Every Monday, I spotlight a random episode of M*A*S*H, providing a brief review and asking readers to offer their thoughts.
“The Ringbanger” (#16, 01×16)
Originally Broadcast: Sunday, January 21st, 1973
Written by Jerry Mayer
Directed by Jackie Cooper
Capsule Summary: Hawkeye and Trapper scheme to keep a colonel whose unit suffers a high casualty rate from returning to the front.
The problem with “The Ringbanger,” if you can call it a problem, is that it relies on multiple characters acting really dumb. Is it believable that Colonel Buzz Brighton would fall for Hawkeye and Trapper’s plan to convince him he’s losing touch with reality? Could he be that oblivious? I don’t think so. Would Margaret, who never trusts Hawkeye and Trapper, so easily accept their diagnosis of Brighton? And Frank is observant enough to realize Brighton is hanging around too long but doesn’t pick up on anything else going on?
What about Colonel Blake accepting Radar’s explanation for why the Army wants him to get checked out for small arms proficiency at night? Actually, that seems more in character. Still, none of them noticed Buzz’s belongings–not to mention the PA speaker–being moved around? Frank and Margaret were often spying on Hawkeye and Trapper but they missed this?
None of this bothers me, though, because Leslie Nielsen does such a terrific job playing Buzz. I almost feel sorry for him at the end. It’s that easy to forget he’s a callous, self-serving military man who doesn’t care how many of his men are killed as long as he gets ahead. Buzz seems like such a nice guy, drinking and joking around with Hawkeye and Trapper.
At first, there doesn’t seem to be anything objectionable about Buzz. He’s eager to get back to his men, which seems admirable. True, he disparages soldiers with battle fatigue, but a lot of people in the military probably felt the way he did. But then he starts talking about the war not lasting long enough for him to “perfect” being an officer, “knocking off a thousand gooks,” and making a name for himself. Even then, he’s still joking around.
Later, Radar reveals that Buzz’s unit has suffered twice as many casualties yet gained half the ground as any other. Other than joking and drinking, the only thing Buzz is good at is getting men killed. That’s when Hawkeye and Trapper decide to make Buzz believe he’s suffering from battle fatigue and spring into action.
They do so by moving his belongings from tent to tent so he starts questioning himself. They also convince him Colonel Blake is an alcoholic and Frank a homosexual. Buzz worrying about Frank’s interest in him is funny yet also a little troublesome when the episode is watched today. It may have been troublesome to some viewers back in 1973 as well.
I’m not sure exactly what Hawkeye and Trapper hoped to accomplish by tricking Margaret into trying to comfort Buzz to reinforce his masculinity. They talk her up to Buzz and he seems excited she’s going to drop by his tent but when she shows up he doesn’t want anything to do with her. Is he worried or turned off because Hawkeye and Trapper told him she’s a boozer?
The tag scene is strange. Hawkeye has himself carried into the O.R. on a gurney and asks Frank for a nose job. Presumably, there were actual casualties. Why else would everyone be in surgical garb? Or did Hawkeye and Trapper go to all that trouble just for a joke?
Leslie Nielsen receives a “Special Guest Star” credit for his appearance in this episode. He’s the only guest star to get that specific credit.
At the time he made his guest appearance in “The Ringabanger,” Nielsen had yet to transition from dramatic roles to comedic roles. When asked why Nielsen was cast, Larry Gelbart had this to say:
Another example of Gene Reynolds’ and Burt Metcalfe’s uncanny, unfailing and creative ability at casting.
This was the first episode directed by Jackie Cooper, the former child star who ultimately directed 13 episodes of M*A*S*H between 1973 and 1974.
When Margaret visits Buzz in his tent, it looks like he’s reading a copy of the Army’s technical manual TM 9-6920-210-14 about Small Arms Targets and Target Material.
If you listen closely, you can hear Alan Alda and Wayne Rogers talking as they approach Buzz’s tent as the announcement about the red pickup truck plays over the PA. I can clearly hear Alda say something like “I read an article once” but that’s all. I wonder what they were talking about.
Father Mulcahy and Klinger are not in this episode.