Episode Spotlight: Foreign Affairs

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

“Foreign Affairs” (#238, 11×03)
Originally Broadcast: Monday, November 8th, 1982
Written by David Pollock & Elias Davis
Directed by Charles S. Dubin

Capsule Summary: Charles falls for a French Red Cross volunteer. Hawkeye and B.J. butt heads with an Army P.R. man trying to convince a North Korean pilot to defect.

Neither of the storylines in this episode are all that strong but both work well enough. In my opinion, the A-story is Major Reddish’s attempt to convince Lt. Chong-Wa Park to accept the $100,000 reward and travel to the United States. That means Charles falling in love with the sophisticated Martine LeClerc only to discover she’s actually very Bohemian is the B-story.

Initially, while rewatching the episode, I couldn’t take the A-story seriously. It just seemed too over-the-top to be in any way realistic. But it turns out there really was a United States Air Force plot during the Korean War to entice Communist pilots to defect with their MiG-15 aircraft. It was called Operation Moolah. You can read more about it at Wikipedia.

Major Reddish never refers to Operation Moolah by name but the details fit. It was on April 27th, 1953 by General Mark Clark and offered $50,000 to any Communist pilot landing a Soviet MiG-15 in South Korea, with an additional $50,000 would go to the first pilot to do so. None did. “Foreign Affairs” probably takes place in May 1953, at least a few weeks after Operation Moolah as announced, and only a few months before the Korean Armistice Agreement was signed, ending the war.

I think the problem with the A-story is not the plot itself but the way Major Reddish was portrayed. He’s just too smug. And he smiles too much. It doesn’t help that I’m a huge Arrested Development fan and I can’t watch actor Jeffrey Tambor without seeing his character(s) from that series.

As for the B-story, once you recall that Boston hasn’t always been considered one of the most liberal cities in the United States, it is at least somewhat understandable that Charles would react the way he did after learning that Martine once posed nude for a painting and lived with a man who wasn’t her husband for several years. Family means everything to Charles and he believed that they would never accept Martine.

It’s debatable whether Charles felt the same way or just said he did to avoid having to interact with Martine. His final conversation with Martine in the Swamp strongly suggests he was at the very least conflicted about his feelings for her. Their relationship could have continued in South Korea or Japan but it could never have gone anywhere once the war ended.

Perhaps Charles wanted to avoid the pain of growing even closer to Martine, so he decided to end things and his family being “very conventional” was the perfect excuse. Or maybe I’m really over-thinking things.

“Hoisted by your own P.R.”

Like several other Season 11 episodes, “Foreign Affairs” was actually produced during Season 10 but held over until Season 11. The “freeze frame” music after the tag is likewise jazzier than usual.

The opening credits are shortened and feature a jazzy, almost bombastic version of the theme song. I’m not a big fan.

This episode marked the fifth and final guest appearance by Soon-Tek Oh on M*A*S*H, all as different characters. He previously appeared in “Love and Marriage” (Season 3), “The Bus” (Season 4), “The Korean Surgeon” (Season 5), and “The Yalu Brick Road” (Season 8).

The end credits include a credit for Patrick Romano as French Soldier. At the very beginning of the episode, during triage in the compound, Colonel Potter checks a wounded soldier who speaks French. A corpsman explains that a French unit got mortared. Unless I’m mistaken, we never see this soldier again. I’m curious if there was a larger role for this soldier that got cut.

Klinger and Father Mulcahy have very small roles in this episode. Margaret’s is only slightly larger.

12 Comments

  • 5 O'Clock Charlie says:

    Another one of MASH re-using a name, well, a last name at least. Lt. Henri-Batiste LeClerc appeared in Season 3 Episode 12 A Full Rich Day as a Luxembourg soldier.

  • Seoul City Sue says:

    Jeffrey Tambor will always be George Bluth to me (huge AD fan here too). Other than that, it is pretty obvious the show was on it’s last legs. There is nothing about this episode that stands out.

  • Big Daddy O'Reilly says:

    I’ve never watched ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT, so I wasn’t aware Jeffrey Tambor was on that show; being the big Muppet Freak that I am, my exposure to him was through his roles in MUPPETS FROM SPACE and THE MUPPETS’ WIZARD OF OZ. I know I’ve seen him in a few other things as well, but they’re not coming to my mind at the moment – he’s been doing humus commercials lately.

    That said, never seen this episode, but it’s amusing to see how young he looked back then.

  • TWoods says:

    I would say that I enjoy watching about 95% of all episodes (including the late seasons), about 2% that I don’t like at all (“Hawkeye” being one of them)…..and then there are those that are in-between…..and “Foreign Affairs” is one of them. I really like Winchester, so the B-story saved the episode for me. As for Jeffrey Tambor, I as well have never seen AD…..but to me, he’s the mayor of Hooville. 🙂

  • paul says:

    how can u not have seen Arr3ested Development – possibly one of the top 5 or 10 funniest sitcoms of ALL TIME. Watch it, thats an order.

  • jgf says:

    “…his family being “very conventional” was the perfect excuse. Or maybe I’m really over-thinking things.”

    The US in general during the fifties was quite conservative. An unmarried couple living together were considered “living in sin”. Europe, generally, was much more liberal.

    In an episode of the Dick van Dyke Show (early sixties) a scandal ensues when it is revealed Laura posed nude (or nearly so, it is never made clear) for an artist. Ten years later in an episode of All In the Family Archie is furious to learn Gloria posed nude for a sculptor.

    In the early seventies my girlfriend and I lived together in a high rise in Alabama. The older people there deemed this outrageous and actually tried to get us evicted.

    • NurseAble says:

      But M*A*S*H seems to have transposed a seventies morality onto a fifties-themed show. Didn’t Hawkeye live with a nurse (Carly Walton, played by Blythe Danner in “The More I See You”) during his residency? He even mentions sharing an apartment with her and that his hands were hunter green – he told people he was a tree surgeon.

      Since I wasn’t around in the fifties, I always thought they either kept it quiet or were just around others that were more liberal-minded and didn’t care.

  • 007 says:

    Decent episode, not one of the best, not one of the worst, but watchable. I do like the actor Soon-Tek Oh though. Every time he’s in an episode, it’s a great appearance. Kind of crazy to think he was only in five episodes, but it spanned from the Rogers/Stevenson era, all the way through the final season.

  • Lady you ARE a Piece of Cornbread says:

    Mr Tambour also played “The Ropers” snooty neighbor and Larry Sanders’ sidekick.

  • Lady, you ARE a piece of cornbread says:

    Sorry that was supposed to be Sarasota Journal 9/17/54 Pg 10

  • Maggie Hoolihan says:

    This episode had a couple refreshing elements. A younger Hank from the Larry Sanders Show (Jeffrey Tambor). He was so like his character on that show it almost could have been the inspiration. I found it hard to believe the army would authorize an active Communist to come back to the States and become a citizen. With all the furor over Communist infiltrators in Hollywood and the government it just seems like it would be too easy to be found out. He would certainly leave as soon as he could.

    Charles finding a woman who shared his interests and had class to match had me grinning. He actually wooed her and brought romance to their relationship. His concerns over her liberal past seemed very real for the time. The single tear running down his face was brilliant.

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