Episode Spotlight: The Price

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

“The Price” (#161, 7×17)
Originally Broadcast: Monday,January 15th, 1979
Written by Erik Tarloff
Directed by Hy Averback

Capsule Summary: Hawkeye and B.J. try to hide a South Korea teenager from military conscription, Sophie goes missing, and Klinger tries to earn money to offer Colonel Potter a bribe.

There are parts of all three storylines in this episode that I really like and parts that I don’t think worked. It’s tough to say which was the A Story so I’m not going to try. I’ll just talk about them one at a time starting with Colonel Potter, Sophie, and Mr. Pak. I’d never really thought about it before but I don’t think it is realistic that the commanding officer of a MASH unit in Korea would have a horse.

It definitely doesn’t seem realistic that he could leave camp for a ride, with no way to contact him, and show up not just late but four hours late. What if wounded had arrived or some sort of emergency? And where exactly could he go for four hours? The 4077th was always supposedly to be pretty close to the front, right? It wouldn’t have been safe to wander too far from camp.

I’m also not convinced that Colonel Potter would have given Sophie away to Mr. Pak. Unless he thought Mr. Pak was close to death and he would be getting Sophie back soon. But that’s a bit ghoulish and doesn’t fit with Potter’s character. It’s more likely he didn’t give it much thought and decided to give Sophie to Mr. Pak in the heat of the moment. It would have been very interesting had this plot been carried over to later episodes but the self-contained nature of M*A*S*H episodes made that impossible. Regardless, it was a beautiful gesture on the Potter’s part.

It was a nice touch to tie Mr. Pak’s storyline to Hawkeye and B.J.’s storyline by having Ham be so in awe of Mr. Pak’s military exploits. Not being able to keep Ham from joining the ROK Army was a rare loss for Hawkeye. Realistically, though, what was he thinking? Was his plan to keep Ham in dresses and hide him in the Swamp forever? He couldn’t go back to his village. I suppose Hawkeye could have raffled off a weekend pass with a nurse to raise money to send Ham to college in the States. That worked out so well for Ho-Jon.

Klinger’s storyline was the weakest of the episode. He really was crazy if he thought Colonel Potter would take a bribe.

The highlight of the episode for me was seeing Charles save the day after walking into the middle of Hawkeye and B.J.’s trickery. It’s unlikely he actually cared much about Ham but even Charles wouldn’t want to see someone dragged off and conscripted. Plus he got to be the hero.

I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again: the need to fit every character into every episode often worked against M*A*S*H. Margaret’s small role may have been amusing but it wasn’t pivotal to the episode. Plus it really didn’t make much sense. Why would Ham have tried to hide in the showers? The same goes for Father Mulcahy, who had only two or three lines. They were funny but it felt like he was just being shoehorned into the scene.

Colonel Potter worries about Sophie

Is it just me or was Radar helping Colonel Potter take off his pants off a little weird? Not to mention Potter’s pink shorts.

When Colonel Potter is riding back to the 4077th we get an unusual angle of the camp showing the back of the Officers’ Club.

Where did Klinger get the cart for his Going Out of Army Sale (per the sign; there’s also one that says No Check)?

Watch carefully around 11:05 and you’ll see a bicycle cross in front of Colonel Potter and Radar with a nurse and a corpsman on it. Extras on M*A*S*H must have had a lot of fun.

Scriptwriter Erik Tarloff would later pen the second episode of Trapper John, M.D. (aired in September 1979) as well as two episodes of House Calls (one aired in November 1981, the other in March 1982). The latter series was a medical sitcom starring Wayne Rogers that aired on CBS M*A*S*H from December 1979 to May 1982.

18 Comments

  • Once again, RJ pretty much already expressed some of the same feelings I have about this episode.

    I don’t know how realistic or unrealistic it was for Potter to give Sophie to Mr. Pak, but I agree, it was a beautiful gesture, and I think it really showed a very moving and human side to Potter, I especially like his line, “This horse means as much to me as any animal I’ve ever owned… but she means more to your father… I would like him to have her.”

    I agree, Radar helping Potter take off his pants was weird, but admittedly, the exchange about his pink undies was also pretty funny:
    POTTER: Before you say anything, Mrs. Potter made this for me. Now what do you think of ’em?
    RADAR: Thanks for the warning, sir.
    POTTER: Would you like her to send you a pair?
    RADAR: Uh… could she make the same thing in white?
    POTTER: It’s a rare treat to share your underwear with a friend.
    RADAR: Sure, sir.

    Did anyone notice that Klinger had a swatch of the exact same pink material at his little bazaar, and Potter even offered him a nickel for it? Speaking of which, Season Seven seemed to be the season Klinger was growing more and more desperate: wearing dresses wasn’t enough, he seemed to have a new scheme each episode, though this wasn’t the first time he resorted to bribery: in “Payday,” from Season Three, he tries bribing Henry with his pay, though unlike Potter, Henry didn’t humor him about it and put a stop to it from the get-go.

    As for Hawkeye, B.J., and Ham, while that particular storyline didn’t do just a whole lot for me, I can at least admire their zeal for trying to hide him from the Korean conscription.

