Every Monday, I spotlight a random episode of M*A*S*H, providing a brief review and asking readers to offer their thoughts.
“Dear Uncle Abdul” (#181, 08×12)
Originally Broadcast: Monday, December 3rd, 1979
Written by John Rappaport & Jim Mulligan
Directed by William Jurgensen
Capsule Summary: Klinger writes his uncle a letter, Hawkeye gets upset when B.J. steals his joke, and a soldier shows up at the 4077th looking for his buddy.
“Dear Uncle Abdul” opens with Klinger reading over a letter he’s writing to his uncle. He mentions his new job at the 4077th, a niece bit of continuity for M*A*S*H following Radar’s departure earlier in Season 8 and Klinger’s transition to company clerk.
Before I get into discussing the episode, I just have to ask: Is there anyone who thinks Hawkeye’s joke is funny? I’ve always figured the writers intentionally came up with a joke that isn’t actually funny. Am I missing something? Is there something funny about a wannabe circus performer who can fly through the air just by flapping their arms that I just don’t get?
There is so much going on in this episode it’s hard to know where to start. Based on the title, the A Story should be Klinger’s letter but the episode really isn’t about Klinger writing to his uncle. That is to say, he isn’t writing about past events at the 4077th that are seen in flashbacks. Things happen–a lot of things happen–and he writes about them after the fact. The episode features very little narration from Klinger and it’s easy to forget he’s even writing a letter.
Rather than split every little plot into a separate story, I suppose the A Story could be everything that Klinger does ultimately decide to include in his letter: Colonel Potter’s painting, Father Mulcahy’s Korean War song, Margaret’s footlocker, and Charles hunting quail. If not for these little vignettes, none of these characters would have anything to do other than react to the joke.
Father Mulcahy’s song is terrible yet still emotional: “Perhaps at least we’ve asked ourselves / What we should have asked before / With the pain and death this madness brings / What were we ever singing for?” I wonder who actually wrote the melody and lyrics.
The feud between Hawkeye and B.J. over who tells the joke better is thus the B Story, which is the weakest part of the episode in my opinion. Focusing so much of the episode on a joke that isn’t funny backfires. Rather than provide a sort of joke-within-a-joke for the audience to enjoy, it just falls flat. That said, seeing Alan Alda walk around furiously flapping his arms is amusing. Klinger putting the two of them in their place is the high point of this storyline.
That makes Eddie, Hank, and Dave the C Story. It’s a decent storyline but feels too cut and dry. Eddie shows up, Hawkeye and B.J. can’t believe someone like him is in the Army, his buddy is sent home, and he gets a new buddy to look after him. There’s no real tension, no real concern about Eddie’s fate.
Final thought: Hawkeye’s sad little mustache in the tag scene is hilarious.
At the start of the episode, Klinger is typing the letter to his uncle. At the end, he’s writing it by hand.
Although not the last episode in which a character wrote a letter, this was the final episode to use a variation of “Dear [Somebody]” as its title.
Richard Lineback later played Pvt. Scala in “Trick or Treatment” during Season 11.