Every Monday, I spotlight a random episode of M*A*S*H, providing a brief review and asking readers to offer their thoughts.
“Major Fred C. Dobbs” (#22, 1×22)
Originally Broadcast: Sunday, March 11th, 1973
Written by Sid Dorfman
Directed by Don Weis
Capsule Summary: Fed up with all the pranks and abuse, Frank requests a transfer. Hawkeye and Trapper scheme to keep Frank (and Margaret) at the 4077th.
Some M*A*S*H fans consider this episode one of the worst of the series. Reportedly both Larry Gelbart and Alan Alda agree. I’m not so sure it’s that bad. At worst, it’s flawed. The plot doesn’t always make sense, definitely meanders a bit, and the gold jeep is really over the top. I also think this episode more than most may suffer from scenes being cut out in syndication.
Still, the episode has some great moments. My favorite is Frank trying to quietly steal Radar’s pickaxe and flashlight, realizing Radar was sleeping with a teddy bear, and quietly turning around to ask him about it. Radar comforting the bear (“Bad man go away”) after Frank leaves is hilarious and I’m not usually one to have anything positive to say about the bear.
I can’t decide if Radar searching for gold in the Korean hills is out of character or not. Early Radar was a schemer so if he had heard there was gold I can believe he’d try to find some. It just comes out of nowhere and seems out of place. And just where did he get a horse? Somehow, I’m more willing to believe that Trapper would instantly be able to identify pyrite (or fool’s gold).
Building an episode around Frank threatening to really leave the 4077th isn’t a bad idea. Obviously he’d have to eventually decide or be forced to stay to maintain the status quo but there’s a lot of potential comedy there. Too much time was spent on getting Frank to the point of demanding a transfer, however. If the episode had opened with the transfer established or spent at best two or three minutes on it, then there would have been more time for various characters to react.
One of the biggest flaws with this episode is the justification for Hawkeye and Trapper deciding to keep Frank at the 4077th. Colonel Blake threatens them with double duty until replacements are found for Frank and Margaret? That’s it? Despite what Radar said about army bureaucracy I can’t imagine the 4077th would be without a head nurse or another surgeon for long. They could put up with double duty for a few weeks if it meant getting rid of Frank.
Perhaps if the two had worried that Frank’s replacement would somehow be worse, that would have made for a stronger episode and given them more of an incentive. Or the nurses could have revolted, worried that Margaret’s replacement would be worse than her (or incompetent, given that unlike Frank, Margaret was always said to be very talented).
Another flaw, in my opinion, is Frank falling for Hawkeye and Trapper’s plot. Frank wasn’t that stupid. Their “whispered” conversation in the Swamp was so fake and transparent. This is where the episode really goes off the rails. It’s nice that Hawkeye and Trapper realize they may have gone too far but rather than just apologize and promise to be nicer in the future, they instead pull off another prank on Frank.
For those who may not know, the title of this episodes refers to a character from the 1948 film The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, directed by John Huston and starring Humphrey Bogart. Bogart’s character was named Fred C. Dobbs and became obsessed with a gold mine in the Sierra Madre mountains.
Am I the only one who thinks Ginger’s tears look really, really fake?
This episode features the jazzy, upbeat, almost obnoxious version of the theme song during the opening credits. I am not a fan.
Kaplan the dentist would later reappear in a bigger role in “Showtime” a few episodes later. It’s odd that a recurring character was introduced this late in the season considering most of the supporting characters (Spearchucker, Ugly John, etc.) had been dropped.
Neither Klinger nor Father Mulcahy appear in this episode.