Episode Spotlight: Major Fred C. Dobbs

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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.

Frank and his hook

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.

13 Replies to “Episode Spotlight: Major Fred C. Dobbs”

  1. This was a network-mandated fluff episode. An executive at CBS read in an almanac that Korea was the fifth-largest producer of gold in the world, so CBS forced them to make this episode. Gary Burghoff has even said in interviews, “Just where the hell do they find gold paint in Korea?”

    I will agree that in spite of this being considered the worst episode ever by not just the fans, but the cast and crew, I too don’t believe it’s all that bad… yeah, it’s a little sillier and broader than M*A*S*H usually was, but there are plenty of episodes worse than this.

    Kaplan the dentist actually appeared much earlier in “Chief Surgeon, Who?”, only he was played back character actor Jack Riley in that episode, and barely had any lines (let alone was acknowledged to be the camp dentist); this version of Kaplan was really annoying and obnoxious, I’m glad they didn’t keep him.

  2. I wouldn’t say this is one of the worst episodes, I’d easily take it over some of the weaker episodes from the last few seasons, but it IS, in my opinion, perhaps the weakest of the first season, though that still doesn’t necessarily mean it’s legitimately bad. The problems mostly have to do with plot credibility issues, which, yeah, I know you have to suspend your belief with TV shows, but this one asks a bit too much on that front. The gold jeep thing is almost eye-rolling.

    Still, there’s some VERY funny stuff in this one that makes it a lot of fun nevertheless. The pranks that drive Frank and Hot Lips, respectively, to request transfers are a riot.

    Even if the plot isn’t up to par, this is still an easy-going watch, provided you REALLY suspend your belief. Plus, I’d take this episode all day, every day over “Inga” or “Bottoms Up.”

  3. This is why I think it’d be neat to do a year-round poll of the worst MASH episode ever, I think it would be really interesting.

  4. Hawkeye: Now, this has to be the farewell scene of all time.
    IMO, a rather bland episode except for the recording of Frank & Margaret’s tryst and the subsequent fallout. Furthermore, I don’t really like Kaplan, the dentist, with his braying laugh.

  5. I actually like this episode, it is silly but good slapstick humor. And certainly better than many of the last seasons’ episodes.

    “And just where did he get a horse?”

    And what happened to it? It would have been a nice touch to have the horse get away and wander off, then turn out to be the same horse they later heal and give to Potter.

  6. this episode underlines Frank Burns greed…..as Hawkeye remarks Burns was crazy for money..he became a doctor for money….he married for money…if there was money in dying he throw himself under a truck..actually with Burns away…the MASH record of saving 97 % of patients would stand..Burns is so bungling that in real life the saved ratio would be 75%..also you see Frank pestering Blake to change his transfer orders…yet he says nothing about changing Houliahan orders! By the way when Margaret rally does wise up and breaks off with Frank…Burns really does act crazy for Section 8 discharge {Pity Klinger cant copy Burns]

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