Episode Spotlight: No Laughing Matter

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

“No Laughing Matter” (#207, 09×13)
Originally Broadcast: Monday, February 16th, 1981
Written by Elias Davis & David Pollock
Directed by Burt Metcalfe

Capsule Summary: Charles tries to curry favor with the colonel who banished him to the 4077th while Hawkeye bets B.J. he can go a day without cracking a single joke.

I like this episode a lot. It was rare for M*A*S*H to follow up earlier episodes but this is a sequel of sorts to “Fade Out, Fade In” from Season 6. I think both storylines are firing on all cylinders. The Charles/Colonel Baldwin A story ends somewhat unbelievably, in my opinion, but still works very well and seeing Charles grovel is always fun. Hawkeye’s B story is harmless but amusing.

I’ll start with the B story. First off, I’m glad it was the B story. It was nowhere near strong enough to build an episode around and trying to expand it would’ve been a mistake. It works so well because it is short and to the point. I think Alan Alda did a great job portraying Hawkeye as a funnyman desperately trying to be serious. I particularly like the following exchange:

Colonel Potter: “Major, you were kind, courteous, and every bit the gentleman. What do you have up your sleeve?”
B.J.: “Maybe a gun? Does a Winchester carry a Derringer, hrm?”
*pause*
Hawkeye: “It seems unlikely.”

Hawkeye on the PA system near the end of the episode is a great scene although truthfully none of his jokes are very funny.

As for the A story, I can’t decide which part I like better: Charles trying to grovel in front of Colonel Baldwin or his defense of Margaret. It could not have been easy for him to call 18-year-old cognac “hooch” and “rotgut” or refer to his beloved Boston as Beantown. It also wasn’t easy to give up his chance to return to Tokyo in order to support Margaret but Charles managed to dig deep and do the right thing.

Colonel Potter barging into the Officers’ Club to confront Baldwin felt unrealistic to me. That was way too public but it meant there was an audience. Also, I doubt Baldwin would have honored his promise to bring Charles back to Tokyo.

Benjamin Franklin Berle.

Father Mulcahy has almost nothing to do in this episode. Klinger doesn’t do much, either, but he is the one who gives Charles the idea to be nice to Baldwin, so he does have an impact on the episode.

Pay close attention to the extras in the Officers’ Club when Potter is confronting Baldwin. Some of them aren’t really paying attention. Others seem amused. One woman stands up right when Margaret says “I have never seen such deviance” to get a better view of the argument. There are also people watching across the compound through the open door to the Officers’ Club.

Mae Hi, who appears in this episode as the prostitute Charles tried to hire for Baldwin (credited simply as Korean Woman) would later play a prostitute named Sun Kin in “Give ‘Em Hell, Hawkeye” in Season 10. Perhaps the same one?

13 Comments

  • Big Daddy O'Reilly says:

    I saw the tail-end of this episode during some of my routine channel surfing over ten years ago before I actually started watching M*A*S*H; I recognize the shot of Hawkeye sitting at the P.A. cracking jokes.

  • Seoul City Sue says:

    This episode proved that no matter what Charles thought about the 4077th and its residents, when the going got tough he really comes through. His standing up to Col. Baldwin at the expense of his own career was extremely admirable and he deservedly got all the applause.

  • doc funnypants says:

    Hawkeye’s closing remarks on the P.A. are the only good thing about this episode.

    Hawkeye: This is Benjamin Franklin Berle, livening up your dead of night. Thanks to BJ Hunnicutt, I had a brief bout with “Jokus Interruptus” but now I’m back to abnormal, so bear with me while I take care of some unfinished business. Hey Igor, keeper of the public ptomaine, before you go to bed, don’t forget to walk tomorrow’s breakfast. And let me tell you something, Margaret, you always talk about the leather but you never do anything about it. And a big hello to Charles, our chief procurement officer. I guess you found out you can’t get to Tokyo on the layaway plan. The ever-popular Horace Baldwin is hereby awarded the fig leaf cluster for service above and beneath the call of duty.

  • J.A.R. says:

    I used to really like this episode, but having watched it again recently after not having seen it in a while -years, probably- it occurred to me that B.J. is really being quite a jerk towards Hawkeye: he bets that Hawk can’t make a joke for a day, then spends the rest of the time deliberately trying goad Hawkeye into making a joke about something. Not one of Hunnicut’s better moments IMO.

  • jgf says:

    This is one of those episodes that, while quite funny, is not very realistic.

    As you point out, Potter would not storm into a public situation with those allegations. More likely he would call Baldwin to his office for a private conversation.

    I do not believe Hawkeye would have such problems going one day without cracking jokes. Nor do I believe he would get on the PA after midnight, when many are already asleep, to comment on the day’s proceedings.

    Finally, and this is definitely a debatable opinion, I do not think a real world Charles Emerson Winchester would have any qualms about throwing Margaret to the wolves to achieve his ends.

  • Lady you ARE a Piece of Cornbread says:

    Is there a G rated way to explain what Hawkeye meant by “You always talk about the leather but you don’t do anything about it”

  • Lady you ARE a Piece of Cornbread says:

    Charles and Margaret’s “You stood up for a friend” “I must never let that happen again” was a later season echo of Frank and HotLips”I hope you learned your lesson” “Oh yes, if you steal something don’t ever try to return it.”

    • Belvedere Jehosaphat says:

      I believe it was a reference to a Mark Twain quote, “everybody talks about the weather but no one does anything about it.”

      • Maggie Hoolihan says:

        Thank you so much for explaining that. And silly me overthinking it! I know that quote too but for some reason i assumed it was something dirty based on the way he said it.

      • Lady you ARE a Piece of Cornbread says:

        Of course, I should have recongnised it, thanks for the explaination.

  • mspence says:

    I like that Charles had a decent streak after all, but his groveling seems reminiscent of earlier episodes where his humanity wasn’t as readily apparent. That aside, the way he finally stood up to the insufferable Baldwin is classic: “I groveled! I kissed your brass! But I will never, not even for a return to that pearl of the Orient Tokyo, lie to protect you while destroying a friend’s career!”

  • Maggie Hoolihan says:

    Very good episode for the most part. A few things though:

    How dare BJ call out Hawkeye for cracking so many jokes? Pick up any MASH script in the last two seasons and every other line BJ says is some stupid pun that he means to be funny but fails miserably. Some episodes his only lines are puns. At least Hawkeye tries for some jokes instead of always relying on the lowest form of humor (the pun). Sure he puns sometimes too but also has some actual jokes too. I’m sure it has to do with Mike Farrell not being able to do comedy very well the way Alda can. In fact BJ came off like a buffoon next to a serious Hawkeye. Somehow his constant cracking puns when nobody else was seemed sad.

    Also, I felt very bad for Charles when the colonel didn’t even remember him. This is the man who sent him to the front because he was a sore loser and didn’t even know who he was? How insignificant Charles must have felt at that moment, like a pawn in the colonel’s game. I thought the leather hood was a bit risque for the time but I loved it. Why did the colonel care of Charles lied for him if he was just able to leave when they found out the truth? If it had been anyone else, they would have been court-martialed. Will he even get a bad mark on his record for this?
    On a totally separate note, the way Charles pronounces Tokyo is a bit weird. He says it as Taw-kyo. Is that really a Boston thing?

    Father Mulcahy was being awfully judgemental this episode. Going into a bar he really should try to hang his commandments at the door and not stare Charles down for speaking to a lady of the evening. Considering William Christopher saw him as more of a therapist than a priest, Mulcahy really should have been a bit more understanding.
    The clapping after Charles stood up for Margaret was a bit much.

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