Every Monday, I spotlight a random episode of M*A*S*H, providing a brief review and asking readers to offer their thoughts.
“Rainbow Bridge” (#50, 3×02)
Originally Broadcast: Tuesday, September 17th, 1974
Written by Larry Gelbart & Laurence Marks
Directed by Hy Averback
Capsule Summary: The 4077th is contacted by the Chinese who offer to hand over nine wounded soldiers, leading to a tense meeting deep in enemy territory.
I have to wonder, given how so many of the stories on M*A*S*H were based on actual experiences and incidents during the Korean War, whether an exchange of wounded like the one seen in this episode could have actually happened. Is it in any way realistic? How would the Chinese have contacted the 4077th? Did Radar routinely monitor Chinese frequencies or did the Chinese broadcast on a known U.S. or U.N. frequency?
Why would Colonel Blake have made the decision to send doctors deep into enemy territory and not top military brass? It wouldn’t have fit the tone of the episode but where was Colonel Flagg? This would have been perfect for him. He would have insisted on impersonating a doctor and using the exchange to gather intelligence on Chinese medical capabilities, not caring at all about the wounded soldiers.
One of my favorite scenes in this episode was Father Mulcahy’s conversation with Hawkeye and Trapper while they were preparing for Tokyo, particularly his entrance timed to coincide with Trapper giving thanks and his earnest question about Klinger’s training bra. This is followed with Colonel Blake and his Orville Carver bit, which is another favorite scene. Was it cut in syndication?
“Rainbow Bridge” was the first of three episodes in which Loudon Wainwright III portrayed Captain Calvin Spalding, the troubadour doctor (the others were “There Is Nothing Like a Nurse” and “Big Mac”). I don’t think the character worked well here. Seeing him sitting and singing pulled me out of the episode. That said, I liked his singing and I think it added a lot to the scene in which the bus is shown leaving the camp. His guitar playing also made the final scene in the Swamp feel far more personal than the regular background music.
This was the first of four guest appearances by Mako, all as different characters.
The gun Margaret gave Frank looks almost impossibly small. Are there any weapons experts out there who can say whether it was a functioning firearm or a lighter?
There were a few unfortunate rape jokes made during the first few years of M*A*S*H and one was in this episode.
Was this the only episode to mention a casualty report or at least one as detailed as the piece of paper Trapper was reading from?
Which is better: Hawkeye’s “It could be a trap, Trap” or Margaret’s “Can I be frank, Frank?”
Watch the background carefully in this episode. You’ll see a South Korean man on a bicycle loaded with what look like metal cans at least twice. Also, when the bus is being loaded you can see Igor standing with two men next to the Pre-Op Ward. I wonder what they were talking about.