Episode Spotlight: Hanky Panky


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

“Hanky Panky” (#114, 5×18)
Originally Broadcast: Tuesday, February 1st, 1977
Written by Gene Reynolds
Directed by Gene Reynolds

Capsule Summary: B.J. falls off the fidelity wagon with a nurse whose marriage is falling apart. Meanwhile, Margaret worries when she learns Donald is in the hospital.

While rewatching this episode, I spent all 25 minutes certain that it ended with B.J. admitting to Hawkeye that he kissed Nurse Donovan and a surprised Hawkeye reacting with amusement because he couldn’t believe B.J. was so upset about a little kiss. So I was really surprised when instead the episode ended with Margaret on the phone with Donald. Talk about your false memories.

Both the major storylines in this episode worked well, with the latest saga in Margaret’s obsessive relationship with Donald and Frank’s obsession with Margaret complementing to a degree B.J.’s fall off the fidelity wagon. Margaret is perhaps a bit too shrill but her wild overreaction to Radar kissing her while half asleep fits perfectly at this point in her development, as does her initial acceptance of Frank’s friendship followed by angrily tossing him out of her tent.

Klinger confessing to being the Toledo Strangler in another failed attempt to get out of the Army, while totally pointless, is hilarious. Cutting it might have meant allowing the relationship between B.J. and Carrie to develop a little more prior to their night together. It’s implied that B.J. has been a shoulder to cry on while Carrie’s marriage was falling apart but things move really quickly once her Dear Jane letter arrives.

On the other hand, a deeper relationship between B.J. and Carrie would have fundamentally altered the episode. They weren’t emotionally involved. There was no slow burn between them, no sparks flying. They were just two lonely people, one hurting and one trying to heal, and things got out of hand. Left unsaid is exactly how out of hand things got.

We’re shown Carrie and B.J. embracing and passionately kissing and that’s it. The next morning, Hawkeye suggests that B.J. never returned to the Swamp. B.J. later tells Hawkeye he “fell off the fidelity wagon” but doesn’t explain what happened. If they only kissed, it seems like both Carrie and B.J. were making a big deal out of nothing. Even if they spent the night together in Carrie’s tent (why she had her own tent is another matter entirely) without anything else happening, would that really cause B.J. to feel so guilty?

While talking with Carrie later in the episode, B.J. says “I’ve never done that before,” implying they slept together, but then Carrie seems shocked when he tells her he feels like he betrayed Peg. She later says “I needed you that night and you were there. I’ll always love you for that. It doesn’t mean it’s never going to happen again.” If it was just a kiss, it must have been an incredible one if she’ll always love him for it.

In “War Co-Respondent,” B.J. all but confirms he slept with Carrie:

B.J.: “It’s the way I’m beginning to feel about her.”
Hawkeye: “Oh, come on Beej, we’re big boys. You went down this road once before.”
B.J.: “No, Hawk, you don’t understand. This isn’t like that. I’m not just talking about being unfaithful to my wife, which hasn’t happened with Aggie.”
Hawkeye: “What is it?”
B.J.: “Til Aggie showed up, I was convinced Peg was the only woman in the world for me. I never met a woman like her, she’s so different, so exciting.”
Hawkeye: “Uh-oh.”
B.J.: “Hawk, she’s all I can think about. And not just about being in bed with her. I think about being with her.”

Still, while it seems pretty clear, it’s ultimately up to the viewer to decide what they think happened between Carrie and B.J., which was obviously what Gene Reynolds intended with his script.

B.J.’s confession

Was the scene in which Radar is dreaming about Betty Grable and kisses Margaret after she wakes him up often cut in syndication? I don’t remember any of it but it seems like a tough sequence to trim without removing Margaret’s call to Tokyo.

Notice that the length of the letter B.J. is writing in the Swamp changes throughout the scene. At first there are eight or nine lines while in a later shot only four or five. I wonder what Mike Farrell was actually writing.

Klinger is only wearing one earring in Colonel Potter’s office when he confesses to being the Toledo Strangler.

Father Mulcahy does not appear in this episode.

17 Replies to “Episode Spotlight: Hanky Panky”

  1. M*A*S*H has always been ambiguous about stuff like this. There are discussions even today of whether BJ actually slept with Carrie or not. The same is true about Hawkeye and Margaret in ‘Comrades in Arms.’ I, for one, believe that BJ would not be beating himself up if he had just kissed Carrie that evening and left. He did sleep with her which is why he is so eaten up with guilt.

