Episode Spotlight: War Co-Respondent


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

“War Co-Respondent” (#192, 8×23)
Originally Broadcast: Monday, March 3rd, 1980
Written by Mike Farrell
Directed by Mike Farrell

Capsule Summary: B.J. fights his feelings when he falls for a famous (and beautiful) war co-respondent.

When I reviewed Season 5’s “Hanky Panky” back in September, there was some discussion in the comments about whether B.J. had actually cheated on his wife. It was somewhat ambiguous. Not so in this episode, where we know B.J. never acted on his feelings for the delightfully named Aggie O’Shea. B.J. even referred to the events in “Hanky Panky” during this episode while explaining how he felt about Aggie.

I’m not sure what to make of those feelings. In “Hanky Panky,” although we don’t see it, it’s implied that B.J. had been a shoulder for Nurse Carrie Donovan to cry on for some time before they may or may not have succumbed to loneliness one night. Aggie was only at the 4077th for two or three days and that was enough time for B.J. to think about being with her (and not just in bed)? To consider for the first time that Peg wasn’t the only woman in the world for him?

As for Aggie, at first she just seemed to have the hots for B.J., even mentioning that she was giving him plenty of openings to take a pass at her. Later, thought, she becomes just as infatuated with him as he is with her. Maybe love means something different in wartime. Maybe neither of them mean love but don’t know how else to describe how they feel for one another, how they’re drawn to one another.

Hawkeye’s role in the episode, once he stops obsessing about Aggie and making a fool of himself, is to help B.J. recognize that whatever it is he feels for Aggie, it’s only because they’re both in Korea. Under any other circumstances, B.J. wouldn’t have given her a second thought.

Klinger’s first scene in this episode, when he comes upon B.J. and Aggie outside the Swamp, is so out of place and so forced it’s actually painful to watch. His later involvement in the gossip circle in the Mess Tent is only slightly less awkward to watch.

“You’re free!”

With this episode, Mike Farrell became the second cast member to both write and direct an episode of M*A*S*H. Alan Alda wrote and directed ten episodes. not counting episodes he co-wrote and directed. Farrell would later write and direct “Death Takes a Holiday” in Season 9.

At the start of the episode, the P.A. announcer uses lyrics from Cole Porter’s “Night and Day” to announce the arrival of an evac bus:

“Attention all personnel. Through the roaring traffic’s boom and the silence of your lonely room night and day you are the ones. Evac bus in the compound.”

It’s an odd, almost absurd way to start the episode, and I can’t think of any way to connect it to the plot.

More than in most episodes, it’s obvious that all of the outdoor scenes were not filmed outside but instead on the Stage 9 sound stage. The shrubbery behind Aggie when she’s sketching B.J. looks very fake and the mountains behind B.J. are clearly the painted backdrop.

13 Replies to “Episode Spotlight: War Co-Respondent”

  1. I’ve shared my thoughts on this train wreck of an episode on the forums, so I’m just going to copy and paste those thoughts here:

    I just sat down and actually watched this episode for the first time… and it really doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me… the story, that is.

    I mean, I know Mike Farrell wanted to show that despite the fact that B.J. is a devoted and faithful family man, he too isn’t above temptation, and I think that’s why this story is at fault, he seemed to try too hard to show this in this story, that the plot itself didn’t entirely add up. I mean, first of all, why exactly is Aggie so interested in B.J. to begin with? I didn’t quite pick up on that… she said he was quiet, is she interested in men who come off as reclusive and aloof (even Beej appeared, to me, to be just being himself)? Not only that, but she correctly guessed that he was married during their first conversation in the Officer’s Club, so why did she continue to pursue him? Did she think she could manipulate him into hooking up with her instead, and either not tell Peggy about it, or he send her a Dear Jane?

    Also, was there more going on that didn’t happen on screen that we didn’t know about? Because up until B.J. confesses to Hawkeye that he does have desires and feelings for Aggie, all the others witness was her trying to sketch him, yet they all began gossiping in the Mess Tent, like they knew something was going on between them..

    1. That’s exactly what she thought. She had been covering the war for awhile and had probably seen married people jump in and out of bed together so thought BJ might do the same. Her disappointment when she found out from Margaret that he never had told the tale. It’s interesting that when Trapper or Henry cheated on their wives nobody cared and everyone thought it was cute or funny. When it’s a woman who is doing the pursuing suddenly she’s a manipulative predator and nobody can understand why she’s doing it. Not judging, just find it interesting.

      And you’re absolutely right about everyone suddenly gossiping about the two of them. The scene with Klinger was ridiculous. He sees them talking after she had been sketching BJ and watches them with his huge fake smile on his face. Then he acts like a high school kid with all his wink wink nudge nudge crap. Does he do that with every girl Hawkeye screws around with? Why would he think it was acceptable to tease someone about a possible affair even though he knows the guy is married? Is he trying to make it more difficult or is he just nosy? I was waiting for him to pull one of his, “I hope I didn’t say anything wrong” lines to make the scene complete.