    • Maggie Hoolihan says:

      Klinger’s dressing up was wearing thin and the writers obviously felt it too since they dropped it after Radar left. Problem I had with him was the way he always got into fights with Zale. Although Zale isn’t a nice guy, Klinger really isn’t the fighting type and never was. However, just as they used to do in the first season where everytime you saw Klinger he had to mention the reason he was wearing a dress was for a discharge (literally every time), now they’re trying to make him seem more masculine by having him get into fights with Zale all the time. That’s because Jamie Farr’s uncle in real life or someone from his neighborhood made comments about his masculinity being in question due to the dresses. This was a concern to Farr who wanted it made very clear that it was only for a Section Eight. Therefore the fights with Zale show him to be all man. It’s silly and out of character as Klinger is actually a pretty sensitive and happy guy.

  • treky says:

    R.J. was wrong when he said HOUSE CALLS was a drama. It wasn’t; it was a comedy-drama (like MASH was at that time).

  • Seoul City Sue says:

    The only memorable parts of this episode are Col. Potter giving away Sophie to the laundry man and Charles pretending ignorance of Ham’s presence in the Swamp to the 2 MPs. Other than that, a fairly ‘meh’ episode

  • doc funnypants says:

    This was a very poignant episode especially when Col.Potter gave Sophie to Cho Pak. Klinger and his attempts at bribing Potter came across as desperate and far-fetched.

  • jgf says:

    It is not implausible that Potter would have a horse. Front line troops were allowed much more leeway due to the constant danger and stress of their situation. At a rear echelon unit, much less at Tokyo, he could own a horse but (unless maybe he were the base commander) could not keep it on base; he would have to pay to house it in a stable somewhere. This is why front line troops always hated officers like Frank and Margaret – they wanted to run these units like rear echelon units, with inspections and drills and protocol.

    As for him going for a four hour ride …can’t the guy have some time off? And being gone four hours doesn’t mean he was two hours away; he could have ridden a couple of miles away, dismounted, and just enjoyed some peace and quiet for a while (they could blow a morse code signal on a jeep horn to alert him). In his absence the second-in-command is in charge (technically this would be Margaret since she is the ranking officer, but we only see her in charge once, in an early episode; the job would probably fall to Winchester). This is something that for dramatic interest is greatly simplified in the TV show.

  • mspence says:

    The actors playing the Koreans were actually Japanese (which was ironic considering that the Mr. Pak character might have fought against the Japanese as a young man.)

    The pants scene was strange but maybe Potter had back trouble or something? He was prone to blood clots in his legs.

    Klinger trying to bribe Potter was funny but just unrealistic. I’d like to know where he would have gotten that much money from and how he would have gotten it to Potter. He had much better scams.

    • Phil says:

      “the Mr. Pak character might have fought against the Japanese as a young man”

      Yuki Shimoda was American-born (Sacramento, CA) and actually tried to enlist in the US Army after the Pearl Harbor bombing, but was classified 4F because of a heart murmur.

  • SPC Smada says:

    “My father was officer, they think it ok to steal, apparently”

    • Maggie Hoolihan says:

      Thanks for making me laugh out loud. I thought that was really strange too. Not only are all these Americans over in their country to save them from being overrun by the brutish North Koreans and Chinese, but they get free medical care and food and now they steal a horse from the commanding officer of a medical unit? All so an old man can feel proud again? From what they told us he was upset at doing laundry. OK, so why didn’t he try to change his situation? I realize his options were limited but still. Not very much honor in Korean cavalry officers if they think it’s okay to try to regain their former glory by stealing from an active duty officer in an allied army.

  • Lady you ARE a Piece of Cornbread says:

    I like Potter talking about being alone with his horse and Radar saying he has the same thing with his skunk.

  • 007 says:

    Random goof I just noticed in this episode. Prior to Margaret being in the shower with Ham, Hawkeye and BJ come out talking about how miserable the shower was because it’s freezing, complaining that there’s never any hot water.

    10 seconds later Margaret’s in the shower with plenty of steam. Clearly hot water.

  • Phil says:

    The actress who played Mr. Pak’s daughter (Miko Mayama) had a four-year relationship with Burt Reynolds in the early 70’s

  • Maggie Hoolihan says:

    Where did dirt poor Mr Pak get the saddle he was using on Sophie? It wasn’t the colonel’s. Also his uniform was extremely dusty and dirty. Don’t they run a laundry service? You would think after all these years they would have run it through the washer once or twice when business was slow.

    • Doc Funnypants says:

      I believe the saddle was from his Army days. As for his uniform, I’m guessing he hadn’t wore it in many years and never thought he’d wear it again.

  • Lady you ARE a Piece of Cornbread says:

    Between GFA and the pilot to “AfterMASH” did they explain and/or show what Potter did with Sophie once he went home?

    • 007 says:

      Potter says what he does with her in the dialogue at the end of GFA

      I’ll take one last ride on Sophie.
      Then, at the padre’s request, I’m giving her to the orphans.
      They can use her for farming and maybe take her for a ride now and then.
      She’s real good with kids.

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