Episode Spotlight: Last Laugh

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

“Last Laugh” (#123, 6×03)
Originally Broadcast: Tuesday, October 4th, 1977
Written by Everett Greenbaum & Jim Fritzell
Directed by Don Weis

Capsule Summary: An old friend of B.J.’s stops by the 4077th and his practical jokes soon get out of hand. Meanwhile, Margaret tries to get a pass to Tokyo and Klinger pretends he has a camel.

There are three storylines in this episode, which I’ll tackle in order of prominence. First up is the A story involving B.J. and Leo Bardonaro. M*A*S*H had a long history with practical jokes and practical jokers. Most of the practical jokes depicted in this episode, though, aren’t really practical jokes at all. Yes, the hand buzzer and the exploding cigar are just gags, and Bardonaro calling Colonel Potter pretending to be from the Provost Marshal’s office and accusing B.J. of being an imposter was more or less harmless.

Getting B.J. arrested wasn’t. If not for the hat that didn’t fit, B.J. could have been in real trouble. The “practical joke” tied up a pair of MPs who may have been needed elsewhere and, more importantly, it forced three doctors from the 4077th to leave for Seoul. B.J. had wounded in Post Op who needed care. What if more wounded had arrived while Colonel Potter and Hawkeye were gathering documents and driving to Seoul to meet with General Fox? Charles was nowhere to be seen in this episode, although presumably he was around.

B.J. taking Bardonaro’s travel orders was an okay gag, I suppose. But sending him off to Kimpo in a jeep without any gas could have been very dangerous. Having to walk back to the 4077th alone may not have been all that safe. Who knows what Bardonaro may have run into? Within the context of the episode, however, it is all fun and games. Even the $500 bill for damages that B.J. received was laughed off, leaving viewers to assume that Bardonaro returned safely to the 4077th, agreed to pay the bill, headed off to Kimpo and arrived back in the States.

I’m calling Margaret’s emotional plea for leave the B story of the episode. To me, it felt tacked on, an afterthought to give Margaret something to do. I guess we’re supposed to find it funny that Margaret is so angry and so upset but insists only that it is Donald who needs relief from his yearnings, never admitting that she has yearnings of her own. Am I the only one who thinks the scene in Colonel Potter’s office, just after Margaret yells at Radar, is cut rather abruptly?

That leaves Klinger and his camel as the C story. Klinger committed 100% to the scheme, as he so often did, but notice how other characters also react as if the camel was real. After Klinger explains that Habibi spit on the picture of Mrs. Potter, both Colonel Potter and Radar clean it off as if there really was camel spit on it. The best part of this storyline is definitely a drunk Colonel Potter calling Klinger “bugle beak” and giving the camel a discharge.

B.J.’s exploding cigar

I don’t know what to think about Colonel Potter, Hawkeye and B.J. getting so drunk while driving back to the 4077th. It’s a bit much and it’s more than a little disturbing to see Colonel Potter so drunk that he falls down.

As mentioned earlier, Charles does not appear in this episode. It’s the only episode David Ogden Stiers wasn’t in after joining the series.

Klinger would later impersonate a doctor named Winston Habibi in a September 1984 episode of AfterMASH. In 2003, Jamie Farr and his wife Joy published a children’s book called Hababy’s Christmas Eve. You can read more about the book at Farr’s official website.

Hawkeye uses the phrase “Cheese it, the cops” when Father Mulcahy interrupts his conversation with a nurse in the Mess Tent. Apparently “cheese it” dates back to the 1800s. Who knew?

13 Replies to “Episode Spotlight: Last Laugh”

  1. Another great Season 6 episode. There are so many things happening here that you really don’t miss Charles all that much. It was only after viewing this episode numerous times, I realized that he wasn’t in it.

    For me, the highlight of the episode is of course, Klinger and his Habibi. Everyone around him indulging his craziness is a hoot to watch. It’s not just Col. Potter and Radar who act like she is real, Hawkeye and BJ do too. When they are being escorted into the colonel’s office, Klinger is pretending to pick up camel do-do. Hawkeye and BJ look at each other and step over the area where the mess supposedly is. LOL

    Harry Morgan’s favorite story is about how Mary Astor (a fan of the show) called him up and told him that him falling down drunk in this episode sent her into hysterics.

