Episode Spotlight: The Foresight Saga

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

“The Foresight Saga” (#213, 9×19)
Originally Broadcast: Monday, April 13th, 1981
Written by Dennis Koenig
Directed by Charles S. Dubin

Capsule Summary: Radar sends an upbeat letter to the 4077th. Meanwhile, Klinger accidentally breaks Colonel Potter’s glasses while Hawkeye and B.J. try to help a South Korean boy whose village keeps being overrun.

An episode in which the gang gets a letter from Radar could have been great. “The Foresight Saga” wasn’t, unfortunately, in large part because there was so much going on. There were four distinct plot lines in this episode: Radar’s letter (A story), Colonel Potter’s glasses (B story), Park Sung (C story), and Margaret’s eye problems (D story). That’s a lot to pack into 23 minutes which is about how long this episode runs, not counting the opening and closing credits.

There was no need for Colonel Potter and Margaret to both have their own plot lines, especially when both were so boring and, in the case of Colonel Potter’s glasses, silly. In fact, there was no reason either of them needed one. Cutting them out would have allowed much more time to be devoted to the A and B plot lines. I’m not sure that would have helped with the Park Sung plot line but it definitely could have helped flesh out the A story. Given how beloved Radar was, I think most viewers would have liked to learn more about his life back in Ottumwa rather than watch Margaret pretend to flirt with Dr. Herzog.

Unfortunately, expanding the A story may not have helped. It was heartbreaking to learn that Radar’s family farm was failing and that he was forced to take a second job at the general store to pay the mortgage. After everything he went through (losing Colonel Blake, getting wounded, and going home only because his Uncle Ed died) it would have been nice for him to actually get a happy ending. That doesn’t mean the farm had to become “a great big success” and Radar turn into a “tycoon in the making.”

It’s even worse that the farm failing was so obviously contrived just to give B.J. and the others the idea to send Park Sung to the States to help. That’s just a little too reminiscent of the plan in “M*A*S*H — The Pilot” to send Ho-Jon to school in the United States.

If the writers really wanted Radar to be in trouble back in Ottuma, perhaps to make the point that life after returning from war wasn’t always happy and successful, it would have worked far better had it been the only plot line in the episode (perhaps with a minor B story). Rather than force a happy ending, the gang at the 4077th could have spent the entire episode frustrated at the fact that there was absolutely nothing they could do to help other than send a little money.

“He spelled it S-E-W.”

Charles was in top form in this episode with some great lines, including “Well, he certainly hasn’t lost his savage wit” and “Actually, you know, I never thought I’d miss old Radar. I was right, of course.” Plus there was his initial refusal to allow Park Sung to stay in the Swamp, only to reconsider at the thought of having a house boy. Still, he offered to lend Radar some money which was a little surprising. Also, notice that he’s the only one not singing “He’s a Jolly Good Fellow” to Park Sung in the Mess Tent. He doesn’t even clap.

Colonel Potter mistaking Radar’s mother for Radar on the phone is either coincidence or a reference to the fact that Gary Burghoff played Radar’s mother in a home movie shown in “Mail Call Again” during Season 4.

I can’t recall off the top of my head whether Radar/Walter talked about the farm in his appearance(s) on AfterMASH but in the unsold 1984 CBS pilot “W*A*L*T*E*R,” he revealed that he lost the farm after refusing to accept government subsidies.

I can’t imagine a coleslaw cake tasting very good regardless of how good the coleslaw is.

13 Comments

  • Larry P. says:

    A pretty weak episode. The scenes with Radar’s letter and Park Sung reek of sentimentality, and a good deal of it I find unbearable.

    • Big Daddy O'Reilly says:

      I think I may have mentioned this before, but I got the impression that B.J. and Kellye wearing jeep caps in “Twas the Day After Christmas” was intentionally to serve as a reminder that Radar wasn’t there anymore.

  • icebox says:

    Even if it’s not the best of episodes it has one of my favorite Winchester lines

    Mulcahy: What time is it in Ottumwa now?
    Winchester: 1882

  • Joe says:

    I agree, it was a pretty weak episode.

  • jgf says:

    FWIW, the episode title is a play on “The Forsyte Saga”, a series of novels from the early 20th century chronicling an upper crust British family of “new money” not too far removed from their common farming ancestors.

  • 007 says:

    Strange, this was always one of my favorite later season episodes. While I do agree that an episode with a letter from Radar could have been amazing, and this plotline wasn’t, I still found it to be a very enjoyable episode.
    And if nothing else, we had multiple scenes with Margaret and she didn’t yell and scream and holler the whole time. That’s something right there!

  • Penguinphysics says:

    Personally, I have found this episode to be so saccharine sweet that it makes me yearn for the more cynical and world weary world of Father Knows Best or Barney the dinosaur. The performance of the young man playing Park-Sun is so over the top and wooden That I cannot take him seriously at all (he presents his lines as if he were reading them off of hard-to-read cue cards and coming off like a 2nd grader in his delivery) and the forced and unnatural positivity of the rest of the cast (save the brilliant David Ogden Stiers) to be too sweet to watch without some anti-nausea treatment.

  • Sherman Westlake says:

    No one has mentioned this yet, so I will. I’ve always liked the actor who plays Doctor Herzog — Phillip Sterling.
    He appeared in many sitcoms during this period, including “Barney Miller,” “Newhart,” and a few years later, “The Wonder Years.” He brought a depth, a believability, and a likability to every role he played.
    I like this episode. But even if you don’t, I hope you can appreciate Phillip Sterling’s work here.

    • 007 says:

      He does a good job in this episode, he just doesn’t get enough screen time or enough of a story to really formulate much of an opinion about him.

      I will say one thing I did not like, as others have pointed out is watching Margaret be all flirty with him, even if it was mostly fake, but he handles it well.

  • Lady you ARE a Piece of Cornbread says:

    It probably should be pointed out that even though Hawkeye immediately shot it down, Charles was the first to suggest offering Radar a loan, despite his culture based bias against the Iowan.

  • Brian says:

    You know,I actually remember thinking they could have written the episode to have the hard feelings that BJ experienced towards Radar after his departure to resurface and maybe possibly for him to come face to face with those feelings and possibly put them behind him once and for all. But the “hatred” that BJ felt for Radar in “Period of Adjustment” was also fueled by drunkenness as well so I’m sure he was over it and understood the situation once everything was calmed down.

  • Maggie Hoolihan says:

    I love the actor who played the eye doctor. He guest starred in several 70s sitcoms and he was always very good. It was nice to see Margaret interact with a man who didn’t want anything from her.

    Hawkeye always grosses me out when he tastes something good. He throws his head back with his mouth open so we can see the half eaten food and lets out an orgasmic shout. Between that and his open mouthed yawns, he’s really rather gross. And his dramatic “oh GOD” when he saw the kid had been wounded was too much. Why did they bring such a 30s sensibility to the final seasons of MASH? Everything is over-dramatized. I’m waiting for Hawkeye to say, “frankly my dear I don’t give a damn,” and storm out.

  • DJ says:

    “Also, notice that he’s the only one not singing ”Jolly Good Fellow” to Park Sung in the Mess Tent. He doesn’t even clap.“

    He does sing a line and then he kind of stops with the last line. Then he uses his right hand to clap on the table.
    So Charles joins in with the frivolous activity of singing and clapping, but a bit reluctantly because he wasn’t raised that way. It’s another fine example of Charles becoming a bit more relaxed and comfortable with the other people at MASH, even though they are from a different station in life.

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