Episode Spotlight: White Gold

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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.

“White Gold” (#71, 3×23)
Originally Broadcast: Tuesday, March 11th, 1975
Written by Larry Gelbart & Simon Muntner
Directed by Hy Averback

Capsule Summary: After a thief is caught at the 4077th trying to steal penicillin, Colonel Flagg shows up trying to disrupt a penicillin ring.

This is, in my opinion, a mediocre episode with moments of sheer brilliance courtesy of Edward Winter as Colonel Flagg. Every scene he’s in is brilliant. The highlight of the episode is without a doubt Flagg tossing the tent, smashing a telephone over his head, and preparing to run headfirst into a closet. Winters probably could have carried the scene by himself but is helped by some terrific background music.

Likewise, the opening scene in which Johnson (aka Perkins) and his two companions sneak through the 4077th to get to the Supply Tent would have been pretty dull if not for the highly unusual music used to give the scene a little atmosphere. We’re given a rare look at the Stage 9 set from behind many of the tents, looking out towards the Swamp.

This was the fourth episode to feature Winters as Flagg (if we count his appearance as Captain Halloran in “Deal Me Out” as one of Flagg’s many aliases) and there is a nice bit continuity between episodes when Trapper mentions Flagg breaking his own arm, which happened twice during “A Smattering of Intelligence” in Season Two. Hawkeye also refers to Flagg rigging a jeep so he could run over himself. I don’t recall ever seeing that.

I can’t decide which Flagg line in this episode is my favorite. I’m torn between “My orders are to do whatever I have to to break up this penicillin ring. I have written permission to die in the attempt” and his response of “Give us time” when Frank suggests the CIA can’t supersede the orders of the President.

Hawkeye and Trapper’s plan to drug Flagg, causing him to present with symptoms of appendicitis, and remove his healthy appendix to keep him off his feet for a few days, would be revisited in “Preventative Medicine” in Season Seven. In that episode, Hawkeye went through with the surgery but felt guilty afterward while B.J. refused to participate. In this episode, Hawkeye and Trapper were downright gleeful as they prepared to remove Flagg’s appendix.

Flagg prepares himself

This was the first of two guest appearances by Hilly Hicks, who played Perkins/Johnson in this episode and Corporal Moody in “Post Op” during Season Five. Hicks had previously appeared in the short-lived CBS sitcom Roll Out during the 1973-1974 season, which was created by Larry Gelbart and Gene Reynolds.

Colonel Blake seemed a little confused when Flagg walked in pretending to be Captain Goldberg. Were the glasses really that effective a disguise? Father Mulcahy also seemed to believe Flagg was a Jewish rabbi.

Why was Frank playing with a pipe while guarding Perkins/Johnson? He doesn’t smoke.

9 Replies to “Episode Spotlight: White Gold”

  1. It never occurred to me until I read this episode recap that there also is a bit of continuity between this episode and Flagg’s appearance in “Officer of the Day” (Season 3, Episode 3). When Hawkeye meets Flagg in the compound Flagg mistakes Pierce’s name as “Perkins” from his last visit to the 4077th. Perhaps Flagg was thinking of the corpsman Perkins from “White Gold”?

  2. As always, Col. Flagg is the best part of this episode. Favorite bit of dialog from him was when he was reprimanding Radar for interrupting: “Quiet, or I’ll use you to clean a cannon!!”

    Other than that, a fairly middling episode. I did like the camera panning over each tent where Hawkeye, Frank and Trapper were with their respective partners and listening in to their raunchy conversations.

  3. The music that plays as Flagg measures the wooden locker is a hoot. And of course, him running into it was just as funny.

    Hilly Hicks also had a major role in Roots as one of Chicken George’s sons.

  4. This marked the farewell performance of the late Stafford Repp (Sergeant Clay), who succumbed to a heart attack at age 66 on November 5, 1974, 4 months before this episode’s telecast on CBS. Repp is best remembered for his role as Chief Clancy O’Hara on the TV series Batman (ABC, 1966-68).

  5. I don’t understand what Flagg was trying to achive by letting Perkins go/and staging the fight between himself and Perkins.

  6. Another good line “If we had more men like you, we’d have less men like you.”

  7. This is one of those episodes (when compared to Preventative Medicine in Season 7) that really illustrates the change in tone for the series over the years.

    In this episode, no one bats an eye at faking an appendicitis and performing a completely unnecessary operation on someone (Flagg in this case) because it furthers their own interests. Here, everyone is willing and even joking about it. There is no concern, slim as it may be, for the chance of infection or even the risk of death. The show is a comedy right now and that is how they present it.

    A few years later we have one of the most polarizing arguments between Hawkeye and BJ about whether performing an unnecessary operation on a man who is getting people (kids) killed through his actions and ego is right for the greater good or always wrong. Is it right or wrong to willfully injure one man (as BJ said, its nothing more than mutilation) in order to potentially save hundreds of 18-19 year old kids.

    I personally was not old enough to see MASH air originally and have only come to love it due to reruns and now owning the series set. I am curious, without the internet of course, if these huge changes in production were noticed widely and how people felt back then. I sincerely wonder when continuity items don’t seem to be too concerned with throughout the series. Father Mulcahy’s name, 50% of the US population is apparently named “Baker” (Nurse B of the week of course – I’m not sure why Nurse B was used more than Nurse A – Able), Vermont vs. Maine, characters children, Margret’s father coming back to life lol, Klinger’s Atheistic-Catholic-Muslim religion, etc. etc. So much is inconsistent and its glaring when you are watching the series back to back. I’m very curious if it was even noticed when the series first aired.

    Last fun wonder of mine in this area. Hawkeye and Trapper made out with a nurse nearly every week at the beginning. The last time I watched the ending seasons, I never saw Hawkeye kissing anyone (a date mentioned but that was it kinda thing). Other than a friendly/friendship kiss, when was the last episode that Hawkeye was seen making out with someone? (IDK yet, I hope someone does lol)

    1. I remember reading that they never had any sort of continuity “bible” for this series, and that’s obvious to us now.

      All of the continuity bugs in this show used to, well, BUG me until I thought about it a bit. Remember that MASH aired during a time with few reruns, maybe a few during the summer. There was certainly no expectation that folks would someday be able to call up any episode, any time, to watch at home dozens or even hundreds of times. I’m sure there are many other shows from this time that have similar continuity issues. It just wasn’t something anyone considered or thought would be a problem years later.

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