Episode Spotlight: The Joker Is Wild

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

“The Joker Is Wild” (#239, 11×04)
Originally Broadcast: Monday, November 15th, 1982
Written by John Rappaport and Dennis Koenig
Directed by Burt Metcalfe

Capsule Summary: Tired of hearing about Trapper’s practical jokes, B.J. suggests pulling a prank on everyone within 24 hours, leading Hawkeye to grow increasingly paranoid.

It’s easy to think of “The Joker Is Wild” as a final season tribute to the character of Trapper John and, in turn, actor Wayne Rogers. The episode was actually produced for Season 10 but not aired until Season 11. In fact, it was the 24th and final episode produced during Season 10. However, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t intended as a tribute to Trapper and/or Rogers. More broadly, it’s a tribute to all of the practical jokes and pranks depicted over the course of the series.

There’s a mild twist ending to the episode, so if you haven’t seen it, I suggest you stop reading and go do so.

The episode features just one story but there are two ways to look at it. Is it the story of a frustrated B.J. trying to top the memory of Trapper, the merry prankster of the 4077th? Or is the tale of poor Hawkeye pushed to his limits worrying about when and where and how B.J will strike?

Why B.J. was so obsessed with somehow topping Trapper’s practical jokes is never really explained in the episode. The references to Trapper certainly aren’t necessary. It’s very easy to think of a way this episode could have unfolded without any mention of Trapper. Still, I like it when the show remembers its past, even if it doesn’t quite work.

The minor subplot involving the doctor swap with the 8063rd and B.J.’s friend Paul Yamato doesn’t add much to the episode other than a little more fuel for Hawkeye’s paranoia. At some point, perhaps after Paul is nearly choked unconscious, maybe someone should have said enough is enough and called off the prank. Or maybe Colonel Potter should have stepped in when he realized just how crazed Hawkeye was becoming.

I’m sure there are many viewers who watch this episode and don’t like the way it ends. After all, the bet was that B.J. could pull a prank on everyone within 24 hours. He didn’t actually prank anyone except Hawkeye so technically he lost the bet. He should have been the one dancing on the table in the Mess Tent, not Hawkeye.

So why did Hawkeye readily concede that B.J. “got” him? Why did he sing and pull down his pants? Maybe he was legitimately impressed with the way B.J. pulled off such an elaborate scheme.

I love the way Hawkeye gets back at B.J. by shaving off half of his mustache. I just wish we saw more of B.J.’s reaction and not just a freeze frame.

Hawkeye gets his revenge.

There’s something not quite right about hearing Father Mulcahy scream “Take it off, Hawkeye! I want to see some skin!”

Maybe I never noticed it before but I swear the floor to the Swamp is usually just dirt, right? B.J. hammers a nail into a piece of plywood. Was the plywood added just for this episode so he’d have something to nail into?

This episode marked Clyde Kusatsu’s fourth and final guest appearance on M*A*S*H. He first appeared in “Officers Only” as Kwang Duk in Season 2, a role he returned to in “Henry in Love” that same season. Then in “Goodbye, Cruel World” in Season 8 he played Sgt. Yee.

David Haid, who played Pvt. Leightman (the soldier who gave Hawkeye the cigar), later made a guest appearance in a Season 1 episode of AfterMASH.

Both IMDb and TV.com state that this episode was the last to be repeated on CBS, with the exception of a “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen” repeat during the 1984-1985 season. That’s not true. Six other episodes aired after it during the summer of 1983. Check out my Broadcast History for details.

16 Comments

  • BDOR says:

    The floors in all the tents are plywood, at least on the Stage 9 set; I believe they’re just dirt on the Ranch set. . . . but realistically, why would there not be any flooring at all inside the tents? I mean the military is all about things being neat, tidy, and efficient, isn’t it? Seems like no flooring – especially for a medical unit, would be a sanitation issue.

