Episode Spotlight: Tell It To The Marines


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

“Tell It To The Marines” (#202, 09×08)
Originally Broadcast: Monday, January 12th, 1981
Written by Hank Bradford
Directed by Mike Farrell

Capsule Summary: While Colonel Potter is at a conference, Charles is left in charge. Meanwhile, Hawkeye tries to help a soldier whose mother back home is going to be deported.

The word bland may best describe this episode. Maybe repetitive, too. I think even the actors were tired of saying they were tired of surgery, which explains why the opening scene in the O.R. falls flat. It sounds like Mike Farrell and Alan Alda are the ones who want to hang tags on their eyelids or sleep for three straight days, not B.J. and Hawkeye. There are only so many ways to describe the special kind of exhaustion that comes after marathon sessions of meatball surgery and by this point in the show’s run they had all been used. The A Story also feels tired (pun intended) and reminiscent of any number of earlier storylines involving Hawkeye battling the military.

What makes this episode a little different is that Colonel Mulholland was more of a mean-spirited bully than an incompetent bureaucrat. While at first it seemed like Private Van Liter was caught in a vicious loop of red tape — having been told by his commanding officer to talk to the Red Cross and by the Red Cross to talk to his commanding officer — we eventually learned that Mulholland is cruel and vindictive, an over-the-top villain.

Hawkeye, of course, devised an over-the-top solution: a rambling call-to-action he hoped to publish in Stars and Stripes that would force the military to let Van Liter go home a week early. For someone who had spent so much time around the military, it was very naive of Hawkeye to think the letter would ever see print. His reaction upon learning that Mulholland was suppressing the letter therefore feels somewhat unbelievable. But there’s no stopping Hawkeye once he’s in full crusade mode. At least we had B.J. with a few zingers to try to knock Hawkeye down a few pegs.

Still from the M*A*S*H episode Tell It To The Marines showing Charles.
”You rang, sir?”

The B story worked better. Charles using Klinger as his personal shopper was perfectly in character, as was the zeal with which Klinger carried out his Most Imperial Majorocity’s wishes. I would have preferred to see Charles actual try to support Hawkeye rather than cower in the face of potential military prosecution but that would have been too much to ask. Although we know Charles can actually be a nice person, he’s also something of a coward. Unlike Frank, though, Charles never really pretends not to be a coward. He just considers it self-preservation, not cowardice. I believe this is the only time we see Charles in command of the 4077th.

Given how little they had to do in this episode, I wish Margaret and Father Mulcahy hadn’t been included at all. It would have given more time to the Charles/Klinger storyline.

Klinger’s attempt to duplicate Pvt. Van Liter’s circumstances by telling Colonel Potter his parents were divorcing and his mother was going to be departed was one of his last schemes to get out of the Army.

This was the sixth of nine episodes directed by Harry Morgan.

11 Replies to “Episode Spotlight: Tell It To The Marines”

  1. I liked this episode. The only problem I had with it was with Charles’ demands of Klinger. How long did he think Potter was going to be away? Getting silk sheets would take a while to get – I don’t think Charles would have been in charge that long.

    This episode also shows the differences between Charles and Frank. When Frank was in charge he did everything by the book and being very inflexible. Charles only cared about making his life better and pretty much let Hawkeye and BJ do whatever they wanted to get Van Liter discharged a week early.

  2. My question, however, is how did Klinger manage to get his hands on silk sheets?? There’s a war going on. Who would have spare silk sheets that can be bought by people on the front line??

    The episode is amusing in parts. Hawkeye’s tirade against the injustice meted out to Van Liter was funny as was the letter he dictated to Klinger. BJ razzing him about parts of the letter being ‘super’ made me smile.

    Other than that, you can see that Hawkeye respects the person who is the CO and not the position itself with him blatantly disrespecting Charles. The ultimate comeuppance received when Charles is made the office clerk for the day when Col. Potter returns back to command.

    Good episode.

    1. Silk is common in Asia, they are only a few hundred miles from Japan, and Klinger is a proven “wheeler-dealer”. A few phone calls, a little trading, and he could have a stack of silk sheets on the next transport plane from Tokyo.

  3. My favorite line in this episode comes at the end.
    Hawkeye: To the AWOL Jost Van Liter– Absent with our love

  4. Did they intentionally hire a balding actor to play Mulholan to make Hawk’s line “….a crew cut I could hear” ironic?

    1. I highly doubt it. The crew cut thing has become synonymous with military inflexibility and I think that’s how Hawkeye meant it. Like oh this guy has no empathy so he’s obviously career military. Based on interviews I’ve heard with Gelbart and Metcalfe, they didn’t seem to consult the script much before they hired the actor. Sometimes they were still finishing scripts after actors had been hired. Doesn’t seem like it had anything to do with irony though it turned out that way a bit.

  5. According to your last comment (and IMDB), Harry Morgan directed this episode, but you state at the top that Mike Farrell directed it.

  6. Watching this episode just now, I think I caught an interesting tidbit.

    When Hawk and Beej get to the press train, a woman walks across the screen. I’m 99% sure that is the same actor that plays “Debbie”, when Klinger falls in love. I forget the name of the episode. Anyone else want to take a look and confirm?
    It doesn’t look like her at first, but ad she walks towards the camera it’s more clear.

    Anyway, I think it’s a decent episode as it has unique scenes outside the 4077. I like any episode that takes us elsewhere in Korea.

  7. The Dutch soldier, Jost van Liter, has a German accent. American movies and shows always do this (Dutch characters with German accents) and being Dutch myself it always annoys me.

    Also, the last name Van Liter doesn’t make much sense, but at least they used Dutch ‘van’ instead of German ‘von’.

  8. I liked this episode because this is probably the most entertaining Hawkeye was when fighting for someone’s cause. especially his confrontations with Mullholland

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