried to convince everyone he was crazy. A fire starts in a laundry bin outside the O.R. and Klinger and Radar work together to put it out (“the blind leading the blind” in the words of Frank). Due to rain, there are leaks all over camp. The 4077th is bombed and the windows to the O.R. are blown out. Ultimately, the 4077th receives a meritorious unit commendation for its service during the deluge.

Boom!

“Deluge” also sees the Chinese enter the Korean conflict, which means the episode takes place in late November 1950. Colonel Potter considers evacuating the nurses but Margaret will have none of it. She didn’t put up much of a fight in Season Three’s “There Is Nothing Like A Nurse” (which coincidentally I reviewed last week) when the nurses were evacuated. I’m surprised Potter had the power to say if the nurses were evaluated or not. I would have thought that would have been decided higher up the food chain.

Just before the O.R. is bombed, a light bulb explodes over B.J.’s operating table. Frank jumps into action, running over to help. It’s a rare example of him actually being a good doctor.

When Colonel Potters walks in on Margaret showering, if you look closely you can see that Loretta Swit isn’t actually naked.

What’s your favorite bit of newsreel footage used in this episode? I think we can all agree that Dagwood the ping-pong playing cat is pretty cool.

12 Comments

  • Seoul City Sue says:

    I made a similar comment about the character growth of Margaret as the seasons progressed for the last Episode Spotlight.

    I think this episode realistically portrayed how M*A*S*H units really worked. Not only were they working under terrible conditions being so close to the front but also how they coped with the barrage of wounded.

    Radar makes a remark about how he broke his glasses when he slipped on blood in the ambulance. It is said in such an offhand way, that you have to listen to him twice to get the significance of what he says. It showed how immune the people working at the unit got used to the blood and guts.

    Good episode and my favorite scene is the removal of the phosphorous burns done in the dark. That was pretty cool.

  • Benjamin says:

    You know its interesting because Gelbart said that the black and white footage was added in later after all the original footage was shot. This is a really strange occurrence because when BJ, Hawkeye, and Mulcahy are making sandwiches in the Mess Tent, BJ stabs a knife into the middle of one and says “Lookout Dagwood!”. If the newsreel footage was added in later I wonder if they added in that scene to correspond to the actual black and white footage. Kinda interesting and strange.

    • RJ says:

      I didn’t catch that. I suppose it was probably just a happy coincidence that Gelbart & Co. found the newsreel footage of Dagwood the ping-pong playing cat.

    • jgf says:

      A “Dagwood” is a large sandwich; named after the husband in the “Blondie” comic strip, who always made such sandwiches.

  • Joe says:

    coincidentally, this episode was on ME-TV tonight (5-20)

  • mspence says:

    An interesting look at how people got their news in the days before TV and how news coverage has (and hasn’t) changed…I liked Colonel Potter’s quips about officers, the laundry on fire, and Dagwood the cat! Today that cat would be on Youtube.
    Hawkeye shows how he’s in charge when it comes to the OR (“I’m a Captain, fella!”) and Margaret shows her dedication to duty (literally, when she interrupts Potter in the shower.)
    Timeline-wise, the Chinese entered the war in 1950 but Potter didn’t arrive at the 4077th until 1952.

  • Kati says:

    I think what I got out of this episode the most was Frank running over to BJ and his patient when the light bulb exploded and immediately jumping in – I think that has to be the only time in the whole series where Frank did the right thing without having to think it over for half the episode. It definitely humanizes him.

    • Latrinogram says:

      I had never noticed that before, but I made sure to look for it when this episode was on metv tonight. Good eye! Of course, the next episode made Burns looks like a horse’s arse again!

  • mspence says:

    I think this episode is another example of timeline confusion-both the Nixon and Eisenhower speeches actually took place in 1952, and Potter arrived at the 4077th the same year.

    • Latrinogram says:

      Doesn’t this one also mention the Chinese launching their major offensive (which happened in late 1950)? Everyone reacts like it’s a whole new war, but the Chinese had been mentioned many times in previous episodes.

      • Doc Funnypants says:

        The inference was that the Chinese weren’t fully involved in the fighting until they launched their offensive.

        Hawkeye: That’s for those of you who were tired of the old war.

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