Episode Spotlight: Father’s Day


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

“Father’s Day” (#198, 9×04)
Originally Broadcast: Monday, December 8th, 1980
Written by Karen L. Hall
Directed by Alan Alda

Capsule Summary: Margaret’s father visits the 4077th and she goes to great lengths to try to impress him. Meanwhile, Hawkeye and B.J. try to hide a side of beef given to them by a grateful patient.

I was excited when this episode was randomly selected for this week’s review because I momentarily confused it with “Sons and Bowlers” from Season 10 and was looking forward to rewatching Charles and Hawkeye bonding. I soon realized my mistake. Unfortunately, “Father’s Day” is nowhere near as good an episode as “Sons and Bowlers.” The beef B-story is practically nonexistent which means there is far too much emphasis on the weak A-story involving Margaret and her father.

It’s one thing for Margaret to be excited to see her father and want to impress him, especially considering his own military background, but her behavior in this episode is just too much. Margaret often got carried away and yelled a lot, particularly in the latter years of the series. Sadly, it became more or less her only character trait as time went by and being the focus of the A-story only made things worse.

We never learned much about Margaret’s personal life outside the Army. Earlier in the series her father was supposedly dead. In “Hot Lips and Empty Arms” (Season 2) she said to Colonel Blake “Do you know you look just like my father before he died?” And in “Bulletin Board” (Season 3) after she came to him looking for a loan, Frank asked if Margaret’s father left her any money, suggesting he was dead. Margaret also mentioned a younger sister in that episode but was otherwise almost always described as an only child. Of course, she also said her mother was a drunk and a kleptomaniac, so she was likely playing fast and loose with the truth.

In this episode we learn that her parents are divorced but don’t get any details. Alvin “Howitzer” Houlihan is a retired Army colonel who loathes discussing his feelings or opening up emotionally. It would probably be accurate to say that had something to do with his divorce. As Colonel Potter points out, he was apparently willing to let Margaret think he was disappointed in her rather than admit weakness.

There’s nothing wrong with Margaret’s father being a cold, distant man. There just isn’t enough to the storyline to fill the bulk of an episode. Margaret desperately wants to please her father and over analyzes his every word, every breathe, for some clue to whether she’s disappointing him. Colonel Potter’s rant is justified, if a little over the top, and fits with his character being something of father figure at the 4077th.

As I mentioned earlier, the B-story in which a grateful patient gives Hawkeye a frozen side of beef is little more than filler. It’s perfectly harmless and totally forgettable.

“Talk about ‘whetting’ your appetite.”

Father Mulcahy and Charles have miniscule roles in this episode, shoehorned into the B-story. Klinger has only marginally more to do.

Would the 4077th have the capacity to handle preparing and cooking an entire side of beef?

B.J. mentions Margaret’s father sending a “camouflage negligee to prevent sneak attacks.” She tells him to can it. If it’s a joke, it’s a bizarre one for B.J. to make. If it’s not a joke, it doesn’t seem like something “Howitzer” Houlihan would do.

Andrew Duggan was a very tall man. He towered over Loretta Swit (and everyone else).

23 Replies to “Episode Spotlight: Father’s Day”

  1. I remember this episode! I caught glimpses of it on Hallmark Channel one afternoon before I actually started watching the series regularly – the B story with the side of beef is actually what stuck out about it for me (wasn’t that beef supposedly stolen, though?). I think it’s one of the first episodes I ever glanced at.

    And actually, we learned about Margaret’s parents divorce (or, more accurately, their separation) in “The Party”, which was the main reason why she didn’t want to go along with B.J.’s party idea, figuring that they wouldn’t want to spend a weekend with a bunch of strangers together.

  2. This was one of those “blah” episodes for me. I can certainly understand Margaret’s excitement of her father’s visit, but like you said RJ, her reactions and analyzation of everything her father said and did was just too over-the-top, very out of character. But, I did like the scene where Potter sort of puts her father in his place a bit. And like my Dad, I could do without her yelling and screaming. That was what turned him off with watching the later episodes. I think Hawkeye might have been right – her yelling can certainly sound like “a songbird drowning in hot tar”….. 🙂

    But, I did kind of enjoyed the B segment. I can certainly understand their excitement with the side of beef, especially with the slop they generally had to eat. But, did cooks in MASH units have the knowledge to know how to prepare it? Just wondering…..I’m sure there were Private Conways (“Too Many Cooks”) in the military, but did they end up being cooks?

    1. This is one of the many things that makes the later seasons a bit tough for me to watch as well. It seems like every time Margaret is on the screen, she’s pissed off and yelling at someone or something. It’s quite annoying.

