Episode Spotlight: Heal Thyself


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

“Heal Thyself” (#186, 8×17)
Originally Broadcast: Monday, January 14th, 1980
Teleplay by Dennis Koenig
Story by Dennis Koenig & Gene Reynolds
Directed by Mike Farrell

Capsule Summary: When Colonel Potter and Charles come down with the mumps, a temporary replacement surgeon is called in who seems like a good fit for the 4077th.

It’s tough to say which of the two storylines in this episode is the A Story. While Newsome’s storyline is certainly more powerful, I think the Colonel Potter/Charles mumps storyline actually receives more screen time. Let’s discuss Newsome’s storyline first. It’s a good one that comes close to working.

We’re introduced to a character who seems to have the proper mix of humor and talent to not only mesh well with Hawkeye and B.J. but also save a lot of lives. Margaret seems interested in him and even Charles is impressed. Before long, we learn Newsome served as a combat surgeon during the was involved with the Battle of Pusan Perimeter (a massive engagement that took place between August and September 1950) and came through it unscathed. In other words, he’s perfect.

Before long, though, cracks begin to appear. Newsome can’t sleep, he seems anxious about getting back into the O.R., has to walk out of surgery to get some air and then simply disappears. He eventually turns up in Colonel Potter’s tent, slumped on the floor rubbing his hands, desperate to get rid of the nonexistent blood on his hands. He’s cracked under the pressure. Newsome needs help the 4077th can’t provide so Sidney Freedman is called. Hawkeye and B.J. are shaken because Newsome seemed as strong as any of them.

Why Newsome fell apart is never explained or even discussed. That’s where the storyline falls apart a little for me. There needs to be some reason for his collapse. Are we to believe that after Pusan he was transferred to a cushy Tokyo position because his superiors didn’t think he was fit for combat surgery anymore? If so, why was he allowed to serve as a replacement surgeon for the 4077th? On the other hand, if he had never had any problems before the 4077th, what was it about meatball surgery that pushed him over the edge? It couldn’t have been worse than what he saw in Pusan.

Newsome’s breakdown

The Colonel Potter and Charles mumps storyline was amusing, if a little predictable in parts, with the two at odds over everything from beds to music. The best part was without a doubt Charles admitting that he was worried about the possibility of not being able to have children due to the mumps and Potter doing a nice job reassuring him. Their angry discussion about music was also a highlight.

Poor Klinger. His precautions and furious disinfecting didn’t do any good. When he walked into Colonel Potter’s tent at the end of the episode it looked like he was carrying at least one or two musical instruments.

This was the third of four episodes directed by Mike Farrell.

9 Replies to “Episode Spotlight: Heal Thyself”

  1. Is it just me or does Newsome, before his breakdown, remind anyone else of Donald Sutherland’s Hawkeye in the M*A*S*H movie? Must be the glasses and wisecracks.

    I always took Newsome’s breakdown to be the result of too much in too short of a time. That is, he was thrown back into something he thought he was done with, and not only that, he was barraged with it. I agree though, some kind of reason is needed, and that IMO is the weakest point in an otherwise good episode. At any rate, it definitely seems to foreshadow Hawkeye’s breakdown in the finale to me. “He was as strong as any of us.” “That’s what worries me.”

    The Potter/Winchester storyline was pretty amusing, if not particularly memorable. Overall, pretty good episode.

    1. Yes! I honestly thought the actor might have been in the original movie. He absolutely had the demeanor of Sutherland.

  2. Newsome was, in some respects, a lot like Hawkeye. He was able to suppress all the horrors that he had seen and experienced till the time that his mind couldn’t handle it anymore and he snapped. It was really sad to see this funny, witty person unravel so badly. This would have scared all the doctors who thought they were handling being in the war really well. The realization that they were probably just like Newsome and could lose it at any moment was never more clear to them than when they saw him

    The mumps storyline added some humor to the bleakness of the episode. The ego clashes between the colonel and Charles was funny to see and the end when Klinger walks in with his pillows was hilarious.

    There’s something very likeable about Edward Herrmann and the characters he plays. He didn’t disappoint here as well. He would have made an excellent addition to the cast had he been made a series regular.

  3. One of my favorite “Klinger Era” episodes (that is when Kilnger takes over for Radar and the overacting begins and the humor -when it occurs- is very broad.) Potter and Winchester stuck in a tent together made for some funny moments (the record flying out the tent door was hilarious).

    Newsome’s breakdown shows what probably happened more often then was reported. It is the same as WW I’s ‘shell shock’. Situations where the human psyche can only take so much before it shuts down. I think MASH handled it well here. A seemingly normal, funny, confident surgeon finally snaps – a foreshadowing of Hawkeye’s fate in the finale.

  4. Excellent episode especially seeing Edward Herrmann dominating the screen as he usually did. A fine actor who always made every series he was on better.

  5. Listen to Newsom’s description of his experiences during the Pusan Perimeter. That was probably his twelve months of front line duty, he’s pushed that from his mind and spent the ensuing time working in a rear echelon hospital, then traveling around demonstrating new techniques. Suddenly he’s thrust back into the horror of front line surgery. That’s why he “fell apart”.

    The mumps plot was funny except for Charles being so self-centered and inconsiderate. He is basically a guest in Potter’s home for a few days yet rants and raves about his right to listen to his opera records, which Potter hates, as if he’s been incarcerated in solitary confinement for months. Mumps runs its course in adults in three or four days (it hit me in my early fifties), certainly Charles could go that long without his records.

  6. Newsome was definitely a foreshadowing of Hawkeye, and dealt with an issue we didn’t see too much of in the series. I only wish Hawkeye had been a little more understanding earlier on.

    The cultural differences between Winchester and Potter were hilariously on full display here, from Winchester’s haughty disdain for cowboy music and literature to Potter’s reaction to Caruso.

  7. The CBS ad for this episode featured the shot of the record flying out of Potter’s tent.

  8. Anyone else notice and wonder why the OR is laid out differently in this episode? Instead of the tables lined up in a row side by side, they are turned the other with with two table side by side next to two more tables side by side. From what I see this only appeared in this episode. Was this a decision by Mike Farrell who directed? Just seems strange to completely rearrange a set for no reason.

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