Episode Spotlight: Wheelers and Dealers

13 Comments

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

“Wheelers and Dealers” (#219, 10×05)
Originally Broadcast: Monday, November 23rd, 1981
Written by Thad Mumford & Dan Wilcox
Directed by Charles S. Dubin

Capsule Summary: B.J. obsesses about money after learning that Peg is getting a job; meanwhile, Colonel Potter has to take a driving course.

From what I’ve read over the years, this is an episode that very few M*A*S*H fans enjoy. It’s true that it features yet another chapter in the never-ending saga of B.J. missing his family but for some reason it didn’t bother me that much this time. Maybe that’s because we got to see him get chewed out by Margaret and later show up in the Mess Tent to apologize. He really got put in his place.

B.J.’s initial reaction to Peg’s letter is somewhat understandable. He wasn’t upset that Peg was getting a job because he felt a woman’s place should be in the home. And it wasn’t just that he felt bad he wasn’t able to provide for his family. Peg apparently put him through medical school and their plan was for him to then support her so she could stay home and take care of Erin. Now, thanks to the Army, that plan has been thrown out the window.

If B.J. had seriously, rather than irrationally and bizarrely, tried to earn money to pay off the mortgage, the episode may have worked better. He could have turned to Charles again, who lent him money for a down payment on a piece of land in “The Merchant of Korea” in Season 6. He could have tried to sell everything he owned, for example, and then somehow have to get it all back by the end of the episode to maintain the status quo.

Colonel Potter’s storyline here isn’t terrible even if there is some overacting on the part of Harry Morgan. The best part is Rizzo and his fearful response to having to teach his commanding office along with his continued attempts to let Potter slide through without doing any real work.

“Nobody is stuck here just like me!”

The pinball machine sparking and dying after B.J. smashes it with his hands is a bit much. Is he the reverse Fonzie? And just who at the 4077th is going to be able to fix it? I doubt Igor or Rizzo know how to fix pinball machines.

For some reason the Internet Movie Database entry for this episode lists Eileen Saki as part of the cast, playing Rosie. She’s not included in the ending credits and I don’t remember seeing her in the episode.

Tony Becker, who played the late-for-driving-school Private Brown in this episode, later guest starred in a February 1982 episode of Trapper John, M.D.

13 Replies to “Episode Spotlight: Wheelers and Dealers”

  1. Everybody hates B.J. for missing Peggy and Erin, and that’s just wrong: here was a young man who was torn away from the love of his life and his newborn child and thrown into a war he was barely prepared for . . . can you really blame him?

    And as I’ve mentioned before, Thad Mumford & Dan Wilcox were script and song writers on SESAME STREET prior to working on M*A*S*H during the worst seasons of the show. In fact, here’s a song that Thad Mumford wrote and recorded vocals for that you may or may not remember:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=inJ6PcRyd0o

    1. I don’t think it’s so much that he misses his family. It’s that he doesn’t seem to realize others also miss theirs. He’s extremely selfish and overreacts to the slightest little changes at home. As a woman, I feel sorry for his wife being married to a guy like that.

  2. I don’t blame BJ for acting the way he did in this episode although what he said to Hawkeye and Margaret was a bit uncalled for.

    Potter: Sergeant, you are buttering me up like I was a Sunday biscuit. I’ll take the test and I don’t need any “hep”.

  3. Hawkeye mentions going to Rosie’s bar in this episode. Perhaps there was a Rosie’s bar scene cut out of the final .maybe that is why IMDB mentions Eileen Saki.

  4. I don’t think people hate BJ because he misses his family, it’s more as Margaret said in one episode – he seems to think his brands of suffering is worse than anyone else’.

    I think the plot falters because BJ shouldn’t expect to appreciably increase his income from occasional poker games and nickel-and-dime pinball bets.
    Perhaps he would be lured by big, easy money – the black market. He starts profiteering, gets lectured by friends, ignores them, becomes more deeply involved. Then one day loses a patient in the OR because necessary drugs are not on hand. This is an emotional and moral blow, he uses his money to buy back as much as possible, gives the rest to Mulcahey, and the status quo is restored.

