Episode Spotlight: The Yalu Brick Road

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

“The Yalu Brick Road” (#179, 08×10)
Originally Broadcast: Monday, November 19th, 1979
Written by Mike Farrell
Directed by Charles S. Dubin

Capsule Summary: While the 4077th deals with an outbreak of salmonella poisoning, Hawkeye and B.J. are stranded behind enemy lines.

There are a few parts of this episode I like but as a whole it just doesn’t work. The antics of Hawkeye and B.J. and Ralph are amusing but totally unbelievable and honestly pull me right out of the episode. Hawkeye and B.J. should have been terrified when they first encountered a North Korean soldier–and truly petrified when they ran into an entire patrol–yet all they did was crack jokes. Obviously we knew nothing would happen to them but without any tension or fear the jokes really fall flat for me.

Back at the 4077th, poor Father Mulcahy is practically beside himself at the thought of caring for so many sick patients. He has never felt more needed or useful. Because dealing with food poisoning is so much more important than administering the Last Rites and comforting dying soldiers he comforted.

Even the superb talents of David Ogden Stiers can’t keep me from hating Charles, who in this episode seems sexist, racist, and juvenile. Certainly Charles was petty and snobbish but calling Margaret a bimbo? Really?

I’ve never entirely understood the freeze frame at the end of the episode. Why does Klinger look so surprised and/or uncomfortable right after he says “Stuff it!” to Sgt. Thomopoulous on the phone? The only explanation I can think of involves severe gastrointestinal distress.

“Stuff it!”

“The Yalu Brick Road” was the first of four episodes written or co-written by Mike Farrell, making him the third member of the cast to pen an episode (after McLean Stevenson and Alan Alda).

This episode also marked the first appearance of G.W. Bailey as Rizzo. He reappeared in “Captains Outrageous” but was credited as The G.I. Rizzo wouldn’t return until “Morale Victory.”

Soon–Tek Oh made his fourth guest appearance on M*A*S*H in this episode and previously played a North Korean in “The Bus” (Season 4) who–like Ralph–wanted to surrender. Byron Chung and Bob Okazaki likewise made earlier guest appearances.

An extra can be seen walking next to the Swamp as Hawkeye, B.J., and Ralph are making their way to Post-Op. Who could it be? Wasn’t everyone sick in bed?

18 Comments

  • Big Daddy O'Reilly says:

    Mike Farrell didn’t write good episodes: I think “War Corespondant” is perhaps the biggest example of that.

    And Rizzo was originally meant to be Radar’s replacement, from what I understand, but I’m thinking the producers made the right decision to simply promote Klinger to Radar’s position, since Radar was irreplaceable as a character. I guess Rizzo worked out better as Zale’s replacement anyway.

  • Dan says:

    The “Stuff It” at the end is he does have severe gastrointestinal distress… also, Sgt. Thomopolous was named as a joke after then ABC president, Tony T. (M*A*S*H aired on CBS, of course).

  • doc funnypants says:

    This was a rather weird episode with Hawkeye, BJ, and “Ralph” and their comical journey back to the 4077th. I thought Margaret acted especially power-mad toward Charles.
    Charles: I’d rather dance the Lindy with Eleanor Roosevelt.

  • jgf says:

    This ranks as one of my favorite episodes; like Star Trek’s “A Piece of the Action” it is played strictly for laughs. The giveaway line being when BJ invites Ralph to get on the motorcycle, “Come on! Would Bob Hope and Bing Crosby leave without Dorothy Lamour?” That is exactly how the scenes with these three play – like an old Hope/Crosby road movie, where no matter how dire the circumstances the two protagonists keep wisecracking. So Hawkeye’s and BJ’s non-stop one-liners, even when encountering the North Korean squad, are in keeping with the theme.

    The only thing I didn’t like was Charles’ portrayal as a sexist oaf, obliquely insulting Margaret with his denunciations of “women’s work”. And Margaret is on one of her shrill shrieking binges instead of acting like an officer in charge. Compare to how Potter always calmly and quietly deflates Charles’ elitist moments.

  • gareth martin says:

    This episode ends in a strange way. What happened to the Nth Korean Soldier? Was he handed to the MP’s and interned? has part of the episode been chopped?

  • chauncy Upercrust says:

    Any idea what the “Pull-you pull-you” Ralph says in Korean mean when he’s surrendering? Or, for that matter, if he is indeed speaking Korean at all?

    • Becka says:

      I’ve been wondering the same thing for a long time!! However, I’ve recently taken up learning Korean (as well as watching many Korean dramas in th past year)
      So, I believe it is Korean, but whether it’s actual words or their version of “gibberish,” I’m not sure… but I am starting to recognize bits and pieces, so I think he’s saying true sentences.

      Just for the heck of it, I took my phone and put it up to the speaker on my PC, and attempted Google Translate-ing it. Didn’t work so well, but when I ran it over a few times to listen to what was spoken, I managed to get a coherent sentence out of it… So, provided Google’s Korean Translation matrix is decent (as well as my pronunciation, haha) Hawkeye and BJ’s first meeting with him…

      His first line was probably a celebratory statement (by his attitude) of (perhaps) “Gosh! I see you here!” (Or “Gosh! Only a week!”) But I’m not sure, since he said it WAY to fast.
      The second line may have been “Nice to meet you. I surrender.”
      And third, may be “If you leave me, you will not be able to go there. I surrender.”

      At the very least, the one word he kept saying (“hangbog”), definitely means surrender.

