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.

8 Comments

  • 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..

  • Larry P. says:

    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.”

  • Seoul City Sue says:

    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!!

  • 007 says:

    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.”

    • Hal Pritzker says:

      You must be a women’s libber….a someone sympathetic to them.

      • 007 says:

        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.

  • Hal Pritzker says:

    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.

  • Daniel says:

    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.

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