Episode Spotlight: Major Topper


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

“Major Topper” (#144, 6×24)
Originally Broadcast: Monday, March 27th, 1978
Written by Allyn Freeman
Directed by Charles Dubin

Capsule Summary: Colonel Potter suggests trying placebos to deal with a morphine shortage; Klinger deals with a nutty soldier; Charles continually tops every story Hawkeye or B.J. tells.

There are three very different storylines running through this episode. I’ll tackle the Charles A story first because the episode named after him. I think it works pretty well. We all probably know somebody who always tries to top stories like Charles. So we can understand how frustrated Hawkeye and B.J. felt when Charles continually topped their stories and tales. It fits Charles perfectly, of course. It also gave Margaret something to do. I especially like how we never learn how or why Charles managed to have dinner with Audrey Hepburn.

I’m calling the morphine/placebo storyline the B story. It ties into the Charles A story slightly but stands on its to some degree. I find it a little unbelievable the placebo effect would work for so many people. Also unbelievable is the throwaway line that the other patients were fine with sleeping pills and ice packs. Actually, the unbelievable part is that the placebo pills conveniently worked on the patients in the most pain, leaving the sleeping pills and ice packs for those with more superficial injuries.

That makes Corporal “Boots” Miller the C story. Left somewhat unclear at the end of the episode is whether Boots is actually insane or just really, really good at faking insanity. Clearly, even Klinger thinks Boots is nuts and Colonel Potter agrees. The tag scene suggests Boots is unstable. Why else would he send a letter to Colonel Potter asking for a picture of the glinder he supposedly shot down in Korea? He’s already out of the Army so why would he still be pretending?

At no point during the episode do we see Boots acting normally, aside from a minute or so when he seems to be listening to Klinger. It’s good to know Klinger had his limit: he could have tried to pull a similiar stunt and fired his rifle into the air. That was what convinced him Boots was insane. Speaking of the rifle, when Boots was shooting at the gliders and a crowd gathered, Colonel Potter was not among them. He should have come running.

Margaret doesn’t want to be interviewed.

View-Master released a packet of three reels based on this episode.

Hamilton Camp later played Major Frankenheimer in “The Moon is Not Blue” during Season 11.

Hawkeye, B.J., and Father Mulcahy putting together the placebo pills with their bare hands was very unsanitary.

10 Replies to “Episode Spotlight: Major Topper”

  1. This is another one of those episodes that I consider “meh”: not one of the best, but not one of the worst either. I do enjoy Hamilton Camp as Boots Miller though, I think my two favorite moments are when he’s interviewing people with the laddle and when he tucks Mr. Sock into bed with him.

    There’s a brief goof in this episode: when Klinger catches up with Potter outside the Mess Tent and the camera follows them, the angle reveals a look backstage behind the Mess Tent.

    And I too wonder just how Charles ended up involved with Audrey Hepburn.

  2. This is the only episode written by Allyn Freeman, and his writing career is limited to this episode plus a handful of Hart to Hart episodes. I wonder how he earned this opportunity, considering that MASH was a hit show and probably could have picked the best writers to freelance episodes.

    It looks like today Allyn Freeman writes business books and teaches business – an interesting turn from being a TV writer.

  3. Thanks for a look back at an interesting episode with 3 subplots.

    This episode originally aired on March 27, 1978, not March 6, 1978. It aired during CBS 50th Anniversary week, which lasted March 26 – April 1, 1978, hosted by Walter Cronkite & Mary Tyler Moor.

  4. Charles could have taken the train from Boston to New York on November 24, 1951, and seen Audrey Hepburn in her Broadway debut as the title role in Gigi. Or it could have been anytime in the following months, before he was sent to Korea, but knowing Charles I bet he was a first-nighter. Naturally, Charles being Charles, he would work out a way to have dinner with the charming star. She was still little-known at the time and not so hard to meet for someone like Charles. The only real surprise is that Hawkeye and BJ both had heard of her instantly, as Hepburn was still a relatively little-known stage star until Roman Holiday came out, after the war was over.

  5. Never cared for this episode, mainly because I did not like Miller. We have three options
    – he was actually mentally unsound; but then he would have displayed this behaviour through induction, basic, and assignment to a MASH; I find it too unrealistic that he would have gotten that far with such aberrant behaviour
    – he was actually mentally unsound but managed to hide this behaviour until he reached his assignment; this isn’t logical
    – he was a better faker than Klinger and did not start acting strange until being assigned to the MASH unit; he continued his odd behaviour after being discharged lest he blow his cover (would the army “redraft” someone if they found they had been tricked into giving them a discharge?)

    It would have been quite simple for Potter to have checked the man’s military record prior to his assignment to the MASH to ascertain if either of the first two options were correct.

    The other two plots in this episode are not strong enough to overcome my dislike of Miller. This is one of the few episodes I skip.

  6. This is another episode with an interesting oversight regarding the size of the camp. The first scene where Miller is shooting is somehow not heard by Potter since he clearly doesn’t believe Klinger when Klinger is telling him about it.

    The camp is obviously not that big, and gun shots should be pretty clear to anyone anywhere in the camp.

  7. Everybody but Potter seems annoyed or at least put off by Miller. Was it because Potter was used to similar antics by Klinger that he didn’t take Miller seriously as a nutcase?

    The placebo effect can be real; whether it would have worked on the entire post-op ward is another matter.

  8. Klinger’s reaction to Miller talking to his sock is hilarious. I can see how Potter would think Miller was a rival for Klinger. Charles one-upping Hawkeye and BJ with his real life, as he put it, was also good.

  9. Too bad Klinger forgot about Boots Miller when he needed someone to make hula hoops and frisbees in “Who Knew?”

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