    The way I see it, I think B.J.’s frustrations with the constant Trapper praise would be similar if Potter had to endure constant praise of Henry, in that they’re having to live in the shadows of their predesessors and/or try to measure up to them when they shouldn’t have to – it’s like Potter told Klinger when he took over for Radar, “My first days in his shadow were a might uneasy. People weren’t jumping for joy over me. I was no Henry Blake, never tried to be. That didn’t mean I was better or worse, just different.” It could also be jealousy, too, albiet on a childish level . . . you ever have a situation as a kid where you have more than one best friend, and at one point each of them pressures you into singling out one of them as your “real” best friend? I almost get a sense that’s why B.J. feels the way he does about Trapper: in a childlike scenario, Trapper was the best friend who moved away and B.J. is the new best friend who moved in, and feels like since he’s Hawkeye’s best friend now, there’s no need for him to keep bringing up Trapper. It kind of goes back to “Period of Adjustment,” where Beej admits he hates Trapper even though they never met, and also adding, “he built that still with you. . . .” that also almost sounds like when one best friend jealously points out something the other kids did without his inclusion – it kind of comes out of nowhere, but at the same time, Beej was in a drunken rage, so he probably spoke his mind without thinking about it.

    That said . . . oh, so this is where that uncharacteristic Father Mulcahy moment came from. I agree, that was just too weird and out-of-character for the good father. . . . especially when you consider moments like him excusing himself from Henry’s sex lecture, or being totally oblivious to the reason everyone is hooping and hollering over Margaret running around in a towel. Then again, later-seasons Mulcahy seemed out-of-character quite often; there’s a couple of moments from Season 7 where he uses some tad colorful language, such as, “I am deeply troubled about the incident, and would appreciate it if you would not speak about it with the jawbone of an ass!” Or, “I don’t know about us, but these eggs have certainly been through hell.” The former is obviously a Scripture reference, but the latter just seems like such an odd thing for Mulcahy to say – it seems odd for the good Father to use mild swearing.

  • Larry P. says:

    I don’t know about this one. On one hand, I like that Trapper, and by connection the earlier, jokier years of the show, are so heavily referenced. It’s kind of a neat thing for such a later-era episode to do.

    But on the other hand, this one just never impressed me as much as maybe it should. It’s not a bad episode at all, and I know people who consider this their favorite episode (my brother, also, adores this one). Maybe the best way to describe this episode for me is like, but not love.

    And yes, Mulcahy’s “skin” line is really, really weird.

  • David G. says:

    The outcome of the bet never made sense to me, from the first time I saw this during the initial airing on CBS. All that writing staff on the show, and nobody bothered to speak up about the sticks-out-like-a-sore-thumb problematic resolution to the story.

    I once wrote to Mike Farrell to ask about the mustache situation at the conclusion of this one, since I wondered if he had maybe been wearing a fake one during this time on the show. His exact response: “The mustache was REAL. Figure THAT one out!”

    • R. Banner says:

      IMO, the logic is there, but you do have to work for it a bit.

      IIRC, part of the terms of the bet are whoever BJ gets has to dance in the table. Well, he got Hawkeye. So, time to show some skin.

      As for the mustache, easy answer… this is episode 1-G24, the final episode filmed for season 10. So, they shaved half of Mike Farrell’s mustache for that scene, and it grew back by the time they filmed the first episode of season 11.

      It is a lot easier to put that together in the internet age with production codes and episode lists at your fingertips, though.

  • 007 says:

    Not a fan of this episode, just because I don’t really like BJ.

    To add to what BDOR said about the floors, there were definitely other episodes with the floor having plywood. In the episode where Hawkeye/BJ and Charles are “tearing the swamp limb from limb” while Sydney was there, we get multiple good shots of the floor, and it’s definitely wood.

    I always disliked the ending of this episode, for the reason that RJ mentioned about the bet technically having been lost. I also find it strange that BJ is all of a sudden annoyed at “all the Trapper praise” since in the past 8 seasons we heard about Trapper maybe 4 times, and only 1 or 2 at the most being about his jokes. It also seems stupid to me that BJ would be so jealous/annoyed about it, since there was never any comparison between BJ and Trapper, they simply mentioned that Trapper was a great prankster. BJ is the one that took it personal and acted like a turd.

