Episode Spotlight: Lend a Hand

14 Comments

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

“Lend a Hand” (#189, 8×20)
Originally Broadcast: Monday, February 4th, 1980
Written by Alan Alda
Directed by Alan Alda

Capsule Summary: Hawkeye argues with the visiting Dr. Borelli while B.J plots a surprise party.

If ever there was an episode that didn’t need a B story, “Lend a Hand” was it. Yes, Borelli is an unlikable character. Yes, he brings out the worst in Hawkeye. Yes, Hawkeye and Dr. Borelli constantly bickering felt repetitive and forced. Still, there’s no denying the two have chemistry. Add in Corporal Jarvis, who managed not once but twice to temporarily shame the two surgeons into playing nice, and you have the makings of a decent episode.

Dr. Borelli is played, of course, by Alan Alda’s father Robert Alda. He made his first appearance in “The Consultant” during Season 3 (my review of that episode can be found here). “Lend a Hand” was a true Alda family reunion; it also featured Alan Alda’s younger half-brother Antony Alda as Corporal Jarvis.

I didn’t think much about this while rewatching the episode but once it was over I realized something: “Lend a Hand” would have worked perfectly had Hawkeye been the only main character to appear in the episode. That’s a bold statement, I admit, and not one most fans will agree with. But I honestly think the episode would have been so much better had it focused solely on Hawkeye, Dr. Borelli, and Corporal Jarvis.

The gap between “The Consultant” and “Lend a Hand” was five years. That’s a long time in TV Land and I wonder how many viewers in 1980 remembered Borelli from an episode aired in 1975. If they did, they’d probably remember that Borelli in “The Consultant” wasn’t an annoying know-it-all. He was an alcoholic, though, something that was never mentioned in “Lend a Hand.”

Borelli’s reintroduction in “Lend a Hand” was thus likely unnecessary. To new viewers, he was a new character while to old viewers he was probably just as new.

In my mind, the episode should have started with Hawkeye and Borelli already on their way to the aid station. They could be arguing about a wide variety of things, including cheese, on their way. Once there, many of the scenes could unfold as they did in the episode. Jarvis being upset with the two surgeons for caring more about their arguing than the man on the operating table was perhaps the best part of the episode.

During surgery, Hawkeye’s approach fails and Borelli smugly takes over. Then his approach fails and the two have to start working together. Then the bombs and shells hit and the two are injured. Now they really have to find a way to work together to save a man’s life. They’re successful and the tag scene sees them driving back to the 4077th with a better understanding of one another. They’re still not friends but there’s respect.

Poor Klinger and his cake.

I don’t have much to say about the party B story. It’s very weak. For starters, throwing a birthday party to try to stave off cold boredom isn’t much of a storyline. If a party would help why not just throw a party? Why does it need to be a birthday party and why does it need to be a surprise?

More importantly, it’s completely unbelievable that nobody else at the 4077th would know when Hawkeye’s actual birthday was or, once the plan changed, when B.J.’s wedding anniversary was.

I will admit that Klinger having to constantly alter the icing on the cake was a tiny bit amusing.

14 Replies to “Episode Spotlight: Lend a Hand”

  1. One of my least favorite episodes. A completely unnecessary (and MUCH more annoying) follow-up to “The Consultant.” The constant bickering between Hawkeye and Borelli is unbearable, and the whole “one hand helping the other” thing between them during the surgery at the end is from start to finish IMO one of the most eye-rolling things ever seen on the series. Needless to say, this isn’t one I revisit very often.

    In regards to viewers remembering that first 1975 episode in 1980: M*A*S*H was so heavily in syndication (and so popular!) by 1980 that I can see viewers getting the occasional refresher on Borelli that way.

  2. Is this a new Borelli? One of the thoughts I have whenever this one shows up on TV, it’s a totally different character in so many ways. No longer the well meaning surgeon who’s been brutalised by the horrors he’s witnessed (his first appearance provides a reality check to Hawkeye) but rather a meddling and overbearing… dare I say it… patriarch.

    Add to this the conveniently symmetrical injuries Hawkeye and Borelli suffer and there’s no way you can fail to notice the father figure/reconciliation theme throughout this episode. It was handled much better in The Consultant where the elder Alda warns the younger of the slippery slope on which he’s currently tapdancing. It’d fall completely flat if it weren’t for the Corporal Jarvis character. Every now and again it’s important for Hawkeye, who tends to get sanctimonious, to have his bubble burst and be reminded that his reason for being a doctor is to heal. That it’s truly a family affair is a wonderful behind the scenes moment, but does this touch elude the casual viewer? In the pre-internet age I guess not, I’d like to think audiences were paying more attention to the credits ‘back then’.