  • Cableguy says:

    This is one of my favorite episodes as well. Anything with Soon Tek Oh. As much as I love episodes were the drama is the main theme this one with all of the laughs is done beautifully. “For want of a boot” is an earlier one that cracks me up every time. I laugh as hard watching it today as I did when I first saw it in the 70’s

  • Erin Hardigree says:

    I also liked this one. As for the complaint about BJ and Hawkeye not acting scared when the north Korean soldier came by, I thought they acted exactly in character. They both use humor as a shield. Fear, boredom, lonliness, etc. That was they’re schtik.

  • Steven Scott says:

    Interesting thought: WHY is everyone blaming Klinger? Salmonella is contracted by improper COOKING of the turkey. The COOK is to blame. NOT Klinger.

  • Dustin Hoffmann says:

    I enjoyed the episode, personally. Here is my reasoning…

    1). The introduction of Rizzo: I never was a big Zale fan. I get the smart ass Sergeant character, but his constantly being a pain to those above him rubbed me wrong. My dad was military, and introduced me to the show. He said the Rizzo character was much more believable. There were always guys doing the bare minimum to stay off the radar. Dad used to say as long as you were busy, or at the very least looked busy, you were left alone. A Sergeant with constant temper tantrums wasn’t tolerated. Especially one that traded away vital supplies for veggies. (Out of Gas, S7)

    2). The Winchester and Houlihan battle: Both being Majors, they both naturally felt they were next in Charge. Winchester always liked the chance to be in command and reap its benefits. (Tell it to the Marines S9) Yes, its true he was being elitist and sexist. However, he would habe bucked those jobs had Hawkeye but asking him to do it. I mean the guy once requested his own private latrine. (Hot Lips Back In Town. S7). Houlihan was obviously just trying to handle business, but she was trying to do it with her typical military attitude. Neither one of them was used to having someone stand up to them. Both were overwhelmed and cranky. Like two different people, they handled the stress and exhaustion differently.

    3). Hawkeye and BJ: I believe that they were generally concerned for their safety, but they were doing their best with a guide/prisoner thru couldn’t communicate with. They were scared when the patrol came, but there werent many options for them. They realized the situation as it was unfolding.

    4). Father Mulcahey: I see where he could be excited about feeling useful. Yes, giving last rights is important. But remember, he wishes he could do more for the living. (Dear Sis. S6) He sees all that need a to be done to help there, and wants to contribute, but he has no medical training. When your job is to minister to the dying, it probably is depressing. Yes, he also ministers to the living, but hardly anyone shows up. Mainly because they take any chance they can to sleep or they are working. I can see his excitement at being able to contribute .

    These are just my 2 cents.

    • Dustin Hoffmann says:

      Sorry about a few of the grammatical errors. Stupid auto correct. Forgive me. Typing on a phone, you don’t always catch them especially at 3 a.m. No way for me to go back an edit them.

  • Bob Gassel says:

    An original script was available on ebay…

    https://www.ebay.com/itm/ORIGINAL-MASH-COMPLETE-TV-SCRIPT-THE-YALU-BRICK-ROAD-by-MIKE-FARRELL-/382427776596

    …which says that Klinger was supposed to collapse in “in a heap” after delivering the final line, for some reason they changed it or decided to freeze the frame before he collapses.

  • mspence says:

    I thought Klinger was about to have a bad case of bad bird at the end 🙂 As for being blamed, he was the one who got the turkey, so I guess he was the first available target (don’t know why he seemed to be the last to get sick, though.)

    Loved Mulcahey’s attitude and work ethic. He was the only one who seemed to get a positive experience out of the whole thing.

    Charles was being Charles and Margaret was short handed with all the nurses sick.

    Hawkeye and BJ were scared when they felt they needed to be, like when they weren’t sure what the soldier was going to do to them. I’d also like to know what happened to him. Hopefully he just wasn’t sent to a POW camp or worse, back to North Korea.

  • JocularityGirl says:

    To agree with Mspence, I loved Mulcahy’s work ethic in this episode. I bet William Christopher enjoyed a chance to be in the spotlight just like his character enjoyed being able to have a chance to be the “Chief caretaker” of the patients.
    How Mulcahy reacts in the crisis, cheerfuly washing clothes and scrubbing bedpans while Winchester complains reminds me of a real Catholic priest named Brother Lawrence who lived in a monastery and took Paul’s command to praise the Lord at all times seriously , even praising God when cutting potatoes. Not a single job was too humble for him, and he wrote a book called “The Practice of the Presence of God”.
    I think that the world would be better off if people were like Brother Lawrence and Father Mulcahy was in this episode, and be willing to do the most menial of tasks cheerfuly and to the best of our ability!

  • Maggie Hoolihan says:

    Agreed with previous poster about the Farrell episodes not being well written. The Charles being sexist thing didn’t bother me at all even being a woman because his attitude was very much of time. It would have offended quite a lot of the show tried to pretend that women were seen as equals in the early 50s. It’s just not the case and many women of the time played into that role of acting like the weaker sex because they were so relieved to have their men home from the war (the second one).

    As for the plot, it bugged me that they didn’t provide some subtitles for all the Korean being bandied around. To me, a TV show is supposed to show us more than the characters see. I realize Farrell’s idea was to make the viewer feel as clueless as Hawk and Beej, but it fell flat. I spent more time trying to find a translation online than I did enjoying the episode. If it was just a few words it would have been ok. But there was far too much Korean dialogue to make it enjoyable.

  • Sophie says:

    I second everything Dustin has said above. I love this episode and Ralph is hilarious.

    Everyone’s wondering about the freeze frame. I always took it as he immediately regretting yelling “Stuff it” to Thermopolis. Like he was so mad and then realized he shouldn’t have said it. Maybe?

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