    2. I don’t think it’s so out of character her to analyze everything her dad did. Not at all. She always held him in the highest esteem and basically designed her entire life around pleasing him. From joining the army to who she married, it was all about making dad proud. She even said her perfect man would be 30% her father. It makes perfect sense that she would be very edgy wondering what’s in his mind after being away from him so long. She may not normally overanalyze but her dad tapped into all her insecurities from every moment of her life so it all fit.

  3. I agree in the later seasons, Margaret seemed to yell all the time. She always tried to get the nurses to work at a impossible level of excellence. At the end, her dad was actually proud of her and what she accomplished.

  4. In response to your statement about Andrew Duggan towering over practically everyone on the show, he was 6’5″.

    Potter: Margaret’s busted her britches trying to impress you but you don’t seem to give a tinker’s damn.

  5. “Would the 4077th have the capacity to handle preparing and cooking an entire side of beef?”

    A real MASH unit consisted of around 200 people, and had kitchen/mess hall facilities to cater such a group.

  6. This episode like most have said is mostly not very good, but the beef B story is very good. It’s too bad we got so much time with grumpy ol Howitzer Al Houlihan and not as much with the beef story line.

    As much as I dislike Margaret as a character though in the later seasons, I still feel really bad for her in this episode, especially after the revelation as to why her dad was so grumpy. The ending to the storyline was nice, but it would have been better if he had actually admitted to her why he was such a jerk and said more than just that he was proud of her.

    1. i was hoping someone knew what happened in the OR scene where margaret knocked over the tray and her dad “stormed” out … later in the VIP tent margaret wants to to apologize and the dad say’s “i just rather not talk about it”. what occurred in the OR that her dad thought she was talking about something else when margaret says “i’m so sorry i’ve never been so clumsy”. he looked surprised as he thought margaret wanted to discuss some other matter.

      did anyone notice what occurred in the OR ?? thanks

      1. Potter confronts Dad Houlihan about his shoddy treatment of Margaret. Dad doesn’t want to talk about his abrupt departure from the OR. Potter asks, “was it the blood?” Houlihan either doesn’t answer or says something to the effect that he was bothered by the surgical gore and he’s embarrassed about it . Potter tells him he’s not the first tough guy who couldn’t handle the OR.

      2. Alvin doesn’t answer but gives Potter a look that Sherm interprets as indicating that Alvin was a mite queasy about the blood.

  7. I believe the Charles/Hawkeye exchange “What can I do?”/”First take off your pajamas” was heavenly featured in original CBS promos for this episode.

  8. This is a pretty solid late-season episode. Howitzer Al was a cold hard-a$$ for sure, but I can believe that he could be Margaret’s dad. The scene with him and Potter near the end of the show was a highlight, as Potter forced him to confront his shortcomings. Even then, Al almost drove off without letting Margaret know how he felt about her. Did any future episode reference her visiting in Tokyo to see him? I don’t think so, but I might be wrong.

    I’m no expert, but wouldn’t thawing out the beef in that manner be an invitation for food-born disease (especially in that nasty shower…eww!)?

    It was nice to see Art LaFleur as the M.P. He’s always been one of my favorite character actors.

    1. Yes, thawing the beef out in the shower would seem disgusting. About Art LaFleur, he’s from the same hometown as Michael Jackson which is Gary, Indiana.
      Margaret’s behavior was borderline neurotic especially her disdain for fat pillows.

  9. I’m not ashamed to say that the look on Margaret’s face when her father told her he was proud of her brought tears to my eyes. I’m also a daughter who was close with her dad and always wanted to please him. The idea of letting him down was unthinkable. I only wish we knew what her dad’s problem was but I’m guessing it was a combination of the divorce which he took as a failure in his life and seeing Margaret for the first time since which probably reminded him of his ex wife. And then there was not being in command anymore and having more time to think. Basically everything Potter described when they talked. It’s a shame he didn’t share anything with his daughter but that’s totally in character for him based on what we know of him.

  10. Random question – what’s with Margaret wearing that hat for most of the episode? Was it to make her look for military in front of her dad? She never really wears it again.

  11. Having been divorced herself, wouldn’t Margaret have had a better understanding of her father’s behavior?

    The beef story is the highlight of the episode although I wonder where they would have been able to keep it.

    1. It seems to me, that parents weren’t as open with their offspring about their private business; at least as they saw it.

  12. I got the impression that Al wouldn’t watch Margaret in surgery because he would be sick to his stomach, but he didn’t want to admit that to her, and he never really did.

    1. Jon i think that answers my comment above …

      “””i was hoping someone knew what happened in the OR scene where margaret knocked over the tray and her dad “stormed” out … later in the VIP tent margaret wants to to apologize and the dad say’s “i just rather not talk about it”. what occurred in the OR that her dad thought she was talking about something else when margaret says “i’m so sorry i’ve never been so clumsy”. he looked surprised as he thought margaret wanted to discuss some other matter.

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