    • 007 says:

      Also forgot to mention. Almost every joke/prank in this episode is pretty stupid and not very funny at all. Klinger is right that the pranks used to be more original in the old days, I guess because the writing was better.

      Putting extra hot sauce in food, a snake in a bed, taking the top off a salt shaker, or especially nailing a boot to the floor are not original at all, and are really just dick moves. Putting a nail through Hawkeye’s boot means he now has a hole on the bottom and the top. So much for keeping the feet dry and warm…ever.

      • Lady you ARE a Piece of Cornbread says:

        Hawkeye conveniently forgot that he himself put a snake in CEW3’s bunk his first night there.

  • chauncy Upercrust says:

    This seems like what in later years would be called a meta episode. After all, it’s not just BJ ‘acting like a turd’ everyone else is also ganging up against Hawkeye and by extension Alda.Ether it was BJs plan originally and he went to everyone else or someone went to BJ, possibly with the “You’re no Trapper” idea to turn him against Hawk, and started him down that path. As for the ending the bet was everyone fooled would strip in the mess tent. And Hawk WAS the only one fooled since everyone else was in on it.

  • chauncy Upercrust says:

    There is a good shot of the Swamp’s plywood floor in “Give and Take” when Charles fakes falling on Rizzo’s dummy hand grenade.

  • John says:

    I don’t get why BJ’s friend stared at Hawkeye at the end and walked out shaking his head. Was there more to that?

    • 007 says:

      I took that to mean that nobody ever explained to him why Hawkeye was acting so loony. So here he comes into the mess tent the next day, after everything that happened in post-op the previous night, and now this crazy dude is on the table singing and stripping.

      I’d probably shake my head and walk out too hah.

    • Lady you ARE a Piece of Cornbread says:

      It probably would have been more effective if they didn’t show Hawk was still wearing his boxer shorts and leave it to the imagination like Klinger in “Chief Surgeon Who?” And Hawk himself when a ‘real’ bet/prank with Trapper sent him to the mess tent leaving his pockets in the Swamp.

  • Brian says:

    I always figured BJ saying he hated Trapper in “Period of Adjustment” was only because he was home with his family and BJ was taken from his wife and daughter on account of Trapper’s departure,even though jealousy over him and Hawkeyes friendship couldve played a role in that as well. After all his main object of hate in that episode was Radar because of his daughter calling him daddy and you know BJ was very fond of Radar while he was at the 4077th.

  • Lady, you ARE a Piece of Cornbread says:

    What was “the kid with the cigar” Hawk mentions in his recount of the day’s events, I’m assuming a scene was snipped for syndication in the TVLand version.

    • Latrinogram says:

      In post-op, a patient gives Hawkeye a “genuine Cuban stogie” as a thank you present. Then BJ walks in and the increasingly paranoid Hawkeye turns suspicious (thinking BJ has had the patient give him an exploding cigar) and dunks the cigar in water, to the confusion of the patient.

  • Maggie Hoolihan says:

    I was just happy to hear them talking about Trapper. I miss him and Henry so much by this point in the show that it’s really nice to have his name brought up. I wish Alan could have talked him into calling on the phone or something which would have been perfect.

    BJ was a child and it was all about boredom and being overly competitive. No matter who was a better joker (Trapp), I think Hawk and BJ would never have been friends if not for the war. Trapp and Hawk would have been (and were in real life). They were very alike in a lot of ways. BJ can whine and act like a baby but there’s nothing he can do about that. Trapp was fun-loving and always laughing. BJ is so serious and only laughs at winning something at someone else’s expense. Even when he’s playing jokes he’s got a straight face. I think the whole Trapper scenario mirrored what Farrell probably felt when he joined the show. What any new character might feel replacing someone beloved. Either way, I found this episode to be a bit formulaic in places. The “practical jokes” were beyond lame which proves Hawkeye’s point about BJ not being creative. Even the larger joke had to involve other people so he couldn’t even come up with anything on his own. I’m sorry but BJ is the worst. I can’t like any episode that focuses on him.

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