Episode Spotlight: A Holy Mess


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

“A Holy Mess” (#227, 10×13)
Originally Broadcast: Monday, February 1st, 1982
Written by David Pollock and Elias Davis
Directed by Burt Metcalfe

Capsule Summary: The 4077th goes crazy for fresh eggs and Father Mulcahy fights to provide sanctuary to a G.I. gone AWOL.

There are only two storylines in this episode and both get about the same amount of screen time, which might explain why they both work pretty well. I’m calling the sanctuary storyline the A story, because it’s more dramatic and because the episode title probably refers more to it. That makes the eggs the B story.

With some memorable exceptions, Father Mulcahy wasn’t usually given much to do on M*A*S*H other than offer advice and perform the last rites, so it’s always nice to see him given a more substantial role in an episode. If we had only seen him take a stand in support of Private Gillis using the 4077th mess tent as a sanctuary, that would have been a decent storyline. Having him grapple with Gillis for his rifle and then yanking it out of his hands was even more impressive.

Making the A story even more enjoyable was the fact that it was Colonel Potter who took charge rather than Hawkeye and B.J. Their role was limited to offering Gillis a drink and not ratting him out. It was Colonel Potter who then went to bat for Father Mulcahy. I especially love his reaction to Lt. Spears calling Father Mulcahy a “mess tent monk:”

“Watch your mouth, Lieutenant! I’ve known this man long enough to give him the benefit of a couple hundred doubts. He’s not about to take a stand unless he feels it’s pretty deep.”

The only thing I don’t like about the A story is Lt. Spears being such a jerk. There was no reason he needed to have such nasty attitude towards Gillis and, in fact, it might have worked better had Spears been supportive but felt duty bound to bring him back to their unit. That way, there wouldn’t have been a bad guy.

The B story could have been corny and silly, with over-the-top reactions from everyone to the news of fresh eggs, but somehow it worked for the most part. The crowd scene was a bit much. I did really like this exchange between Hawkeye and B.J.:

B.J.: “Hawk, I think you ought to know, we’re going to die.”
Hawkeye: “Never say ‘die’ and certainly never say ‘we’.”

There were so many questions left unanswered about the eggs. I wonder how many people got theirs before they were knocked over after Gillis fired his rifle. Was Charles able to salvage his kippers? Did Margaret gets hers boiled for exactly three minutes and 15 seconds? What happened to Klinger’s goat cheese? How did Colonel Potter’s omelet turn out?

Father Mulcahy confronts Pvt. Gillis

I wonder if Charles dropping a piece of food while fantasizing about eggs was planned or a mistake that director Burt Metcalfe liked and decided to include in the episode.

Do you catch Sgt. Pernelli’s mention of a hypothetical “V-K Day” or Victory in Korea Day? This is a reference to the famous V-E and V-J Days from World War II.

This episode marked the third and last appearance by Val Bisoglio as Sgt. Pernelli the cook.

David Graf, who played Lt. Spears in this episode, later guest starred in an October 1983 episode of AfterMASH.

19 Replies to “Episode Spotlight: A Holy Mess”

  1. “David Graf, who played Lt. Spears in this episode, later guest starred in an October 1983 episode of AfterMASH.”

    David Graf played the trigger-happy Cadet Eugene Tackleberry (later Sgt. Tackleberry) in the 1984 comedy Police Academy, and starred in each of six sequels.

  2. I really, really like this episode. The Fr. Mulcahy storyline is great; I always like it when Mulcahy takes center stage, and the confrontation between him and Gillis at the end is terrific. The eggs storyline is entertaining, and the way the two plotlines collide is good. A very solid late-series entry.

    1. I thought Gillis he had been there in Korea for over a year when he found out his wife had a baby
      three weeks prior Was that his baby?

  3. I remember watching this one when it was in primetime. Pvt. Gillis was played by Cyril O’Reilly [Maybe Radar’s long-lost cousin? :)], and before this he’d appeared in Porky’s and in a tv remake of Splendor in the Grass with Melissa Gilbert.
    Somewhere someone mentioned the inconsistencies about eggs on this show, how sometimes they were a rare treat, as in this episode, and other times when they didn’t matter so much, such as when Hawkeye put a couple in Frank’s helmet in “Dear Sigmund”.