    As for the B-story, it could have been attached to many other episodes, and wouldn’t surprise me if it weren’t one of those ideas which had been passed around by the writers until they’d found an approximately appropriate place to insert it.

    1. >>>That it’s truly a family affair is a wonderful behind the scenes moment, but does this touch elude the casual viewer? In the pre-internet age I guess not, I’d like to think audiences were paying more attention to the credits ‘back then’.

      Indeed, when Mom and I watched the closing credits back then, we noticed that the last name of the actor who played Cpl. Jarvis was “Alda.” We then realized that the episode was a “family affair,” as you put it (we already knew Dr. Borelli was Robert Alda).

  3. IMO,a rather unappreciated episode,even with Robert Alda acting like a complete know-it-all. I thought Borelli was over the top with his incessant critiques of everything.

  4. I hate this episode. Mainly because the character of Borelli is so obnoxious; how could anyone stand to be around him more than a few minutes …does he actually expect the entire world to do everything – sit, eat, dress, etc. – as he does?

    And the complementary injuries, so one surgeon has a left hand and the other a right hand, is just too pat.

    Skip this one.

  5. Agree with most here that this episode is pretty terrible. As soon as I saw it was “Written and Directed by Alan Alda” at the beginning of the episode, I knew it was going to be another episode of the “All About Hawkeye” show.

    I don’t really understand why Borelli is so weird about Hawkeye and catering to him? I guess it’s because of what they went through in his previous episode? It comes off as Alan Alda using his dad, and one of his opportunities to write/direct an episode as an excuse to make another “Me Myself and My inflated ego” episode.

  6. Believe it or not, my father and all my older brothers are a lot like Dr Borelli. To be helpful and to feel like they are watching over me, they constantly tell me how to do it better. After so many years of this I realized they are actually trying to reassure themselves how smart they are. It drives me nuts but I never say a word so as not to make it awkward. Love this episode

    1. It could also be that they don’t want to see you make the same mistakes they did. They could just be trying to help. As parents get older, they seem more annoying. My mother told me she does the nagging thing because she wants to feel useful. She just wants to be a mom and why can’t I just swallow my stubborn pride and let her? After so her life is almost over while mine is just beginning. Something to think about…

    2. Maybe you should. My father was the same way. To this day, I wish I would have nicely put him in his place.

  7. My main beef against the episode is the cake which suspiciously like a Carvell ice cream cake.

  8. I like the episode if only because of the backstory behind it. According to Alda the Younger, the Borelli you saw here was more like the real Robert Alda during Alan’s formative years. They were at odds an awful lot maybe because Dad was working all the time in movies and theater. In fact, the one handed surgery was Robert’s idea and Alan instantly shot it down and they bickered about it. Eventually, he realized it might work and so it did. As they were acting out the surgery part, Alan and his father teared up because they felt like they were finally starting to know and understand one another. Alan said he realized that the episode was a mirror for their relationship over the years. I find that story touching and that’s what saved the episode for me. Also I love watching family members act together.

    1. I did think it was a little strange that Borelli was so focused on Hawkeye from the moment he got there. Clearly it was written that way by Alda to speak to his real relationship with his dad but it didn’t make much sense for the characters. Why would Borelli care of Hawk was cold or unbutton his jacket for him? That’s something only a loved one would go. Aha! It was cathartic for the Aldas to do this episode together so I’m willing to let all this pass.

  9. “The Consultant” is one of my favorite episodes. “Lend a Hand” is most definitely NOT one of my favorite episodes. The early episode is both funny and poignant. The later episode is a total mess.

    The main problem with “Lend a Hand” is that Borelli is a totally different character than he was in his first appearance. He changed from a world-weary, likeable guy into an annoying know-it-all pain in the butt. He’s pushy and arrogant. He casually drinks, even though he got drunk and nearly screwed things up his first time at the 4077. He readily volunteers to go to an aid station, even though he couldn’t handle being near the action the first time.

    Clearly, as has been said by others, this was an Alda family special episode. I can see how it would have been therapeutic to them. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that, since it was Alan’s show; but the execution is all wrong, especially when held up against “The Consultant”. Maybe Alan the writer figured that Borelli felt ashamed of his near-failure during his first visit, and he was overcompensating with his overbearing behavior here.

    Whatever the reason, it’s an episode that has never worked for me mainly because of the change in Borelli. And don’t even get me started on the contrived mutual injuries!

    The B story is pretty useless. As others have mentioned, why do they need a specific reason for a party? Why not just have a party to boost everybody’s morale?

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