Episode Spotlight: Mail Call


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

“Mail Call” (#47, 2×23)
Originally Broadcast: Saturday, February 23rd, 1974
Written by Larry Gelbart & Laurence Marks
Directed by Alan Alda

Capsule Summary: Mail arrives at the 4077th and causes all sorts of problems.

Letters were a big part of M*A*S*H from the very start, both letters home and letters from home. “Mail Call” was the first of three episodes to revolve entirely around the 4077th receiving mail from home. There’s so much going on in this episode I’m not sure where to start. Every character gets at least a brief subplot relating to mail from home with the exception of Father Mulcahy.

Klinger faking a letter from his mother telling him his father is in a coma is classic Klinger. Henry pulling out a file filled with letters about various deaths (and pregnancies) in the Klinger family is hilarious. “Here’s an oldie but a goodie: half of the family dying, other half pregnant.”

The most emotional subplot has to be Trapper’s. The cookies and photograph he gets from home lead to him getting increasingly upset about how much he is missing being in Korea while his daughters grow up. His confrontation with Hawkeye while planning to go AWOL is revisited more violently with B.J. in “Period of Adjustment” during Season 8.

Poor Frank. He struck it rich with his investment in Pioneer Aviation and then lost it all when he learned it wasn’t a real company. He almost lost Margaret, too, after planning their lives together without consulting her, but managed to get her back. But he didn’t really lose any money, which means his stock portfolio still doubled.

Radar’s pen pal problem was the least interesting of all the letters but he learned a valuable lesson about honesty. I hope Henry managed to balance his wife’s checkbook and find a way to pay the $236 veterinarian bill (that was a huge amount of money in the 1950s). Maybe he had enough left over for a visit to Madam Wank’s Casa de Massage.

Margaret and Hawkeye also received mail. Margaret got new hosiery and spiked heels while Hawkeye got a sweater with a guest room from his sister. As most M*A*S*H fans know, aside from occasional references like this one during the first few seasons, Hawkeye was always an only child.

Trapper prepares to use violence

This was the first episode that Alan Alda directed.

Radar getting mobbed and losing his clothes is a weak gag, in my opinion. It would have been more impressive if there wasn’t a shot change to hide the fact that Gary Burghoff removed his clothes rather than Radar actually having them torn off.

Do people actually remove the pits of olives the way Hawkeye was while listening to Trapper talk about his kids? I guess he could have been practicing surgical techniques.

Notice Igor and a nurse looking bewildered in the background when Margaret is screaming about Pioneer Aviation and Franks runs out of her tent.

11 Replies to “Episode Spotlight: Mail Call”

  1. A very good episode.

    The scenes between Klinger and Col. Blake always crack me up. Very well acted.

    Frank’s Pioneer Aviation storyline is also hilarious and a classic prank that Burns typically falls for.

    Hawkeye’s sweater is funny as well. I kind of wish they would have used that prop again in a future episode(s).

  2. Of the three “Mail Call” episodes, this one is probably my least favorite. I do love the moment between Henry reading all of Klinger’s fake letters, ending with this exchange:

    HENRY: Klinger? Aren’t you ashamed of yourself?
    KLINGER: Yes, sir. (Beat) I don’t deserve to be in the army!

  3. I like all of the Mail Call episodes, and I really love the Pioneer Aviation gag in this one.

    I may not have this exact, but I love the exchange at the end between Hawkeye and Frank:

    “There is no Pioneer Aviation!”
    “To help you make a fool of yourself!”
    “…I don’t need your help!”

    Good solid season two ep.

  4. I noticed in this episode, Hawkeye says this is the “second” war he’s been in. I found that interesting, as I always wondered what Hawkeyes and various members of the 4077 experience was during WW2.

    Has anyone else noticed characters talking about their prior service? (besides Potter and his many references to dubya dubya 1 & 2)

  5. Hawkeye’s mention of Korea being his second war was probably an oversight. In later episodes it becomes more clear that Korea was his first wartime experience.

    Henry: “Here’s an oldie but a goodie. Half of the family dying, the other half pregnant.”

    How far did Trapper expect to get? Would he have even been able to make it out of camp if he’d gotten away and Hawkeye or more likely Frank had to report him?

  6. Wish the writers let Hawkeye have a sister. Could have made future mail call episodes interesting.

  7. I’m surprised no one analyzed Frank’s short-sighted mapping out of his future with Margaret. There were multiple flaws in his plan. First, did he really think Margaret wouldn’t look for a job in Fort Wayne instead of just being his mistress? Second, Fort Wayne isn’t South Korea. Does Frank think no one would know about his affair and blab to Louise about it? Lastly, giving Margaret an allowance sounds like something a parent would do for their child. It’s not intended for an adult.

  8. The leaf that Major Charles Winchester Burns III received in the Mail at the end of the episode was from a Sweet Gun tree not a Birch.

  9. One of my all-time favourite episodes. The scene between Klinger and Henry is quite possibly my favourite scene in the entire series – the whole thing is just hilarious, from Klinger’s rifle-twirling and Henry’s response (“Klinger, the rifle makes me nervous. Actually, the purse does too”) to Henry’s complete deadpan expression following Klinger reading the letter to the classic “here’s an oldie but a goodie: half the family dying, other half pregnant”.

    The only real negative thing I have to say about this episode (besides Radar’s fairly weak storyline) is that we haven’t ever really heard about Trapper’s family enough to fully buy his downward spiral. I mean, like it or loathe it, B.J.’s similar melt-down in ‘Periods of Adjustment’ is genuinely understandable because we actually learn about his family and have a by-proxy connection to them; same with all the times Potter gets cranky because he and Mildred have had an argument or he’s missed his anniversary phone-call; same with Henry when he hears his wife had a fling while he’s been away. With Trapper, I can’t remember another time that his family are even significantly mentioned except in ‘Kim’; often I find myself completely forgetting he’s even married with all the nurse-chasing he does, which makes him moping about how much he’s missing them in this episode feel a little…disingenuous, I guess..? I dunno. I get what they were going for with Trapper’s storyline in this episode but (for me, at least), without a significant established connection to his family it ultimately ends up feeling little more than a very tame prototype for what was (again, for me at least) handled far better with B.J. in ‘Periods of Adjustment’.

  10. If I recall correctly, the scene between Henry Blake and Klinger in Blake’s office in this episode was also featured in “Our Finest Hour”, and rightly so.

    Alan Alda did a pretty good job on his directorial debut, but I do wonder what Wayne Rogers thinks of it all, now that his co-star is directing episodes and getting the majority of the lines in the scenes shared with Wayne Rogers. In more and more scenes towards the end of season 2 Trapper is merely reacting to lines or situations controlled by Hawkeye.

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