  2. I really, really don’t like this episode. BJ, who was emotionally wrecked after whatever happened in “Hanky Panky,” now falls for a war-correspondent for pretty much no reason whatsoever. Like Big Daddy said above, it’s to show BJ isn’t above temptation, but geez oh man, the whole thing just feels incredibly, unbelievably forced.

    A far, far inferior episode when compared to “Hanky Panky.”

  3. I am firmly in the ‘Yes, BJ did sleep with Carrie’ camp. Why else would he be so eaten up with guilt otherwise??

    This episode is memorable only because of the beautiful Susan St. James although her character of Aggie O’Shea was nothing to write home about. BJ seemed to be attracted to her mainly because she was so free, able to come and go, and was seemingly encumbered, unlike him. Why she was attracted to a moody, sulky doctor is something only she knows.

    It’s an ok episode. I think it kinda wanted to drive the point home that war can change even the staunchest of characters, BJ’s integrity in this case. Did it succeed in doing so….not when BJ never even mentioned her name once she left the camp!!

  4. This is another perfect example of an episode that would be a million times better if Alan Alda had decided to take a vacation for the filming of it. The way he acts around Aggie, the jealousy, the arrogance, the constantly pestering her to go out with him, almost to a point of chauvinism and sexism. I get that it’s supposed to be the 50’s where times were different but it’s disgusting and offensive to watch….and I’m a guy.

    It’s also really stupid that this happens to BJ after how horrible he felt after the events of “hanky panky.”

      1. Not at all. Really just more than anything hate the character of Hawkeye. Strange for a MASH fan, I know.

        Aggie was just as bad in a way with the way she pursued BJ despite knowing he was married and resisting.

    1. I’m a woman and it didn’t bother me. It has nothing to do with the times. Some guys don’t want to take no for an answer. It’s more to do with arrogance than chauvinism. Most women are used to it because it’s more common than you think. No need to get offended on our behalf. Nature of the woman’s beast. 😉

  5. I realize they needed to follow what they felt was an interesting storyline, but it is completely unrealistic that O’Shea would keep pestering a man she damn well knew was married. When she and BJ were sitting together in the mess area, and she blatantly tells her feelings, they should have had BJ say something along the line of, “…you know I’m happily married, and yet you still think something can happen here. Are you suggesting thjat I be unfaithful to my wife?” I think that would have given added strength to his character’s character…and even caused this predatory female to back-off, while taking a good hard look at herself.

    1. Don’t be so sure. Plenty of women go after married men. You’re thinking of the way you might approach it as a man integrity and logic. But some women who see a married man won’t think “oh I would like a guy just like him.” Instead they will say “I want HIM.” It’s a shame but all too true. Not much honor between some women especially women who don’t know the other woman who is in their way.

  6. Noticed something interesting in this one. While Aggie is sketching BJ by the swamp, the pad/sketch is horizontal, and appears to have quite a bit of background detail. Charles even comments on it.

    When Potter gets the finished sketch in the mail, it is done vertically, and has hardly any background detail. Maybe that’s normal, it just seemed odd at first glance.

  7. Mike Farrell has said in many interviews that his biggest worry with the character was that he thought he could become boring and people would stop watching the show. Particularly after an entertaining and funny guy like Trapper had just left. Therefore, they periodically tried to shoehorn in episodes like this one. They make very little sense and BJ remains boring for the majority of the series.

    I don’t think throwing a possible affair at him was a way to make him entertaining and interesting. His entire character was basically a do gooder type who would be perfectly happy to stay in San Francisco with his wife and kid and never do much of anything. And because that’s his character, we can’t suddenly be expected to believe he would even notice Aggie or anyone else. If he’s not driven by sexual urges, then what exactly is Aggie giving him? Peg writes him and sends him things daily. He can hear her voice if he really needs to and he’s extremely busy the rest of the time. Not sure what the smoky voiced but unfortunately named Aggie really brought to the table. Her name conjures up a 75 year old toothless bus driver. Their conversations weren’t anything special nor was there much chemistry between them. Most of the actor written scripts are self indulgent ways for that actor to stretch their acting wings and this is no exception.

    Hawkeye was very annoying and desperate in this episode. He pursued Aggie like his life depended on it and it got embarrassing very quick. It did seem like if she hadn’t run into BJ first she might not have fallen for him. They had
    brief words to each other on the bus and suddenly she’s infatuated. It didn’t ring true at all. I can’t imagine a worldly woman who travels around writing about interesting topics would be interested in someone like BJ. He’s simply too simple of a guy to attract someone like her. I think she would have been very bored with him if they had nice forward. Not to mention his guilt over leaving Peg would have almost certainly caused him to lash out and get bitchy as he does whenever something is bothering him. Aggie would never have stood for that.

  8. Actually for my 2 cents worth, this episode is Cringe from start to finish. Klingers OTT reaction, the whole story, actually everything about it is unsettling. One of my least favourite episodes by far…

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