    1. Long time reader, first time commenter.

      Wasn’t it BJ that put the eggs in Frank’s helmet? He was revealed to be the mad practical joker, after all.

      1. Yes, it was BJ who pulled that prank.
        The opining in the mess tent about past egg experiences added a whimsical counterbalance to the episode.

  4. How did they know what David Graf’s character was named? I never heard anyone call the lieutenant by his last name. TBH, all the talk about eggs got my mouth watering, especially Col. Potter’s Western omelet clipped right out of “Argosy”.

  5. I’m not certain but don’t think anyone got their eggs the way they wanted. Didn’t the cook get tired of everyone coming to him with extremely particular recipes and finally yell something like, “No special orders! Everybody gets scrambled!.”

    1. Of course, Col. Potter asks for and gets a western omelette with a recipe clipped out of “Argosy”.

      Pernelli: What can I say? I’ve been outranked by bologna.
      Charles: I’m a surgeon, not a Hindu philosopher.
      Both very quirky lines from diverse characters.

  6. Just so happens that this episode is the next one up on my DVD watch through after William Christopher passed away. Great episode that finally gives Mulcahy a larger role, and allows us to see why he is one of the best characters of any tv show ever.

    I particularly love his one line:

    “A faith of convenience is a hollow faith”

    Great writing by David Pollock and Elias Davis

    The B story about the eggs works well for me, and the climax at the end where the two story lines come together is great.

    RIP William Christopher

  7. Does anyone have the transcript for Hawkeyes’ soliloquy to the egg? (all the different ways to eat an egg). Thanks!

    1. Do you mean Hawkeye’s little “un” speech? “Un-powdered, un-simulated, un-fabricated, unadulterated, un-army eggs? Unbelievable.”

    2. There’s also this humorous exchange from “Souvenirs”:

      Hawkeye: An egg’s an amazing thing. There’s nothing as hard and yet as delicate.
      Potter: Except my arteries.
      Hawkeye: The egg is so versatile. You can do almost anything to it. You can boil it. You can fry it. You can scramble it. – You can put a hat on it.
      Potter: Put a lid on it! I’m trying to read.

  8. I remember the CBS ads for this episode included Hawk’s “Unpowered, UnArmy eggs” speech.

  9. I’m comparing my reaction to this episode today to my reaction when it first aired in 1982. 36 years, a legal education, 2 decades professional experience, and a complete loss of religious faith can change a person significantly. I can no longer sympathize with Mulcahy’s sanctuary argument, or to put it in legal language, chaplain’s assertion of a faith-based tradition overriding secular military authority is devoid of merit. I’m also aggrieved that Gillis’s meltdown spoiled a rare treat for the personnel hoping to enjoy the rare treat of fresh eggs. But I still enjoyed Mulcahy’s badass preacher moment. I’m also exasperated by the various egg orders. Fresh eggs after so long an absence should be allowed to stand out, not be overshadowed by other ingredients. (I’ve also learned a lot about cooking in those 36 years.)

  10. Great episode. The actor who played Gillis really did a great job. Every time they show Sunday services I’m always surprised that Mulcahy doesn’t put a bit more spunk into his sermons. He’s literally putting people to sleep. However, he really impressed me with how he stood up to that confrontational MP who came in all angry as though getting Gillis back was personal. The MP even spoke disrespectfully to Potter who could have thrown him off the base if he chose. Mulcahy must have seen that Gillis needed time to talk some things out and he was able to give that to him.
    Once again the people in camp acted like babies when they didn’t instantly get their way. Even when Hawkeye told them there was someone having a hard time, they didn’t care. Why do they work at a medical unit if they have no empathy for human suffering? On the other hand, I do think Gillis was acting a bit irrational and perhaps Sidney should have been called.
    It was disgusting when Hawkeye put his hands in the eggs and ate from the pan. Not only was it selfish to eat when nobody else could, but it was just plain gross.

    1. Sidney was called after the whole stand-off ended. Potter told Hawkeye, BJ, and Father Mulcahy during the tag.

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