    To be honest, there is so much going on with BJ in this episode that Margaret’s troubles do not make much of an impact. She’s always been high strung and very insecure about her relationship with Donald (and rightly so, since Donald cheats on her numerous times). This was just a glimpse of future hysterics on her part.

    The story goes that Gene Reynolds actually came up with the idea of having BJ fall off the fidelity wagon. Mike agreed with him saying that ‘maybe BJ needed to be knocked off his high horse for once.’ That saying, it’s really sad to see how much his one indiscretion affected him and he wasn’t even interested in Carrie all that much. The fact that he, a faithful husband, strayed shows the enormous strain they all are under at any point at the camp. He would never had done it under normal circumstances (one hopes).

    Also, Klinger walking into Col. Potter’s office with just one earring was just bizarre. Was that intentional or did someone forget to check his wardrobe before he went on??

    Good episode. Watchable and maybe gives us all a little something to think about.

  2. I always appreciated that BJ took his marriage vows seriously. His attitude was refreshing compared to the flippant way that Trapper, Frank, and Henry treated their own “fidelity”. It especially galled me when Frank or Henry would demonstrate insane jealously if they suspected their wives of interest in other men, but they had no problem with having affairs themselves. They should at least be consistent — if they were going to sleep around, they should allow their wives the same freedom.

  3. Over the years, I thought I was the only one confused as to what exactly BJ did with Carrie. Since it’s never stated outright but BJ is clearly torn up over the situation, I figured (especially since BJ never returned to The Swamp that night) that they did indeed sleep together and I was just taking a naive view of things.

    This is a good episode; M*A*S*H was really firing on all cylinders by this point in the run. I like this one waaaaaay more than the similarly-themed “War Co-Respondent,” which has always felt entirely too forced to me.

  4. I’m of the opinion that, since B.J. didn’t come back that night, that he and Carrie slept together. Perhaps the scene ending with the kiss and the rest being implied is the way they televised these things in the late ’70s. Good discussion, though. While it’s not one of my very favorites, I do like this episode and think it’s well written.

    B.J.: I love my wife. Not like Frank, who loves his wife because she owns real estate!

  5. I have to admit this is one of my most argumentative points in all of MASH history, I really think that we could really see a good debate occur if this was ever brought up.

  6. I forgot to mention that I have an idea for you RJ if you wanted a new posting idea for the site. What you could do is post a topic that is very controversial concerning MASH and encourage people to respond to it with their opinion of the topic. I think that would be a really good way to wake up the community and get some people active in the community. Obviously you should post rules and guidelines stating that their shouldn’t be any cursing or swearing at each other and that each opinion should be supported with a fact or supporting evidence while a disagreement with someone should be carried out in a polite, respectable manor. But I think it would be very nice to see a debate on here with others. Sometimes it might even get heated, which is good for the brain but also shouldn’t be taken out of hand. Please consider this RJ. 🙂

  7. I thought they let BJ save some face by putting the onus (blame is too strong) on Carrie. She was needier then BJ and I always believed the more aggressive party. But, it did bring a certain humaneness to BJ that wasn’t there previously.

  8. I was 5 when this episode originally aired.
    Watching it several times via reruns, marathons, late night channel surfing, I can honestly say this is one of my LEAST favorite episodes.

    It was so refreshing and did so much for my (naive) heart as I was still pretty young watching the reruns.

    Well, that episode aired just 30 min ago and now, early 40s, I dislike it even more.

    Something about BJ always made me have hope for the rest of the “men” there in camp. Good thing Hawkeyes was a doc and could order and give his own PCN and different meds for the many nurses he bragged about sacking.
    I always wondered WHY the nurses in a not so large camp would not think twice about being his sloppy 2nds, 3rdd, or 406th conquest.

    I grew up and married military so YES, I get the loneliness on the home front and have to imagine it’s the same when deployed.
    I just really, really liked that bj could spend all of his time with everyone else doing whatever they wanted, yet still have the morals and fortitude to do the right rhing!

    No, I don’t believe he spent the entire night out just kissing.
    Yes, I completely believe nurse Carrie played HARD on the nice guy. If she needed a shoulder, as well as other body parts to soothe her wounded soul, there were PLENTY of targets. Don’t get me wrong, BJ. couldve/should’ve stepped back at any time. Ok, so it started as kissing, he should’ve had a moment where SOMETHING flashed in his mind about the bad situation he was allowing to progress.

