Episode Spotlight: Operation Friendship


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

“Operation Friendship” (#204, 9×10)
Originally Broadcast: Monday, January 26th, 1981
Written by Larry Balmagia
Directed by Charles S. Dubin

Capsule Summary: After Klinger saves his life, Charles devotes himself to repaying his debt. Meanwhile, B.J. refuses to admit his hand may have been injured.

I’m sure I must sound like a broken record every time I mention how my appreciation for the character of Charles has grown over the past few years. That made rewatching this episode a delight. The A story involving Klinger and Charles offers plenty of lines that are Charles at his best. That said, I don’t like the tag scene in which Charles makes a pun using the last name of author Mickey Spillane. That’s beneath Charles.

Klinger probably could have strung Charles along for a few more days if he hadn’t asked for too much each day. And why did he ask Charles to read to him? That was more than pushing his luck, that was just stupid.

The B story also spun out of the autoclave accident. I can’t decide whether B.J. stubbornly insisting his arm is fine was out of character or not — B.J. usually had a pretty good head on his shoulders and should have been willing to accept an examination — but Hawkeye’s reaction to Captain Traeger didn’t feel right.

There was no reason for his immediate hostility towards Traeger. Even if he was worried about B.J., all Traeger did initially was try to take a look at B.J.’s arm, but for some reason that set Hawkeye off. It didn’t help that Traeger was such a one-dimensional character. There was a glimmer of substance when he mentioned being the world’s oldest draftee but that was it.

“Every broken nose has a silver lining.”

Tim O’Connor, who portrays Captain Traeger in this episode, earlier played Colonel Spiker in Season 4’s “Of Moose and Men.”

I love the exchange between B.J. and Hawkeye in the Swamp right after Traeger leaves:

B.J.: “If you’re that obnoxious you better be good.”
Hawkeye: “And damn it, he is, but he’s still a jackass.”
B.J.: “I know what I should have done.”
Hawkeye: “What?”
B.J.: “I could have really showed him.”
Hawkeye: “What, what?”
B.J.: “Should have died right there on the table.”
Hawkeye: “Oh, yeah, oh boy. Wouldn’t we have had the last laugh?”
B.J.: “Well, you would.”
Hawkeye: “Well, yeah.”

Watching it is so much better than reading it. You miss the laughter and the facial expressions. It’s a great scene.

This is the second M*A*S*H episode to include the word operation in the title after “Operation Noselift” from Season 2. Both involving noses. Coincidence?

Speaking of noses, there are a lot of jokes about the size of Klinger’s nose, including Potter making a crack about needing a wide-angle x-ray lens and Hawkeye telling B.J. that “Klinger has damage over 50% of his body. He broke his nose.”

Margaret and Father Mulcahy have very little to do in this episode.

10 Replies to “Episode Spotlight: Operation Friendship”

  1. My first reaction to this episode was negative, as it seemed to be stealing a plot from The Brady Bunch, with Charles in Peter’s role & Klinger in Bobby’s, but MASH took a much lighter approach to this plot than TBB seemed to. The Klinger nose jokes you cited are funny too.
    There was another military sitcom, Ensign O’Toole, starring Dean Jones as a Naval officer, which began every episode title with “Operation”, such as “Operation: Birthday” or “Operation: Dinner Party”. (These titles I took from http://www.imdb.com.)

  2. Klinger acted overly patronizing to Charles and that made the scenes in the second act between them uncomfortable.Good thing,Charles got the last laugh, although using a pun seemed beneath him. Hawkeye did come across as overly protective of BJ and he and Dr. Traeger were at each other’s throats repeatedly.

    1. Not to mention that Klinger’s asking Charles to read the dirty bits in the Spillane book came off as homoerotic & gross. I’m guessing he wanted to make Charles uncomfortable but it actually made Klinger seem more swishy than he might want. To ask a man to read softcore porn to you before bed? Doesn’t that defeat the purpose and remove any sexiness from the story? Yuck

  3. How often has the hoary old sitcom plot of one character saving another’s life then taking advantage of their gratitude been trotted out?

    The only time I recall a different denouement was when Andy Taylor saved Gomer Pyle’s life and Gomer became a pest constantly doing things for Andy and his family.

  4. This episode is not very good at all. Klinger and Winchester are normally two of my favorite latter season characters, but the way Klinger acts towards Charles in this episode is way too much. It really ruins the episode.

    Also, does any one else find it dumb that they seem to know there is a problem with the autoclave “blowing it’s top” and all they do about it is have Margaret tell people to put the tray there so people don’t stand near it? Shouldn’t everyone be made aware of the issue or a sign/note or something? That tray seemed awfully easy to move.

    1. It always seemed strange and not very believable that they would have a surgeon in a MASH unit (one of the stars of Potter’s little production) act as the company clerk. As has been mentioned elsewhere, the clerk is a very important position in any unit and a full time job. What would have happened if they were inundated with wounded? Would Charles have been doing his surgical duties and clerking for Klinger? Would Klinger have barged into surgery asking Charles to read more Mickey Spillane to him? I don’t think so. This episode didn’t really work because it was premised on there being no wounded which is unusual. So Klinger apparently only acts like a jerk when the war is in a lull eh?

  5. I liked Potter’s assessment of Charles’ accident “You took a header on the hopper”

  6. I don’t like the Klinger/Winchester interaction in this one. As someone in another post said, Klinger was becoming Sgt. Bilko by this time. And the whole situation was a cliche by then anyway.
    However, I remember being concerned about BJ’s injury, and Hawkeye’s concern for his friend was touching. Traeger was an a**hole, but he proved to be right about his skills.

  7. The thing that’s really confusing is why BJ would pretend he wasn’t hurt. He had to have known that an injury to a doctor’s hand was grounds for immediate transfer for recuperating at a hospital. He would have replaced another doctor and and depending on length of healing process, could be sent home. A surgeon with an injured hand is pretty useless at a MASH unit so the army wouldn’t play around with something like that. They would have replaced him tout suite. Not to mention that they only really rotated doctors in for about 18 months anyway so it’s not as though he would have been there the entire war anyway. Why would he downplay something that could get him sent home? After all his whining and complaining about missing Peg and Erin, you would think he would try to see if he was really hurt enough to maybe go home to his family.

  8. It’s also very annoying when Potter pulls rank over things he really should have no authority over, like BJ’s choice of medical professional. I suppose he can order him to get looked at but he shouldn’t say who the doctor should be just because he’s a colonel. I find it annoying when he unashamedly uses the “I outrank you” shtick on people he knows are only there because they’re good doctors. He’s treating them like children or people who are regular army who actually care about rank. It isn’t necessary to act that way as they are both reasonable people who can be spoken to with logic instead of force. Granted, BJ was bucking against being treated but if they had appealed to him as a doctor and pointed out that patients’ lives could be at stake, I think he would have seen the light.

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