Episode Spotlight: The Winchester Tapes


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

“The Winchester Tapes” (#125, 06×05)
Originally Broadcast: Tuesday, October 18th, 1977
Written by Everett Greenbaum & Jim Fritzell
Directed by Burt Metcalfe

Capsule Summary: Charles records a message to his parents telling them of the horrors of the 4077th; meanwhile, Hawkeye tries to get to Tokyo to meet a gorgeous nurse.

The only thing keeping this from being a superb episode, in my opinion, was the need to include every character. I’ve said it time and time again (and I’m sure I’ll keep on saying it) but finding a way to shoehorn every character into episodes rarely worked. This is one of those cases. It’s a Charles episode, of course, but also heavily features Hawkeye, B.J., and Colonel Potter. Klinger also has a decent role.

The plot points spotlighting Radar, Father Mulcahy, and Margaret are not as strong. The scene between Father Mulcahy and Charles in the shower is basically pointless; Mulcahy’s other brief scenes seem more organic. I do like how Radar explains his ESP ability to Charles. The less said about Margaret flirting with Charles the better.

Those minor quibbles aside, I love the vast majority of the episode. Colonel Potter painting Charles is hilarious, particularly the classic “Don’t change the color of your face! I’m out of umber!” B.J.’s practical joke is brilliant but the best part is the simple fact that it was B.J.’s practical joke, not Hawkeye’s.

M*A*S*H rarely maintained any sort of continuity so it is always nice to watch an episode like this that continues a running storyline (Charles wanting to escape the 4077th) and past events (the mention of Colonel Baldwin). The producers and writers could have simply plopped Charles into the 4077th and ignored his being new. Instead, he was allowed to slowly acclimate: to the weather, to the Swamp, to the food, and to meatball surgery.

Charles without any umber

I wonder how viewers are supposed to feel about Hawkeye’s failed attempts to get to Seoul to spend the weekend with Nurse Gilmore. On the one hand, for once he’s being pursued rather than pursuing, so there’s some novelty involved. On the other hand, his constant whining gets old fast.

Is it just me or does Charles sound a little different in this episode? I’d have to go back and check other early Season 6 episodes to be sure but perhaps David Ogden Stiers had yet to settle on the accent he’d use for Charles.

I’m of the opinion that Charles made up the story about his nephew Felix being discharged for fainting spells just to see if Klinger would fall for it.

B.J. refers to the aftershave he gives Hawkeye as “Babalu Number Five.” That’s a clear reference to Chanel Number Five but what does Babalu refer to? The famous Desi Arnaz song?

10 Replies to “Episode Spotlight: The Winchester Tapes”

  1. This was a great episode, and it certainly highlighted what an unintentionally hilarious character Charles could be at times: the writers certainly knew how to take his snobbish attitude and really work it as his strength, and of course David Ogden Stiers’s performance, made the little things he did or say all the funnier. One of my favorite lines from this episode?

    “The humidity here is unbearable, please send me some deodorant. I don’t care about the others, I just don’t want to offend myself.”

    Klinger’s fainting scheme was funny the first time he pulled it, but it did get old the more he tried to pull it.

    Did anybody notice that the nehi Charles brought Radar was red instead of purple?

    I remember Mike Farrell once mentioning that the practical joke against Charles was still missing a topper in the end, and that it was Ronny Graham who came up with the line, “Starting tomorrow, he gets taller!”

  2. This is just a fantastic episode all around. Charles could really carry an episode and the madness around him at the 4077th really comes across through his eyes.

    Big Daddy is correct. The punch line for the practical joke against Charles was indeed thought up by Ronny Graham. It was mentioned by Mike during the 30th Anniversary Reunion Show.

    The end sequence has to be among the greatest this show has ever had.
    Charles: Finally, a peaceful moment to conclude this tape. The would-be lothario Pierce is fast asleep, and the 38-hour day is done. Now, Mother and Dad… I will put this as eloquently… and succinctly as possible…
    [opens tea kettle and pulls out a rubber chicken]
    Get me the hell out of here!

    Great episode and one with tremendous rewatch value.

  3. Potter: One more phony faint, and you’re on the front lines!
    Klinger: Sir, you’re turning mean.
    Potter: After 12 hours of surgery, who did you expect, Albert Schweitzer?
    I especially loved it when BJ played with Charles’ mind concerning Charles losing and gaining weight.

  4. A favorite of mine also. But times and references change; the rubber chicken now reminds me of Svengoolie.

    But Charles closing “Get me the hell out of here” is classic. I crack up every time I hear it.

    Interestingly, nearly all episodes where someone writes home are among my favorites. (The exception being when Klinger writes home; he is in a bad mood most of the time, which negatively affects what little humor is present, and too much of the episode is dominated by a boring plot about Hawkeye and BJ vying for who best tells a quite “unfunny” joke.)

  5. “I’m of the opinion that Charles made up the story about his nephew Felix being discharged for fainting spells just to see if Klinger would fall for it.”

    Pun intended?

  6. A well-rounded episode in my book. Classic!

    RADAR: Have you seen our cockroach collection? It takes an hour but it’s well worth the time.

    CHARLES: Can you tell me what I’m about to say… now?
    RADAR: Yes… But I promised Father Mulcahy I wouldn’t use those words.

    Also – I think they HAD to fit all the characters in this episode. Charles, after all, is writing home about his experiences and the people he works with. It makes sense that we get to see at least a snippet or two of each main character.

    I wonder whose idea it was for Charles to have a tape recorder? It’s a novel idea for a “letter home” episode, and a great way for us to be able to not only “hear” his letter but also “see” it in his expressions!

    The rubber chicken teapot incident is so priceless.

    1. He tells him “Dad’s”. Potter replies, “Fat-eared cuss, huh”. It then leads to Charles getting angry about being stuck at the 4077th and Potter complaining about being out of umber then Potter showing Charles his painting of Charles’s angry expression.

  7. Charles: “Mother…dad..I’ll say this as succinctly as I can…” (tries to pour tea, finds rubber chicken in teapot) “Get me the hell out of here!”

    “Talk to Senator Griswald-after all you paid good money for him!”

    “Here-your face is finished!”-Colonel Potter showing Charles the finished product

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