Episode Spotlight: Stars and Stripes


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

“Stars and Stripes” (#183, 08×14)
Originally Broadcast: Monday, December 17th, 1979
Written by Dennis Koenig
Directed by Harry Morgan

Capsule Summary: Charles and B.J. clash while writing a paper for a prestigious medical journal. Meanwhile, Margaret reunites with Scully and discovers he might not be the man for her.

This is the 156th episode I’ve reviewed as part of my Episode Spotlight series. I meant to make note of the 151st episode but my spreadsheet was out-of-date so I’m mentioning it now. There are 95 episodes left to go.

It’s too bad neither of the storylines in this episode heavily involve Hawkeye. Not that I think he needs to be featured in every episode. I liked his involvement in Margaret’s storyline but he didn’t add much to the Charles/B.J. storyline. Unfortunately, because he wasn’t a featured player in either the A Story or the B Story, Hawkeye was given his own minor C Story that felt forced.

Because it came up first, I’m calling Charles and B.J. writing their journal article the A Story. It works pretty well even though it’s obvious from start to finish. Of course the two were going to argue about who deserved more and of course they were going to eventually apologize and agree to work together. It’s not surprising that Charles would act like such a pompous ass nor is it surprising that B.J. would react the way he did when he felt his contributions were being overlooked.

Margaret’s B Story was full of callbacks to earlier episodes. She mentions both Frank and Donald while Hawkeye referred to Carlye Breslin, the woman he loved in med school who visited the 4077th in “The More I See You” during Season 5. When Margaret is discussing the men in her life, she includes Hawkeye but it’s not clear whether she’s referring to the events in “Comrades in Arms” (Parts 1 and 2) or more generally their initially antagonistic relationship.

The deep disconnect between Margaret and Scully wasn’t a problem in either of his previous appearances (in “A Night at Rosie’s” and “Guerrilla My Dreams”) so I’m not sure why it immediately erupted here. I can’t recall offhand whether Scully was disrespectful of Margaret’s rank and accomplishments in those earlier episodes but it felt like it came out of nowhere here.

Hawkeye’s battle against boredom was strung throughout the episode. It was mentioned during the staff meeting at the start of the episode and he certainly seemed desperate to get involved with Charles and B.J.’s paper and later begged Scully to have a drink with him. These were fine. Trying to engage Father Mulcahy in a conversation about jeeps was pointless and served only to give William Christopher something to do. Klinger’s role in the episode was minor but fit a little better.

Charles and B.J. nearly come to blows.

The Officers’ Club was pretty dead in this episode. Actually, the entire camp seemed really empty. No wonder Hawkeye was bored out of his mind.

The American College of Surgeons is a real group. It publishes the Journal of the American College of Surgeons, which is presumably the publication Charles and B.J. submitted their article to.

Klinger’s dress collection is seen in this episode although he himself doesn’t wear any dresses.

This was the fifth of nine episodes directed by Harry Morgan.

The producing, writing, and directing credits after the opening credits are at the bottom of the screen rather than the center and appear to be in a slightly lighter shade of yellow.

12 Replies to “Episode Spotlight: Stars and Stripes”

  1. This was a rather odd episode, in that Charles and BJ were front and center. Not that I have anything against either one of them, but they were bound to clash with each other. What I can’t understand is why their storyline was resolved before Margaret’s was.

    Charles: By all rights, that should read “Written by Dr. Charles Emerson Winchester III, et al”.

  2. I like this episode, though I find Hawkeye quite annoying throughout; it would have played out better had they found some reason for him to be away from camp for the duration.

    1. I don’t know you but every time I come in this site to comment I find you’ve already written what I was thinking. Hawkeye is SO annoying in this as to be almost cartoon-like. He’s so excited about everything and speaking in a higher pitched voice that it comes off a little manic. Knowing how he ends up, I think it may have been calculated on Alda’s part to play Hawkeye a little nuts to show what being there was doing to him bit by bit. Slowly eating away at his sanity perhaps.