    I’ve known women who have been cheated on and/or left by their husbands. Something in them snaps and they need to feel validation, QUICKLY.
    They seem to get EXTRA validation by bagging a married man, even for a night.
    Their (understandably) wounded hearts and egos seem to get a much needed boost by knowing they can turn a married mans head (and everything else).
    A single guy would be too easy and as I’ve been told by friends, just makes them feel more “used”.
    The draw of the “unattainable” married man is like a hypnotic.
    Nurse Carrie played one of the oldest games known.
    Big weepy doe eyes, oh I’m so sad and broken. Yours such a nice guy and I just want to talk. Fast forward to “oh, am I talking with my clothes off???)

    Rambling but think I made my point as to why I hate this episode. I just really wish they would’ve left ONE guy (other than potter) faithful to his morals, standards and wife.
    Letchery isn’t as funny in the 5,6,7 years of a show.
    Keeping BJ out of that arena, his guilt be damned, would’ve saved him in my opinion.

    1. Amazing post @Amy. Agree with every single word you said. I’ve always disliked BJ on the show, but the one thing I did like about him was that he was the little piece of morality in the huge immoral situation. It always seemed extremely cheap and unfortunate that they chose to ruin that, especially in only the 2nd of 8 seasons that BJ was on.

      And yes Donovan most definitely took advantage of him and used him. She basically even says so after their discussion outside Post-Op. “I needed you that night but don’t think it can happen again…unless I want it to.” Speaking of that conversation, it always annoyed me how shocked she reacts when BJ said he felt like he betrayed Peg. She reacts like she doesn’t understand why it would be betrayal to sleep with someone else, just because of the situation they are in. Kinda puts her character into perspective and makes you think about why the husband wants the divorce.

      And yes at least they kept Potter faithful the whole time. They didn’t ruin every piece of morality in the show.

      1. Absolutely agree on her shock and awe at BJ’s guilt. Her obvious cavalier attitude toward the sanctity of marriage speaks volumes about her own situation. Funny she still didn’t get it despite receiving a Dear Jane letter that told her about her husband’s new woman. Did she expect BJ to take cheating so lightly when her own husband obviously didn’t? Either way, I didn’t care for Carrie and felt that she used BJ to get over her husband. At one point he asks her how she’s feeling and she says, “fine, why do you ask?” Alarm bells went off in my head and just for a moment I imagined her to be some predator who manufactures fake Dear Jane letters to con married men into sleeping with her. Of course that’s not the case but her reaction was one of a person who had used sex with another man as a means of getting over her pain. Then she acts as though it was only about comfort. If that’s the way she expects to be comforted, then her husband is lucky he got out when he did. Either way, I enjoyed seeing BJ knocked down off his pedestal which was certainly the point. Mission accomplished.

  9. The thing to remember, though, is that Mike Farrell wanted to share that B.J. was a human being, just as capable of mistakes as everyone else, and that even he wasn’t above temptation, despite how faithful he tried to be to Peg with half a world between them. He addressed this concern to Gene Reynolds that B.J. was being portrayed too perfect and too flawless and too “saintly,” which is why Gene made this episode in the first place.

    Unfortunately, Mike tried again with “War Co-Respondant,” which he wrote and directed, and it’s just an absolute trainwreck. At least with “Hanky Panky,” the circumstances and the build-up were a tad more believable: Donovan’s marriage was crumbling, she finally received the Dear Jane, she was heartbroken and needed a sholder to lean on; meanwhile, B.J. wanted to console and comfort her during her time of hurt and grief, but one thing lead to another, and Beej felt a tremendous amount of guilt and remorse afterward. “War Co-Respondant,” on the other hand, with Mike doing an almost one-man show, feels incredibly contrived and forced with the way Aggie O’Shea comes into camp and is all, “Ooh, B.J. Hunnicutt is so quiet and mysterious, hubba-hubba!” And Beej is like, “Aggie O’Shea must drink Dos Equis, because she is the most interesting woman in the world, hubba-hubba!”

    I’ll agree that the resolution with Carrie was quite off, and that she shouldn’t have felt surprised or shocked that B.J. felt he betrayed Peggy or that he shouldn’t be mad over what happened . . . but I disagree that Carrie took advantage of B.J. . . . Aggie, on the other hand, did, no question. Carrie wasn’t necessarily pursuing B.J., but she turned to him because he was letting her. Aggie was actively pursuing and even trying to seduce B.J. – despite knowing he was married – and B.J. was having mixed emotions about the whole thing, so she was manipulating him via his vulnerability. B.J. was even going so far as to call her “Agg” much in the same way he calls Peggy “Peg.”