    I’m a fan of James Cromwell since ‘Babe’ and his appearance in this episode is a rare treat for me. Again, it’s funny how best friends of the characters are never mentioned either before or after the episodes in which they appear.

    Great episode but then almost all of Season 6 is great.

    1. According to Jeff Maxwell (aka Igor), James Cromwell was one of four or five actors who auditioned for the role of B.J., yes.

  2. I agree with the assessment of the episode. Telling Potter BJ was an imposter, the exploding cigar, BJ swiping his travel papers, that’s harmless stuff, but trashing a hotel room under BJs name was going too far as was sending him into a combat zone in a Jeep with no gas. Perhaps the message her is practical jokes can be fun but can also go too far.

  3. Can anyone say with any conviction what Margaret engaged in with Donald?
    The war of pranks between BJ and Leo were weird and crazy. I thought Col. Potter’s drunk antics were idiotic and added nothing to the episode.

  4. This episode is absolutely butchered in television syndication- practically the entire subplot with Klinger and his imaginary camel is cut out, leaving only the one small scene at the start of act two where he’s cleaning up the mess the camel made in the doorway of Potter’s office.

    And take a close listen: after Hawkeye makes his crack about B.J. crying himself to sleep so much he has to wear waterwings to bed, I swear that, though muffled by the cigar in his mouth, Bardonaro is actually saying, “How the f–k can you bunk with a guy with a sense of humour?”

  5. A mildly amusing episode. As an inveterate practical joker myself I enjoy any shows that feature them (except the idiotic “Bloopers and Practical Jokes” of years ago), but these were either dumb, costly, or borderline dangerous.

    Klinger’s plot struck me as just stupid. Other characters’ reactions were amusing but Klinger’s increasingly ridiculous schemes to get a discharge are by now getting stale; his crossdressing schtick had continuity but now it’s just “stupid scheme of the week”.

    But Margaret’s plot is absolutely positively infuriating. It makes me want to throw something massive through the TV. This same Margaret who is always vocally against others getting passes, especially when it would leave the MASH short handed (with Potter also leaving, this would leave the unit without its two most senior officers) or when they have wounded to attend, is now alternately yelling, screaming, all but cursing out Potter, then virtually groveling before him, to get a pass. No sooner has Potter left than she storms into the duty hut screaming Radar get her a line to Tokyo. When he calmly replies “Sorry ma’am, no personal calls. Colonel’s orders”, that should be the end of it. But this same Margaret who supported charges of mutiny against Hawkeye/Trapper/BJ, becomes more shrill and screeches at Radar to get that line to Tokyo – she has now ordered a subordinate to disobey the direct orders of their commanding officer …that IS mutiny. When Radar tries then tells her no lines are available for three days, she goes ballistic – yelling, screaming, shrieking, throwing papers and other things around the room, pulling drawers from filing cabinets and throwing them, then kicking Radar when he tries to clean up the mess, before finally storming out.

    Now, when Potter returns, what punishment awaits this major who, in his absence, has suborned mutiny, committed vandalism, and assaulted an enlisted man? ……. She gets her pass.

  6. “Don’t bother the driver while he’s drinking” would NEVER see the light of day if this script were written today.

  7. “Am I the only one who thinks the scene in Colonel Potter’s office, just after Margaret yells at Radar, is cut rather abruptly?”
    It’s not just you. I’ve always thought it was weird. I wonder what Margaret was about to say?

    I hadn’t seen this episode in perhaps a month, and found myself quoting Potter this morning with his line “lost my head in a heat of battle.” It’s crazy how the dialogue of this show sticks with you!

    Klinger’s camel is probably one of my all-time favorite Section 8 schemes. I’m sure Jamie Farr had a blast with this one. The way the other characters respond to Habibi is priceless.

    It is kind of interesting how this episode comes right after “Fallen Idol.” Everyone gets onto Hawkeye for being hungover in the OR in that episode. but then Hawkeye, BJ, and Potter drive home drunk in this one and nothing happens. Hmm. Double standard?

    Fun episode though. Love seeing James Cromwell! I can just picture him dancing around the room to make Babe feel better!!

  8. I wonder if this is where they got the idea for BJ becoming a master pranskster in later episodes?

    After all the times he said no to Margaret leaving, I wonder what he did when he sobered up? And who took her place if she was so badly needed there? Margaret acting like her needs were more important than Colonel Potter’s orders was Loretta Swit at her shrillest.

    Of course the camel gets a discharge…

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