Episode Spotlight: The Birthday Girls


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

“The Birthday Girls” (#225, 10×11)
Originally Broadcast: Monday, January 11th, 1982
Written by Karen Hall
Directed by Charles S. Dubin

Capsule Summary: Margaret prepares for a weekend in Tokyo to celebrate her birthday while Klinger schemes up a lottery around the impending birth of a calf.

For some reason, when this episode came up randomly for review this week, I wasn’t enthusiastic about watching it again. I don’t know why but I had it in my head that I didn’t like this episode. But I do. It’s a good episode with some wonderful interaction between Margaret and Klinger.

This is definitely a Margaret episode. Her upcoming trip to Tokyo is easily the episode’s A story, which makes the pregnant cow the B story, Klinger’s lottery the C story and Charles giving the lecture the D story. The only story that Margaret involved with was the pregnant cow. Her story was intertwined with Klinger’s and served as the impetus for the Charles story.

It’s hard to believe that nobody at the 4077th knew when Margaret’s birthday was, although it fits her character to try to keep that a secret. That said, there weren’t a lot of episodes involving birthdays so maybe the 4077th just didn’t celebrate birthdays much (despite what Margaret said about hers being used as an excuse to get drunk and be rowdy for a few hours). You’d think Colonel Potter would’ve known, at least, from her personnel file. Or even Klinger, being company clerk.

The best part of the episode was the conversation between Margaret and Klinger, during which Margaret revealed that she never attended the same school two years in a row due to her Army brat upbringing, and that caused her to eventually stop letting people get close to her out of fear of being hurt. The two rarely shared scenes together, other than Margaret yelling at Klinger as she did at the start of this episode, so it was nice to see them have a deeper conversation.

The Birthday Girl

The B story involving Hawkeye and B.J. having to deliver a calf wasn’t all that interesting, other than seeing B.J. relay the veterinarian’s instructions to Hawkeye via the camp P.A. system. That was funny. Klinger’s lottery likewise didn’t add much to the episode but it helped give the episode a nice ending. I did like Charles preparing for and delivering the lecture in classic Charles fashion.

This was at least the second episode to involve a pregnant calf. Trapper delivered a calf in Season One’s “Dear Dad.” Were there any others?

Why does B.J. put an empty hot water bottle on Charles’s shoulder just before leaving the Swamp with Hawkeye and Colonel Potter? It’s a really random thing to do. Perhaps there was a scene cut from the episode?

I wonder if Charles ever got his record. Even though Margaret didn’t make it to Tokyo, Charles still covered for her.

Finally, why did Klinger have a bran muffin with him in the jeep? Or cheap scotch, for that matter.

17 Replies to “Episode Spotlight: The Birthday Girls”

  1. Random side note: I noticed this was one of the many latter season episodes written by Karen Hall.

    A few years ago I was visited Boone, North Carolina and stopped in for coffee and wi-fi access at a local independent bookstore. I noticed on the wall several photos and other items of M*A*S*H memorabilia. I inquired as to why the M*A*S*H items were there and learned that the owner of the store is Karen Hall, who has moved to Boone.

    I ended up meeting Mrs. Hall and had a nice chat with her about M*A*S*H. She still owns the store, so if you are ever in that area, drop in for a visit:

  2. This episode has one of the biggest anachronisms of the show. Charles was recruited by Margaret to deliver the lecture on the use of Levophed, so this means that this drug had never been used before and presumably was new on the market; however, in ‘Period of Adjustment,’ Hawkeye clearly instructs the nurse to give the patient a dose of Levophed after a certain amount of time just before he goes to The Swamp and is assaulted by BJ.

    I’m not sure if I’m the only one who noticed this (having a medical background makes me more sensitive to hearing medical stuff on the show) but this, I think, is very noticeable.

    1. I doubt I would have caught that discrepancy even if I watched the two episodes back-to-back. Most of the medical jargon goes in one ear and out the other.