  5. I liked the dressing down that Margaret gave BJ, and she was right-they were all away from home, and many in the war were away from their wives and kids. His anger was a little out of character and made him really unlikable.

    1. Totally agree except for his anger being out of character. I would think the longer he’s there and the more powerless he feels over things at home, the more angry someone like BJ would feel. That’s totally in his nature.

  6. One thing I always notice when watching this episode is when BJ smacks the pinball machine, and it sparks. All three characters look at the machine like “actors” wondering what just happened. Then they continue. Was the spark intentional?

    1. No it was definitely intentional because I don’t even think the pinball machine was plugged in. I think that it did startle them but only because a spark is hard to control so they didn’t have any idea where it would go or who it would hit.

  7. I feel like every “BJ episode” has him either whining about his family for some reason, being an ass to everyone in camp or cheating on his wife.

    1. Or trying to pit everyone against each other for his own amusement like in Bottoms Up & Friends And Enemies.

      Or being jealous of others like Joker is Wild (Trapper) or Period of Adjustment (Radar)

      Or blatantly stealing a joke and acting like it was his in Dear Uncle Abdul

      So yeah, agreed, BJ sucks.

  8. When this episode began with Klinger freaking out about feeding his gambling addiction, I took a deep breath. When BJ got the letter from Peg, I let out a big sigh. I knew exactly where the episode was going. For the show to have so little self awareness as to put two storylines about two selfish people in the same episode is beyond comprehension.

    Klinger has a serious gambling problem. It’s been festering awhile and is related to his obsession with easy money. His stomping around about missing the game was so annoying. I really cannot stand him in these later episodes. He’s got nothing to do except for say the wrong thing, act like an ass, or whine about going home. “But sir, but sir!” However he’s not as bad as the other selfish jerk BJ.

    BJ very understandably misses his family like crazy. He’s got a young wife and an even younger daughter. His life was just beginning and then he was drafted. Really bad timing.
    None of this gives BJ the right to behave the way he did in this episode. It’s doubly infuriating because Mike Farrell pushed to make BJ a more interesting character and this is what he came up with? (I know he didn’t write this particular episode but he did have input in the BJ arc). Let BJ freak out every once in awhile and break things so he can have a dramatic moment and maybe get that Emmy he so desperately wanted. The year he was nominated he rightly lost to Harry Morgan for the “Old Soldiers” episode. Never got another acting nomination and surely didn’t deserve one for his one-trick-pony performance. We’ve seen this before and we know how it ends! His episodes show no growth in the character at all.

    BJ starts stomping around snapping at people and breaking things. When called on it, he actually has the nerve to say that nobody can understand what he’s going through. Is he serious? Margaret lost her marriage. Klinger too. Potter’s wife got upset at his being away and he’s got grandkids he’s never met. How dare BJ act like he’s the only one?

    I actually found myself feeling sorry for Peg at being married to a guy like BJ. He’s always overreacting to every little change in life. Did he really think he was going to win enough at gambling to pay off second mortgage? Maybe Peg wanted to get another job. Many women in the 50s resented being kicked back in the kitchen after having worked all through WW2. And BJ had a chance to get out of going to Korea but didn’t? He would have been well within his rights to put his family first over any good guy principles he might have had. If that’s the case he really can’t complain. Guess all his values went out the window when he tried to take advantage of young underpaid soldiers at pinball. I always wished he would get a dear John letter which would have made him infinitely more interesting.

    I don’t know why the writers even focus on him at all anymore. There’s nothing new to say about BJ and his wife and kid. Why not delve into his parents or maybe an old girlfriend or something different we haven’t seen? Even Alan Alda seemed tired of always asking BJ what’s wrong. No wonder he did everything he could to take other roles while the show was on hiatus.

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