  3. I like this episode BECAUSE Hawkeye is not the front and center character. As much as I love M*A*S*H, it was a bit too much of “The Hawkeye & Friends” show for pretty much the entire run, but especially in the later episodes. It was nice having a reprieve from him, even if just for an episode.

    Also, Hawkeye’s boredom and the way he acts when BJ/Charles have to write the letter but he’s not involved highlights one of the flaws with his character. If it’s not all about him, or he’s not involved in it, he goes crazy. This episode highlights that well.

  4. I felt watching this episode that it was a case of an episode that a show comfortable in its position does sometimes. They’re willing to sacrifice a little of the “star power”, so to speak, of the lead character for an episode in order to develop the secondary characters.

    1. Maybe but they really didn’t break any new ground with what the secondary characters did. Charles arrogant and full of himself? BJ irritable and looking for a fight and recognition for his work? Margaret caring about rank in the men she dates? Not very many surprises there

    2. The problem for me with MASH, is the supposed ‘star power’ of Alda. He wasn’t any better than any of the other characters, and it might indeed have been better if he was on a three-day pass, or something to keep him out of the episode.
      At least, the Charles/BJ story gives me something to let me get through this episode, as I find Scully to be a cringe factor i.e., “Come here!” Male macho BS from southern European cultural descent.

  5. This episode is a big flop for me. I’m not a fan of post-divorce Margaret. There’s too big a disconnect from the feisty Hot Lips of earlier seasons. I find her vulnerable moments more cringeworthy than sympathetic. Scully failed as a character for me. I would think that an enlisted man with an anti-authority streak would have potential to complement the anti-authority doctors, but the potential went unfulfilled. What does Margaret see in him?

    No disrespect to Loretta Swit, but I would have preferred that they sent Margaret on a bus after her divorce. She could have been promoted and reassigned. Maybe Kellye could have been promoted to head nurse. Perhaps Kellye or a new head nurse could have been a love interest for Charles, teaming up for an upgrade of the Margaret-Frank antagonist pair.

    1. Wasn’t Loretta Swit thinking of leaving after season 8? I recall a rumour that she may have been interested in one of the leads for Cagney and Lacy.

      1. Loretta Swit wanted to leave MASH to play Chris Cagney in CAGNEY & LACEY, but the producers didn’t let her out of her contract to do that. I think this was as MASH was going into its 10th or 11th season, and I figure the producers didn’t want to introduce a new head nurse so late in the series.

  6. Chapter 305 of my BJ is annoying Story: BJ irritated me as usual when Potter asked him and Winchester if others had helped save the patient’s life. Winchester said yes but BJ had to say, “I GUESS so.” You guess so Beej? I thought Winchester was the arrogant one. Either the writers knew that BJ was a sore loser at heart and wrote it that way or Farrell really was a sore loser and added in the I guess so instead of just saying yes. Either way it’s annoying.

    Previous poster mentioned post divorce Margaret and I have to agree. It seemed unusual that every time we saw her she seemed to be tearing up or else screeching. No in between. Maybe it was just her disappointment over her failed marriage but to have someone change so drastically is unusual. Also, her adversarial relationship with the doctors and even the nurses completely disappeared after her divorce. They were all buddy buddy which makes for a less interesting character arc. There’s no venom anymore. She acts more like a den mother than a hyper-sexual army nurse. They still had every main character who left kiss her passionately but it rang false once she stopped being the sultry vixen she once was.

  7. I rather liked this episode , apart from Hawkeye’s character being annoying, childish and petulant ( in a funny way but still) until the last scene with Margaret in the Officer’s Club, I like their post “Comrades” chemistry. Speaking of Margaret, I thought her scenes with Scully were great- the back and forth was pretty engaging ;( Scully- “ I’m used to a chain of command, with me in command” ( Margaret) “ and me in chains”) great writing.. the “ A” story with Charles and BJ was ok but somewhat predictable.. I thought Loretta Swit really shone in this one though, her acting in the Scully scenes in her tent was first rate.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.