Episode Spotlight: I Hate a Mystery


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

“I Hate a Mystery” (#10, 1×10)
Originally Broadcast: Sunday, November 26th, 1972
Written by Hal Dresner
Directed by Hy Averback

Capsule Summary: Hawkeye is blamed for a rash of thefts at the 4077th and is forced to uncover the real culprit.

This is a delightful episode in nearly ever way, which is remarkable considering it was just the sixth episode produced and the 10th aired. M*A*S*H really hit the ground running early during its first season. The plot features just one main storyline that touches every main character and a number of supporting ones, too.

When I sat down to rewatch it for this review I was about 90% sure I remembered who the thief was. If you don’t know or can’t remember, I would suggest you stop reading this and go rewatch “I Hate a Mystery” right now unless you want the mystery to be spoiled.

I wonder if anyone watching this episode when it originally aired back in November 1973 actually thought Hawkeye was responsible for the thefts. It could have been some sort of prank, as Colonel Blake suggested. Even Trapper seemed to turn against Hawkeye after the stolen items were found in his trunk. Trapper completely ignored Hawkeye when he returned to the Swamp after golfing.

If there is a weak part of this episode it’s the end. Not necessarily the revelation that Ho Jon was the thief, although one could argue that doesn’t make much sense given the events of “M*A*S*H — The Pilot,” but how nobody seemed upset at all. They all immediately forgave him and offered up all of their bits and pieces. Even Margaret or Frank. And even after it became obvious he was stealing way more than he needed.

Colonel Blake’s search of the 4077th is as hilarious as it is amateurish. He and Radar paw through Leslie’s undergarments but apparently leave Lt. Bannerman’s unchecked. Henry insists on inspecting a shower head, as if anything could be hidden in there, and somehow manages to turn it on. He then thinks there might be stolen items in the Swamp’s stove pipe, resulting in him being covered in soot. It’s actually surprising he asked Hawkeye to open his trunk because that was actually a good place to look.

Henry’s covered in soot

Supporting cast members get a lot of screen time in this episode: Spearchucker, Ho-Jon, Father Mulcahy, Leslie Scorch, and Barbara Bannerman. This was the first appearance of Bonnie Jones as Lt. Bannerman. She made a handful of other appearances during Season One. Odessa Cleveland (Ginger) is credited as appearing in this episode as well but I don’t recall seeing her anywhere, not even in the O.R.

Henry’s voiceover during the search is very unusual. Although many episodes included voiceover representing letters being written or read, in this case we heard regular dialogue. Hence the echo to indicate it was out of sync with the action on screen.

Hawkeye’s PA announcement calling for everyone to come to the mess tent was still taking place when they started showing up. And Ho Jon wasn’t even called yet he showed up.

This episode introduced Radar’s teddy bear. Although Henry seemed surprised to find it under Radar’s bunk, nobody notice or cared that he walked into the mess tent.

Very few episodes of M*A*S*H in which a cigarette is seen. This is one of them. “Yankee Doodle Doctor” is another.

Did you notice that Leslie and Henry have matching bathrobes.

Klinger doesn’t appear in this episode.

15 Replies to “Episode Spotlight: I Hate a Mystery”

  1. Just re-watched this one a couple of weeks back. It definitely has some high points of comedy, despite the plot holes that you mention above. If I ever need cheering up, this is one of many M*A*S*H episodes that does it for me — I can’t watch Henry’s stovepipe scene and not laugh along with Hawkeye and Trapper’s hysteria, along with Radar’s attempt to supress his chuckles.

  2. Definitely one of the better Season One episodes!

    I recently learned that Bonnie Jones was married to Gene Reynolds at the time, so that may have something to do with her appear as Barbara Bannerman throughout the first season (she also made a guest appearance on HOGAN’S HEROES, another show Gene directed). She actually has a website dedicated to some spirit named Seth that a guy supposedely conjured up during a Ouiji game.

    Anyway, I can see why everybody would think Hawkeye did it, not just because the stolen articles were in his footlocker, but because he’s the big trickster in camp, and it almost does seem like a bizarre and warped practical joke at first. I don’t think Hawk helped his case when they find the stolen articles in his footlocker: he just slams it shut and casually asks to discuss it over a drink, rather than question how or why they are in his footlocker.

    Another amusing little moment? During Hawkeye’s interrogation, he mentions that the perpetrator has accidentally exposed himself, to which Frank quickly cinches his robe tightly. It’s also odd to see both him and Margaret hold sympathy for Ho-Jon too – Frank seemed a lot less anti-Korean that first season, even mentioning in the pilot how he had enough of Hawkeye and Trapper corrupting him, but it’s like after that, Frank hated everybody who wasn’t American, even if they were South Korean.

    1. Also, notice after Henry’s face gets covered in soot, Mac keeps glancing at the camera, and even as he orders Hawkeye to open his footlocker, he seems to have trouble keeping a straight. Finally, just as we fade out, Mac looks directly into the camera with a look of disbelief written all over his face.

  3. This episode cracks me up every time I watch it! Especially when Henry is covered in soot! If I need a good laugh, I can always get one here! My favorite episode of Season 1!

  4. This episode originally aired in November 1972, not November 1973. I love how Henry’s first covered in water in the shower then, still wet, he gets a faceful of soot, with his wet face allowing the soot to stick even better than if it had been dry.

  5. Hawkeye’s detective monologue which exposes the thief makes this episode worth watching. I thought Frank and Margaret’s framing of Pierce was typical “Burnslihan” behavior.

    Frank: Who does he think he is?
    Trapper: The Thin Man?
    All in all, a very funny episode.

      1. The Thin Man series is a series of movies starring William Powell and Myrna Loy as Nick and Nora Charles, the husband-wife detective team. It began as a book called ‘The Thin Man’ by Dashiell Hammett. Great series and the movies are pretty good too.

    1. To paraphrase a quote from the movie Mean Girls: Stop trying to make “Burnslihan” happen – it’s not going to happen.

      Or better yet, Hawkeye from The Joker is Wild: You know, I wouldn’t mind a joke if it was – if it had some intelligence, but this is stupid.

      1. Thank you for your incisive input. From now on, I’ll refer to them as “The Interchangables”. Hope that satisfies you adequately.

        Hawkeye: Remember the old adage: Me thinks he doth protest too much.

  6. This is one of the season one episodes I always skip, along with “Edwina” (the absolute low point), “Major Fred C. Dobbs” and “Showtime”.

    The funny bits do not outweigh the contrivances for me.

  7. The second time Col Blake gets soot apart from Cowboy episode
    The third time Alan Alda has a lit cigarette in his mouth other than two of his earlier movies
    The Thin Man was also on TV starring Peter Lawford and Phyllis Kirk

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