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.
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.