    2. There is a way to account for the discrepancy. A change in dosage or form of administration would require training even if the medicine itself was previously used. As an example, the current form of levophed is highly concentrated and must be diluted in dextrose solution. The exact procedure is critical and mistakes in selecting the wrong solution or doing the dilution procedure incorrectly could be disastrous. So it is possible that another form of levophed was previously used and training was now necessary for the way the medication was now supplied.

      As an example, everyone is familiar with tylenol and has almost certainly used the tablets. However, IV tylenol is a very different animal and is infrequently used in hospitals. (Although its use is increasing.)

  3. Doesn’t Charles mention in the finale that he was still waiting for the record from Margaret? Maybe I’m thinking of something else.

    Fair episode, though certainly not a personal favorite; Margaret is just too shrill, and I can’t stand the way she treats Klinger for most of the ep, though I agree the talk between the two is nice (though even then, she makes an off-handed slam against Toledo when Klinger mentions what a great place it is. Just seemed completely unwarranted to me.)

    The cow subplot is mildly amusing. I like Potter’s “I don’t know nothin’ ’bout birthin’ no bovines!” line.

    1. Yes, Charles mentions it during his argument with Margaret after she interrupts his practice session with the Chinese musicians. At the end, when Klinger announces Margaret as the winner of the pool, she says there’s someone she wants to buy a present for and Klinger knowingly smiles, I believe he knows it’s Margaret.

  4. Margaret’s revelations are interesting, and provide insight on her character; and the bovine obstetricians are a cute side plot. But Klinger? Just another of his gambling obsessed performances, which are getting tiresome. He reminds me of a friend years ago with whom you couldn’t even have a friendly game of chess unless you wanted to bet on it; we joked that if he heard his father was having a heart attack, he’d be out taking bets on whether the old boy survived.

  5. Agree with most here that this is a pretty good episode, especially amongst the later seasons where there aren’t quite so many good ones. It was nice having multiple Margaret scenes without her screaming and hollering, which is another rarity, although she does scream a bit in this episode towards the beginning.

    Like RJ, I too always wondered about the Bran muffin. I assume it was just some kind of bread or something that they had in their emergency rations kit, but he had what clearly looked like a cupcake or muffin lining around it. I highly doubt they’d have one of those in their emergency kit.

  6. I like the transition of Potter saying the substitute must at least be a major, cut to a close up of Charle’s oak leaves, pulling back to see him listening to music.

  7. There was another episode involving a cow giving birth, though we don’t see the actual cow. In “Dear Sis,” Fr. Mulcahy starts to bless Radar’s mom’s cow over the phone and it begins to give birth during the phone call.

  8. Overall, I like this episode. The whole business with the cow is interesting and has some funny bits. Charles’ lecture is sort of amusing, but this is one of those times where the writers had him go way over the top in his snobbery. I find Margaret to be quite annoying throughout most of this episode. Even when she’s being “nice” to Klinger near the end, she still manages to insult his hometown.

    1. I feel like people are missing the point of the insult. It was her basically saying that it wouldn’t matter if he said his home town was in Siberia, he would still love it because it’s home. Klinger didn’t take offense to what she said because he understood her pain in not having a hometown. She was trying to let him know that maybe it’s not the greatest place, but he’s lucky to have it because it’s home. And I’ve also been to Toledo and wound up changing my flight so I wouldn’t have to stay the night. Margaret wasn’t lying about that town.

  9. It seemed strange to me that the army regs say that the lecture on administration it levophed had to be done by at least a major. Were that really that meant female higher ranking nurses in the 50s? And what if a doctor wanted to deliver the lecture but was only a captain? Are they going to claim he’s not qualified? It just seemed a bit, actually a VERY convoluted way to have Margaret be forced to ask only Charles.

  10. The fact that Margaret had to convince Klinger to actually do his job made me laugh thinking of a previous episode where Klinger claimed he never ever shirked his duty. He said that even though he may screw up sometimes, he always did his job. Well his job was to drive Margaret and his gambling addiction once again got in the way of it. He acted like a drug addict looking for a fix. Couldn’t stand him in this episode.

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