Episode Spotlight: The Consultant

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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.

“The Consultant” (#65, 3×17)
Originally Broadcast: Tuesday, January 21st, 1975
Teleplay by Robert Klane
Story by Larry Gelbart
Directed by Gene Reynolds

Capsule Summary: Hawkeye and Trapper meet a civilian military consultant who later visits the 4077th and suggests a radical surgery to save a soldier’s leg.

I think the best thing about this episode is Henry’s pool. It seems both totally random yet also quit fitting for Henry to have a giant pool and for Radar to be filling it with hot water. I just love that all he wants to do is soak in his pool and get nice and wrinkled. But he’s bothered first by Frank and later by Hawkeye and Trapper.

I would love to know more about how this scene was rehearsed and shot. Did director Gene Reynolds tell McLean Stevenson to blow a raspberry after Frank walked off or to splash Hawkeye? Was Alan Alda instructed to scream in a particular way when he jumped into the pool or did he improvise it on the spot? I wonder if the actors enjoyed the pool nearly as much as the characters seemed to or if for them it was a tedious and wet scene to shoot.

That said, this was really a Hawkeye episode. Henry’s pool is just a minor subplot. It was more than a little hypocritical of Hawkeye to hold Dr. Borelli to such a high standard when he himself drank all the time, as Borelli pointed out. The doctors didn’t have office hours. At any moment they could have been called into surgery. Furthermore, Borelli was a civilian. He wasn’t used to the shelling and the meatball surgery and it got to him. Plus, it wasn’t like Borelli was falling down drunk. He was just unfit to operate. He was able to talk Hawkeye and Trapper through the surgery without a problem.

It would be one thing if Hawkeye had only reacted angrily upon finding Borelli in the Swamp unfit to operate. That would have been more realistic. Nobody else seemed bothered by Borelli’s drinking. Radar knew. Trapper must have known. Everyone in the O.R. must have known something was going on or else Borelli would have been operating himself. But no. Holier-than-thou Hawkeye had to hold a grudge. At least he eventually came around and tipped his hat to Borelli at the chopper pad.

I really don’t like the scene in which Hawkeye and Trapper talk to the British commanding officer. Everything about it feels off, from the accent to the hair color of Major Taylor to the joke about the driving on the left side of the road. Joseph Maher, who played Major Taylor, was Irish and that could explain why the accent sounds so stereotypical.

Frank and Margaret had almost nothing to do in this episode, relegated entirely to their usual whining and sucking up. When Dr. Borelli was describing how to save Frank’s patient’s leg, notice how everyone seems excited about the surgery except Frank, who is concerned only with someone getting into trouble. Exactly what proof did Frank have, I wonder, that Hawkeye and Trapper didn’t attend a single lecture in Japan? Did he have someone spying on them?

Hawkeye tips his cap

For anyone who doesn’t know, Dr. Borelli was played by Alan Alda’s father, Robert Alda. The character would return in Season Eight’s “Lend a Hand.”

Trapper telling Radar in the scrub room to find the nurse he had a date with only to discover that she’s standing right next to him is a nice moment.

When Radar takes Hawkeye, Trapper and Colonel Blake to the chopper, we get a nice look at parts of the camp rarely seen, including the road to the upper chopper pad.

Speaking of Radar, it seems totally out-of-character for him to drive off and leave Colonel Blake not once but twice. It would have fit better had he arrived before Colonel Blake called for him and later left the chopper pad — with Blake — before being told to head back to the compound.

Klinger does not appear in this episode.

7 Replies to “Episode Spotlight: The Consultant”

  1. My take on the whole why Hawkeye was mad at Dr. Borelli was because Hawkeye saw himself as Dr. Borelli when he got older. Borelli was a gifted surgeon, altruistic, brilliant…..all traits that Hawkeye thought he was, so the fact that Borelli also turned out to be an alcoholic didn’t sit well with Hawkeye. It meant that he had to acknowledge to himself that he would turn out like that one day.

    Something that I always observe is when Borelli gives Hawkeye his 3 faults speech in the Swamp and walks away, Robert Alda looks just like Alan in the set of shoulders, the back of his head and the way he walks off. You can totally see in that one shot how much Alan resembles his dad.

    Episodes that focus on Hawkeye’s drinking always are very uncomfortable to watch (atleast to me). It becomes glaringly apparent that he does have a problem with his drink which will not probably go away once he goes home. You see the sadness behind the humor and I think this, more than all the blood and gore, shows the real casualty of war.

  2. Hawkeye at his most self-righteous – and hypocritical.

    I have always wondered how many times the surgeons in Korea (or any war) drank heavily after surgery to forget how miserable it was (like many times in MASH) only to have a boatload of casualties show up – and they have to perform drunk. I’m not talking about them sleeping it off for a few hours and waking up with a hangover – I’m talking about them operating while in the middle of a heavy drinking session, staggering over to triage, slurring their words, and doing surgery with a alcohol blood-level that would put a person driving a car in jail.

    1. “Hawkeye at his most self-righteous – and hypocritical.”

      And, rightfully so, gets put in his place rather nicely by Borelli: “What’s that you’re leaning against, a bubblegum machine?” I must admit I like it when somebody pricks a hole in Hawkeye’s self righteous hypocrisy, so I’ve always liked this episode.

  3. My favourite bit of photography is the final shot of this ep (in uncut version). As Borelli departs, we see the cast watch him fly off toward the mountainscape. It’s a brilliant shot of the of Alda and co. Not so sure I like Hawkeye in the forefront, but it’s a picture fit for framing,.

  4. And what happened to Henry’s pool? We never see it again. And no one else seems interested in it, a far cry from the horde of inconsiderate nurses bursting in on an ill Radar in that little tub Hawkeye and BJ get in a later episode.

  5. I remember the first time I watched this when Frank says “Someone could get into trouble” and Henry calls for Radar, my smart alack brother said “Radar, we need you to volunteer to get into trouble.”

  6. One of the few episodes that dealt with wartime drinking and it doesn’t play as well as it could have since we see Hawkeye drinking heavily in later episodes, and I do wonder wouldn’t it have affected him negatively later on? That aside, the senior Alda does a good job as Doctor Borelli and he does come across as an older version of Hawkeye or an alternate version who wasn’t used to combat surgery, a basically good guy who deserved a little more understanding from the hypocritical Hawkeye. “I wish you better luck on your third war” was a meaningful moment.

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