    1. I actually almost hated the episode.”War Correspondent “. Couldn’t stand how Aggie right from the get go pursued a married man without even thinking twice about him being married. It didn’t help that Susan St James was just not likable at all. Maybe that’s why she got the part.

  10. I like this episode for it’s realism but since I really think Mike Farrell’s acting is very forced and inauthentic, it makes it tough going. I found myself looking at how thin his hair was getting in back instead of actually watching what he was doing on screen. He had very limited range as an actor and that could be why they made him the goody two shoes. He simply wasn’t capable of doing a wide range of emotions in the way that Alda, Linville, or Morgan could. The worst is when he would get choked up.
    It was embarrassingly bad. Farrell seemed afraid to let himself look like foolish which is rule#1 of any good actor. He was too controlled and worried about how he looked on camera. That’s just the sense I got from watching him and reading things he’s said. I’ve also always been a Trapper fan so BJ kinda bugs me anyway.

    Was Margaret freaking out about Donald because she thought he was cheating or had lost him? Or is it just the control freak in her? She keeps describing him as this Tab Hunter type, big and strong and brilliant, but the actor(s) I remember playing him were nothing to write home about. I’m guessing that was the point. Also, since she only met him over a week in Tokyo, she can’t possibly have spent too much time with him. It’s just weird the way she describes him as though they’ve been engaged for years: all the dates they’ve had and the intimate experiences. When was she supposed to have seen him so many times? Tokyo? She was able to get leave that much?! Gaps in the storyline as usual.

  11. I think the point has less to do with what exactly happened between BJ and Carrie and more to do with BJ feeling guilty for cheating because whether it was just a kiss or something more he still cheated.

  12. Infidelity in marriage is inexcusable no matter the excuse. I take my vows seriously and my spouse should have also. Whether it was “just” a kiss or something more, it is still cheating. If BJ was tempted, he should have never gone to Carrie’s tent. That is the reason I was so glad when Potter replaced Blake for that very reason. i know it was just a TV program, but cheating is cheating. Sorry that is just my opinion.

  13. This episode has one of my favorite Frank Burns lines.

    “our friendship is real Margaret, it’s warm, its honest. It’s… convenient!”

  14. I can’t say I particularly enjoy this episode, but that isn’t to say it’s a bad episode necessarily. The casual, almost cruel at times, infidelity of some of the earlier characters (primarily Trapper, Burns, and Henry) always made me a little uncomfortable, so I always liked how devoted BJ was to Peg. And so it’s hard to watch as he falls off the “fidelity wagon” as it were.

    That being said, and while I don’t condone what happened, I thought the way the episode handled BJ’s infidelity was very careful and considerate. It was less a mark of BJ’s character but rather yet another look at how war can affect and change a person, and the way it can impact personal relationships. As quoted in 4×22 “The third casualty of war has to be fidelity”. I really liked that line “They were just two lonely people, one hurting and one trying to heal, and things got out of hand.” because I think it really does some up well exactly how the moment between BJ and Carrie played out. In any case I certainly prefer this episode to the similarly themed episode, “War Co-Respondant” a sentiment I see expressed by many in this comment section.

    Perhaps it’s naive of me, but I’m not as convinced by others that BJ and Carrie slept together. It might be implied by not coming back to The Swamp that they did, but to me it seems just as likely that they kissed and BJ wandered around camp for the rest of the night trying to come to terms with what just happened. I also disagree with the sentiment expressed by others that BJ must have slept with Carrie to be so distraught later in the episode. BJ has expressed his strong devotion to Peg numerous times by this episode; the one that sticks out to me is from 4×22 (“The More I see You” – in which the A plot is Hawkeye’s ex-partner Carly being transferred to the 4077th) where BJ says that he’s never cheated on Peg (or indeed ever even been tempted to) simply because he “doesn’t want to”. To me, bearing that sort of attitude towards fidelity in his marriage, any kind of cheating, be it emotional or “merely” a kiss would affect BJ as we saw.

    Margaret and Klinger’s storylines bring some much needed levity to the episode in my opinion, and it’s that balance between serious and comedy that M*A*S*H does so well. Either way, certainly no where near my favourite episode, but one that I can acknowledge as being well crafted.

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